Saturday, July 30, 2016


...when a series of emergencies leaves you needing to order a pizza for these people you haven't fed yet and the places you're finding don't provide the diameters of the sizes so you can calculate whether two smalls or one large is more pizza

Friday, July 29, 2016

Selling stuff on eBay with minimal overhead

So, my experimentation with selling stuff on eBay is going remarkably well. I've had an eBay account since 1998, which I previously used mostly for buying things and periodically for selling things I was done with that were worth quite a bit of money, like sporting or music equipment. I maybe listed one item a month, if even that.

Today's pile of stuff ready to ship
A couple months ago I decided to start actually selling. As I mentioned before, I first listed a bunch of free items I had snagged from Amazon. That went well, so I started by listing a bunch of stuff I had lying around that I normally would have donated or given to friends -- kids' and adults' clothes, books, household gadgets, baby stuff sitting in a box in a closet, extra hardware and office supplies I'd bought too much of for projects, and so forth. It's going remarkably well, and I'm making quite a lot of cash off of stuff I would normally have been happy to give away. I'm now looking into buying at garage sales and thrift stores and doing some flipping.

From perusing forums about selling on eBay, I'm seeing that most people are reluctant to get started because the necessary supplies are expensive, shipping is confusing, and the fees are unclear. So I'm putting together a basic tutorial on how to do sell things easily and cheaply.

How eBay fees work:

When you list something on eBay, the first 50 listings per calendar month are free. Relisting an item that doesn't sell counts as a listing each time. Before you hit "list" on an item, it will tell you what the fees will be. Certain features on the listings, like large, bold titles and so forth cost money. Don't use these; there's no need. Once you get over 50 items, it charges you 30 cents per listing. This is refunded if the item sells.

Once an item sells, eBay charges you 10% of the final price AND 10% of the shipping price. It doesn't take this out of the money the customer sends you; it adds it to your monthly bill. What I typically do is: Every time I sell something, the money for the item plus shipping goes into my PayPal account. I buy the shipping through eBay, which deducts it from my PayPal account. Before I withdraw the money, I look at my eBay fee tally (this is in "account settings," located at the top left of the site) and see the two fee charges for the auction. I then withdraw the total profit less the fees, and leave enough for the fees in my PayPal account so I know I have it when the bill comes due. I really wish they'd just deduct it, but they don't, so this seems to work best.

Here's an auction I just shipped off today:

Item: $5.00
Shipping: $2.83

Customer sent me $7.83 via PayPal
I get $7.30 in my PayPal account, because PayPal takes a fee.
I spent $2.60 on shipping via eBay (there's a discount for shipping through them)

So far, the profit is $4.70. Then I go look in my Account Summary tab, where the fees are listed. I see that eBay charged me 28 cents for the shipping and 50 cents for the item. So I subtract that, and withdraw $3.92 to my bank account. I've pocketed a total of $3.92 for this item. I leave the 78 cents in my PayPal account so it's there at the end of the month for the fees.

How to ship eBay items:

If you have any cash at all to put up front, I recommend getting a scale. I have this one, which was $20. It weighs up to 55 pounds in 10ths of an ounce. For a bit more, you can get one that attaches to your computer via USB to use with the eBay shipping portal, but this seems to me like it's just more stuff to break and malfunction, and it takes me like two seconds to read the number on the scale and type it in.

If you can't afford the scale yet, you can still ship without it, which I did at first. If it's a heavyish item, like a box of books, you can weigh it by holding it while standing on your bathroom scale and subtracting your own weight. Round up to the next pound. For items that are lighter, you can estimate it by comparing it to a can of soup or other item of known weight, or you can look up the item on Amazon (or wherever it's sold) and see what they give as the shipping weight. Estimate high, and charge the buyer for the shipping.

When you list your items, it's usually best to use calculated shipping, unless it's a fairly heavy but small item that you can stick in a Priority Mail flat-rate box. Choose the cheapest shipping, because people will be more likely to buy your item.

For under 16 ounces (single items of clothing, etc.), use first-class mail. Otherwise, use Parcel Select or Priority Mail, whichever is cheapest. Enter the weight and size of the item in the eBay listing and it will tell you what the services cost, and you can choose which ones to offer. If you're selling something like a textbook that you think someone might want right away, you can also offer overnight shipping and whatnot.

The fastest and cheapest way to ship is through the eBay website. You get a discount over what the post office charges, and it immediately sends the tracking number to the customer. You will need a printer, which you can find on craigslist for free. For your first few items, print the label on plain paper and tape it to your package. Make sure not to tape over bar codes. After you've sold a few things, buy some cheap labels. I got 200 of these labels for $7.47.

You'll also need something to ship your items in. If you don't already have Amazon Prime, subscribe to it! There's a deal through Swagbucks right now. It's totally worth the yearly fee, because you can get just about anything shipped to your house for free. And stuff that gets shipped to you comes with packaging materials. Save all the boxes, bubble envelopes, bubble wrap, and so forth, and store them where you store your eBay stash. Now you have free packaging material. If you need something large or specialized, there are tons of people on craigslist giving away boxes, tubes, and packing peanuts. For clothing, shoes, or other items that are bulky but don't need the protection of a box, buy a package of poly mailers. I got 100 of these for $12.16. I bought huge ones so I can sell big lots of things, but you can also fold them over for smaller things (as seen in top photo), and they barely cost more than the small ones. I'll go back to worrying about the environment once I can pay my bills.

Questions? Post a comment and I'll do my best to answer. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This eBay thing is working out well, but it's also making me hate people

So, I've listed a ton of stuff on eBay. Most of it is clothes, books, gadgets that we had lying around the house. Stuff is doing quite well, and I'm happy with the number of bids I'm getting on things.

However, I'm coming across a trend that's annoying me as someone who tries to live as frugally as I can. Certain brands of stuff, regardless of condition, and regardless of whether they're unique or interesting or hard to find, go for a ton of money. Yeah, OK, this isn't a new concept to me. I've taken economics classes and I've lived in this world for more than a minute. But seeing it in action is aggravating me.

I listed this sweater, used, not even in very good condition, that was in some hand-me-downs someone gave one of the kids. I recognized that it's an expensive brand, and it was something we weren't crazy about and probably would have put back into the donate/give away pile. The sweater is a plain cotton one with no branding or stitching or anything on the outside to signify the brand. I thought it was Old Navy until I saw the label. It makes even less sense than Polo and Nike and that whole branding scene where you know at a glance that it's a "good" brand. But this sweater has a ton of watchers and is racking up the bids. It's not even in good condition and is pilled and stretched out.

In the meantime, the "normal" kids' clothing I've posted at very reasonable prices is mostly going slowly. Seriously, people are bidding more for this damn sweater than the starting bid for a set of four pairs of jeans, four hoodies, and a bunch of shirts, which is just sitting there at the moment. And this might not be designer stuff, but it's nice stuff -- GAP, H&M, Aeropostale and so forth. I just can't imagine, even when I've had quite a bit of expendable income, spending money on one boring sweater when you could literally get a whole wardrobe for the same amount of money. Or at least a unique/interesting sweater. It's just a totally different world where people care about that stuff, I guess. I remember reading a young adult fiction book -- maybe a series? -- where the teens would go around school putting their sweaters and jackets on their chairs with the designer labels exposed instead of wearing them. Do people really care about this sort of thing with kids' clothes? Like, the labels might be seen once in a while when the kid leaves the sweater lying in the middle of the damn living room, so it has to be correct label? Who are these people?!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wassup with instant pots?

Yes, I'm familiar with what they are, and they seem to make a lot of sense for cooking beans, grains, and similar cheap-and-nutritious things for people who aren't at home a lot.

But I'm really concerned about the side effects of these things. It seems they have some unusual property that causes their owners to mention them any time someone discusses food. It doesn't seem to matter whether one is discussing food that would be in any way improved in an instant pot. Instant pots are infesting people's brains, y'all.

Actual conversations I've witnessed recently:

"I had two egg and cheeses from Dunkin Donuts this morning"
"You need an instant pot!"

"Should we order Thai or Indian tonight?"
"You should get an instant pot!"

"I just got a whole bunch of clothes on mega sale"
"Amazon has instant pots for $60"

My god, they've started wearing them. Or cooking their clothes, idk. I quit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Speaking of the Purina MyPerks thing...

Yesterday I was lamenting that the Purina MyPerks program changed their terms last year, which made it no longer worth it in my opinion. For those who aren't familiar, it was previously set up so that it took 30,000 points to get a coupon for one free giant bag of cat food. This was taking me 6-8 weeks via using the code on the free bag (it doesn't say this is prohibited!) plus the other bag or two I'd buy. It was sometimes quicker if I got codes from friends as well. But then, since people were apparently duplicating the coupons, they discontinued the program and changed it so that it requires 60,000 points and they ship the actual bag of food to you. I decided it was no longer worth it for me, and I'd just get cat food on sale or from Amazon.

Now that I'm really really scraping by, I decided to check back with this program, as I'll do pretty much anything I can do at home to save or earn money at this point, even if it doesn't seem "worth my time." I've got a decent amount of time, and no money, so yeah.

I logged into my account, and what do you know, I have 20,000 points. Apparently the account has accumulated 300 points per month for following Purina on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, plus 100 points each time someone joins using my link.

So, yeah, I'm going to give this thing another try. If you want to sign up, please use my link, and free free to leave comments with any questions you have about how it works.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Where is the cheapest place to buy cat food and cat litter?

So, we seem to have another cat. I'm not really sure why. It decided it wanted to live with us, and who am I to say no?

The cat is pretty cool. Apparently the things have no short-term memory, so they do things like flinging themselves up on the windowsill in horror and amazement every time a car drives by. Or repeatedly trying to jump up on things that are too high or trying to run under something that's too low. And of course being absolutely stunned. Every time.

It's possible we got a dumb cat.

Either way though, bitches gotta eat, and that goes for feline ones too.

So, food for this thing. The cat will eat wet food and dry food. The vet says that it's best to give both, since the less-processed food is better for organ and digestive health, and the kibble is good for their teeth.

Here are the best deals on canned food I've found so far:

This 24-pack of 5.5-ounce cans at Amazon is $9.49 with free prime next-day delivery. That comes out to about 7 cents per ounce.

Edit: Make sure you are shopping at Amazon through Swagbucks, so you can get points for every dollar you spend.

Dollar Tree has 13-ounce cans of Friskies for $1.00, which is also about 7 cents an ounce.

Dollar Tree is also probably the best source for pet toys, bowls, brushes, cat pee cleaner, and so forth. They seem to be decent quality. I would probably avoid the toys though if you have a dog or cat who chews toys to the point that pieces come off and they could swallow them; the pet stores make expensive chew-proof ones for pets who do this.

Now, for dry food:

Dollar Tree has 14-ounce bags of dry food for a dollar. I haven't bought any, and I'm a bit hesitant because it's an off brand. I wouldn't normally care about this for human food, which is highly regulated, but pet food doesn't seem to be, and I've heard horror stories. If anyone has more information about this food producer, I might consider it. (Some Dollar Tree products are actually reputable brands repackaged.)

So, moving on to a little more pricey. If your cat isn't picky, it's possible to get cheap food by buying whatever brand is on sale and has a coupon. Purina often has coupons available on the coupon sites. They often run one that's a dollar off any size bag, and they make a small bag that's $3 or so. The coupons will print two times per computer, and you can follow the various coupon matchup sites to see who has it on sale, and then you can often get the bags for a dollar or two.

Purina has an online pyramid scheme, which was previously getting me a free huge bag every 6-8 weeks, but apparently people were reproducing the coupons, so they're physically mailing the bag of cat food and it requires a lot more points to earn. Still might be worth it for free stuff.

If you're really in a bind, Reddit has a "Random Acts of Pet Food" forum where you can explain your need and people will help you out. Like any of the "Random Acts" pages, it's not meant to be sustainable and is intended to just use once when you run into an actual emergency. Please don't take advantage of these pages, as they're such a great thing for the people who participate and I would hate to see them so overrun by scammers that people stop donating.

EDIT: I should include cat litter too, huh? This is the cheapest clumping litter I've found. It's $13.28 for 40 pounds with free prime shipping. Dollar Tree usually has bags of clay litter for, well, a dollar, but my cat* seems to only use the sand-type litter and will use the couch if said litter is not provided in at least one litter box, because apparently this cat doesn't support using coupons and finding sales.

*The other cat**, not this new one

**I may need to call them The Asshole Cat and The Dumb Cat or something to differentiate

Friday, July 8, 2016

Discover card gave me free money

I have a Discover It* card, which I applied for last summer since it had a 0% APR for a year offer, and I needed to float some debt. I then paid it off before the interest went up to 27% or some sort of highway robbery amount. I hadn't paid attention to the features other than the balance transfer offer, but then they started sending me e-mails that for the next three months, I would earn cash back on purchases at various types of stores. So, I used the card to purchase my gas and paid it off, then used it at Amazon and paid it off, and so forth. I had the card listed as one of my Amazon payment options, and just about every time I went on Amazon, it would show up that I had $5 or $10 cashback bonus available to use at Amazon. I thought this was pretty cool. Oh, and if you'll recall from my past posts, I pretty much never spend actual money at Amazon, because I have all these gift cards from running things on my computer. So I was earning free money from using free money. Even better.

Today I got an e-mail saying they'd matched my cashback bonus for the past year. The money was available to download (yes, I just used "download" for money) into my bank account, which I did. It was a few hundred dollars, on top of the other few hundred dollars, just for making purchases I would need to make anyway. Being a credit card company, they're of course banking (literally) on people running up their cards, making purchases they think will count but don't, and paying a lot more in interest than they get in cash back. But if you're a smart broke person, you can do what I did and read the fine print about what counts, only buy things you were going to buy anyway, and then pay it off. Free money is the best money.

*Doesn't that sound dirty? Like, discover THIS.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Where is the cheapest place to buy beds?

This seems to be a question people frequently message me about, as well as one that gets posted on the broke people forums. To start, I'll spare you the info that it's worth it to buy an expensive bed for better sleep and better spine health. Of course it is. But if you had the money to buy an expensive bed, would you be reading this?

First off, for the absolute cheapest, there are always a ton of free or really cheap beds on Craigslist. Creep their pictures and choose one that's photographed in what appears to be a clean, functional home. Pick it up on a sunny day and spray the mattress with Lysol and leave it in the sun until it dries. Don't use bleach, as this can ruin the fabric.

If you have allergies or just can't deal with a used bed, here are the cheapest new ones I've found. The absolute cheapest is this futon at Walmart (I know, I know...) for $79. It's also available for $98 with a frame, though it's the type where if you're using it as a bed, it's obvious that it's a folded-down couch. You'd probably be better off getting a free platform bed and using this futon on it. The bed pictured above is a similar cheap Walmart futon on a frame I built out of about $20 worth of lumber. It was three 2x6s (cut to length at Home Depot) laid left/middle/right down the length of the bed, then 1x3s (ditto) laid across and screwed down. I spraypainted the whole thing darker brown so it was less obviously homemade. I slept on it for years before I managed to buy an adult bed, then passed it down to a kid -- the height is perfect to use safely with a toddler without dealing with the enormous waste of money that toddler beds are.

For those who don't want a futon, IKEA has this $199 sofa bed that's a firmer mattress than a futon and doesn't look as much like a pullout couch when flat. It's ridiculously ugly as a couch though; I'd suggest the Walmart futon or this $89 IKEA futon if you want to primarily use it in couch mode. IKEA also has by far the cheapest mattresses you'll find anywhere. They start at $149 for a full-size foam mattress. You can try them out at the store; the cheapest one is pretty thin, but was surprisingly decent when on a bed with springy slats. The Morgedal is really nice, and on sale right now. We have one of those. We ended up buying the mattress first and sleeping on it on the floor for about a year, then eventually finding a frame we liked on mega clearance. If you absolutely need the whole thing now, the cheapest IKEA mattress plus the cheapest frame ends up being $239 for a full, which is really pretty ridiculously amazing. I actually thought when I tried out the beds that the pillowtops made the biggest difference. Not surprisingly, they cost almost as much as the damn mattress -- from $89 to $279 for full-size. It might make sense to get the cheapest mattress, then the frame, then the pillowtop as you can afford them.

If you're not into foam mattresses, there are some low-end spring mattresses, and you can put them on the floor without any foundation. This queen at Sleepy's is $199 for the mattress and $299 with a standard boxspring. There are also discount mattress places around the city. I haven't heard great things about them, but if you want cheap, maybe worth checking out. I know there's one on Columbus Ave near Jackson Square.

If you're looking for twin beds for kids, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless provides beds for any child in Massachusetts who doesn't have one. I'm can't recall what their criteria are, but I believe it's fairly broad (maybe having Masshealth?) rather than requiring that families are completely destitute.