Earlier this year I was able to check a major "to do" off my bucket list. I visited Italy. It was the trip I had literally been planning on paper for the past ten years. I didn't intend to plan it for ten years, but life, and other opportunities (and trips!) got in the way. However, late last year, we bit the bullet and bought some airline tickets to Europe. This is when I started to panic. We had the tickets purchased, and I had saved some money for the remainder of the trip costs, but I started to think that perhaps this whole vacation was a bad financial choice. Most families our age with children spend money on furniture, cars, college savings, or home repairs. Not fantastical trips to Europe. Plus the exchange rate in expensive Europe is not in our favor.
So, how did I make it work?
I won't go into lots of detail about the mechanics of listing something on eBay since their website already has some great resources on the subject. I will only offer the tips I learned while earning money to pay for my dream vacation to Europe.
Methodically Go Through Your Junk
If you haven't used something in 2 years, consider selling it on eBay. I didn't consider myself a hoarder, but boy did I have a lot of garbage that fit that criteria. Some of the things I sold were video games, toys, clothes, books, an old iPod Touch, plates, bowls, mugs, magazines, cameras, car parts, an airplane wheel, and fish tank stuff. (Now that I write it all out, we definitely sound like hoarders.) Don't dismiss the broken items either! Some of the broken things I sold were a broken xbox, broken iPhone, and broken camcorder. People are ca-ray-zay. Also, if you are not a hoarder (like me), start stalking the thrift store and garage sales for things to resell. It takes a lot more time, but if you use a smartphone to check eBay while you shop, the pay-off can be even greater.
Here's just a sampling of some of the random household items I sold:
I didn't start off with the goal of covering my entire trip costs using eBay "winnings." (I like that term, because it really does feel like you are winning when strangers put money in your PayPal account.) All I wanted to do was offset the costs a little by at least paying for all the gelato Erik and I intended to eat. With that in mind, I set my price limit at 1 gelato per item, meaning I would not list an item unless I was pretty sure I would earn at least $5. That didn't seem to low because a) I was selling lots of items and b) I wasn't viewing my earnings in terms of money, but in terms of gelato. If you've tried good Italian gelato, then you know it can be a bigger motivator than money. You may think $5 isn't worth your time, so set your limit at $25 per item, or even $50. Know your fees, also. I can not emphasize that enough. When you are considering your potential earnings, take into account eBay's fees (which are usually 10%), PayPal's fees, and shipping. If you do not know how much to charge for shipping, weigh your item before you list it. Do not guess on shipping because you will probably be wrong and it will make you mad.
Try to List Groups of Things at the Same Time
One of the biggest complaints I hear from eBay virgins is that it just takes way too much time going to the post office to ship things, blah blah blah. Come on you big cry babies! Post your listings on the same day, so that they will close the same day, and then you will make less trips to mail items. Also, learn how to pay for shipping through eBay so that you never have to stand in line at a post office. I purchased hundreds of sealable, padded envelopes through Amazon.com which made shipping easy, cheap, and fun. I also started a collection of random boxes and USPS flat rate boxes (which are free). I found a postal place in a strip mall where I could literally park right in front of the door and drop my packages off in their box in less than a minute. The only time I stood in line was to ship something international, which was rare.
Do Your Research
eBay research is the best kind because it only takes minutes. As you're going through your house for potential items to sell, search the completed listings for the same item. You will instantly know whether or not it is worth your time to list your item. You will also be able to decipher whether you should list your item as an auction or Buy it Now. Pick a winning item that closely resembles yours and copy that listing as well as you can, even down to the description and pictures. You will also be able to figure out if you should sell your items as a lot. Selling things as a lot is especially popular when it comes to clothes, books and dishes.
Make Your Listing the Best it Can Be
I know you can use eBay mobile, which allows you to post from your phone or iPad, but please don't. It's just lazy and the pictures look like poo. Take nice high-def pictures whenever possible. You will attract more buyers to your listing and earn more money. Also, describe your item accurately. For example, if a shirt has a small hole, take a picture of it. If a plate has a scratch, detail it. Test any electronic items before you list them. People will buy broken items, just disclose it in the listing.
Leave Your Earnings Alone
I let my "winnings" accrue in my PayPal account until I needed to buy something for the trip. I tried to purchase as much for the trip as I could in advance. Some places will even let you use PayPal to pay for things directly, eliminating the need to transfer it into your checking account, ever.
As I started earning money, I quickly realized that all those "gelatos" were adding up fast. I soon had enough to purchase train and airline tickets (for travel inside Europe), a car rental, theater tickets, and hotels, all using my eBay winnings. Over the course of two months, I eventually earned enough to cover the rest of my trip expenses, including attractions, lodging for every night of our 14 day stay, and food. The best part? Paying for the trip wasn't painful because it came out of this slush fund (i.e., my PayPal account) that I didn't plan on using when I had purchased my airplane tickets months earlier.
And yes, we did eat LOTS of gelato.
Part 2 will cover How to Travel to Well on a Tight Budget.