Meal Plans

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When we don’t have a meal plan, food costs more.

Our regular plan is to build a menu for the week and go to the grocery store on Sunday.  This allows planning, instead of scrambling for a a meal after work each night.   It also give us a chance to plan for leftovers so we have something to eat for lunch at work.

We work until about 5 every weekday.   When we don’t have the meal planned, it’s usually chicken nuggets or hamburger helper for dinner.   Not only is that repetitive, but it’s not terribly healthy.  It is, however, convenient.   If we plan for it, we can get the ingredients ready the night before and know what we are doing when we get home, instead of trying to think about it after a long day of work.

If we don’t plan for leftovers, we tend to make the right amount of food for the family.   When this happens, there’s nothing to bring to work the next day, which means I’ll be hungry about lunchtime with nothing I can do about it except buy something. Buying lunch is never cheaper than making it.   I can get a sandwich at Subway for $5, but I could make a sandwich just as tasty and filling for less than half of that, using money that is meant to be used for food.   All during wrestling season, we make 30-inch sandwiches on meet nights for a cost of about $5, feeding ourselves and at least a couple of others who didn’t have time to make their dinner before the 5:30 meet.

No leftovers also means no Free Soup, which is a wonderful low-maintenance meal that leaves everybody full.  Nobody ever gets bored of Free Soup.  (Hint:  Don’t ever put a piece of fish in the Free Soup, or the flavor will take over the entire meal.)

Unhealthy, repetitive food for dinner.  Over-priced, low-to-middle-quality food for lunch.


We plan our meals right and have inexpensive, healthy food that doesn’t get boring for every meal.

It seems to be a no-brainer.   Except, I don’t have lunch today because we didn’t plan our meals and used the last of the leftover hamburger helper for dinner last night.

Update:  This post has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

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Side Hustle: Garage Sale Wrap-Up

We are now to the end of Garage Sale Week here at Live Real, Now.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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After you shut down on the last day, take the evening off.   You’ve just been hard at work for 2-3 days and need a break.  Deal with the stuff tomorrow.  Tomorrow–and probably the next few days–you’ve got work to do.   What do you do with everything that didn’t sell?   If you’re planning on making garage sales a regular side-hustle, just box it all up and put it to the side until next time.   After all, it’s all priced, sorted, and ready-to-go, right?  If, like me, your goal was to declutter, then it’s time for some serious downsizing.   Let’s dump the crap.

The first thing we did was box up all of the books and movies to bring to the used book store.   We dropped the items at the sell table and spent half an hour browsing a bookstore.   That’s never a good way for me to save money.   The store we went to checks the demand for everything you bring in.    If there’s no demand, they donate or recycle the items and you don’t get paid.    DVDs bring about $1 each.   VHS is demand-based.   Paperbacks are something less than half of the retail price.   Hardcovers are demand-based.   We were offered $28 and pointed to the huge pile of discard/recycle items that we were free to reclaim.   I picked out 4-5 books and movies that I thought had value and left the rest.    Bringing the clutter back home would defeat the purpose of going there.

The clothes were handled two ways.    First, all of the little girl clothes were bagged and set aside for some friends with a little girl.   The rest were bagged and loaded in the truck for a run to Goodwill.    The clothes filled the box of our pickup.

The random knick-knacks were also boxed up and delivered to Goodwill, along with most of the leftover toys.   This was another completely full truck box.  We had a lot of stuff in our sale.

The beat-up or low-value furniture that didn’t sell was put on the curb with “FREE” signs.   I posted the free items on Craigslist and they were gone in just a few hours.   The Craigslist ad said “Please do not contact, I will remove the listing when the items are gone.”   Otherwise, there are usually 10-15 emails per hour asking if the items are still available.  The ad didn’t even have pictures and it worked quickly.

Some of the furniture–the toddler bed, changing table, china cabinet, and the good computer desk–were hauled back to our garage to post on Craigslist with a price-tag.  They are too good to give away. If the camera wouldn’t have died two nights ago, the pictures would already be up.  Some of the other items were also reserved for individual sale.  The extra router, the 6 inch LCD screen, and a few other toys will go on Ebay.

Finally there was some stuff that we decided we weren’t going to get rid of.    We kept a few movies, but only because I didn’t notice them until I got back from the bookstore.   My wife kept a box of Partylite stuff–though most of the leftovers were donated.   Very little of the things we had ready for sale are being kept in our lives.   Almost all of it is gone, or will be soon.

All in all, this was a cathartic end to last month’s 30 Day Project.    There was some surprising emotional attachment to some things I didn’t think I cared about. It’s good to see it gone.

Note: The entire series is contained in the Garage Sale Manual on the sidebar.

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Side Hustle: Garage Sale Management

Garage Sale

Pre-sale preparation and marketing are important, but ultimately, the money comes from how you manage the sale.

How many people will you have staffing the sale?  There are a few considerations here.   How many people are involved in the sale?  How many people can take the time off?   It’s best to have three people at the sale at all times. Two people can manage the money while the third plays salesman and security.   Staffer #3 is in charge of watching for price-tag swaps or other theft, answering questions, and trying to upsell.    It also allows for breaks, which, if you’ve ever spent a day in a garage drinking coffee, is important.

When are you going to be open?  You don’t want to open so early you don’t have time to wake up and get ready for the sale, but you don’t want to open so late the professional garage-salers drive past and forget about you.   Plan to open sometime between 7 and 9. When will you close?   Staying open until 6 will catch most of the after-work crowd, but it makes for a long day, but closing at four cuts out a lot of the late-day shoppers.   Our hours were 8-5, which seemed to be a good compromise between a long day and the best sale.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Don’t be afraid to shut down. The first day of our sale was cold, wet, and miserable.   We had to canopies in the driveway, but everything was getting wet, anyway.   Traffic was slow and we weren’t enjoying ourselves, so we shut down.  Lunch and a nap improved our outlook considerably.   At the end of the day, we start packing up, even if people were there.    We tried to only pack what they had looked at, and we didn’t try to rush the potential customers, but we did let them know that the sale was ending for the day.  The folks who came in half an hour after close on the last day seemed upset that we didn’t unpack everything for their amusement.

Our layout was designed to get everything easily visible while maximizing traffic.   The first day, we were confined to the garage and tents, so space was limited.   There were baskets under each of the tables.   That forced people to crouch and block each other.   The second day, we expanded to fill the driveway.   Our tables were organized in 3 rows–a “U” shape with a double-wide row of tables in the middle.   This allowed people to see everything in one pass.   The middle row had periodic breaks so we could move around to help the customers.    The pay table was in the middle of one of the outer rows, which let us monitor the entire sale.

Find someone to watch the kids and pets. If you have to keep an eye on your children, you aren’t watching the customers or giving them the attention they need.  Your dog–no matter how well-behaved–is a liability.   It will be stressed at the people.  Some customers will be allergic or afraid.  Just don’t do it.

Ideally, you will have someone who isn’t taking money, knows a little bit about most of the merchandise, and isn’t too shy to talk to strangers.   His job is to wander around, answer questions, and help people decide if they want an item.   He’s the sales-weasel. If he’s pushy, he’ll chase off the customers, but if he’s hiding, he isn’t making any money.   Unusual items should have a sign attached explaining why they are special, so the sales-weasel doesn’t have to explain it to everyone.

Every single item should be priced, but not everything needs to be priced individually.   We priced all of the movies in a group.  “VHS: $0.50 or 5 for $2, DVD $3 or 4 for $10”.   Nobody should have to ask what an item costs. If there are multiple people doing a sale together, make sure everyone is using colored price tags to identify who is selling what.

People come to garage sales expecting to find good deals.  If they don’t, they’ll leave. Our rule of thumb for pricing was about 25% of retail, with wiggle-room for the item’s condition. New-in-the-box sometimes made it up to 50% of retail.  Our goal was primarily to reduce clutter, so a lot of items were priced at 10%.    You have to keep in mind that, if you price things too low, people will assume there is something wrong with it and not assign a value in their own minds.    Price it at what you would be willing to pay in a garage sale, then mark it up–just a bit–to account for haggling.

People love to haggle at garage sales.  It gives them an opportunity  to brag about the great deal they fought for.   Try to accommodate them.   One of the people participating in our sale was selling antiques with a definite value.    She didn’t want to haggle on any prices, so we simply hung up a sign that read “All white-tagged prices are firm.”   Everyone else was willing to accept almost any reasonable offer.   Our most important rule for accepting a price?  If you pissed me off, I didn’t budge on price. Insult me, or offer 1/10 of the price, and my defenses go up, bringing your final price with it.   Talk nice and use some common sense while haggling, and you got what you asked for.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Could we have maximized the sale more?  Probably.   I had intended to hang up a sign that simply said “$100” to set a high anchor-price on everything, but I forgot.

Note: The entire series is contained in the Garage Sale Manual on the sidebar.

Update: This post has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.


Side Hustle: The Garage Sale Marketing

By popular demand, here is our garage sale marketing copy.

First, the newspaper ad, which ran in the Sunday edition through Tuesday before the sale:

MOTHER OF ALL GARAGE SALES! 5/13 to 5/15, 8-5!
1000s of items! Furn, crib, electronics, dishes,
cloz from baby to adult fashion!
Lots more!

Next, our Craigslist ad:

Huge sale!
Decades of accumulated stuff from four households!

Thousands of items! Yes, thousands!

We’ve got hundreds of outfits for fashion-conscious women and dozens of candles and candle-holders from Partylite!

Our babies keep growing and outgrowing their stuff. Lots of clothes, a changing table, a convertible drop-side crib, a tall dresser, and many, many, MANY toys!

We’ve got clothes in a variety of sizes: newborn through preschool, boy’s clothes from kindergarten through almost junior high school, adult clothes for both men and women.

There’s a china cabinet/hutch, a curio cabinet, 3 computer desks, a butcher-block kitchen table, a toddler bed and more! The bed and the crib even come with the mattresses, which we kept wrapped in a protective sheet the entire time they were used!

Antiques, toys from our childhood, hundreds of books and movies and much, much more!

Extra computer equipment for the true geek in your life! Boxes of RAM and video cards, a small LCD monitor that’s perfect for putting a computer in your car. I upgrade and replace my computers often. Here’s your chance to upgrade for just a couple of dollars.

Shoes! Holy cow, do we have shoes! New in the box, never been worn, selling for a buck! You can’t beat that price!

Jackets galore! There are a couple of dozen jackets ready to go. Spring and winter, sizes for all ages, including snow suits for babies and toddlers. We’ve got hats and gloves. Don’t miss this opportunity to outfit your kids and grandkids for the upcoming winter. It’s never too early!

We’re even getting rid of some tools and gear for the garage. There’s a 12-volt refrigerator/food-warmer. That’s a fridge for your car or camper! Also a variety of tools and a snowblower. You don’t want to miss this!

Last, but certainly not least:
A 1986 Honda Shadow VT700.
11,000 miles and two owners.
This is in excellent condition. It’s got almost no rust, just a few spots on the exhaust. It starts with no effort every spring. New tires, brakes, and a carb rebuild just a couple of seasons ago. New leather on the seats last fall. It’s a beauty.
Only $2750.

Thursday, May 13th through Saturday, May 15th. 8AM to 5PM

Address redacted.

Note: The entire series is contained in the Garage Sale Manual on the sidebar.