Episode 7: October 2, 2009
By Linsey Knerl
Today, we’re going to go deep into the most popular of online classifieds: Craigslist. You’ll get tips on how to find the best deals and how you can avoid becoming the victim of a shopping scam.
What Is Craigslist?
If you’re not familiar with Craigslist (found at www.craigslist.com), you may be missing out on one of the most unique and affordable shopping resources the web has to offer. The granddaddy of all classified ad listings, Craigslist contains dozens of useful shopping categories by state and city. You can expect to find most anything that’s legal to buy through the site--if you know what you’re looking for.
The granddaddy of all classified ad listings, Craigslist contains dozens of useful shopping categories by state and city.
How Do I Find What I’m Looking For on Craigslist?
Craigslist can be useful for finding items you may typically find at a garage or estate sale, without the hassle of having to dig through every item or going during a single, inconvenient time. But with so many listings available--many of them updated several hundred times a day--Craigslist can be overwhelming for a first-time shopper. The first step to hunting down that great deal is to decide what geographical location is best suited to your shopping needs. I personally like to look for deals on large purchases (like furniture, electronics, and garden equipment) only in places that are within a 2-hour drive. Small purchases, such as a coveted book or item of clothing, are only worth purchasing if I’m already going to be in the area of where the seller lives, Use common sense to determine if a long drive for a special purchase is worth it in the end, since most sellers are not interested in shipping or delivering an item.
How to Find the Best Deals on Craigslist
Craigslist has some limited search capabilities that can speed up the hunt. If you’re trying to get a good deal on a portable air-conditioner, for example, type in “air conditioner” (without the hyphen) the first time, then “air-conditioner” (with the hypen) the second time. You may end up with a few different results, which will all be listed by the date they were posted. Remember to search for all variations of a keyword. For example, a bookshelf could be ‘bookshelves’, ‘bookcase’, ‘bookcases’, ‘shelf for books’, ‘book storage’ …some of these are more likely to return results than others, but the point is to try as many as possible to widen your return possibilities. With Craigslist, the thesaurus is your friend.
How to Boost Your Craigslist Search Results
Additionally, Typobuddy.com and Misspellr.com are great ways to find deals on Craigslist that other people can’t because they’re using the correct spelling. These sites contain databases of misspelled words and will search for those misspellings in the craigslist ads in your area and are especially good when searching for brand names, which are frequently misspelled.
Remember that some people mis-categorize their listings. If you’re willing to spend some time, search outside of the categories under which you’d assume your desired object would be posted. One good way to do that is by using Google search instead of the Craigslist search. First, go to the Google Advanced Search. Then, put your general search term in the “all these words” box, your neighborhood or area (if desired) into the “this exact wording or phrase” box, and any words you want the listing to contain, such as “good condition,” into the “one or more of these words” box and then search within the domain or the site yourcity.craigslist.com (replacing, of course “yourcity” with the city you are interested in). Alternately, you can search all of Craigslist with the site SearchAllCraigs.com.
How to Stay Aware of the Best Deals on Craigslist
To be sure that you are always up-to-date on what is being offered in your area, consider using RSS feeds.
If you’re at all familiar with RSS feeds (and if you’re not, check out The Digital Marketer’s episode How to Manage and Read RSS Feeds) then here’s a time-saving tip. First, go to the Craigslist in the location or locations that you’re interested in. Then, think of a few search terms that are most likely to get results that you are interested in seeing (example, leather couch or china cabinet) and search for them in the ‘for sale’ category. Type those into the search box. Once the results come up, copy the RSS link at the bottom of the result page and paste it into your RSS reader. Do this for every search term in every location that you’ve decided to use, and save yourself from anxiously checking Craigslist every day; instead, just check your RSS reader.
Smart phone apps are another quick and convenient way to stay on top of the best listings. (iCraig, for example, lets you look at listings and photos from your iPhone. Get it for free at http://www.icraig.org/)
Don’t Forget the Free Section of Craigslist
It’s possible to get rare finds for pennies on the dollar with Craigslist. Their extensive FREE section often leads to high-quality, usable items that just need a good home. Likewise, the recent increase in home foreclosures has produced a glut of home fitness equipment, building supplies, and lawn and garden products with nowhere to go. You can take advantage of all the extra listings by being diligent about your Craigslist searches, and promptly replying to any listings that catch your eye!
How to Avoid Scams on Craigslist
Craigslist has gotten some bad press for being a haven for scam artists and even a few dangerous criminals. To be certain that you’re smart about your shopping, always remember these quick and dirty tips for Craigslist shopping:
Don’t give out your personal information. If a seller needs your basic info to communicate the terms of the sale, use only your first name, call from a blocked phone number, and don’t ever tell them where you live.
When picking up the item, don’t go alone or at night, if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood. Have the seller bring the item out to you (instead of going into a house you don’t know.)
Be sure to pay cash, instead of checks with identifying information on them. If the item is costly, insist on a bill of sale with a listing of what you purchased and for how much.
Avoid any sale ads that appear too good to be true. Many scams are run on the premise of a high-valued item, car, or pet that they were willing to part with for just a few dollars and a shipping fee. Refuse to do business with anyone who insists on money-transfers, wire services, or “holding fees.” More information on these types of scams is available on the Craigslist website.
Remember to always use your best etiquette when shopping via Craigslist. If you say that you’re going to pick up an item – Do! Be considerate of the seller’s time, and always be upfront about pricing, terms of the sale, and your availability for pick up. One day, you may be selling something on Craigslist, and the Golden Rule always applies.
This has been an episode of Dealista’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Getting More for Less, brought to you by Wise Bread, a personal finance blog that helps you live large on a small budget.
And, as always, you can send us your questions, comments, and tips to this same email or call 206-426-1615
Until next time!