Saturday, March 24, 2012

Frugal Retirement-Buying and Selling (for Fun and Profit)

Note: I ask your patience while I play with this blog a bit for the next day or so. I'm trying to insert a little "spring" into  the mix.  Bear with me, and if you're looking at jelly beans, fear not, this too shall pass.

Occasionally I write about, or refer to my various income streams.  These "streams" are the way I bring in additional income in order to supplement my pension and social security.  All of my income streams have been established in the past year or so (although I have been a quilter for awhile, it's just recently that I have tried to pump up the volume on this hobby).

One of the ways I try to raise money is buying and reselling, or what one guy called retail arbitrage.  Since I've had a questions off and on about how I do this and the effort it takes, I thought I would share a little bit.  First, let me say that I am not an expert on reselling, not even close. There are bloggers out there who sell full time, and I am filled with admiration. That is not my goal, and expect its not yours either. Im looking at a part time thing that I can do on my own time. I have no interest in opening a store, spending a couple grand at a storage auction or listing items on eBay or elsewhere all day every day. My goal is to bring in a some money without too much overhead and have some fun at the same time.  This is an income stream that you can fit into your available time, and can even take with you.  Many a road trip has included the local quilt store, a used bookstore, and a thrift shop as part of the entertainment.

My first adventure in reselling was when I decided to sell my plethora of books and a few other excess household items.  I lived in Germany for seven years, with a teeny tiny bookstore and a teeny tiny English library. The box from Amazon came into the mail room every other week. Not only that, but our English TV was British. It was excellent, but we were unable to watch The West Wing or 24 unless we ordered the series. I also  had some household items that were above yard sale quality that I wanted to list. As we became more adept at knowing what sold, we began picking up other items to sell. Eventually my son developed a very part time book selling business, and I moved into collectibles.

I'm still an amateur who learns as I go, however, I have learned a great deal (especially from other booksellers).  For those who are wondering if this is right for them, here are my thoughts and suggestions on the "finding things" end in no particular order. Later I'll talk about the time and effort (generally it's up to you) required to sell stuff regularly on line. As many thrift shoppers will tell you, most of my suggestions apply to thrift shopping in general, even if it's only to add to your own collection.

When it comes to buying and selling:

  • Where you get the "stuff" depends on your location, I expect. I get most of my things at yard sales and estate sales. Not the professionally run estate sales, but the "I'm helping dad downsize to move to assisted" living type of estate sale. Of the things listed in my vintage shop on the side, some came from a guy getting rid of one of his two storage units (two storage units!!).  This includes the cup and the models. Some came from a guy helping his dad weed out his collections ( the cookbooks), and some came from various yard sales.  I live in Texas and we've had yard sales for over a month. In places with different weather, that stuff may go to a thrift shop. We don't have swap meets or flea markets where I am per se, although we do have trade days.
  • Ya gotta love the hunt. I LIKE searching through stuff at yard sales and estate sales and digging into piles of books at library sales and elsewhere. If the thought of wandering a flea market, estate sale or yard sale (or even thrift shop) turns you off, then stick to selling from your family or friends. Another alternative would be to offer to sell for others and take a bite.
  • Buy what you know.  When my son and I go to book sales, we separate. He looks first at military history books. I look at cooking and craft books. Then if we have time we move to areas we like but know less about. Some areas are  financially sensible but since we know little about them, we avoid that area. This includes medical books, children's books (even collectibles) teachers book, and so on. Although we check books for saleability electronically, we have less rejects with this method. If we're wrong, the risk is low. I'm liable to never complain about having an extra cookbook, and my son has shelves full of war and sports books. If he has to keep one and call it his, that's okay.  Because I already have a teacup collection, I have a better sense when I scan a yard sale if that china over on the far corner is worth looking at. If you like something, learn about it.  Bob over at Satisfying Retirement,  for example, probably has knowledge of albums and music memorabilia. Much as I want to buy this kind of stuff, I know it would be a bad idea.
  • Take small risks, unless it's something you already own.  I'm talking both in term of costs and size. Yes, sometimes the more costly sale brings the bigger reward. In addition to the cost though, larger orders are more difficult to ship.  Breakable items are more difficult to ship.  And if I buy a three dollar model airplane kit from 1950 (new in shrink wrap) and it doesn't sell, I have not broken the bank.
  • Be prepared to grab that item when you see it-no matter the season.  This is true whether you are buying for yourself or reselling. If you see a Department 56 Village piece or a real German nutcracker-grab it!  Put it away. I buy ugly Christmas sweaters all year for a buck or two-who knew that the month before Christmas they sell four upwards of twenty dollars each!
  • Spend time Online looking at values and auctions. Or, if you have flea markets and tag sales and trade days near you, spend time wander that venue.  Start with a couple things you know and like. go to EBay and check the prices. Not the listed price necessarily. Look also at the bids. The fact that someone has a collectible plate at a buy it now price in no way means anyone will purchase it for that amount.

I'll talk more about time later.  In general though, I will say this-how much time you spend is how much time you want to spend. Because my son likes me to go book shopping on occasion, I assist him and hit the other parts of the thrift shop at the same time. During the week I allow one day (half a day at the most) for photography and one half day (or less) for listing. I know I'm small potatoes, and an Ebay expert reading this will probably say it's better to list throughout the week rather than dump a bunch of listings at one time. But I have a real life. I'm still trying to go to school, quilt 15 hours a week, garden and work on the house, travel, volunteer and do the other things in semi retired life. I also occasionally visit Canton Trade Days, mainly to see what's selling and look around. 

This week I've sold four vintage items, one small quilted item, and taken on a special order. Like I say, I'm a beginner. But my overhead is low, I'm having fun, and I can take the work wherever I go. And if I'm busy that week and have no time?  Well then I mail something if it sells and leave it at that.


  1. First, thanks for the link. Yes, I have a pretty decent knowledge of music, particularly during the time I was involved with radio: mid 60s through the late 90's. Unfortunately, I can't listen to the radio anymore because I end up critiquing what the station is doing right and wrong instead of just enjoying the songs!

    Every time you blog about this subject I think I would like to give it a shot. M<y wife enjoys garage sales and I think I could learn to re-sell some of the better stuff.

    One question: how do you learn about the various sales in your area? Do you just drive around until you see a sign or do you have a more efficient method?

    I must give this a shot.

  2. I keep checking back to see what you are doing with your template. I like this one better than the last one.

    As far as the post, I don't know how to go about listing stuff so people will see it. I have a ton of teaching materials that HAVE to go!

  3. Bob, I find my yard sales on craigslist. I to Dallas Craigslist and click on Garage sales. Then depending on my energy level I enter one of three terms town or towns,the phrase "books", or occasionally I enter the words estate sale. whenever there is such a thing, I opt for the ads that say neighborhood yard sale, so that I can see a bunch at one time. Be warned that for every great sale you can find one that is not. one of the best reference for all articles in the tightwad bazette is her missive on yard saling.

    I always ask for Itunes gift certificates for christmas and the like. While I have no ipod, I make my own cds for travel. I have a brother who knows how to down load music and videos from all kinds of places, so I have piles of tapes, including my most recent one with is a government mule singing Jefferson airplan and the like

  4. Janette, have you tried starting on Craigslist? I will tell you that we bought a lot of books from one lady's storage unit and much of it was scholastic. Some of it sold, some did not. TheDVD books sold like hotcakes, the books only so so. the teaching books were all over the map.

    If you have the patience, you might type the isbns into just to get an idea of what their value is. Just use books as the search and enter the isbn. At least then you will know. Yesterday I got a coffe table book on classic cars for a buck that wills sell for 20-always a good deal. Others also


Things I'm Enjoying This Monday-And A Couple Things That Are Frustrating Me!!

One of the many reasons I don't do serious (other than visiting family) travel during the summer is the chance to stay at home. Warm w...