Archive | November, 2012

#971 Pay Off Your Credit Card Balance Every Month

30 Nov

Photo via flickr by 401 (K) 2012

These days it’s hard to shop online, travel or book reservations without a credit card. Things like booking a rental car or buying online require the use of a credit card. You don’t want to use your debit card online, so a credit card is the easiest and safest option. But credit cards can get you into a sticky situation financially. They’re so easy to use. They’re so convenient. They’re a budget buster and financial drain if you’re not careful. The best solution is to pick one credit card that has no annual fee and pay off the balance of the card every month so that you do not pay an interest on your purchases.

If you buy something online for $100 and then don’t pay it off at the end of the month, it starts accruing interest on a daily basis, adding around 15% or more to your purchase depending on your interest rate. If you pay off your card, you never even have to worry about what your interest rate is. Average credit card debt per person in the U.S. hovers around $5,000, a number that would take years to pay off for most people and would cost you hundreds of dollars in interest. Paying only the minimum payment is designed to protract the payment process out as long as possible so the card company can rake in the most interest from you. So even if you find you can’t make the full balance payment, don’t be tempted just to pay the minimum either.

Photo via flickr by 401 (K) 2012

If you’ve gotten yourself into credit card trouble, the best solution is to make a plan to pay it off quickly and put a freeze on your credit card spending. Some people literally freeze their card in a block of ice, but they also might have their card number and expiration date memorized, making it easy to enter it online in a moment of weakness. Here are some tips to avoid charging more than you can pay off at the end of the month:

  • Leave your credit card at home. If you don’t have it with you, you can’t use it. You’ll have to use cash or a debit card. If you lock it up somewhere, then you’re less likely to use it impulsively.
  • Prioritize your spending and make sure you’re updating your budget every time you make a purchase. When you see where you’re money is going and how much you have left to spend, it helps you realize what you can and can’t purchase and cut down on impulse spending.
  • Remove your card details from online sites that you favor. Are you an Amazon fiend or iTunes lover? Those small purchases add up fast.
  • Don’t deny yourself completely. There’s nothing like trying not to eat bread when you absolutely love bread. Then you eat a whole loaf. You feel sick. You didn’t want to eat the whole loaf. But being denied just made you crazed. Same thing with spending. Decide on a little luxury you can afford and enjoy it. One slice at a time, without feeling sick or sorry.
  • Sit down and review your cards. If you have more than one, cut up and get rid of all of them except one. If they have balances that you are carrying over, write in bold letters on them – DO NOT USE, YOU’RE PAYING THIS OFF or DO YOU WANT TO BE IN DEBT? Whatever will motivate you NOT to use them and pay them off. Then put them in a safe place and cut them up once they are paid off. Decide on the one that you will keep for things like renting a car and write a warning on that one as well like USE WITH CAUTION.

Some people go card-less. I wish this was easier to do, but realistically it seems like more hassle than exerting a little self control and budget savvy.

#972 Don’t Pay for Anything Related to Credit or Fraud

29 Nov

Photo via flickr by xjason.rogersx.

So now you have your free credit report in hand, what about your credit score? What if someone steals your credit card? Or your identity? Credit card and other companies will try their hardest to scare you into making you buy one of their “services” as an add on to your credit card that makes claims like monitoring your credit for you, zero liability and fraud monitoring. In reality, you can get all these services for free, do it yourself or are protected by the law. So they’re really just selling you something you already have a right to, and you don’t need their “services” (read: extra useless charge).

To get your free credit score and credit monitoring, check out creditkarma.com. The fast-growing and much praised company offers your free credit score and credit monitoring on a daily basis.

Photo via flickr by 401 (K) 2012

They partner with companies and use advertising to make the service free, but it’s not pushy, loud or in your face. The site is clean and easy to use. They offer credit tips and a community for sharing advice, reviews and information. Sign up is fast and does require your social security number as with any credit check, but the info is not stored or used other than to correctly ID you. They also offer helpful tools like a debt repayment calculator and home affordability calculator. Just browsing your credit info and score on their site will motivate you to make better financial decisions about your borrowing and spending. They have advice for that as well. It’s a good first step in getting your financial situation shaped up if it’s gotten off track or to keep you on track if you’re working on a financial goal.

So you have a great credit score, your credit reports are clean and you’re happy with your financial situation, but what about fraud? What about ID theft? Could you be ruined in a matter of moments? While fear is a great motivator to sell you something, you’re well protected by the law if any fraud or theft happen to you. First, you should keep an eye on your financial statements on a regular basis. With online accounts, it’s easy to check activity more than the once-a-month statement. For online purchases, always use a credit card, never your debit card. Report the card lost or stolen as soon as you realize something is amiss, even if nothing’s happened and  you’ll probably find it in the couch cushions a few days later.

By law, you are not liable for any unauthorized charges after you have reported the card stolen, and even if someone’s managed to charge something outrageous before you realize it, federal law puts a $50 maximum liability per card so you’re not going to be out huge amounts of cash like credit card companies would like you to believe.

Much more serious than credit card fraud, which is someone’s unauthorized use of your card, is outright ID theft, which is when someone opens accounts in your name, using your sensitive info like your social security number. This affects a very small portion of the population, but when it does, it’s a real nightmare. The difficulty of sorting this situation is usually long and painful whether you’ve paid someone to “monitor” your credit for you or not. These situations are protected by law as well.

Here are some steps to take to avoid ID theft:

  • Shred your personal info. I like to burn mine to fully assure that no one will use the info. Plus I like any excuse to use the fireplace.
  • Do not to give out your full social as much as possible. I always ask “are the last four digits O.K.” or “can you use another identifier” when I’m at the doctor’s office or elsewhere that really doesn’t need my full personal info. You can’t trust other people’s data protection policies.
  • Don’t keep your social security card or birth certificate in your wallet.
  • Don’t fall for any “phishing” scams. Sometimes these are hard to sort out. Emails asking for info obviously are fraudulent. Emails from legitimate services you use like eBay or your bank will never ask you to reset a password or enter sensitive info like your personal details or credit card info. If you’re not sure, don’t click on the link. Go to the actual institution’s website and take a look, or better yet, call them up. Sometimes phishing scams are tricky and have imposter sites or pop ups, if something seems wrong or you’re not sure, it’s better never to enter your info online and give your bank or card company a call.
  • Monitor your own credit and bank statements.
  • Verify your address with the post office and financial institutions. The first thing ID thieves usually do is have mail pertaining to fraudulent accounts sent to a different address, or change the address on your credit card statements so that you’re in the dark if you haven’t been paying attention.
  • File a police report and a FTC complaint form if you are a victim. Filing the report will protect you and get the ball rolling to getting your financial life back. Your local police department might be confused if they haven’t really dealt with this, but it’s a crime and you need to file a report. Persist until you find someone who knows what to do (states usually have someone in charge as a state service) and follow what they tell you to do.

#973 Free Credit Report Once a Year

28 Nov

The only approved site for free credit reports, don’t use an imposter.

For all the bellyaching about big government and secession talk, the government does function fairly well most of the time and occasionally does right by the consumer. One of the nice consumer protection rights is the federal law that entitles anyone to a free credit report once a year from the three major credit companies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

Seeing as how it’s getting toward the end of the year, and all those once-a-year occasions are coming up, it’s a good time to check your credit. The ONLY website available for the free credit check is annualcreditreport.com. Do not be fooled by other sites. There is no reason to pay for a credit report as the service is already provided for free here.

It’s important to check your credit report as part of a financial health check up and to avoid any surprises when you are in the market for something really important that requires a credit check like a mortgage or business loan. Even renting an apartment might require a credit check. It’s also important to check your credit to head off identity theft. I’m not in the market for a mortgage or loan, but I want to be sure that my credit over the years is reflected correctly, and no one has opened an account in my name of which I am unaware.

You are entitled to one report from each company every twelve months so it’s up to you whether you check each company at the same time or one company at a time over a period of the year. Once you check TransUnion for example, you can’t get a free TransUnion report for another 12 months, but you can check Experian or Equifax for free at another time. I like to check all three at once so I can compare them, and it’s checked off my list for the year. However, you can space out the credit checks and check one agency every four months to cover the whole year.

Disputes are easy and also free. I found an odd entry on one of the reports a few years ago and disputed it immediately and quickly. It was resolved and removed with no further effort on my part.

The companies each have their own format and way of recording the credit entries, but all are easy to read and navigate. It takes no more than 10 minutes from start to finish to receive and verify your free credit report. Of course, the companies all push to sell you something more than what you just received for free, but there is no need to pay for any additional services or scores.

The Federal Trade Commission, which is in charge of protecting America’s consumers, which is actually their motto, has a lot of great info on your rights on credit and credit reporting. There is a lot of information and rights that you are entitled to as a consumer and should be aware of so that you do not pay for services that you are already entitled to by the federal government. They caution among other things to beware of paying companies to “repair” your credit and offer advice on how to build a good credit report.

The free credit reports are also available over the phone at 1-877-322-8228 and by mail by completing the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 if you don’t want to fill out the form online.

#974 Pound Out Meat to Serve More People

27 Nov

You’re not going to hit me with that, are you? Photos via flickr by (l to r) by Douglas O’Brien and normanack.

How do you make two chicken breasts feed four people? Pound them out and use as you were planning. The process of pounding out meat means you’re making the meat flatter and thinner with a meat hammer (or rolling pin) to tenderize the meat or use it for something like stuffed chicken breast. The end result is that the meat will go further in your dish.

There is no reason to buy 4 chicken breasts for 4 people. That is too much meat per person to begin with – a serving size of meat for a meal is three ounces. So that means a chicken breast at the average weight of six ounces is TWICE the amount you need. Pounding out a breast to serve two people then solves two problems – you are saving money and you are getting the appropriate portion size. Of course you should take into account that pounding out the chicken breast will make them cook faster. In the summer on the grill, the chicken will cook in no time at all. Any left over is delicious in a sandwich or with a salad the next day.

The same is true for any red meat that you pound out. This is best reserved for cheaper cuts as prime cuts are not suited for this treatment. That way you can buy a cheaper cut of steak and then use it to feed more people. After pounding and marinating, it will be wonderfully tender and tasty.

As my mother-in-law enthusiastically said “everything is better with a good pounding.” She then stopped, quite embarrassed, and said “well, you know…” She was talking about how she never serves boneless chicken that hasn’t been pounded out of course. It’s her secret to tender, delicious chicken.

#975 Obey Traffic Laws

26 Nov

Photo via flickr by West Midlands Police.

Following traffic laws saves you money twice. You don’t run the risk of a fine, and you reduce the risk of an accident. Both fines and accidents cost a lot of money and may have serious consequences. It’s much easier to stay within a few miles of the speed limit than to fork over $100 – $250. Or not blow through the red light. Or text while driving. If you get in an accident while doing any of these, then you have to pay for repairs (even a $500 deductible is a lot to pay) and your insurance rates will undoubtedly rise. While being a prudent driver won’t guarantee that other people are as wise, and you still might get in an accident, it greatly reduces the chance and as it won’t be your fault, you won’t pay.

Mathematically speaking, speeding (5 – 15 mph over) doesn’t get you to your destination appreciably faster. Although it may “feel” like you are, you’re only gaining a minute or two at most on a daily drive depending on the length of the drive. If you’re driving in town with stop lights and traffic, trying to speed or tailgate has even less effect. On longer hauls, the time saved is more, but not enough to actually benefit you. When factoring in using more gas, increasing the risk of an accident and getting pulled over and fined, the benefit of speeding is nullified. Apparently changing lanes really doesn’t get you any where much faster but increases your risk of an accident significantly.

Most studies show that what really saves time and avoids traffic jams is better distribution of cars on the road and lower speeds. At lower speeds more cars can get through a certain point faster than at higher speeds. Of course you can get fines for things other than speeding, so here are some simple ways to save money by not wasting money on a fine:

  • Texting and driving is not pretty. Photo via flickr by cireremarc.

    Don’t text and drive. Accidents caused by texting and driving are on the rise. Bottom line is that you’re not paying attention to the road, which should be your main focus when driving. Texting is the most distracting and dangerous form of electronic device use when driving. Even if you don’t get in an accident, you can get a fine for “distracted driving.” You can get a phone app to block texting while driving if you’re worried about your teenager or can’t break the habit yourself. Related to that is talking on a mobile and driving. Go hands free if you absolutely must do this although it’s not proven to be much better. Also, don’t stare at your GPS as you drive off the road or into someone else.

  • Keep your inspection and registration up-to-date. This is the quickest and easiest way for a cop to pull you over and fine you. Most times it’s just a warning, but you could get a fine.
  • Don’t blow stop sign or red lights. Horrible accidents happen this way. I lived in a city notorious for the number of people running red lights. I never went through an intersection without looking to see if someone was running the light. It saved me quite a few times, and it’s scary think about the fact that the other people just couldn’t have the respect to stop when they should. You’ll also get a hefty fine.

    Photo via flickr by thecrazyfilmgirl.

  • Don’t drink and drive. It’s amazing the number of people who a) think this is O.K. b) drive drunk c) think they’re “good” at driving drunk. You’re not “good” at driving drunk, it’s stupid and you deserve to be pulled over, spend the night in jail, fined and have your license revoked. I have no sympathy for you.
  • Pay attention to speed changes. A favorite of cops is to sit just after it drops from 50 m.p.h. to 30 m.p.h. and you’re still blasting through at 50 or more. The speed changes are for a reason – you’re entering a town, there is a curve in the road or some other good reason. It’s not arbitrary. When I slow down to meet the speed limit, invariably people tailgate or pass me. I don’t mind. On routes with which I’m familiar I know that police like to sit at certain points, and they’re welcome to clear the road for me.
  • Have good driver behavior like using your turn signal, passing on the correct side and checking your blind spot. All these will save you an accident or a ticket, plus it’s just good practice.

Also remember you don’t have to be driving to get a fine of some kind. A French guy I knew was shocked that he was arrested for public drunkenness… in Ireland. “I was only singing while walking down the road,” he said. They must not have liked his French-accented “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

#976 Off-price or Closeout Retailer

23 Nov

Ranges from $80 – $180 online. Found it for less than $40 at a closeout retailer.

I finally deemed my beloved pea coat that I’d had for 10 years ready for the donation center. My husband  marvels at how long I have some of my wardrobe items, but it makes sense to take care of them to get the most use out of items. It was time though for a new coat. The lining had worn through, and I was ready for a change, so I started my quest to find a new one.

I had no luck week after week at Goodwill, thrift stores and yard sales. If I was going to have my new coat for another 10 years, I wanted to try it on and really love it, so online shopping wasn’t ideal. I decided to visit a local overstock retailer, expecting to to find too-large sizes and awful clothes. As soon as I walked in, there they were… racks of coats, in my size, at reasonable prices, in name brands. I ended up finding an Anne Klein pea coat for less than $40 that I can’t find for less than $80 online. The same type of coat was $39.95 at Walmart, which is not nearly the same quality for the price. It reminded me that if you’re going to buy brand-new, then the first places to look are off-price or closeout retailers. You can get great quality for a fraction of the price.

Popular off-price retailers include T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Ross, but I find local versions often have better deals. Unfortunately a lot of the smaller, local chains are being put out of business by national chains like T.J. Maxx. And there is a difference between off-price retailers and closeout retailers. Off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx focus on being a source of this season’s fashions for less, meaning their stock is 80 percent or more the exact same stuff that you would find in a regular retail store. While closeout retailers buy liquidations, overstocks and discontinued items that are out of season or no longer in stores. Either way you get a bargain. And since I like to stick to classics like a pea coat, I’m not worried about what’s hot in the current season.

Also found an Esprit wool coat for less than $40 that is twice the price online and originally much more.

While T.J. Maxx has branded themselves as a fashion choice with their Maxxinista campaign, local retailers often have horrible names that include the words bargain or basement (turns me off even though that’s what I want) and even worse T.V. commercials. But don’t dismiss them, they really do have good deals. The parent company of T.J. Maxx has expanded into the U.K. and Europe so people in that part of the world can enjoy off-price retailers as well. Online, Overstock.com is a huge, but I never have luck finding my size in any style I like.

Other retailers (off-price and closeout), which may or may not have locations close to you, include Burlington Coat Factory, Century 21 or C21 department stores, Big Lots, Value City Furniture, Stein Mart, Loehmann’s, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, Renys, Marden’s, Gabriel Brothers, Gordman’s, Forman Mills and Mandee.

Stores that you may remember from the past that have recently closed: Filene’s Basement, Sym’s and Daffy’s.

While I would always advocate getting what you need second-hand, if you can’t find what you’re looking for after several weeks of searching and depending on how imminently you need it, try an off-price or closeout retailer for good quality items at better prices.

#977 Newspaper Classifieds

22 Nov

I know…who looks at a real newspaper anymore? With the trend of everything in the world, and our lives, ending up online, traditional print newspapers are struggling. But they offer one of the best places to find bargains…the classified ads section. The only time I’ll pick up a paper now is to look at the classifieds. If you give yourself enough time, you can find what you’re looking for and within your budget range in the classifieds.

One of the best uses of the classifieds is apartment or real estate hunting. Despite Craigslist‘s efforts and online resources for apartments and real estate, I find that the local paper has the best selection and best prices for rentals. Online apartment ads tend to be for large, impersonal rental companies with high rents. Craigslist has too many scammers and competition from everyone else looking for a perfect find. Classifieds tend to be placed by individuals, who seem to be nicer, more honest and reasonable, than rental companies. Although rental companies use the classifieds too.

View – incredible, rent – reasonable, thanks classifieds.

There is something nicely thrilling about getting the paper as soon as it’s out, circling all the ads that seem to fit my criteria and then speed dialing to be the first person in the door. I’ve gotten all my apartments this way. When looking for a new place, I’ve also looked online and asked friends, but never fail, it’s the apartment listed in the paper that is breathtakingly perfect and eerily, exactly the budget number I calculated but sadly thought was impossibly low. Vacation rentals and real estate to buy are also worth a look in the local classifieds.

If you are looking for a large items like a musical instrument (the number of pianos being sold through classifieds seems unusually high) or a car, the classifieds are the place to go again. Plus there are always lots of dining sets and couches for sale at good prices as well. Don’t rely solely on looking online if you’re in the market for something.

Once you’re done perusing the section that you need, a look at everything else for sale is a good source of wonderment, laughs and bemusement.

#978 Find a Bargain at a Thrift Store or Consignment Shop

21 Nov

It took me a long time to quell the rising panic and not run the other way as soon as I entered a thrift store. The racks of scratchy sweaters, the bins of useless odds and ends, the smell…always the smell. Somewhere between old man and dirty shoe. They all smell the same. The smell is so distinct, yet can only be recalled when it’s being wafted directly in your face as soon as you open the door. A smell that recalls happy childhood treasure hunting that got lost somewhere between the first inklings of preteen embarrassment and sneering high school classmates. I didn’t shop thrift stores because it was cool. I shopped thrift stores because that’s what I could afford. Once the joy and mystery of finding a lone lid that had long lost its container when I was six (what did the lid belong to? how had it become separated? what if I were to find the other piece and reunite them?) gave way to the realization that I did not have an innate style sense that allowed me to whip up a killer outfit from a bobby pin, a Mickey Mouse tie and a tulle flower arrangement, thrift stores fell onto my list of places I hate.

So why am I advocating them on my list of thrifty?As we grow up and continue to evolve as people, one of the best things to tackle are hangups.

You have to look through racks of clothes to find your perfect deal

Now with the maturity and confidence of someone who knows what she’s doing, I can once again enter thrift stores and realize why they’re great and rediscover what I loved as a six year old…never knowing what I’ll find, digging into a heap on a happy treasure hunt and bargains, bargains, bargains. Yes, the $0.25 stuck to my palm with the sweat of excitement will be enough.

I was always terrible at finding something that fit or looked good in those over-full racks. Most thrift stores still have the same format of racks and racks of stuff crammed into a too-small space, but some are innovating with a more retail setup with easier to see (and buy) merchandise, more discerning picks and a less claustrophobic feel. Just like you should shop around for a doctor you feel really comfortable with, you should shop around for a thrift or consignment store you feel at home in.

Most thrift stores don’t win points for presentation.

Once you find a thrift store that appeals to you and seems to match up with what you’re looking for on a consistent basis then you’re golden. You might have to enter your fair share of disorganized and possibly unpleasant stores before you find one that really clicks.

This is the chick flick version of the thrift store search: Jane is a loveable and but flawed 20-something who is looking for love, she goes on endless outings with a smile and hope. Hope that she’ll find The One, hope that she’ll be happy for the rest of her life, hope that she’ll be able to brag about her awesome good fortune to her mom and friends. But this one’s too stuffy, this one’s too smelly, this one has an angry old lady residing in the back room…

Finally, having given up all hope, Jane is wandering sadly down cobble-stoned side streets when she looks up. She hears the tinkle of a bell as people enter and exit the shop in front of her. She locks eyes with a burgundy leather purse and then the price tag… In that moment she knows she has found true love, the one-and-only she’ll ever need. Her heart beating madly, she goes in. She runs her hands over the cashmere sweaters, the suede jackets, the silk dresses. Yes! Yes! Yes!

“I love you,” she murmurs. “I’m sorry I said I hated you. I’m sorry I walked away from you. I’m sorry I said I was done.” Her heart lightened but not her wallet, Jane leaves the thrift store as the sun is setting. “I’ll love you for the rest of my life,” she says.

#979 Habitat ReStore Has All Your Home Improvements For Less

20 Nov

Anyone thinking about or involved in a DIY home improvement project should check out Habitat ReStore, Habitat for Humanity’s version of Home Depot. Only the prices are a fraction of what you would find at a big box home improvement store or a local hardware store. The items on sale at Habitat ReStore have been donated by contractors, individuals and stores, which allows ReStore to offer new and gently used bath vanities, light fixtures, doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, hardware, appliances, power tools, furniture and much more at prices that makes the heart of any thrifty home builder melt. Some items that are clearly worn are even free for the taking, a great option for non-centerpiece projects like a kid’s tree house or fishing camp.

You can find building materials like new tile, dry wall, lumber, reclaimed wood and plumbing fixtures as well as all the tools and materials you would need for building like sandpaper, wiring, hammers, screwdrivers…the works. There are 825 ReStores in the US and Canada, so there is bound to be one close to you if you live in North America.

ReStore’s policy is not to accept any appliance more than 10 years old and requires the donator to guarantee its working condition, meaning you can find relatively new model stoves, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers. Stainless steel finish, anyone? Most are gently used, but some new models are also available.

ReStore’s warehouse in New Orleans. Photo via flickr by Charles & Hudson.

Basically Habitat ReStore is a Goodwill store for home improvement. This means that the stock changes all the time, you’ll have to spend the time to look for the perfect deal and will want to check back on a regular basis with your list in hand as your project progresses. Unless you absolutely, direly need something for your project, I would just wait it out until you find it at a Habitat ReStore. I would even check more than one store if they were within ½ an hour to 45 minutes driving distance. If you’re looking for furniture, ReStore has couches and furniture galore. Also, just because it’s a bargain already, doesn’t mean they don’t have sales. You can save 35 to 50 percent on some sales! You should go prepared with your measurements and as many details of what you want as possible, because if you see something, you want to get it right away. It might not be there after you run home to measure the space or waffle as to how you want to decorate. You can pay for an item and pick it up later as long as you’re sure you want it.

The staff at the stores is mostly made up of volunteers, which is the same as the Habitat building sites, but they prove to be extremely friendly and helpful. You do have to be able to haul away your own stuff as they do not provide delivery, so go with a friend who has a truck if you don’t have a big car. Unless you’re getting a bag of hinges or drawer pulls, whatever you buy is going to be bulky and heavy. They’ll help you load it into the car or truck in the parking lot, but after that you’re on your own.

All sales support building or restoring homes through Habitat, which has provided countless homes for families who would not otherwise be able to own a home. Habitat has perfected its formula of volunteer labor, donated materials, “sweat equity” from the qualifying families and minimal mortgage payments to enable needy families to avoid homelessness or unacceptable living conditions. So you can feel good about buying at ReStore because the profits are going straight back into the charity. Plus you’ll feel great about how much money you saved redoing your bathroom or putting in an in-law apartment. Even if you’re not a home owner and taking on simple projects like refinishing a dresser, Habitat ReStore is the place to go.

#980 eBay Saves You Money And Makes You Money

19 Nov

eBay changes may leave users frustrated, but it’s a great source of second-hand or new stuff at a discount. I was going to make this graphic myself, but found it on Adweek and used the version on their site.

I love Express Editor pants, but at $60 to $80 retail, they’re pricey. I can find them on eBay for $9.99 – $14.99 new or like new. Sometimes they’re even tailored to the exact length I need! Anytime I’m looking for something for my daughter that I haven’t found at Goodwill, I look on eBay and can usually find it for less than $10. It’s a great source of replacement items for makes and models of items large and small. When someone kicked in our car’s front grill (grr…). I found the exact color and match on eBay for a fraction of the price new. And I didn’t have to pay to get it painted to match the car. I buy discontinued items that my husband loves for a song.

It may have gotten all corporate, replaced the common man seller with large businesses and made it almost impossible for sellers to keep track of all the changes and fees, but for buyers, eBay still offers great deals if you’re careful.

For all its follies that are lamented on a daily basis by users, eBay is still the largest source available to find exactly what you’re looking for. But since it’s changed so much since the early days when I started using it seriously in the early 2000s, here are some suggestions to help you find a great deal on eBay and save you money along the way.

  • Look for what you need on eBay and then check what the going price is by looking only at Completed Listings. Whether buying or selling, this will give you and idea of whether the item you are looking to buy on eBay is worth it.
  • Know what the item costs new. Some eBay auctions end so close to the price of the item new, it’s not worth buying it used and paying for shipping, which may make the price more than if you bought it new. If the price is too close to make a difference, I much prefer popping by the store and getting the item than waiting for the auction to end or for the item to be shipped.
  • Factor shipping into your final cost. Shipping varies so wildly on eBay that I only consider and bid on items for which shipping doesn’t blow the deal out of the water. I add the shipping to the price and decide whether it’s still worth it.
  • Consider Buy It Now. Just because you buy it outright doesn’t mean that it’s not a good deal. In fact, I find Buy It Now options are priced better than the final auction price of many items.

    A favorite that has been discontinued can be found on eBay, new with tags, for a great price.

  • For items that offer Make an Offer, bargain away. Start low and then you’ll end up at the price you wanted in the first place.
  • Don’t get caught up in the bid frenzy. The excitement of bidding and winning an ebay auction is a form of gambling addition in my opinion. You’re palms sweat, you can’t stop thinking about it and then you spend too much. Set an amount that you want to pay (always factoring shipping) and refuse to budge. If the item goes out of your range, so be it.
  • Put a bid in and leave it. For items that aren’t a huge deal to you, put in your bid and walk away. If you win it, great, if you don’t oh, well. I win 50% or less of the auctions this way but my max bid is so low that it’s a bargain if I win and too much for my taste if I don’t.
  • Snipe for things you really want. Another lamented factor of eBay is sniping, or last second bids winning an auction. The way eBay is set up, there is no way to win auctions with surety besides sniping. You can manually snipe or use an automatic sniper for auctions for which you can’t be available or to ensure you don’t get carried away when bidding yourself. Use only reputable sniping services as you are sharing personal info with them. Esnipe.com has minimal fees and is well regarded. At $0.25 for auctions less than $25, which is my budget range, esnipe is affordable. Jbidwatcher.com is free although it is someone’s personal project, meaning updates and fixes might be slower than a pay service. Goofbid.com is free and a good site for U.K. users. It includes a misspelling and not in title search as well. I find sniping works best in the last three to six seconds of an auction.
  • Go with individual sellers. It might seem like the vast majority of sellers on eBay are large companies selling their stock or medium to large resellers. But there are regular individual sellers cleaning out their closets or trying to make a little money. The individual sellers usually have the best deals. They start the auctions low and have reasonable shipping. Resellers want way too much for their stuff because they’ve found it for you at a yard sale or thrift shop and are trying to sell at a profit. You should just do the bargain hunting yourself.
  • Check misspellings. You can lessen your competition for an item by looking for items that have misspellings in the titles or missing the brand name or other descriptor in the title. Goofbid has this service along with the snipe service. Other misspellings sites that return the most results from ebay are fatfingers.com and typobay.com. Typobay returned the most results although fatfingers has a better advanced search function.
  • Don’t shop unless you need something. This is the case all the  time, so I’ll just keep repeating it…

eBay plus Goodwill equals thrifty and happy.

Here’s a specific example where eBay can come in handy. I bought two Fisher Price Animal Sounds Farms at Goodwill in great condition one for $1.99 and the other for $2.99. But they had no animal figures accompanying them. So a quick search on ebay revealed a lot of auctions for a varying number of animals, farmers and accessories. The auctions varied hugely in the number of pieces you received and the shipping charged. I tallied the final auction price plus shipping divided by the number of figures offered in each lot. Math is not my strong suit, but I can do averages. I found that, on average, auctions for the farm pieces ended anywhere from $2.10 – $2.50 per piece. Buy It Now options averaged $1.30 – $1.80 per piece. To buy new retail averaged $3 – $4 per piece. Obviously Buy It Now had the lowest price per piece and the larger the lot, the lower the price. I ended up buying a much larger lot than I needed from a Buy It Now seller at $1.66 per piece. I outfitted the two farms with the required animals plus some other fun ones and extras. I took the remaining animals and figures I didn’t need and sold them at auction on eBay for a final sale price of $2.37 per piece, or $0.71 higher per piece than I bought them for; partially covering the cost of the pieces I kept. I ended up paying just under $20 for the two farms and the animals, which would have been $80 or more retail. Between Goodwill and eBay, I was happy with the outcome. Not to mention the hours of play that have been enjoyed since.

You can also clean out your closet and make some extra cash on eBay by being an occasional seller. To be a serious seller take a lot of time and organization that you may not have. If you start to sell on eBay and think you can swing being a more serious seller, go for it.

Alternatives to eBay if you really hate eBay or want to try something different:

Ioffer: It looks nice, but the options to narrow down your search are limited. Items offered are much more limited than ebay (as is the case for all competing sites). Ioffer is mostly based on the bartering system of making an offer to the seller. My offer just sat there for days until it expired, not impressed (with the seller, not the site). With eBay I hear within hours of an offer most times. It’s worth a look if you’re searching for something.

Ebid: A little better than ioffer with options to narrow your search based on price, size, ect. A lot of items are listed to buy only so no bidding or bartering is going on. Also it is more limited in the number of items offered in any category.

Atomic Mall: Looks like a flashback to the ’80s, if they’d had web pages during the ’80s. It is very limited in narrowing down your search by different categories. It is mostly a site to buy, but has auctions as well.

Ruby Lane: This site is exclusively for antiques, vintage and collectibles. It has mostly options to buy, but you can make offers as well. It’s a great venue for finding unique pieces, and prices offered would have to be evaluated based on the item. It is highly rated by users.