"Secret" eBay and Craigslist Hacks That Will Save You Thousands of Dollars Online

You probably already know that you can save a lot of money by using websites like eBay and craigslist. Most “how to save money” blog articles tell you you can save money by using these sites, but don’t go into a lot of details. I want to change that by showing you exactly how I have used these websites to save tens of thousands of dollars on everything from a 50″ plasma TV to Ralph Lauren sheets.

Using the methods I’ve outlined below can save you a thousand or more dollars on as few as two or three purchases. In most cases, you won’t spend more than an hour or so doing the research — meaning these methods are absolutely worth the effort.

Using eBay Saved Searches To Save Thousands of Dollars

Saved Searches, combined with calendar alerts, make a powerful saving-money duo. Here’s how I recently put this 1-2 punch into action:

I was browsing at Nordstrom one day a few weeks ago and found a purse I really liked. Then I found the price: $390! It’s a simple backpack (I liked the black one), but it’s made of fine leather — thus the expensive price. A friend of mine urged me to buy it, but my bargain hunter instinct was going off, and I did not urgently need a new purse, so I took some pictures with my cell phone of the purse and the brand name, and went home.

I found out that by shopping online, I could save the sales tax. But I still couldn’t swallow $390 for a purse. So I went to eBay, searched “longchamp roseau” (the name and model of the purse)… and there were several purses, but none were the backpack model. I then set a saved search by clicking “Save this search” at the top of the results page. eBay emails you every night when new results appear.

For a few weeks, I looked at the email from eBay every morning, waiting for the backpack purse to show up. Eventually one did…with a starting bid of just $200! It was slightly used and purchased by a woman who had only used it a few times (a $390 purse that you only use a few times? Wow…) Anyway, I bid on it.

The second key point to this strategy is that you cannot just bid and walk away, since often there will be “snipers” who bid at the last minute. So I set an Outlook reminder to remind me about 10 minutes before the auction ended. I have Outlook set up to sync with my cell phone, so a reminder tone will go off there, too. That is, indeed, what happened, and I logged on to eBay with a few minutes remaining and refreshed the page every 10 seconds or so to make sure no one outbid me. Fortunately, on this auction, no one did, so I won the purse for $209 ($200 + $9 shipping.)

Strategy summary: Set an eBay “saved search” to find specific items you want as they are posted. Make sure to set for specific keywords (“longchamp roseau” vs. “backpack purse”) to ensure that you don’t get flooded with emails every day. Set a calendar reminder for a few minutes before the auction ends so you can make sure no one outbids you at the last minute.
Total money saved: Approximately $191
Total time spent: 1 hour (a few minutes each day to browse through the email, 15 minutes to browse online, and 10 minutes at the end of the auction)
Recommended for: Small, shippable purchases; “second” or discontinued merchandise. I saved over $800 off the retail price by getting brand-new “second” Ralph Lauren sheets using this method. “Seconds” have minor flaws that no one but me would ever notice (and I’d rather have the $800.) I’ve also bought Nike workout gear (new, discontinued.) I regularly buy AC adapters for my laptops on eBay.
Caveats: I do not recommend buying refurbished electronics or laptops on eBay. I’ve had problems with them and they are typically not worth the effort. Be careful with clothes — make sure you know they will fit by trying the same brand on in a store first. In most cases, you will want to stick with an eBay seller who has a high reputation number.

I have successfully used this same eBay strategy to save hundreds of thousands of dollars vs. the retail price on almost all the Cisco switch, Foundry load balancers, and Baytech remote reboot equipment we used at my web hosting company, Simpli Hosting. With the money I saved I bought extra equipment in case we had failures. Used Cisco and Foundry gear is rock solid, though, and the failure rate was not higher than it would have been if we would have bought new equipment.

Put this strategy into action and start shopping at eBay!

Powerful Craigslist Secrets That Will Save You Thousands

Similar to eBay, craigslist has an ability to save a search so that new items will automatically pop up when they show up on craigslist. Unlike eBay, craigslist doesn’t automatically email you when a new item pops up. Instead, they use RSS. Type in the search you want and then click the orange “RSS” link at the bottom.

Yes, but how do you get from RSS to your cell phone so you will be the first one to know when an item shows up? Excellent question, and the answer is a little-known service from Yahoo! called Yahoo! Alerts. Go to that page, click on the “Feed/Blog” link, and paste the shortcut to the RSS feed in the box. Then check how you would like the alerts to be delivered. Now you can get a text message on your cell phone whenever an interesting item pops up on craigslist! I call that a “secret” because very few people utilize the power of this combination.

Again, with this, you will probably want to use a brand name… but in craigslist’s case, I don’t necessarily recommend adding the model number unless the brand is really generic (“Sony TV” is better than “Sony”, but “Sony KDL-40S3000″ may be too specific, since many craigslisters don’t type in the model number.)

I used this strategy to buy a TV in January 2007. I wanted to host a Super Bowl party since my Chicago Bears were playing (!), but I didn’t have a great setup at my house. Since I had a roommate at the time, I was able to squeeze a bit extra out of my budget. Lo and behold, someone on craigslist was selling a 50” Panasonic plasma TV (top-rated by Consumer Reports) for $1400. The exact same TV was selling at Best Buy for $1999. I checked it out at Best Buy, liked it, and bought it on craigslist with cash just before the Super Bowl. It’s still going strong — I use this great TV nearly every day, and love watching HD movies on it!

I have also used craigslist to purchase used electronics such as cell phones, an excellent coffee table, a 3-way floor standing speaker set and receiver for my home office, and many other items.

I saved over $900 off the retail price buying a front-loading premium Maytag washer and dryer set, 2 years old, from people who were moving and needed to get rid of them quickly. I have used them for the past 3 1/2 years with no problems.

Strategy summary: Combine craigslist’s RSS feeds with Yahoo! Alerts to get a notification about any item you’re interested in.
Total money saved: $763.91 (on the plasma TV)
Total time spent: 4 hours (looking at TVs in stores, online, and 2 hours going to pick up the TV and bringing it home)
Recommended for: Large purchases such as furniture; electronics; home appliances.
Caveats: I have had very few problems on craigslist. Stay away from anyone who gives you a bad feeling. You will have to drive to pick the stuff up, so you may need to rent a car or truck in some cases. (I can testify that renting is completely worth it — and if you want to rent some people along with your truck, craigslist is an excellent resource for those as well!) Don’t get caught up in saving just a few dollars, since you have to factor in drive time and gas costs. Get big stuff or stuff you love and can’t find anywhere else.

But eBay and craigslist don’t have everything…

What about when you have to shop retail? I have an equally detailed blog entry coming up next week that will explain how to save money using coupons and discount codes you may never have known about online. Next week, I will show you where to get a 5% discount on any American Airlines flight — even the lowest-priced ones — as well as a 3% discount on every purchase you make through Newegg. I also have secrets on hotel discounts and free meals at restaurants. And you don’t even have to sign up for any credit cards or scummy “email offers” to do these! Subscribe to erica.biz to make sure you don’t miss it.

As always, please feel free to post your comments below and I will respond to them.

  • http://www.CathyStucker.com/ Cathy Stucker

    I have used eBay to buy equipment for my business, such as a shrink wrapper, postal scale, credit card terminal, chrome baker’s rack, DVD cases, etc. In each case, I saved at least 50% off the best discounted price I found elsewhere.

    As long as you know your prices and shop carefully, you can get great deals on eBay.

    Thanks for another helpful post.

  • http://travisisaacs.com Travis Isaacs

    I watch the photo/video feed like a hawk! Just recently I bought an *mint* external flash for my SLR for ~50% of what it originally retailed for.

    While I do save money in buying gently used gear, it’s still pretty tough on our household budget ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Johnny Storm

    Wait, what? You’re from Indiana, yet you root for the Bears?!? Blasphemy!

  • http://yourfinishrichplan.com/blog Will

    My kind of post! No fluff, just good solid, “here’s how to do it” information!

    Keep up the good work :)

  • Jen

    I can’t understand how you saved $291 on the purse. If it was originally $390 and you bought it for $209, my math says you saved only $181. Can you clarify?

  • http://yourfinishrichplan.com/blog Will

    I believe that was an honest mistake from Erica’s part, Jen! Lol

    I’m mad that we all commented on the article but none of us spotted it… :) Go figure, he he he

  • http://www.erica.biz/ ericabiz

    @Cathy: Isn’t it great? I love eBay. :)

    @Travis: Excellent! (I IM’ed Travis and we talked about setting up his photo business as a DBA or a corporation so he can write off all his photography expenses.)

    @Johnny: I’m a third-generation Bears fan. My grandmother grew up near Chicago. Thanks for the laugh! :)

    @Will: Thank you!

    @Jen: Doh! You win “comment of the day” award. You got me…that’s what I get for trying to do math late at night! I’ve edited the number. I added $10 for shipping, since I would have ordered it online otherwise. Buying it here in California would have been even more expensive due to sales tax.

  • http://www.getpaul.com Paul Dizmang

    Great article; I have used ebay often but never have used the save feature. Thanks for the tips!

  • http://livingthecheaplife.net Mike

    I like your ingenuity. These are really nice tips!

  • http://buildasolopractice.com Susan Cartier Liebel


    I recently discovered Bradsdeals.com which I get by e-mail alerts and have already scoped out major savings on every type of product imaginable, plus there are a few tips and tricks, coupon codes, etc to reduce prices further. They have tons of electronics which I wouldn’t as a rule purchase used.

    Thanks for your tips on ebay. I’ll have to remember that as I just purchased Wii and all accessories!

  • Nisha

    Hi Erica,
    I would like add a point to your eBay suggestions. Rather than hovering over your computer during the final bid, where you not only use up your time but you run the risk of getting emotional over your bid and spending more than you planned, I suggest using a site like eSnipe.com
    For a very modest fee,(Never less than 25 cents and never more than $10) you just tell eSnipe what the highest amount that you are willing to pay is and they come in at 6 seconds (Or any buffer time that you choose), before the close and bid for you with your highest amount but ebay then bids that for you only in the next highest increment so you never pay more than just above the previous high bid.
    This not only keeps you from getting emotional and going over budget but it also prevents the other bidders from getting emotional and going over their budget since the bid is closed by the time they see yours. So you do everybody a favor:)
    Say hi to Richard for me!

  • Spire

    In response to Nisha’s post… no need to pay for a sniping service when there are plenty of software titles that will do it for free.

    Go to http://www.versiontracker.com to find one.

  • http://www.IAmANetworkMarketer.com WorldWideWeller

    That’s too cool. . . I’m an avid Craigslist buyer. . . great information… I am definitely going to share this post…thank you for answering me on twitter….I always buy my cars from ebay too, and I’m picky too….thank you!

  • http://mathiasfleck.com Mat

    I had an identical post about this — using Yahoo Alerts to set up watchdogs for Craigslist– its fun to see the same idea elsewhere! (yours was months before mine, however!)

    Anyhow, this worked very well for me for a few times, but now when I try to do it, I get tons of emails each day, all saying the exact same set of listings.

    The example I’m using is http://raleigh.craigslist.org/search/sss?query=d40&format=rss

    Instead of sending me whenever that RSS feed gets updated, it sends me every item on that list every few hours in an email, even though absolutely nothing new is getting added or changed on that list.

    Any ideas? Did they change how Yahoo Alerts works now?



  • Jennifer

    I am an avid craigslist buyer/seller, and I can’t find the RSS orange link that you mentioned in your ad…would you be more specific about where it is located on the page? (next to what column, above/below what word, etc.?)

  • John

    For smaller stuff like video games and books, half.com can often be a good bet for buying thing secondhand in good condition, but steeply discounted. In contrast to ebay auctions, and particularly craigslist it doesn’t take much time to check.