This is part 1 of my series on the eco-savvy girl’s guide to the sharing economy. To catch up, read this!
There is nothing better than a steep price markdown on something you’ve been coveting – amiright? But I’ll tell you this – there is no better place for a good deal than Craigslist. I’ve bought a lot of furniture off Craigslist for practically pennies compared to the original costs. I think the ugly ratty 80’s couches, blurry iPhone pics, and terrible grammar scare people away – but if you know your way around and some general ground rules, you can furnish a whole house or apartment on a small budget.
Plus, from a carbon footprint perspective, it’s much greener to buy used than to buy new. The secret is to find the needle in the big old Craigslist haystack. Here’s some tips to become a savvy CL shopper:
1. Filter your search. I’m sure you can find plenty of treasures by browsing everything your local CL has to offer, but when I’m searching for West Elm, if I don’t narrow down my search to “furniture,” I get all kinds of ads for lumber and gun safes.
2. Adjust the Craigslist search result settings for speedy searches. I’m (very) ashamed to admit how recently I discovered this – did you know you can view the search results with thumbnails, as an image gallery, or on a map based on the sellers’ locations? If you aren’t already doing this, get on it. It’ll save you hours of clicking through ads, one by one. Plus, how cool is it to click to the map preview and find out that someone down the street is selling the dining set you’ve been searching for weeks?
3. Do a quick price check. Search for the item on Amazon, eBay, or Google Shopping to gauge how much it usually costs. Occasionally you’ll find someone asking for a higher price on Craigslist than you’d pay to buy the same thing new – go figure.
4. Be kind, act quickly, and bring cash. If there are other people interested in buying the same rare midcentury credenza as you, the seller isn’t going to entertain requests to hold the item until next weekend, or respond to 50 questions about the item’s condition. I always compliment the item (hey, chances are, they loved it too at some point!), offer to come by at the soonest convenient time, and pay in cash. Ain’t nobody got time for WesternUnion or cashier’s checks.
5. Search outside the box. What’s a nightstand to you may be a bedside table to me. And don’t assume that the virtuous people selling on Craigslist are spelling bee champs.
6. Get savvy with your search phrase. Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase (e.g. “teak patio set”). Use a minus sign to leave something out of your search (e.g. “sectional couch -leather” to search for a sectional that isn’t leather). And, to take it to the next level – if you want to search for listings that include one or more of your search terms, use the pipe character – for example, “couch | sofa” will search for all listings that contain the word couch and/or sofa. Genius, right? Right.
7. Search the Craigslist pages for other cities. Clearly, shipping could get expensive if you want to buy a whole bedroom set from somebody in another state. But if you’re looking for something very specific that is lightweight and easy to ship (*cough, curtains!*), this may help you find a needle in that big old haystack.
8. Great things come in pairs. If you’re feeling really bold, try just searching for “pair” in the furniture category of your local Craigslist. There are all kinds of treasures you’ll find that way – old lamps, vintage chairs, etc. Also try searching for a specific material or finish – solid wood, marble, glass, upholstered, nail head, etc.
Need proof? I just did a quick search for “pair” on the Houston Craigslist furniture category, and the first result was a listing for these capiz shell side tables from World Market. Someone talk me down from this impulse buy.
9. Subscribe to the RSS feed. Craigslist is so much more powerful than it used to be – now you can save your searches to your RSS reader (Feedly, Unread, Digg Reader, etc.) to follow new postings. Here’s how: on your local Craigslist page, start a search for something you’ve been coveting. Scroll down to the bottom of the search results screen, and click on the RSS button in the bottom right corner. This will open a new window – copy and paste that new URL into your RSS reader. And that’s it! Now, new postings will appear in your RSS reader.
10. Haggle. I know it can be intimidating – I wasn’t born to barter and argue over prices with someone I don’t even know. But you’ll get the hang of it with practice. The very best deals on Craigslist are from haggling – and if you read between the thin lines of a Craigslist ad, you can figure out just how desperate the seller is. As far as I’m concerned, “price reduced” or “OBO” (or best offer) is a signal that the person is dying to just desperate to get rid of the thing and you can talk them down much lower than their listed price. In the end, nothing feels better than getting a really, really great deal from a crafty Craigslist search and some good old-fashioned bargaining.