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Online selling: How to get the most bang for your buck

Online selling usually works best when you’re selling specific items from which you can get a decent return. But should you use Amazon, eBay or Craigslist?

By Guest blogger / April 11, 2012

Vehicles drive in front of the PayPal/eBay offices in San Jose, Calif., in this file photo. Using shipping costs to decide whether to sell your items on eBay, Amazon, or Craigslist can help you get the most for your items, Hamm suggests.

Pail Sakuma/AP/File

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When you start going through your clutter, you’re going to find items of value that you simply realize that you don’t use any more. Video games. Movies. Painting supplies. Tools. Clothing. The list is as endless as the variety of things people buy.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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Once you’ve pulled out all of those unused items, the question then becomes what do I do with this stuff?

When I last did a massive de-cluttering, I went through a series of steps when deciding what to do with all of the unused things in my closets and other places that I wanted to get rid of. The first step was to sell specific and individually valuable items online.

For many of the items that I sold, I used eBay. I would highly recommend using Amazon Marketplace and Craigslist in conjunction with eBay when selling off items.

It’s important to note that online selling of individual items usually works best when you’re selling specific items from which you can get a decent return. I would not sell an item online unless I could get $5 or more beyond what I could easily get using other methods.

The reason for that is simple: selling individual items online is a time sink. I find that when I list an item online, I wind up investing an average of an hour per listed item between the time spent listing the item, the time spent answering questions, and the time spent delivering the item.

That time has some value to it. The real question is how much value it has. For me, I try to keep the time invested in such things at minimum wage (at least), so I’ll want to earn an extra $8 per extra hour invested in selling that item.

So, what does that mean in terms of deciding which items to sell individually online and which items to extract value from via other means?

Usually, I have a rough sense of the value of items I’ve found in my clutter. I know what used books are worth and I know what makes them worth a little more. The same is true for electronic items.

If I know an item has significantly greater than average value – say, a DVD boxed set versus a single DVD – then I’ll check the value of that item online. If it seems like I can get a decent return on the item, then I’ll sell that item individually. If the return on the item is disappointing, I’ll lump it in with the other items that I’ll end up selling another way.

So, where do you sell an item online? For me, it depends entirely on shipping. If it’s easy to ship (like a DVD or a trading card or something), I would use eBay or Amazon Marketplace. As to which one to use of those two, I’d use the one that seems to offer the better return for the item. There are some items that seem to sell better on eBay and others that sell well on Amazon Marketplace.

If shipping isn’t easy for the item you’re trying to sell, I’d use Craigslist. In fact, I’d use Craigslist as my first option for any item that’s too large to fit into a small priority mail box, because larger and heavier items will eat your returns when it comes to shipping time.

What do you do with those items that aren’t valuable enough to sell on eBay or Craigslist? You have several options for them, which we’ll start discussing tomorrow.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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