Sep 162013
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We could all use some windfall cash, and here’s one way to get some: sell your extra stuff on eBay.  I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a constant battle with clutter, and it’s hard for me to part with my possessions.  I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m more willing to part with something if I get paid for it.  For our family, selling our extra stuff on eBay is a great way to cut down on the clutter in our house and make a little extra money to boot.

How to sell on eBay:

Here are my six tips for selling on eBay.  If you need step-by-step instructions on the mechanics of listing an item on eBay, click here.  But beyond that, here are the rules of thumb that I use:

1) Pick the Right Stuff

  • Only sell stuff that is light enough, and small enough, to ship cheaply.  That means small collectibles, small electronics, clothes, shoes, accessories (purses, sunglasses, jewelry), books, etc.  If it costs too much to ship, people won’t buy it.
  • Clothing and shoes should be well-known better quality brands only (so that they show up in popular searches) and in excellent condition (free of stains and any other damage).
  • Many collectibles and cell phones, as well as almost all Apple products, can be sold even if damaged/completely broken.

2) Make Sure Your Listing Ends On A Weekday

I have a feeling people shop on eBay while they are at work, because I have found that items have more bidders (and consequently higher ending prices) if they end between 10am and 3pm PST on weekdays.

3) Use Cheap Shipping Materials

You don’t want the cost of shipping the item to cut into your profit, so make sure you pay as little as possible for shipping materials and the shipping itself.  (It’s true you can set up your auction so that the buyer pays the shipping, but that means buyers will bid less for the item, so either way you lose profit if shipping is too expensive.)  For soft items, I use poly mailers from Amazon, because they are cheap and very lightweight.  For hard or fragile items, I re-use boxes from stuff I’ve ordered.

4) Take Lots of Photos

Buyers appreciate being able to see every angle of the item being sold- it helps them feel more confident in their purchase.  Lay a solid-colored sheet or towel down as a backdrop and snap away.  Try not to use a flash- indoor daylight is best for a pseudo-professional look.

5) Disclose All Defects

When you write your eBay item description, make sure you are loud and clear about any defects in your items, even if they are shown in the pictures.  You want to make sure that the buyer understands what they’ll be getting, otherwise you’ll get negative feedback ratings from unhappy buyers, not to mention bad karma!  I bold format any description of defects, and I also include close-up photos.

6) Research Before You Price

Ebay makes it easy to find out the going price for an item you want to sell- just use the eBay search box to search for the item, then use the options on the left of the results page to refine your search by clicking “Sold listings.”  Now only recently sold items will show up, with their sale prices.  Yippee! Using that information, you can decide how low you want to start your auction.

That’s it! I hope you have fun listing your extra stuff.

What do YOU plan to sell on eBay?

Mar 182013

Our Cash Budget

When reading about our various cash-only adventures, people sometimes asked how we budgeted our money to last the whole month.  There are probably many different ways to manage your money when adopting a cash-only lifestyle, but here’s the method we chose: Before we began, we created a written budget that showed all of our monthly income, and then listed all of our savings goals, monthly bills, and spending categories, as well as how much we wanted (or needed) to spend on each.

For example, we listed “Braces- $200″ as a savings goal because that was the amount of money we wanted to save each month in order for me to get braces eventually. “Gas/Electric- $300″ was listed as a monthly bill, because that’s typically what our utility company charges us. “Groceries- $350″ was listed as a spending category, because that’s the limit of what we wanted to spend each month on food.  We made sure to balance the written budget so that our savings goals, monthly bills and spending categories wouldn’t exceed our monthly income.

Every paycheck, we took three steps:

  1. We transferred all the money needed for savings goals (retirement, future travel, braces, cushion fund, etc)  into savings accounts. 
  2. We withdrew enough cash to cover our shopping for the month, and separated that cash into envelopes- an envelope for grocery money, an envelope for drugstore purchases, an envelope for haircut money, etc (this is commonly called “the envelope system,” or “envelope budgeting.”
  3. The money left in our bank was used for monthly bills, which we paid using our debit card as the bills came due.

Now, this 3-step process looks pretty simple, but going cash-only was a lot harder to put into practice than we originally thought.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how hard it would be to make the switch from credit cards.

The Addiction to Credit Cards

As someone who routinely used credit cards to make purchases, I had forgotten the logistical issues inherent with using cash: the frequent trips to the ATM, the careful allocation of cash into various spending categories at the beginning of each month, the panic at the cash register wondering if I brought enough cash with me.  After switching to credit cards over a decade ago, I think I had assumed that it would be easy to switch back to cash if I wanted to, and that the only reason I didn’t was because of the benefits of cash-back credit card rewards.  After all, since I paid off the credit cards in full each month, I wasn’t dependent on them, right?  This logic reminds me of a friend of mine who smoked cigarettes and said, “I’m not addicted because I could quit any time I want to.”  The response in both cases is, “Uh-huh.  Get back to me about that after you’ve tried.”  We simply can’t know the level of our addiction until we try to kick the habit.

And credit cards are a hard habit to kick because it’s incredibly convenient to use them- you never have to worry if you have enough money in your account to cover the purchase, you have over a month to figure out how to pay for the purchase, and you don’t have to make detours to an ATM (well, except for when you find yourself at one of those lunch joints with a hand-written “cash only” sign taped on the cash register).  My husband and I loved the convenience of credit cards, but nonetheless we found ourselves embarking on a three-month cash-only challenge.  You might remember from reading Part I of my Cash-Only Challenge Series that we were initially reluctant to go “cash-only”- we were essentially forced to do it so that our credit reports reflected $0 debt for an upcoming house refinance.  But when faced with the reality that we had to temporarily wean ourselves cold-turkey from our credit cards, we did try to embrace the concept, and committed to trying out a cash-only lifestyle for a full three months.  I’d been intrigued by the case made in The Money Saving Mom’s Budget that a cash-only lifestyle leads to financial betterment, so I convinced my husband that we should give it our all and see if it was really worth it to kick the credit card habit and pay for things the old-fashioned way.

Now the three months are over and it’s time for me to report back on the ultimate question:

Was the Cash-Only Lifestyle Worth It?

Stay tuned for Part VI where I’ll answer that question and disclose whether we’ve stuck to the cash-only lifestyle!

Want more?  In Part I: The Accidental Players, I explain how we wound up in this Cash-Only Challenge despite having no interest in a cash-only lifestylePart II: Grocery Budget Jitters tracks how we weaned ourselves from credit cards and took the plunge into using cash.  Part III: The Roller Coaster, tracks my logistical acrobatics (and occasional panicked moments) as I attempt to cover all of our month’s expenses before our cash runs out. In Part IV I report back on taking our Cash-Only Challenge on vacation with us.  

Interested in doing a Cash-Only Challenge yourself?  Check out Crystal Paine’s book, “The Money Saving Mom’s Budget” (which I reviewed here) and learn all about it.  In her trademark upbeat style, Paine lays out the blueprint for a cash-only lifestyle.

Feb 092013

garbage can

Opting For A Smaller Garbage Can Could Save You $40/Month

I published this post originally in 2011, but I’m re-posting it as a reminder because reducing the size of your garbage can is such a painless way to save money each month.

A couple years ago our city introduced three sizes of garbage cans with correspondingly reduced prices.  The first is the standard size that you’re probably used to: 68 gallons.  When we were using disposable diapers for our daughter, we needed this full-sized can, so we had to pay full price on our garbage bill ($55.84/month).  But once she was potty trained, we noticed we were only filling the can 1/2 way each week.  So, we opted for the next size down: a 32 gallon can, at $26.05/month.  That’s almost $30/month in savings!

It didn’t take long before we realized we weren’t even filling the 32 gallon can all the way, so we opted for the smallest size: a 20 gallon can at $16.16/month.  That’s an additional $10/month in savings, meaning that we are saving $40/month on our garbage bill compared to using a standard sized can.

According to the EPA, many cities and counties are implenting these types of programs- check with your local garbage company to find out if they have a similar program available.

Sep 182012

If you are looking for ways to reduce your monthly spending, check out these four simple strategies.  A little disclaimer- I say, “simple” because they are very straightforward, but I don’t say, “easy” because any lifestyle change is going to be challenging to get used to.  Nonetheless, if you are a newbie at saving these are a good way to get your toes wet because you’ll see substantial money savings right away, without the complications of more advanced saving strategies

1) Plan Your Meals

O.K., here’s the first practical tip: meal planning is probably the single biggest way to save money on food because homemade dinners are pennies on the dollar compared to take-out.  Not to mention healthier, too, because you control the ingredients.  I didn’t used to meal-plan- I used to figure out what was for dinner at 5pm each evening, and if I couldn’t find anything to cook, we’d buy take-out.  Which meant we ate a lot of take-out, because inevitably I didn’t have all the right ingredients to make an appetizing dinner.  By planning our meals a week or month ahead I’m now able to plan what we need from the grocery store each week so that I always have the right food on hand.

2) Use Your Freezer

We used to lose quite a bit of money to wasted food.  Food would sit in the fridge or pantry until it went bad, at which point I would throw it out, feeling guilty that I hadn’t used it up. Then I realized that the freezer is a great resource for preventing food waste.  Check out this post for a list of 5 Common Leftover Foods to Freeze, which includes tips on how to use the food after you’ve frozen it.

3) Make Stuff

Do-It-Yourself projects can save you a lot of money, though I only recommend them if you actually enjoy the process of making things.   Every Thursday is Crafty Thursday here at The Daily Citron, where I feature a DIY project (sometimes a craft like a cute laundry sign, sometimes a homemade cleaning product, sometimes an easy printable thank you card).  I picked Thursday because it leaves just enough time for busy people to collect their supplies for doing the craft over the weekend.

4) Read Free Books

Books are such a fantastic resource for learning new things, not to mention just enjoyable in general.  But, buying books can get expensive- consider borrowing books from the library, or downloading free eBooks.  I feature free eBooks all the time- make sure to act on those offers quickly, as they generally expire quickly (if you subscribe to my RSS feed then you’ll get notified of free eBook offers right away).  Also, check out my posts on how to get free mp3 audio books and free DVD rentals.

Sep 142012

1) Get Your Priorities In Order

If you don’t take the time to think about what’s really important to you in life, you’ll probably lose the motivation to stick with even the simplest money-saving strategies.  Up until 5 years ago my husband and I ate take-out food all the time- breakfast, lunch and dinner.  When we took the time to sit down together and talk about what was important to us, we realized that saving money so that I could work less and spend more time with our daughter was much, much more important to us than eating restaurant food.  So we started eating home-cooked food for all three meals (packing our work lunches with us) and saved hundreds of dollars a month- and the best part is that we were so motivated to reach our goal that we hardly missed the take-out food that had seemed like such a necessity before.  But what if we had eliminated the take-out food without having a goal first?  I am absolutely certain we would have fallen off the bandwagon- we would have felt deprived, because we’d be thinking about all the great take-out food we were missing, instead of focusing on the goal we were trying to reach.  Which is why the next section is about goals:

2) Set Your Goals

By setting goals, you’ll give yourself a clear idea of what you’d like to achieve.  Instead of having vague notions of what you want (“It sure would be nice to have a newer car at some point… I really should be increasing my retirement contribution… It would be really cool to get an advanced certification in my field…“), goals give you a clear picture of what you want your future to look like: “I will pay for a newer car in cash within 5 years… Within 6 months I will increase my retirement contribution by $200 per month… Within two years I will obtain an advanced certification by enrolling in night school and online courses.”  I find that writing down my goals makes them seem more real- suddenly, instead having a pie-in-the-sky daydream, I have  a project that can be completed by taking it one step at a time.  Don’t know what goals to set?  Check out this post on goal-setting and you’re sure to come up with a few ideas.  When you’ve set goals that you’re excited about, you’ll to be motivated to change your spending habits so that your money is spent in a way that supports your goals. Oh, and once you’ve set your goals, don’t forget the Three Basic Steps to Achieving Goals.

3) Read A Blog Or Magazine On A Regular Basis

A lot of times saving money means cutting back on luxuries.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m not careful I can end up feeling deprived when I tighten up the budget because I start focusing on what I’m not getting instead of focusing on what I’ll be able to achieve by saving money.  Reading a money-saving blog or magazine is a great antidote to that, because you see concrete examples of how others have dealt with the ups and downs of managing their money.  The Cash-Only Challenge Series is one of the most popular features on this blog because I chronicle how my husband and I deal with the transition from a credit card lifestyle to a cash-only lifestyle.  I think it’s popular because reading about other people’s money issues can give you perspective about your own issues, and inspire you to keep working towards your financial goals.

There are a few great money-saving blogs out there, like The Simple Dollar and Money Saving Mom.  Oh, and of course The Daily Citron! Click here to subscribe to the Email Newsletter, which I send out a couple times a month.  O.K., back to recommendations: my favorite money-saving magazine is All You because it has lots of practical tips, but Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Money are also good because they contain advice about investing as well.  Try to find one or two blogs or magazines that you enjoy, and read them regularly to keep yourself inspired.