Think of how much stuff you’ve accumulated over the past 2 years. Now think of what it would take to sell it all while getting a reasonable return on your investment.
As part of the Exile Lifestyle project, I’m currently undertaking the monstrous task of selling everything I own that won’t fit inside a single carry-on bag. Spoiler alert: it’s a logistical nightmare. There are some simple things that you can do to prepare for such an eventuality, however, that will result in you getting more return on your sold stuff.
Invest in Quality, Not Quantity
There are so many reasons to buy a few high quality items over many low quality items and I couldn’t possibly cover them all here, but one of the major reasons is that a high quality computer/car/desk/mobile phone/etc will last you much longer than the bargain bin equivalent. Keep in mind that high quality doesn’t mean the most expensive brand on the market.
The key is to do your homework before each and every purchase (which is what so-called ‘Prosumers’ or ‘Mavens’ do already). Some brands are ‘premium’ in name alone…they are of the same or lesser quality than their cheaper competitors, and their superiority lay only in their branding. On the other hand, there are some brands that are definitely worth paying extra for. Your priorities will determine which is which, but in general go for the brand that has better customer support, higher-quality materials and a more consistent reputation for quality and durability (you’d be surprised how many people buy Apple monitors over Dell monitors, despite the history of problems customers have had with them. I love Apple computers, but you couldn’t convince me to spend hundreds more on a monitor that contains the same general components but with less functionality).
Purchasing higher quality products achieves two main goals: the product will last longer, giving you more use for your dollar, and the product will have a higher resale value. Do a search for used Honda and Toyota vehicles online and you will find that their resale value, even when they have been driven near to death, is extremely high. This is because both brands have shown themselves to be purveyors of long-lasting products with high levels of performance and little maintenance required.
Next time you are out buying speakers, figure out which brand is the ‘Honda’ of the bunch and buy something of theirs.
Buy Low, Sell Low
Something that has driven many dates crazy (especially in the free-balling neuvo riche city of Los Angeles) is that I’m always on the lookout for a deal. It’s an old habit that I developed in college after I started my first business (read: when I was super poor) and it has served me well. If you watch the right websites close enough, you’ll realize that just about everything that’s available to buy goes on sale at some point, though some companies and genres of products more than others. I usually don’t buy big-ticket items unless I can get them 20-50% off sticker price, and I rarely have trouble doing so.
The big, dirty secret is this: the electronics and clothing industries (for example) have ridiculously huge markups on most items. High-end clothing is especially guilty of this, with a shirt that costs the company $2 to make being sold for $80, it’s no wonder they don’t flinch at dropping the price down to $40 for a few weeks (especially knowing that many people won’t even realize there is a sale going on and will still end up paying full price).
To keep up on what I call the ‘real price’ of things, there are a few sites I quickly scan every day. One is Dealnews, which is essentially a great big list of things that are on sale right now. They have editors that scour the web for sales, coupons and special offers, which they present along with all the information you need to take advantage of the discounts.
Another site that I check every day is Slickdeals, which is similar to Dealnews in that they display the day’s best offers, but different in that they have a very active and knowledgeable community that decides what goes on the front page. Working for nothing but street cred, the denizens of Slickdeals invariably find whatever is hot each day and discuss why it’s a great deal (or why it’s not worth the hype) in the forums. If I’m looking for information on a product or brand I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll usually check Slickdeals in order to get educated quickly.
The long-term benefit of keeping up to date on the real prices of things is that you can buy at a much lower rate than the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Then, when it’s time to sell that item, you will very likely make your money back (or more) while still giving the buyer a better deal than they would find anywhere else! Win-win!
Pay it Forward
There are some cases where no matter how great your stuff is, you won’t be able to sell it and make back anywhere close to what you paid for it (you might be leaving too quickly to set up a deal, trying to sell high-end merchandise during an economic downturn, etc). In these cases, you have to make a choice.
You could sell the item for less than it’s worth, potentially giving someone out there an early Christmas while pocketing a latte’s worth of cash for your trouble.
The other option is to find an alternative way to be compensated for your merch. You could trade that old XBox for a massage from a therapist friend, or let that antique desk lamp go in exchange for a nice home cooked meal from a light-deprived colleague.
You can also go to a site like Swaptree, which allows you to easily trade your books, DVDs, video games and old albums (people still have ALBUMS?) for new books you haven’t read, games you haven’t beaten, DVDs you haven’t seen and music you haven’t yet ripped onto your computer.
Of course, there is always something to be said for paying it forward and just giving your stuff to someone who needs it. If you give stuff away not expecting to get anything in return, you definitely won’t be disappointed, but you will certainly be pleasantly surprised if that person finds a way to help you out sometime in the future. I have a friend who would call this ‘putting change in the karma credit bank’ while I just call it treating others how you would like to be treated.
I’ve been using a combination of these different tactics to sell my stuff, and I’m about halfway through the process (with a little under two months left before I leave). An idea that I haven’t tried (but am seriously considering) is having a ‘Garage Sale Party’ in which I’ll invite my friends over and (along with drinks and foodstuffs) have all the stuff I’m selling out for perusal. During the party, if someone sees something they like, they can make an offer for it. The idea is that I’ll be able to see all my friends (a luxury, since I won’t be able to see them after I leave) and will be moving closer to my goal of selling all my stuff at the same time (contented with the knowledge that each and every item will be going to a good home).
What have you done in the past (or are considering doing in the future) to sell your stuff? Any tactics that have worked particularly well? Any that have failed miserably? Share your stories and ideas in the comment section below!
Update: April 24, 2016
Seven years later, this is still my attitude about buying things.
Branding accounts for a lot of the costs we pay for things, and knowing which brands have what kind of markup is vital. At the same time, knowing when it’s worthwhile to spend more on something, based on your needs and priorities, is key if you want to end up with something that will last, something you will use, something with aesthetics you enjoy, and so on.
I do still watch for sales, though, and this is something that bugs some people. We’re supposed to scoff at markdowns, but I think it’s wonderful to get something for 50% off of the sticker price, as long as it’s something I was intending to buy anyway. It’s not ideal to buy something just because it’s discounted, but waiting until something drops to a level that seems reasonable is a good approach to getting the things you want without breaking the bank.
This is something I do with plane tickets, too. At the moment, I’m on the lookout for tickets to Alaska and Hawaii. I’ve set a few alerts, but mostly I’m just watching a few places that I know will tell me when those types of tickets go on sale, and I know generally what I’m willing to pay for them, what upgrades would be nice (and which ones I’m willing to pay for, and which ones I’m not), and where I could most easily fly from. If you’re not in any hurry, this is the best way to travel without spending gobs of money; it’s just that most people have a finite window in which they can travel, so they end up paying a premium for something less than they might have preferred to get.