I could make a full salary on Craigslist.

I’ve blogged many times about my love of Craigslist, and how I’ve used it to save money over the years. Over the last six weeks or so, I’ve been flipping furniture on CL and am shocked at just how profitable that can be. Spefically, when you are wheeling and dealing mid century modern furniture. Let’s look at a few case studies shall we…

Case Study 1: 

Girl Ninja and I had been using a black ikea cube bookshelf thingy as a storage space behind our couch. I hated how cluttered it always looked and decided it was time to look in to getting an actual credenza for our space. I came across this guy for $120 on CL. I offered $90 and the seller accepted.

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After realizing it was waaaaaay too small for our space, I decided to put it up on CL for $350 and see what happened. I’ll tell you what happened. Someone paid me $350 and bought it.

Profit: $260

Case Study 2: 

I made $260 in profit from my first credenza so figured it was only logical to roll that money in to another credenza. One that better fit our space. I paid $250 for this Lane Rhythm credenza…

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I did a little refinishing. About 30 minutes worth of work, sanding down the top and staining it to make it shine. I sold it for $650 less than 24 hours after buying it.

Profit: $400

Case Study 3: 

I wanted to dabble with two tone furniture, so I was on the hunt for a mid century dresser. Found this guy for $200 on CL (paid $150 for it after negotiating)…

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I put about two hours worth of work in to this guy. Doing some light sanding, priming, and then painting, with leftover white paint I had on hand. This is what it looked like when I was done…
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I was super happy with the end result and felt like I just Pinterested the crap out of the dresser. I posted it up for $400, and it sold quickly.

Profit: $250.

Case Study 4: 

I had a tree taken down in our backyard a couple years ago and saved one of the rounds that was leftover, figuring I could make something cool out of it. Originally my plan was to make it a centerpiece for our dining room table, but then I decided to turn it in to a live edge, side table. I paid about $45 for some hairpin legs and simply screwed them in to the bottom of my tree round. This was the final product…

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I posted it up on CL for $180 and it sold shortly after listing it.

Profit: $135.

Case Study 5:

I paid $65 for this credenza.

IMG_4925Can you believe it! $65 for this diamond in the rough. The seller was using it as storage for his kids toys in their playroom. He decided he wanted it gone. Within 20 minutes of him posting it, I was on my way to meet him and take it off his hands. It had an ugly wood base that had pretty nasty water damage to it, so I hammered off the ugly bottom and was left with the picture you see above.

I got the bright idea to buy some mid century modern angled legs online and dress things up a bit. The legs and angled brackets set me back $90. That’s right, I paid more for the legs than I did for the actual credenza.

I rubbed the piece down with some teak oil to bring out the woods natural tones and this is what it looked like after…

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My total investment was about $165. I probably could have sold this for about $800 on Craigslist, but a friend of mine loved it and needed a new TV stand. I gave him a friend deal and sold it to him for $400.

Profit: $240 (could have been $600+ if I posted on CL).

Case Study 6: 

Found this mid century dresser on Craigslist Sunday morning for $200…

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I didn’t do a single thing to the dresser. I reposted it on Craigslist as soon as I got home for $450, and it sold six hours later for $450.

Profit: $250.

Case Study 7: 

If you haven’t noticed the theme, I like to stick to credenzas and dressers that could be used as credenzas. It was time to mix things up a bit so I decided to flirt with a new piece.

I saw this coffee table listed on CL for $60 (I paid $50 for it)…

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I brought it home, staged it, took some photos and back on to Craigslist it went. It sold 24 hours later for $200.

Profit: $150.

Case Study 8:

Picked up this Broyhill Brasilia Tallboy dresser on Sunday for $200…

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Haven’t done a single thing to it (except stage it and take some photos). It’s on craigslist right now for $750, and should sell somewhere between $500-$750. I may end up keeping it though because it’s so freaking pretty. I mean look at it…

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So beautiful, and a pretty rare piece at that.

Case Study 9, 10, 11, and 12: 

Picked up this Lane Acclaim credenza for $450 on CL…

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I sanded down the top and stained it to make it shine. I posted it for $800 on CL and had a slew of people wanting to come see it. Girl Ninja freaked out and pulled a trump card saying I wasn’t allowed to sell it. So for now, this is the credenza that we are keeping behind our couch 🙂 Unless I can find someone that is willing to pay me $950 for it, then I’m gonna trump her trump and sell it 🙂

Here are a few other pieces I could sell for a couple hundred more than I paid for them, but Girl Ninja has trumped…

Paid $220 for this white leather chair, could probably sell for around $400…

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Paid $150 for this mid century leather chair. Should sell for $300-$400. 00X0X_jUxBqGVeL1u_600x450

Paid $250 for this desk and chair. Posted it for $500 and had multiple people asking to come see it. That was before Girl Ninja told me I wasn’t allowed to sell it…

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Conclusion:

In the last month, I made about $1,700 by simply buying furniture on Craigslist and selling it a few days later (or sometimes the same day) for double or triple what I paid. And that’s without even trying. It just kind of organically happened. I bet I could triple that income if I really got serious about it.

If you’re interested in flipping on Craigslist here are a few pointers I have for you:

1. Look for crappy ads. Most of these items only had a single cell phone picture of the furniture piece and there was barely any description of the item. Craigslist posts like these tell me the person just wants the piece gone and doesn’t care about getting top dollar. If the furniture is staged and has a detailed description, the seller probably knows exactly what their piece is worth, so there isn’t much room for profit.

2. Always offer less than what they listed the piece for. ALWAYS! Most of the time I can save $25 to $100 by simply asking the seller if they’ll consider taking less. About half the time they agree, the other half they stay firm. Any money you save on the purchase, increases your profit come time to sell.

3. Stage your photos and use a nice camera to take pictures (your 12mp cell phone camera isn’t going to cut it). You’ll notice each of my listing photos are edited to really make the piece stand out. I increase the contrast and sharpness, bring out the natural colors of the wood, and blur the background to make sure the furniture stands out as the focal point. Great photography translates to great profits.

4. Don’t budge on price. You’ll notice in just about every instance I negotiated a lower purchase price from the seller. But I’ve never once budged on my asking price when I’m the one doing the selling.

By the time people have taken the time out of their day to drive to my house and see the piece, I’m almost positive they are emotionally attached to the piece. They ask if I would consider accepting less, and I respond with something like “Sorry, I’ve gotten a handful of other emails on it and am confident it will sell for asking. But I understand if you want to pass. No pressure either way.”

They fear missing out on it, and they end up paying me full asking. Worst case, they walk away, and the next day someone else is knocking on my door to pay full price.

5. Look often. Craigslist gets thousands of new listings every day. I’ve gotten very good at sifting through CL to discover the diamonds in the rough. Search terms, sorting by newest items, and putting the layout in “grid mode” will be your biggest helpers. There is an art to Craigslisting and if you spend enough time on there, you’ll figure it out.

Now get off my blog and go make yourself a little extra money!

 

 

 

Get out of debt. Buy a house. Party?

It took me four years to accumulate $28,000 in student loan debt. It took me two and a half years to pay it off.

Then there was this thing Girl Ninja and I wanted to buy called a house. It took us 3 years to save up $100,000 for our down payment, and took about 20 minutes to spend $80,000 of it when we found our abode last summer.

I apparently do pretty well when I’m super motivated and have a short-term goal I’m working towards.

There’s only one problem.

What the crap do I do now that I don’t have any more short-term goals?

I was hell-bent on getting out of debt. I wanted to do nothing more than punch Sallie Mae in her stupid little face.

I was equally determined to build up my down payment and have the flexibility to buy a house when the right house came along.

 

Everything after those two goals seems significantly less sexy.

  • Sure I could start contributing to Baby Ninja’s college fund.
  • I could up our retirement contributions to something silly like 30%.
  • I could pour more discretionary income in to our taxable investment account.
  • I could save to buy a new car that we don’t need?

 

And here is why those things have zero appeal to me.

  • Not convinced baby college fund is worth it.
  • No desire to lock up even more funds for 65-year-old me.
  • I have no clue what the purpose of my taxable investment account is
  • We don’t want a new car

 

My goals to pay down my debt and save for a house were organic. I didn’t have to think about if I wanted to be debt free, or if I wanted to buy a home.

I KNEW I WANTED THESE THINGS. 

For the first time in my adult/financial life, I don’t have any goals festering up from within myself. Everything feels forced or superficial. Perhaps this is why I’m struggling with my short-term investment account?

Have you ever felt like this?

Where you weren’t exactly sure what you wanted to do with your money? Did you just coast until something naturally surfaced? Or did you force a new goal upon yourself?

 

 

Burn baby burn.

You know that famous saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Well I’m kinda realizing that the Ninja household is kinda guilty of having a few too many “good intentions.”

Exhibit A: Living off my income. 

When Baby Ninja is dropped off at our front door by a Stork, our plan is for Girl Ninja to quit her job and be a full-time stay at home mom. Since we don’t want to be devastated by the loss of her income (which will be about a 30% household pay cut) we’ve decided we should pretend it just doesn’t exist.

We live off my income, and bank hers.

Great plan right?

Too bad we haven’t actually forced ourselves to really practice what we preach. If we wanted to make this experiment realistic we would have her paycheck auto-deposited in to our savings account, since we never access that account. Instead, her paychecks go in to our regular checking account and at sporadic points throughout the month I’ll transfer money over in to our savings account. Most months, this amount exceeds Girl Ninja’s, but some times it doesn’t. It’s time to get our stuff together and get her check deposited directly in to savings. What you can’t see doesn’t exist right?

Exhibit B: Contributing to my Roth IRA. 

I swear I meant to contribute to my Roth at the beginning of the year. But here we are, two months in, and I haven’t contributed a dime. Retirement doesn’t save for itself. If I want to meet my long-term goals, I have to suck up the $5,000 expense/investment and pull some money out of our savings account. Every time I go to do just that, I trick myself in to thinking that it’s not the right time, that we could use the money for something else, blah, blah, blah.

Exhibit C: Not eating until I’m about to throw up. 

I have a serious issue with food intake. I don’t know if my parents starved me as a child, but many meals I eat way more than I probably should. I have this weird complex where I hate throwing food away. This means, even when I’m totally satisfied, I will eat another piece of pizza just so it doesn’t go in the garbage. Fortunately, I am relatively active and my metabolism apparently is too, so I still appear relatively fit. I gotta get over this weird psychological complex that says I must eat even if I’m not necessarily hungry, so that I don’t end up obese and with high blood pressure.

We bloggers typically only talk about the good things we are doing, so it’s refreshing to finally share some of the things I’ve been totally sucking at. What are some of your “good intentions” (financial or otherwise) that you’re not totally executing?

Too conservative for my own good.

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I was chatting with a close friend a few days ago about the housing market. Big surprise right? We know what the median household income is in Seattle ($66,000), and we also know the median sales price of a home in Seattle right now is $380,000. What we don’t know is how the crap people can afford a $380,000 house on a $66,000 annual income! There are only a few logical conclusions…

1. They inherited the property

2. They received a financial windfall

3. They are house poor. 

4. They are risk takers.

If they inherited the property, or received a financial windfall, good for them.

If they are house poor, I can’t say I’m jealous of them. Nothing about living paycheck to paycheck appeals to me. I would never want to be in a position where I have to sacrifice traveling, eating out, or skiing just so I can make a mortgage payment. No thank you.

But what about the people who are just willing to take a risk. Debt has a pretty bad rap. Heck, I even named my blog Punch Debt In The Face because I think it’s so dumb. But reality is, debt can be a powerful tool for building wealth; like when one takes out a line of credit to start a business, or when someone finances a rental property.

Sure it’s risky. If the business fails, or the real estate market crumbles, you could lose everything. But how bad is that really? It’s not like you have to worry about going to jail. Maybe you get sent to collections and settle your debt for less than you owe, maybe you walk away from your house and get foreclosed on. Maybe you have to consider filing bankruptcy. While none of these things are particularly enjoyable, they are solutions.

Maybe I’m too conservative for my own good?

I mean, if we bought a $500,000 house last year, we’d have about 15% equity in the thing based on recent market appreciation. That’s a $75,000 gain in 12 months!!!

What did I do? Oh that’s right. I decided to keep saving money so we could easily afford a 20% down payment on a house priced $150,000 under what we are qualified to borrow. At last check, my savings account earned a paltry 0.75%. 

Do you see what I’m saying friends? It seems to me that the risk/reward comparison of using debt to leverage one’s financial position often favors reward. Think about it.

We buy a $500,000 house and sell it a year later for a $50,000 profit (after commissions). Or we buy a $500,000 house, watch the markets tank, and walk away from the property and let the bank deal with it (Washington is a non-recourse state). The system is set up to protect one against their own stupid decisions, so much so, that these stupid decisions are no longer necessarily stupid.

Interest rates are low, and house prices are still lower than pre-bubble days. Why not use the depressed market, and government bailouts (quantitative easing), as an opportunity to make some extra dough?

Oh that’s right, because I’m a wuss.

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Being conservative might not make me rich, but I guess it beats the possibility of being poor?

A day late… $15,000 short.

At the beginning of each calendar year I like to make some financial projections for our household. I’ve done it for the last four years and we’ve always not only met our goals, but absolutely destroyed them. It’s pretty stupid when you reach your 12 month goal in seven months. That doesn’t mean that I’m awesome, it means I made our goals too easy.

For 2012 I wanted things to be different. I wanted our goals to actually be a stretch. And boy were they a stretch. According to our 2012 budget, we started the year off with a net worth (NW) of $114,000. I set a goal for us to reach $170,000 by years end. If you saw my latest NW post you’ll see we’re currently standing at $153,000. That means we are $17,000 short of reaching our goal.

Dang. 

If you’re gonna crash and burn, might as well do it to the tune of $17K right? Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) I predicted this failure back in July. Thank goodness we weren’t caught off guard otherwise I might have had a heart attack.

So why did we fail so miserably? It really comes down to two reasons:

We bought a car. 

I didn’t account for this purchase in our spreadsheet because I didn’t know if we’d actually find a car worth buying. Turns out we did. We paid $20,000 for our Pilot out the door (after taxes and licensing). We sold Girl Ninja’s car for $8,200 to help recoup some of the cost. We took $11,800 out of our personal savings to cover the rest. If I included our vehicles in our NW, then we wouldn’t be that far off from our goal. But I haven’t included them in the past, and don’t plan on including them anytime soon.

I started a business. 

I launched MANteresting in February, well after I made our annual goals. I definitely didn’t anticipate the site picking up steam as quickly as it did. As a result, Jesse and I have been playing catch up ever since, both with the servers and our pocketbooks. From idea to launch, we had only spent about $1,000 building the site. From launch to present, we’ve spent around $15,000 making sure it scales with demand.

You know where my $7,500 portion of the expenses came from? That’s right. Our savings account. There was no way for me to know back in January that TIME, ABC, CNN, WSJ, NYT, TechCrunch, CNET, etc would have a hay day and feature MANteresting on their sites.

I’m happy to report the hard work has paid off and the site now pays for itself. THANK GOODNESS!!!! We’ve spoken with a few different “experts” on internet startups and have been told our site should be valued between $200,000-$500,000. Heck, even if the $200,000 valuation is quadruple our actual value that’s still a significant return on our investment. What will come of the website? Your guess is as good as mine. We’ll either die a slow and fiery death. Or we will end up relatively well off from it. Fingers crossed for the latter 🙂

So yeah, we are gonna end the year about $15,000 shy of our $170,000 goal, but ya know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. We make money so we can spend some of it (vehicle upgrade) and we save diligently so we can invest in great opportunities (new business).

I’ll be posting up our new budget and our new goals in the next few days. If we are lucky, we can epically fail at reaching those goals too!!!!

How has 2012 treated you? What were some of your financial (or personal) goals this year? Do you count your vehicles in your net worth? Should I?

feeling fRISKY

Am I the only person that doesn’t understand why some people choose to live a life of fear? Few good things come without risk. I think the world would be a better place if everyone learned to step out of their comfort zone and take some risks every now and again.

Here are a few instances from my life, in which I took a risk, and reaped the benefits…

Career.

Did you know I graduated with a degree in Psychology, but a concentration in pre-medicine? That’s right. I wanted to be a doctor. Specifically, a psychiatrist. I did well in all the pre-med courses and, come graduation time, was prepared to take the MCAT. But then, a funny thing happened. I got an email from one of my Psychology professors about a job opening in San Diego for a Special Agent.

My professor thought that I would be a great candidate for the position and recommended I apply. So apply I did (not thinking I’d actually get the job). That summer I worked as a Psychiatric Technician, gaining relevant experience to what I thought would be a long and prosperous career in medicine.

Fast forward three months. It was the morning of my MCAT and I was playing “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” (I played that song before every single final I took in high school and college…not even joking) to pump myself up for the big test. Suddenly my phone rings. I answer it, and low and behold I received a job offer for the Special Agent position I applied for.

I accepted the job offer that morning and said goodbye to medical school. I took a huge risk accepting a job I knew little about, but 5 years later I am confident I made the right decision (couldn’t imagine still only being a first year resident MD). Although it was a dream to be called Dr. Ninja, I think Special Agent Ninja has a pretty nice ring to it… don’t you?

Girl

Girl Ninja and I have the most unique/weird/frustrating/awkward/awesome love story ever. I’ll save the story for another time, but I can tell you this; Taking a leap of faith and giving my heart to Girl Ninja was the best decision I’ve ever made. There were a few occasions in which we almost didn’t make it, but through a lot of hard work, and a continually evolving love for one another, I can say with confidence; Every frustrating moment was worth it. Married the crap out of her two years ago and couldn’t be happier.

Money

You had to know this one was coming right? What kind of PF blogger would I be if I didn’t tie in money somehow? By investing standards, I guess I am considered a risky investor. 100% of my retirement accounts sit in the stock market. And, as we all are aware, the market can be a nightmarish rollercoaster in which it seems the only direction is down. Although I hate seeing my account balances drop 50% in a relatively short time span, I am more than happy to weather the storm. I am confident the risks I take in the market will pay off ten fold come time to retire.

In fact, I would argue that I take on very little risk. The real risk takers are the people who put no money in to retirement out of fear… or just plain laziness. They squander their cash now, but will be in for a rude awakening when they go to retire and have little or no funds available to them.

Yes, life is about taking risks, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to go be a stupid-head. If you want to start a basket weaving business and leverage a $100,000 loan to start said business, you aren’t taking a risk… you’re just being dumb. Life is about taking a leap of faith, but only if you have done your research and are confident that leap is likely to have a positive outcome.

What areas in your life have you taken on some risk? Have you ever held back from “taking the leap” and now regret it? Would you consider yourself a ‘risky’ or ‘play-it-safe’ individual?

p.s. now that most of you know what we look like and know our real first names, I’ve included our AHmazing wedding video below. Ladies, bring out the tissues. Guys, you probably will think this is terribly boring 😉

 

The paradox of choice.

If you live in The States you’ve probably been to Costco. While the store is practically busting at the seams with stuff, Costco typically only carries about 4,000 unique products behind its walls. Your much smaller local grocery store, however, carries ten times that amount. So what’s the deal? 

Costco understands psychology and the paradox of choice.

If you’re like me, you’ve gone to Costco to get a box of cereal and some chicken, but an hour later you walk out $200 poorer with a cart full of Paydays (best candy bar EVER), pretzels you didn’t even want, and a three-gallon tub of mayonnaise that will expire before you finish it.

I’ve blogged for over a year now about how I am going to start investing for the short term. Wanna know how much effort I’ve put towards said goal? Not one freakin’ ounce. I don’t consider myself a lazy person, but when it comes to investing outside of retirement, I shut down.

There are too many different avenues to explore. Which stocks, bonds, or mutual funds should I buy? Is real estate going to appreciate over the next 8 years? Should I invest in gold, silver, or other precious metals?

Instead of answer the questions above, I do nothing.

Research indicates 401k plans that offer dozens of different investment options, on average, have fewer people contributing to them than 401k plans with only a handful of choices.

I bet some of you are guilty of this in one way or another, aren’t you? Maybe you haven’t started paying down your debt aggressively because you feel like you don’t know where to start. Maybe you haven’t contributed a dime to retirement because you can’t figure out which fund you should buy. Maybe you changed your major in college 87 times because you kept re-discovering what you wanted to do with your life.

I’m sick of being paralyzed. I met with a Financial Planner over the weekend and I’m ready to punch my short-term investing goal in the face. It’s about freaking time.

Has the paradox of choice ever affected you?  If so, in what ways?

p.s. I am working on getting a link to our TV interview from the producers for those that couldn’t catch it yesterday. As soon as I have that, I’ll post it up here and give you my two cents on the thing.