Picking Basics: Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean Back to Broke

by Jimmy Preston
Blog Content Contributor

One week into school and we are already feeling the pinch to our wallets. Even if you had financial aid, grants and scholarships, there’s nothing like the pain of seeing the deduction for the fall semester tuition dues, fees, and parking pass. With the growing demand from more advanced course work, sometimes students have to find ways to earn some extra spending money without adding extra demands to their stressed time clock.

Many students have part-time jobs they work during the semester, but some degree plans require internships, and that can really cut into available time for making money. A creative student will look for creative ways to make some extra spending cash without adding too much stress and excess demands on their schedule.
Items for sale
Photo by Jimmy Preston
In the old song by the Grateful Dead, St. Stephen, Jerry Garcia said, “one man gathers what another man spills.” Today, many sites like craigslist, eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and many phone apps allow people to sell their old stuff on the Internet and make a few extra bucks.What if you don’t have anything around the house that is worth anything? Nobody is going to buy your ratty old shoes, and you can’t sell your laptop because how else are you going to do your homework? Well if you follow my simple tips you too can find yourself with some extra spending cash by selling other people the stuff you find around town.
1. How are you going to sell your stuff?
You first need to decide how you are going to offer your items to your buyers. Craigslist works pretty good, but you have to meet face-to-face with your buyers, and can be difficult to schedule meetings. If you go this route the posting process is fairly simple, but you will inevitably have to deal with scammers or fake replies via email or text. I do not recommend putting your phone number on the listing, and always meet in a well-lit public place to make the transaction. It can’t hurt to bring a friend, or at the very least tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back.
Etsy is a more specialized marketplace, to sell on their site you must have vintage or handmade items. Amazon is good for a lot of stuff you may have to sell, but they are not very forgiving if you forget to ship something on time, and they are quick to suspend selling accounts if the rules aren’t followed to the letter.
The easiest way to sell (and helpful when buying too) I have found, is eBay. Once you link a PayPal account to your eBay store you are ready to start posting, and making money.
2. Finding Stuff
Here in Central Texas there are hundreds of thrift stores and pawn shops. Many of these items are being sold for much less than their resale value, and can leave a lot of meat on the bone for a reseller. With the eBay app it is quite easy to determine if an item is worth buying. If you see something that you think is worth a few bucks, you simply look it up on eBay, and see what it is selling for. If you can buy it and price it lower than all of the active listings then you will have a greater chance of making a sale. Don’t waste your time on small dollar items. Try and focus on making a minimum of $15-20 per item.
If you think you found a gem, before you buy it, look at the “completed items” in the advanced search options. This will show you if that item is selling at all. Green colored prices indicate a sale, but red colored prices mean it didn’t sell. If you see more than 50% in the red, you may want to pass on that item. This last tip is very important or else you’ll wind up with a bunch of stuff that you thought was “cool,” but nobody wants.
3. Start Listing
Make a place in your abode where you can set up some decent lighting, and take good photos of your items. With eBay you can take the pictures in the app which is a time saver and it does not store the pictures on your phone. Take the maximum number of photos, and make sure to highlight any damage or blemishes. Your description is a helpful tool to avoid returns. Make note of any imperfections, and tell the potential buyer to look at the photos to see what you are mentioning. Many returns happen because the buyer was surprised by the condition because it wasn’t disclosed beforehand. Buyers aren’t afraid of buying a used item, but if the item arrives in worse condition than previously thought, any complaint will be ruled on in their favor because you didn’t properly disclose the item condition.
4. Pick a Fair Price
You want to sell the item, right? So pick a fair price, and choose your selling method. traditionally eBay was just for auctions, but now the Buy It Now items are just as popular. If you bought an item for $5 and you think it will sell for $50, start the auction at $10 to get some bidding going and to assure that you’ll make some money. If you are listing as a Buy It Now, try to list it lower than the other listings for that item.
5. Determine Your Shipping Fees
This is the most important tip. If you do this part wrong you may find yourself shipping a $20 bowling ball that you bought for $2 for $50. People that I talk to say that learning the shipping game is crucial to maximizing the profits you can make in the resale game. You can ship directly through the eBay website using USPS and FedEx, but you have to make the right choices during the listing process so the buyer is paying for shipping and not you. After you do this for a while you can start to learn what items will cost to ship just by holding them in your hand. Services like USPS Priority Mail can make it easier to approximate the cost to ship. Once I figure out how much it will cost to ship something I post that cost as the shipping charge. I rarely ship for free unless I am making more than $50 on an item. Learn your shipping costs!
6. Ship the Stuff on Time!
Nothing will drop your seller rating faster than slow shipping. If you promised to ship in 1-2 business days, do it. The best thing to do is have your shipping supplies on hand to make the process easier. USPS has free Priority Mail supplies you can order from their website, and a walk around HEB or Walmart during their late night stocking can supply you with may conveniently sized boxes. Get a few rolls of tape, a tape gun, and a roll of bubble wrap(get a big roll).
You’ll want to eventually invest in a shipping scale to allow you to ship to the ounce, instead of approximating the weight by holding it on your bathroom scale. A tape measure will be helpful for getting the measurements of your parcels.
7. Save Money for Your Fees
At the end of the month, you will have to pay fees. If you spent all the money on pizza, those fees will then be pulled from the bank account you connected to your PayPal account, that can lead to unexpected overdrafts. Spend your money, but do it wisely.
If you follow these tips you can find yourself making a few hundred dollars a month. Shopping for items can be a fun way to pass the time, and maybe you were going to the thrift store anyway to look for a new shirt. If you are careful in your posting, you can eliminate costly returns or refunds to unsatisfied customers. And properly charging for shipping will make the shipping process less painful.

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