Sometimes I feel like a really inefficient side hustler, which is not entirely inaccurate, but writing the last few posts, and this one, reminds me that hasn’t always been the case. Whereas substitute teaching was definitely my first side hustle (oh, that’s a lie actually, I think pet sitting my neighbor’s cat when I was 12 could claim that title), the most consistent one over the years has been my pal eBay.
I made my first ever eBay sale on June 12, 2003 and even without looking it up (I don’t think their records even go back that far), I can tell you it was a textbook. For the first few years eBay and I were acquainted, I bought and sold most of my textbooks on it, because the funny thing is that when the campus bookstore doesn’t want your textbook and the workbook that goes with it back because you’ve written all over it – other students don’t really care. And if you note the workbook is filled out and you attach a picture of your transcript with an A next to the picture of the book… ka-ching.
My real love affair with eBay didn’t really start though until I started working on cruise ships. Work schedules there are a little weird – you work for 4-6 months straight without a day off and then you have a month or two off at home, rinse and repeat. The exciting thing about 4-8 weeks of vacation is that you can do some awesome things with that time. When I had summers off, one of my best friend’s who is a teacher and I went to Paris and Edinburgh. Another time my cousin managed to get a few weeks off and we went to Peru. Those kinds of trips were a piece of cake for me. They were also expensive and required advance planning and saving up (not a problem really, life at sea is cheap). The problem I realized after my first vacation though is that I had no concept of how expensive that month would be.
I realized I was easily blowing through hundreds of dollars each vacation. Gas is super expensive and I wanted to see my friends. Most nights were meals out, catching up, or sometimes we would grab drinks (or an entire fishbowl of a drink). I wanted to catch up on all the movies I didn’t get to see while I was working. I loved catching Broadway shows and had several friends who felt the same way. It adds up. Quickly. I always managed to get by, but I would get on each new ship flat broke, dying for my first paycheck to pay off my credit card. And that was not a good system. So I thought, I am just going to have to cut back on these things… but the more I thought about it, the less I liked that, because really, if you think about it, I bet you spend a couple of hundred dollars doing all those things too… just normal people don’t cram their entire years worth of friendship and entertainment into 2-3 months. I had to. And I decided I wasn’t compromising on that. It’s hard enough to keep your friendships alive when you spend 5/6 of the year in the middle of ocean. So eBay became my answer.
Despite all the socializing and traveling, most of the people I was catching up with had pretty normal lives, which mean from 9-5 Monday-Friday, I was on my own. Even my family was busy. I would hang out with my grandmother a lot (which was awesome because she is awesome), but even that didn’t eat up all my time. So I started scavenging stuff to put up on eBay and in between 2010-2012, I made close to $1,900 and managed to cover about half of my expenses during each vacation (and just learned to not be a dork and save up during my contracts to cover the rest).
There are some things that are solid high sellers on eBay: DVD collections, full sets of popular book series, Coach purses, video games and name brand anything. And let me let you in on a little secret, I remember stressing over selling plenty of items – what if I miss it? What if it doesn’t go for much money? Today I reviewed my list of items sold, so I could give you guys some accurate info and realized there is not a single thing on that list that I miss. And some of them took me years before I caved in and sold them.
Every month, your first 50 listings are FREE. eBay also has “free listing days.” You’ll see regular emails where for a certain span of time – a day, a weekend, etc. – you can list as many items as you want for free. Take advantage of this! Personally, I look at eBay as a virtual garage sale and I list EVERYTHING I sell at .99 or less. .99 also is the trigger for the lowest insertion fee (which I believe is .10) if you go over those 50 listings. I clean out my closet and just go, I figure even .99 is better than having it just cluttering my home. Good pictures are a world of help and no one is likely to buy what you list without a picture. I take mine with my camera phone and it definitely works well enough. For clothing make sure you get the front and the back. Sometimes I’ll also list a picture of me wearing it, if I have one. Also, if there is any sort of imperfection, take a picture up close and document it. When in doubt, under sell the item. I’d rather that my buyer be happy that something isn’t nearly as bad as it seems rather than that I didn’t tell them the truth. This is because buyers leave reviews and they are a BIG DEAL. I won’t buy from people with crappy ratings and when someone buys from me, I immediately check their rating and have a good idea about whether this is going to be a good transaction or a pain in the butt – 99% of the time, it’s accurate. I’ve managed to sell some truly surprising items over my time with eBay: my pig collection (seriously, the weirdest collection of stuffed, ceramic and any kind of material imaginable pigs from my teenage years), plaid pants from my high school ska lovin’ days, some seriously HIDEOUS clothing from my grandmother that I labeled vintage (although the pictures don’t lie), my ancient TV from college and one of my baby blankets.
It doesn’t hurt for your friends and family to know you like selling stuff on eBay. My mom is a chronic non-returner, and by that I mean she buys clothes without trying them on and then never returns them when they’re not right. It’s crazy. She’s literally throwing away money. At the height of my eBay-ing she went through her closet and gave me about 20 brand new items, tags still on, to do what I wanted with. They were some of my best sellers. Unwanted Christmas gifts do well on eBay too. I have no idea why, but so many people in my family seem to think I love Coach purses… I’ve had the same purse for 10 years. I like it a lot. I’m going to stick with it. Another surprising item that does well is Victoria’s Secret coupons. Every month I get 3 of them since I have their credit card. When I’m not buying a bra, I put them up and usually get $3-5 for them.
Some of the pros for using eBay are that the system is really simple. You need a PayPal account, which eBay connects you too and that website is easy to navigate as well, you’ll just need your bank account information to connect them. There are lots of options when you set up your page for each item – you can change the day you want the item to start (because you’ll usually get the most views on weekends). If an item doesn’t sell, relisting it for another week is as easy as hitting a button. There’s no minimum before you get paid, all of the money goes right through PayPal. You can list anything. Seriously anything – I’ve seen castles and souls listed, it’s quite the gamut. If your items are good, the money is likely to be good too.
The cons include the amount of time it takes to list items – a good listing is more likely to sell stuff. Some items are easy to list – a DVD set of a TV show doesn’t require much more information. Some are less easy – clothes should include sizes, what they’re made of and any other measurements, jewelry should list extra information too. If you want to sell something particularly odd, a few extra minutes spent on a clever listing can make all the difference. If the item is lost in the mail, you won’t be paid (an USPS has actually lost more than 1 package I’ve sent). If you list a shipping price and find that you estimated incorrectly, it’s still your responsibility to ship the package (I’ve been known to do this once… or 80 times. Who knew jeans were so dang heavy??). Both eBay and PayPal take a tiny percentage of your sale, so that stinks. Sometimes buyers don’t pay, so after all that fuss, you still have to relist the item (although eBay had a cool second chance offer where you can offer the item to the person with the second highest bid instead). Also, if you became a super seller, there is a 750 item and $22,500 monthly limit (although if you’re hitting that, you should be writing this article instead of reading it).
That being said, I’ve got a giant pile of junk crammed in my closet calling my name. I’ve got to start organizing it and photographing it so I can add it to my couch side hustle grand total!
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