Be Fancy AND Frugal with Craigslist!

Caviar taste and tuna fish pockets? There’s an easy…ish solution.

When I decided to quit working and stay home with my children, I knew it would be necessary for me to contribute to our family in a different way. Like most stay-at-home moms, I did not choose this lifestyle because we were making too much money as a dual-income household. In fact, a large part of my new role – probably second only to the caring for my children part – would be figuring out how to make living on a single income financially feasible.

This meant not only making cutbacks in our spending, but also figuring out creative ways to save. We cut coupons, we price match, we buy everything we can from Aldi. But, some things are trickier. When multiple pieces of essential furniture purchased in college at IKEA start to fall apart (after many years and much abuse, I might add. I’m pro-IKEA!), it’s not always possible to wait around for a sale. It’s also not necessary to sacrifice quality or style to land cheap merchandise. So where is a frugal, resourceful mom with expensive taste to turn for attractive, durable AND affordable big ticket items? Where else but everyone’s favorite cesspool of weirdos and jerks who don’t know how to use Google… CRAIGSLIST!

Simultaneously my favorite and least favorite place to save money, Craigslist has become my go-to for buying high quality items at a fraction of the price and 10 times the hassle of any store. However, while the concept of buying and selling through email is simple enough, the actual process is often far more complicated. It truly takes an experienced Craigslister to confidently navigate the murky waters of anonymous internet negotiations. Having been through my fair share of Craigslist successes and failures, I’d like to help teach you how to successfully use Craigslist to save money for your family!

Start with some rules.
You have to wade through a lot of garbage to find a few gems. Create your own rules to quickly eliminate items that are not as promising as they seem at first glance. For instance, I immediately pass on anything photographed in a messy room. If a seller can’t be bothered to move his trash before taking a photo, it’s fair to assume that responding to your email will be a low priority as well. It’s also fair to assume that his item will smell the way the room looks. 

Likely couch scents: Cheetos, ketchup and beard

Other red flags:

  • Poor photography – imagine the people you know who can’t take an in-focus, decently lit photo in 2017 and ask yourself if you want to enter a business transaction with them.
  • More than 15 minutes away – I once paid for a bed frame because I had cleared three car seats from my minivan, secured a babysitter, and driven 40 minutes before the seller surprised me with all the missing and broken pieces. It still bothers me. I still have the bed.
  • Egregious grammatical errors – these people can’t be trusted on Craigslist or in life.

Vet your seller.
When dealing with mysterious internet people, do as you would do in any normal situation in which you learn someone’s name — immediately Facebook stalk them. Maybe you’ve found a very nice dining set, but does the seller seem trustworthy? Does their year-old table appear in photos from 2010? Do you really want to give your money to a KU fan? Is the alliterative name they gave you, which sounds way too much like a superhero’s true identity, actually a real person? There’s plenty of useful information to be found with a little stalking research.

Make your transaction happen in as few emails as possible.
I’ve learned this from being a Craigslist seller. Get right to the point and tell them what you want, how much you’re offering, and which day you want to pick it up. Leave nothing open-ended. Don’t take six emails to accomplish what you could have done in one. And never, ever lead with “Is this still available?” I’ve learned that this is a sign of someone who will:
(a) never respond again, even if you say yes, or
(b) ask a million more questions, each in individual emails, most of which can be easily Googled, and the rest requiring you to dig out your item, find the appropriate sticker, and read through the tiny text to find some number that they don’t really need. 

And all of this before deciding you’d rather just burn the damn thing than exchange one more email. Assume it’s available.

Don’t meet up with a Craigslist killer. BE the Craigslist killer (sort of).
If you’ve followed the previous steps, you’re off to a good start. It’s unlikely that someone who wants to meet in the parking lot of a busy shopping center in broad daylight is trying to harm you. Personally, I find nothing more comforting than when the person I’m meeting takes precautions to ensure that I’m not going to murder them. But if they invite you into their house to get something? Well, they’re probably not trying to harm you either. And besides, you’ve Facebook stalked them well enough to know all of their kids’ names, where they vacation every August, and the result of little Braden’s soccer game last week, so in this scenario you are the creep.

Hopefully these tips will help you navigate the overwhelming junk heap that is Craigslist. It really can be a great way to save your family money and pick up some nice, high-quality items that otherwise wouldn’t be affordable. My experiences are almost entirely positive. It’s also an addicting sort of thrill to land a great buy. You just have to be willing to trudge through a lot of garbage (and some garbage people) to find it.

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