How To Make the Most of Craigslist

for sale 300x199 How To Make the Most of CraigslistYears ago I used ebay a lot. Mostly for selling, occasionally for buying. In the years since, ebay’s fees have gone up, and the stuff I have for sale has gotten bigger — kids’ gear and toys are rarely small. Because of the size of these items, shipping isn’t a good option. That’s when I started using Craigslist for buying and selling.

I’m by no means a Craigslist expert, but I have learned a few things since I started buying and selling kids’ stuff there. Here are some tips:

If You’re Buying

♦ Plan in advance. If you know you want to give your kids a ride-on John Deere Gator for their birthday in September, start looking a few months in advance. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to watch the Craigslist ads and wait for the right deal.

♦ Take someone with you when you go to look at an item. I like to believe that the world is a safe place, but it just makes sense to take a friend when you’re going to a stranger’s house.

♦ Be prepared to pay cash for the item when you go to look at it. But don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not exactly what you want.

♦ It’s okay to ask the seller if she’ll take $xx for the item, but don’t be a jerk about it. Most of the time people will take a little less, but sometimes they won’t. Decide on the maximum price you’re willing to pay before you get there.

I’ve bought quite a few things for my kids on Craigslist. For larger toys and playsets, it makes sense to avoid paying full-price for a new item, especially if it’s something the kids are likely to out-grow. It’s also good for the environment to reuse an item that’s already out there, rather than buying, and therefore causing more production of, something new.

If You’re Selling

♦ Do a search on Craigslist for the item you will be selling. See if there are others already listed and compare prices, age and condition of the item(s).

♦ Clean it up before listing. Clean items are more appealing and are more likely to sell.

♦ Be as detailed as possible in your listing. Include photos. Disclose and photograph any problems — it will save you a lot of time later.

♦ Be honest. The person who contacts you first gets first dibs.

♦ Ask a fair price, but be willing to haggle a little.

♦ Providing a phone number in the listing makes things move along more quickly. I always use the anonymous email option, but do give my cell number.

In General:

Buy quality products (used or new) and take care of them. If you do, you’ll get a good return on your money. We recently sold a Power Wheels Barbie Jeep How To Make the Most of Craigslist, a Peg Perego John Deere Gator  How To Make the Most of Craigslistand a BOB Revolution Duallie How To Make the Most of Craigslist stroller. In each case, I was able to get well more than half of what I paid for each item. It was a good deal (compared with buying new) for the buyers and a good deal for us.

I’d love to know what tips and suggestions you have for buying and selling with Craigslist. Tell us about them in the comments.

Photo Credit: David M Hepburn

Why? Give Yourself a Reason

I write about saving things here. Saving time, saving money, saving the planet. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the why of it all. Part of this is because I’ve just finished Gail Blanke’s book, Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life Why? Give Yourself a Reason. In it, she talks about getting rid of both the physical and mental clutter in your life so you’re free to be the person you were meant to be. To do that, though, you have to know who you want to be and why.

That same concept is important when it comes to saving the three things I mentioned above. Why do we want to save time? What are we going to do with it? Why do we want to save money? What are we saving it for? Why do we care about saving the planet? Unless we can tie these things to some greater purpose, or view them as integral parts of the person we wish to be, then they’re really nothing more than chores. And chores stink. They feel like work. They’re no fun.

If we base our lives around nothing but chores, we take the fun, and often the happiness, out of everyday living. Life becomes a series of days in which we labor for something (what?) at some undefined point down the line. That’s no way to live.

As I’ve been turning these ideas over in my mind, I’ve come up with a few things to ask yourself (and things I’ve been asking myself) with regard to the three areas most dealt with here: time, money, and the planet.

Time

It seems that everyone wants to save some time these days. There are countless books and seminars on time management. We constantly hear phrases like “work smarter, not harder.” Efficiency is something we value in this society. Let’s assume you could become your absolute most productive. What are you going to do with all that time you save? The problem with generically thinking about saving time is that, if we’re not careful, the time we save is frittered away on something pointless. If you’re saving yourself some time on things you don’t really want to be doing, take some time to figure out how to use it on things you really do want to be doing? If you had an extra 15 minutes a day, what would you do with it? How about 30 minutes? How about an hour? Think about how you really want to spend your time (exercising, reading, watching that movie you’ve been meaning to get to, spending some quiet time alone, learning a new skill, hanging out with friends) and make sure you end up doing those things. When you have a purpose or a goal, suddenly that free time breeds happiness.

Money

Saving and cutting costs can feel like denial. Most of us would like to have more money now to do the things we want to do. But, if we can view saving as a way to accomplish larger goals, it can feel like fun. Each dollar added to your dream, can create the excitement of being one step closer to it. The key is to identify your dreams. Determine, as specifically as possible, what you’re saving for. Do you want to pay off debt? Trust me, your whole person will feel lighter when you do. Do you want to be able to pay cash for your next car? Do you want to buy a house? Do you want to go on a really great vacation? What is it that matters to you? Once you’ve identified that dream (or those dreams, if you have several), write them down. Cut out pictures of your dreams and post them where you’ll see them every day. Trent, at The Simple Dollar, used to wrap a picture of his son around his credit card when he was trying to cut back on his spending. Every time he was tempted to buy something, he saw the photo of his son and knew that if the purchase was frivolous, it just wasn’t worth sacrificing his family’s goals for it. Once you know what you want, and how much it will cost to get it, saving is no longer a drag, it’s quite literally a dream coming true.

The Planet

Saving the planet sounds great–very noble. Who wouldn’t want to save the planet? But the fact is, though it’s not as difficult as some might imagine to make changes in your daily life, we’re all busy. Unless you view helping the planet as something that you value, you’re not going to make much progress. I became more interested in my impact on the world around me when I had children. When they arrived, I was suddenly forced to think about the world I want them to grow up in, and the world I want to leave behind for them and their children. Every time I recycle something, I think of it as one less piece of trash my kids will have to clean up.

It’s also about teaching my children to look beyond themselves. If we focus only on ourselves and our stuff, we become extremely selfish. By thinking about our impact on the world and the people around us, we become better stewards, better people.

Simple Mom created a Back to Basics series that will cover all manner of basic homemaking tasks. The very first post in her series isn’t about a skill at all, but a call to first define why you want to learn these skills. She asks her readers to figure out what they value individually and as families. Because, she writes, “All the canning, ironing, and meal planning in the world will matter a hill of beans if they’re done out of obligation, or accomplished aimlessly out of not knowing what to do next. . .unless there’s a motivating reason behind doing our day-to-day chores, we’ll lose heart, and we won’t care about our results.” I couldn’t agree more.

I’d love to hear about how you bring meaning to the things you do in your everyday lives.

This post was submitted to the Link Party at Remodeling This Life. Check it out to read posts from some great blogs.

Save a Little Money, Save a Little Planet: a Primer

littleplanet Save a Little Money, Save a Little Planet: a Primer

Fair warning: I’ve mentioned some of the ideas in this post before. However, I think they’re worth repeating. I think it’s also important to provide some background on how we got into such a mess and some suggestions for how we can start crawling out.

There’s a lot of buzz these days about “going green” and product manufacturers have taken notice. In fact, it’s become so popular (and profitable) to slap words like “natural” on products that it’s difficult to tell which products are truly green and which companies are simply greenwashing to raise revenue.

Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog defines greenwashing as “companies and corporations that make green claims when their products or actions are anything but.” TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, has created a list of “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing” defining the term as, “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service”.

The problem: In 1976 Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act and automatically deemed safe some 60,000 chemicals for use in consumer products without data to confirm their safety. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), since 1976, 20,000 new chemicals have been put into products we use every day, again, with little or no data to support their safety. As a matter of Federal law, manufacturers are not required to tell us what’s in their products. The EPA has no authority to make them tell us, nor do they have the staffing or the information to properly test products for safety.

Fortunately, with a little knowledge, we can choose household products that are both safer for us and for the Earth. The best part: the greenest options are often the least expensive, leaving more money in your wallet while helping the planet.

Household Cleaners

There are a few options here. The truly frugal may wish to make their own. Almost anything in your house can be cleaned with baking soda and vinegar. Vinegar is especially good mixed with water to clean nearly any surface. It works anywhere you might use glass cleaner. Mixed with hot water, vinegar will easily clean your floors. When more scrubbing power is needed, try baking soda. My kitchen sink is white porcelain and baking soda does a great job getting the grime off of it. I buy baking soda and vinegar in large quantities at Sam’s or Costco. For pennies I can clean nearly everything in my house.

For those not interested in making their own cleaners, there are more and more options available in stores. To avoid greenwashing, it’s best to go with companies that have been upfront about their product ingredients for a long time. Seventh Generation is one good choice, as is EcoStoreUSA (stay tuned for some upcoming product reviews). When in doubt, read the ingredients. If the ingredients aren’t listed, I’d pass. Also look for Warning labels, like “Caution,” “Danger,” and “Poison.” It seems obvious, but if a product has these warnings, you can be sure there’s bad stuff inside.

Laundry Detergents

Most laundry detergents contain phosphates and other chemicals that aren’t good for us or the environment. A healthier (and cheaper) option is to consider making your own. I make mine and it takes about 7 minutes every three months to create a batch. I make a powdered version that has only 3 (inexpensive) ingredients: 1 bar grated Fels Naptha soap, 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda. I usually multiply the recipe by three and store it in an airtight container. At 2 Tablespoons per load, one batch lasts for months.

Some people are decidedly against making their own laundry detergent, though. If that’s the case with you, again, there are a lot of options now in stores. Primarily, look for phosphate-free products and make sure to read the labels.

Personal Products

The Environmental Working Group has studied thousands of products over the years and has found that the vast majority contain many chemicals whose effects on humans are unknown. Many of these chemicals have been banned by the European Union (EU) because of safety concerns, but they are commonly used in many of the products we put on our skin each day in the U.S.

To go a little more chemical free, first try to use fewer products. The fewer products you use, the less you’re exposure and the less money you’re spending. Think about which products you absolutely need and which ones you can do without.

Once you’ve narrowed down to the necessities, check out EWG’s Cosmetics Database. It’s an exhaustive list of products rated from 0-10 according to the level of health hazard (lower numbers are better). Not surprisingly, many of the low hazard products listed are made by organic companies, and some of these products can be expensive.  I put together several lists of low-hazard products from the database that are less expensive and can be found in grocery stores and places like Target. Some of the safest products were surprisingly inexpensive. You can find lists for Personal Care Products, Baby & Kid Products, Oral Care, and Sunscreens by clicking the links.

Generally speaking, being green is NOT about consuming a lot of new, expensive “green” products; it’s about consuming less and reusing what you have. Not surprisingly, being green has a lot in common with being frugal. When you don’t buy more than you need, when you use up what you have before buying something else and when you purchase items that can be used over and over and over again, rather than always reaching for disposables, you save money. Often, a lot of money. But you’re also being a good steward of the planet. If you take just a few minutes to think about how you can ditch some of the disposables in your life you’ll find money savings there as well. For example,

Stop drinking bottled water. Get a reusable, BPA-Free bottle instead and refill it with tap water. Most bottled water is only tap water anyway. Depending on how much bottled water you usually buy, there could be considerable savings here.

Buy fewer paper towels and paper napkins. We’ve started using cloth napkins almost exclusively. Several months ago I bought a large pack of terry cloth shop towels at Costco. The size and absorbency make them a perfect replacement for paper towels. They soak up more and can easily be washed and reused. That mega-pack cost exactly the same as the mega-pack of Bounty paper towels, but this one time purchase will last indefinitely.

Buy in bulk. Where reasonable buy items you use often in bulk. There is less packaging (and therefore, less trash), which is better for the environment, and often bulk purchases are less expensive.

If you think about it, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, is merely a new spin on age-old advice. My grandmother (who is 87 at this writing) grew up very poor in eastern Kentucky in the 1920s and ’30s. Reduction was a way of life; they existed on the bare minimum. They had to use and reuse everything they had until it wore out, and when something did wear out, the parts of it that were left were recycled into something else. They didn’t think of it as “being green.” For them, it was merely common sense.

I’m not advocating that we all turn to abject poverty as a way of life, but I’ve never heard anyone say they were sorry they’d simplified their lives by pairing down some of their “stuff” and consuming less. Today, try to think about how you can reduce, both your spending and your footprint. Then find a good place to put all that money you save.

Photo Credit: Pop

Saving Money? What For?

money 241x300 Saving Money? What For?There’s so much information out there about how to save money (it’s certainly one of the things I focus on here). It’s understandable; these are hard times and we need to keep as much of our money as we can. Most of us have found ways to cut back on our spending, to shave a few dollars off of our monthly expenses, and to realize even bigger savings by shopping around for auto/life/ homeowner’s insurance or some other large expense. So we’re saving money; but what for?

In my own race to save as much money as possible and to get the best deal on every purchase, I’ve lost sight of what I’m saving for. Yes, we automatically save for retirement through our plans at work, but the savings I’m talking about go beyond that. If I save $20 on an item I purchase, what am I doing with that money? Is it going towards a dedicated savings goal, is it simply building up in my checking account, or is it being sucked away on another purchase I wasn’t nearly as careful about?

What I’m realizing is that if we don’t have savings goals, we’re not maximizing the savings we’re realizing through frugality and comparison shopping. For years we’ve had a very vague “emergency fund.” I came up with a completely arbitrary number for the amount I want to have in there. The problem is, my husband and I have never sat down to discuss what emergencies we’re trying to cover with this account. Our jobs are as secure as any jobs can be in this economic climate. We both work in industries that are highly unlikely to go under, even during rough times. But I also realize no one is immune to job loss. So what’s become important is to identify just what sort of emergencies we’re hedging against so that we can save the proper amount of money in this emergency fund to meet those goals.

Other than our emergency fund, we’re looking more specifically at other savings goals. We know we want to set aside money for another car. Our newer car is a 2006 Toyota Sienna. Our other car is a 1994 Toyota Camry. Since both my husband and I work, and we don’t live in an area with public transportation, it’s likely we’ll need to replace the Camry sometime in the next few years.

We also want to set aside money for our daughters’ college educations. And some money in a vacation fund. Eventually, we’d like to re-work our kitchen, and that, too will require a chunk of savings.

The problem with saving money blindly, as we’ve been, is that none of the goals stand a chance of ever being met. And without solid goals, it’s impossible to maximize the savings we do have.

I’m certainly (and obviously) no financial expert, but it seems to me the next logical steps are these:

Emergency Fund: Determine exactly which emergencies we wish to cover with this fund (things like possible job loss, home and auto repair) and decide on a specific amount to keep in this fund.

Car Fund: This is an inevitable expense. We simply need to determine the amount per month we are able to put towards this goal.

College Savings: We want to help our children with college expenses as much as we can, but we also don’t think it’s necessary to save the entire amount before they graduate from high school. Again, we’ll need to decide on a specific monthly amount to put towards this goal which will likely reside in a 529 account.

Kitchen Fund: This will come last as it is the least necessary at this point. However, once the other savings goals are met, we should be able to ramp up the amount we’re putting into this fund.

This sounds like a lot, but I’m talking small amounts right now. It’s not like we have hundreds and hundreds of dollars left over each month after paying our expenses. But, our expenses are less than they used to be. We comparison-shopped our way into an annual savings of around $600 on auto and homeowners’ insurance, we’re consuming less than we used to, we’re growing some of our own food, we’re making more of the things we use (laundry detergent, some cleaning products, liquid hand soaps) we’re getting rid of a lot of our stuff via ebay and a yard sale. All of these things combined will contribute towards our savings goals.

Also, with the new federal economic stimulus plan, most workers will see a net increase of approximately $50 per month in their paychecks. I’m going to try to make sure this money goes towards a savings goal rather than simply disappearing because of a lack of planning.

This is what may work for us. If you need help prioritizing savings goals, J.D. Roth has a great post about that very topic at Get Rich Slowly, one of my favorite personal finance blogs.

What do you think? Do you set savings goals? Do you also find that it’s easier to make progress when you do?

Photo Credit: borman818

Homemade Laundry Detergent 101

laundry post 300x225 Homemade Laundry Detergent 101

I admit it; I make my own laundry detergent. Across the web there are die-hard laundry soap makers and serious detractors. The die-hards laud the money savings and claim their clothes get cleaner. The detractors believe that it’s a waste of time; after all, time is money. Those in the middle applaud the desire to be more frugal, but ultimately feel that it’s not worth it for them (see Frugal Dad’s post on this topic). My story goes something like this . . .

About a year ago I read an article somewhere long forgotten about a person who made his own laundry detergent. He said it was easy and cheap. I was intrigued, so I Googled. What I found were hundreds of links and at least a dozen different recipes for detergent. Most of these recipes involve cooking up a liquid brew and storing the concoction in a 5 gallon bucket. Because I was going to be making and storing this stuff myself, I opted for what looked like the easiest option: powdered detergent. The first go-round, it took me about 20 minutes to mix up a batch that lasted for months. I’m now down to 10 minutes, tops, but it’s really closer to 5-7. Once I’ve invested this minimal amount of time, I’m set for at least 3 months. Then I do it again.

Here’s my base recipe:

1 bar Fels Naptha soap (I buy mine from Soaps Gone Buy for less than $2/bar)

1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (NOT baking soda) I get this at Kroger, in the laundry aisle

1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax (from Target)

That’s it. I grate the bar of soap by cutting it into chunks and putting it in my food processor until it’s pulverized. Then I combine the ingredients in an airtight container and use 1-2 tablespoons per load of laundry. I multiply the recipe based upon the size of my container; usually I make it in 3 bar/3 cup batches. It’s naturally low-sudsing so it’s perfect for HE front loading washers like mine. It works fine in standard washing machines, too.

I started making my own laundry detergent because I was curious about how easy it would be and how well it would work. It really couldn’t be easier and I do believe it cleans better than the very expensive brand name I’d been using for years. I’ve continued to make, rather than buy, laundry detergent for the past year for several reasons:

Cost. For me, it’s come out to about 5 cents per load compared with the 32 cents per load I was paying. I do a lot of laundry which has equaled a significant savings.

Less Packing which equals less waste. I’ve been able to avoid a year’s worth of plastic jugs.

Fewer chemicals, both down the drain and next to our skin. There was some concern about Fels Naptha containing petrochemicals, but according to the MSDS sheet, it does not. It does contain hydrocarbons, which I’ve learned are an organic compound made of hydrogen and carbon. The health risk, according the MSDS sheet, is a 1, which is low. As Allie pointed out with baking soda, there are few perfect products out there. But I do know the mixture I’m now using has fewer chemicals than what I used before.

If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.

Photo credit: lavocado on flickr.