Ben’s Challenge, Week 8: Trying to Make Extra Money

This is the latest update in my attempt to do the ReadyForZero New Year’s Challenge. To read previous updates, go here: IntroWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5Week 6, Week 7.

Trying to make extra money

When I started this challenge, I knew that the three things that would present the most difficulty would be:

  • Setting a budget and sticking to it
  • Paying off my credit card as quickly as possible
  • Making extra income

So far I’ve been pretty happy with my progress on those first two bullet points. In the last two months I’ve learned to budget better and have paid down almost $1,000 on my credit card. And I’m optimistic I’ll keep learning and improving in those areas over the next few months.

But that third bullet point has turned out to be the hardest of all. Why? Well, I think it’s because I dedicate most of my time and energy during the week to my full time job, and on the weekends I prefer to recharge and spend time with people I care about (not to mention household chores!). I suppose if I was in desperate straits I’d be more motivated to use that spare time to find ways to make extra money.

On the other hand, I do want to make the most of this challenge and to follow the Zero Debt Action Plan as closely as possible. For Week 8, the Action Plan has three sections:

1. Start Your Own Business
2. More Tips for Freelancing
3. Buy and Sell Items for a Profit

(If you want to get the Zero Debt Action Plan, you can sign-up here)

Of course, we also specify that “not all these suggestions will be right for everyone.” In my case, starting a business is not possible at this time, and freelancing is not realistic either. As for selling items for a profit, I tried to do that last month and basically crashed and burned (see my Week 4 update).

So I thought long and hard about how to approach Week 8 of this challenge and decided on two goals:

  • Goal 1: Learn what type of freelancing opportunities were out there, in order to get a sense of what I would be getting myself into if I ever wanted to try that.
  • Goal 2: Make an actual, honest-to-goodness sale on eBay.

That’s it – just two simple goals! With that introduction in mind, read below for the results…

Freelance Opportunities

I like to write, so I decided to focus my search for freelance work on writing/editing gigs. Using tips from Week 8 of our Zero Debt Action Plan, I looked at websites like Elance, Craigslist, etc. Based on my research, here’s a sample of the types of freelance jobs that are available for a writer:

Product descriptions:

We have an online catalog with 300 products. We need someone to rewrite the product descriptions and make them more descriptive and exciting.

Editing essays:

I need help in editing a paper that I’m writing. The paper is on ********* by *******. It will be 8-10 pages long. I need help with structure, flow, style, grammar, etc. This is an academic essay. Total word count: 1635.

Articles:

I need 100 articles to be written on a variety of health issues. Topics and articles titles will be provided. Each article should be at least 550 words, if not more. They must be well researched, grammatically correct, unique content and written in a formal and/or conversational tone. These are very easy to write subjects.

Transcribing:

I have about 40 hours of audio files which explain financial concepts in laymen’s terms. The audio tapes need to be transcribed and made blog friendly.

Blog posts:

We’re looking for articulate, concise writers to craft some 500-1000 word, keyword-rich articles for our blog. You will need some background experience researching keywords and keyphrases using the Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends. Topics can be extremely varied, as long as they are about relevant, trending topics.

Which of the ones above looks the most appealing to you?

All I can say is there’s definitely a wide range of tasks available, but finding the right one seems tricky. I saw quite a few listing searching for someone to write blog posts or short articles. However, many of those listings did not seem like good options for me – either because the tasks were extremely tedious or because the pay that was being offered was not reasonable. Overall, I’d say that only about 20-30% of the freelance jobs I looked at seemed like they would provide a fair amount of compensation for the amount of work that was required.

But I’m definitely glad I looked. If nothing else, I’m now convinced that the rise of websites like Craigslist and Elance are making it easier than ever to connect with short-term job opportunities all over the world. (But that also means you have to compete with freelancers from all over the world to get those jobs!)

With Goal #1 for this week completed, I turned to Goal #2

Trying Again on eBay

After failing to sell my item last time, I was determined to use the lessons I’d learned to make a sale this time.

Those lessons could be summed up as:

  • Start the bidding low – as in, 99 cents
  • Sell things that people want
  • Be willing to part with your item for a few bucks

With these thoughts in mind, and with the tips from Week 8 of the Zero Debt Action Plan, I got to work. In Week 4, the task was to sell things from your house. In Week 8, the challenge was to find a good item for eBay by searching at yard sales or pawn shops.

I opted for a yard sale.

On a Sunday afternoon, I checked out a yard sale that had been going on since late morning. I was afraid I might be too late, and at first it looked like all the good items had been taken. There were some old clothes and a few worn-looking home appliances – not exactly eBay gold, as far as I could tell. But after a little browsing, I came across two pretty cool items that were both still sealed in their original boxes.

One was a wall decoration for hanging tealights (candles):

And the other was also a candle holder, but for a table:

I bought them for a total of $5 – pretty good deal, right?

Pleased with myself, I went home and listed them on eBay. I made sure to list them for $0.99 each!

And then I waited…

Sure enough, when the sale period closed… I had made my first official eBay sale! A buyer in New York had purchased the item and made an immediate payment:

I was excited to actually close my first sale. Of course, a big portion of that $20.35 had to cover the shipping costs, and the other candle holder did not sell, so at first I wasn’t even sure if I would make money on the sale. After I shipped the item, I added up all the costs to see how much money I made (if anything):

Item 1 purchase price = $2.50
Item 2 purchase price = $2.50
eBay listing fees = $0.30 (for extra photo on each item)
eBay’s sale commission = $1.83
Shipping = $11.15
Total costs = $18.28

Sale price = $20.35

Earnings = $2.07

Well… it’s not a very impressive amount, unfortunately. But it’s something. And more importantly, I made my first sale. Plus, I have to admit – I got some satisfaction from helping this item travel from one person who no longer needed it, all the way across the country, to another person who in fact wanted it very much…

Maybe it’s just all those Toy Story movies running through my head, but I think that’s worth something.

What do you think?

Image 1 by 401K, Image 2 by AirsoftMap

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  • Zack Jones

    What do I think? I think that’s a nice wad of cash at the top of the article :). You can make some money on eBay but usually you need to sell in volume to do so. On Craigslist check out the “Gigs” section. There’s usually several odd jobs listed such as using your truck to transport a small motorcycle or help with moving, etc. Most of those jobs can be done in a couple of hours and you can pick up some quick cash that way.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Yes, that wad of cash would be a nice reward for selling things on eBay! But I’m not quite at that level yet, haha.

      Good point about the Craigslist “Gigs” section, and yeah, I actually did check it out. There are some good opportunities there, depending on what kind of commitment you’re willing to make. As for transporting things with a truck… well, I don’t have one, so I’m in the same boat as everyone else who needs help moving things!

  • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

    Being a longtime eBay seller, it’s definitely a hit and miss. Actually last week I was annoyed with myself because I sold an item for $85 and found out it had “special shipping needs”. I lost about half of my money in packaging and shipping it. My net profit was very low (especially for my time/effort). But you live and learn. And in your case you did make a little money, and some is better than none. 

    Plus, you got your feet wet with selling something online and researched some other revenues of income. I’d say this is some fantastic work! I have never used Elance before, but I’m a fan of Odesk. I also need to check out the “Gigs” section of Craigslist, to try that out.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Thanks, Carrie! In a way, it’s comforting to hear that even an expert seller like yourself can still have the occasional surprise or slip-up. I definitely feel like it gets easier each time. But I’m still trying to figure out what types of items are the easiest to sell?

      I’m curious what has been your most successful sale ever? Or which type of item is consistently profitable for you?

      • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

        The most successful items I’ve sold were actually video games (especially vintage ones). On average I can buy them at yard sales for $2-3 a piece and sell on eBay for $10-20. It’s not a ton of money, but it’s a big profit margin. And it doesn’t take up much inventory space.

        Musical instruments do really well too. Especially guitars, amps etc… My ex was really knowledgeable about them, so I used to drag him around used music stores. Once we found a rare guitar (that needed to be re-strung and cleaned) for $100. We cleaned it up and bought new strings, and it sold on eBay for $900.

        • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

          Wow, that guitar was quite a find! I guess you’re right though that most of the time it’s the small sales (with a relatively big profit margin) that can produce results in the long run.

  • http://www.creditkarma.com/ Bethy @ Credit Karma

    This was a good experiment, and that was its purpose, right? To complete a goal? In the end, yeah, the earnings are… in my opinion, not worth it. But, as Zach mentioned, maybe it’s about selling in volume. Or about being a curator of a very specific type of sellable item.’

    For instance, my husband is a clothes horse (yes, even more than me) and he has lots of great stuff that he got on eBay for steals. But he also cycles a lot of clothes out frequently. He knows how to list for the type of buyer he wants, how to account for people mis-typing in the “search” field, etc. Last year he made a big chunk of change when he sold several pairs of shoes in one bulk order. But, yeah, I’m sure it took him several fails before he started making a good bit on eBay.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      That is really interesting – I’d love to hear more about how he does that. You should persuade him to do a guest post on the CK blog or the RFZ blog so that he can reveal his secrets!

      I think you’re right about the necessity of focusing on one particular area or type of item so that you know exactly what constitutes a good price and how to find the right buyers.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      • http://www.creditkarma.com/ Bethy @ Credit Karma

        While I know he wouldn’t write a post, I have picked his brain on several occasions about his methods. Eventually I’ll compile them all into a blog post. Promise.

  • Ignacio Thayer

    Wow, I had not heard of TurboLister before, but I will check it out. It would certainly make the process easier if I didn’t have to craft a whole new listing every time. I think you’re right about developing a niche and then getting really good at identifying good deals within that niche.

    I never would have thought of selling something like snowboarding helmets or lacrosse equipment, but now that I think about it, that does seem like the kind of thing one could make money on. I’m curious which store you were purchasing these items from? Seems like finding a good source is half the battle.

    Anyway, thanks again for your advice! I really like the article you mentioned. I’ll have to keep watching your site for more such tips!

  • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

    Wow, I had not heard of TurboLister before, but I will check it out. It would certainly make the process easier if I didn’t have to craft a whole new listing every time. I think you’re right about developing a niche and then getting really good at identifying good deals within that niche.

    I never would have thought of selling something like snowboarding helmets or lacrosse equipment, but now that I think about it, that does seem like the kind of thing one could make money on. I’m curious which store you were purchasing these items from? Seems like finding a good source is half the battle.

    Anyway, thanks again for your advice! I really like the article you mentioned. I’ll have to keep watching your site for more such tips!

  • Lazy Man

    How much was the gas to get to the yard sale ;-)?

    I use yard sales to get better stuff for my own use most of the time.  Occasionally I find something valuable.  A couple of years ago, I found a pair of 10 year old Air Jordan’s that had never been worn.  I bought them for $20 and sold them for $200.

    You have to get really lucky for that though. 

    I’m betting you could make more per hour as a freelance writer.  It’s easier to fit in on a random Tuesday night too.

     

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      I actually walked to the yard sale! So no gas money required… However, I realize that is pretty rare. In this case, I just happened to find a yard sale on Craigslist that was being held a few blocks away.

      It would be fun to come across something really valuable, like you did when you stumbled upon the Air Jordan’s. You must have been thrilled when you realized what you found!

      As for your other point, I think you are definitely correct. It would probably be much more effective to do freelance writing than try to sell things on eBay. I don’t feel like I have time to dedicate to that right now, but maybe sometime in the future I will.

  • http://marriedwithdebt.com/ John @ Married (with Debt)

    My brother has been selling vintage and designer label clothing he finds a thrift stores. He’s making at least $10 per transaction. He has the buyer pay the shipping cost themselves, and starts the listing price at his minimum sale price.

    I think the key is finding things people want, like Burberry, Prada, etc.

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Ten dollars per transaction is pretty good. Does he sell quite a few pieces of clothing each month? I think you’re right about finding brands like Burberry, Prada, etc. The tricky part for me so far is finding the right items and the right listing price.