Side Hustle: The Garage Sale Preparation

Garage Sale

We had a garage sale last week, as a wrap-up to the April 30 Day Project.  We got rained out halfway through the first day of our 3-day sale, but we still managed to clear $1500.  We held the sale in our neighbor’s garage because it had more space and better visibility.

Wednesday night, while carrying boxes over, I missed the step to their property from our driveway and crashed while carrying three boxes.   That’s a twisted ankle and a bleeding knee.  Naturally, while I’m hopping and swearing, everyone is concerned that I’m okay.   The worry-warts.   Anyway, it hurt, so we stopped setting up while we still had a few boxes left in the basement.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Thursday morning, I decided to show them all.   At 5:30AM, before anybody else is strongly considering the possibility of maybe thinking about getting ready to hit the snooze button, I decided to get the rest of the boxes ready.   They’d all wake up, worried about how I’m feeling, asking if I’m to stiff to carry boxes.  The best way to show them they don’t need to worry would be to have all of the boxes dealt with before they woke up.   So I started.    Up and down the stairs, with a stiff, twisted ankle, gloating to myself about how tough I was…BOOM, down the stairs. I was on my back, sliding down the stairs.    I caught a stair-tread in the small of my back and another on the point of my tailbone.  Mommy?

After I stopped twitching on the floor at the base of the stairs, I managed to get the last of the boxes ready.   Instead of sympathy, I spent the rest of the weekend getting asked if I needed an inflatable doughnut to sit on.  There are places I’d prefer not to have bruised.

Unpacking the boxes made me glad that everything was priced.  We spent 6 weeks going through our entire house–every room, every dresser, every drawer–to eliminate the clutter.   As something went into a box, it got priced, so we didn’t have to do it all at the last minute.  That is the most important time-saving step for a garage sale.   Price it as you pack it. You don’t want to waste hours pricing stuff while tripping over potential customers.

Another preparation tip to do early:  Find tables!   Ask around. You’d be surprised at who has a dozen folding tables collecting dust in his basement.    It’s better to borrow that to rent.    The best price I found was $17.50 to rent an 8′ X 30″ table for a week.   We didn’t have to do that, but we thought we would have to.  I borrowed a few, found a few, and built a few out of sawhorses.

The week before the sale, we placed an ad in the paper. When I placed the ad, the paper called to suggest we change it from running the weekend before to running just the days of the sale.   I agreed, to a point, but their Sunday circulation is miles ahead of the weekday circulation, so why pay to run an ad nobody will see on Thursday?    I ran it Sunday through Tuesday, because I wanted the Sunday ad and we got 3 consecutive days in the price.   Did I actually know better than the paper’s sales-weasel?  Who knows?   I think I made the right decision.

The Sunday before the sale, I posted an ad on Craigslist. Interesting fact: little old ladies use Craiglist to plan their garage-sale adventures.

Two days before the sale, we made signs. Bright pink signs with brighter yellow starbursts. They were all simple. “Mega Sale! 8-5” followed by an arrow and our address. Simple, easy-to-read, and bright. The morning of the sale, after the ibuprofen kicked in, I put the signs up. When you make signs out of paper, always include a crossbar. It rained a lot the first day of the sale, so the signs wilted. The second morning, I went out with some duct tape and crossbars and fixed them all.

The day before the sale, we got cash and change. We had $50 in 1s and 5s and $25 in silver change. No pennies. Nothing was priced to make us need them.

The morning of the sale, we set up two canopy tents in the driveway and pulled the prepared-and-filled table out under them. We finished stacking as much as we could on the tables and called it “open”. There were a few boxes we couldn’t put out due to the rain. We simply ran our of room. At noon, $65 into the sale, we decided enough was enough and shut down–cold, wet, and miserable. Lunch and a nap made the day better.

Later, I’ll discuss the other parts of our successful sale.

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

Update: This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.


The Virtues of Blow Money

When we initially developed our budget, we built it tight.  Every penny was accounted for and had a place to go.  I was so proud.

Money, money

Money, money

Unfortunately, there were some problems with habitual–even compulsive–shopping in our house.   The change from “whatever we wanted” to “it’s not budgeted” was too much, too fast.

After a few months of arguments, we agreed to set up a “blow money” line item in the budget.   That’s money that is absolutely unaccountable. When a purchase comes out of that fund, no questions are allowed.   Whether it’s a new pair of shoes for her, or a new book for me, nobody gets to fight over it.   Sometimes, it’s a nice dinner out, other times it’s another gadget for the entertainment center.   It’s never a problem.

This provides two major benefits.

First, it balances the feeling of sacrifice.   If my wife never gets to buy anything, while at the same time, she’s watching our friends and neighbors flaunt their rampant consumerism, it makes her feel like she is giving up the good life.   We aren’t lacking for anything, but the trappings of middle-class “success” can be expensive.    Having an opportunity to participate in that horrible rat-race lessens the feeling that we are missing out.    Rationally, we know that the right thing is not to spend that money, but emotionally, it’s a necessity.

Second, it’s a safety valve.   Our finances are under tight control, which can cause pressure.   Finances are, after all, one of the leading causes of divorce.   Having a way to release that pressure makes everyone happier.    Habitual shoppers experience shopping the same way drug addicts experience their “high”.  That includes withdrawal.   The safety valve turns this from a “cold turkey” method of quitting to a weaning of the addiction.

Another minor benefit is that the blow money can serve as an opportunity fund to bridge the gap between the discretionary budget and a desired purchase. Last week, we ran across a curio cabinet that exactly matches our living room, but we didn’t have it budgeted.   Out comes the blow money, which, combined a portion of the discretionary budget and some negotiating, made the new cabinet affordable, without busting the budget.

This isn’t a system that works for everybody, but it keeps us on track.

How do you handle the stresses of a household budget?

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Budget Lesson, Part 8

This is a continuation of the budget series. See these posts for the history of this series.

This time, I’m looking at our discretionary budget. These are the things that don’t have a fixed cost. Any individual item is largely optional, and, ultimately, we don’t track these purchases closely. At the beginning of the month, I pull this money out of the bank in cash, except for 1 category. When the discretionary budget is gone, it’s gone.

  • Groceries/Dining  – At the beginning of the week, we sit down with a meal planner and (Can you guess?) plan our meals.  The planner we use has a weekly calendar with a checklist below each day to build the grocery list.  At the bottom of the page is another checklist for staples that don’t apply to a specific day’s meal, like milk or snacks.   We build the list, then transfer it to another sheet, broken out by grocery department.  That keeps me from having to criss-cross the store.   I make one lap.  When I go to the store, I only bring that week’s grocery budget in cash,  so I keep close track of how much is going into the cart.    Recently, we’ve gotten so good at making our meals cheaply from scratch that I reduced our monthly food budget by $50.   I enjoy good food, so I wouldn’t reduce this budget item if it was a sacrifice in quality.   For example, the Rainbow Foods store-brand chips actually taste better than Lay’s for half of the price.    We stock up when things are on sale and cook creatively.   Sometimes, if time has been too tight to make a meal plan, we eat solely from the pantry for a week, buying nothing but bread and milk.   By sticking to the list, and not fearing the store’s brand, we are able to feed our family of 5 1/2 for $450 per month and still eat well.
  • Discretionary  – This is for the random things that come up, and some of the not-so-random.   Toiletries, activity fees, admissions, and fund-raisers all come out of this fund.  At the end of the month, whatever is left gets tucked into a box and forgotten.   When the box gets full, it goes to the bank to be applied to debt. There isn’t a lot to cut here, since this line-item is only $200.
  • Baby stuff  – This category is continually shrinking.   Our middle kid is recently potty-trained and our youngest is trying.   There is no baby food and no formula, just 1 pack of diapers every month.   In 6 months, this category will be eliminated.
  • Gas/oil  – This is the single category that isn’t cash-based.   It makes no sense to take the kids out of the car to pay inside, especially in the winter.    Also, all of the temptation is inside. It’s much better to spend the money at the pump.    There isn’t much we can do to reduce this, at the moment.   Our next car won’t be a full-sized pickup, but we are several years from that purchase.    We’ve started clipping oil-change coupons to keep this down to the minimum amount possible.
  • Clothes  – We only allocate $15 per month for clothes.   In a good month, we don’t spend it.   We can’t eliminate it completely, because things do come up.   Over the summer, I’m hoping to completely leave it alone to save up for a new(used) winter jacket for our older daughter, who doesn’t get hand-me-downs.
  • Blow Money  – This is the safety valve.  It can’t get reduced and still work.

We’ve now addressed out entire budget, including what we can do and have done to keep our costs under control.  Looking back, I don’t see too many cuts I’ve missed.

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Chains of Servitude Update

It’s been almost exactly one year since I told my wife that we were either going to take control of our finances or file bankruptcy.

At that time, we were spending at least $500 more each month than we made, and often, it was $1000 more.   We had more than $5000 accumulated on our overdraft line of credit, more than $30,000 in credit card debt, $2500 on a student loan, $12,000 on a car note, and our mortgage.

Our savings were nonexistent.   We had automatic deposits established, but we’d transfer the money out right away to cover other expenses.    Everything that came up was an emergency and a surprise.  We had no real idea how much our lifestyles cost or what it actually took to maintain.

Maintaining our finances took several hours every payday to balance the checkbook and pay bills.

Fast forward 1 year.   The student loan is gone, the line of credit will be gone next month, and the car loan will be paid off before the end of the year.   We’ve reduced our total debt load by more than 20%.

We have a useful emergency fund and we’re meeting our other savings goals, including a college fund for the kids.    We don’t have extremely high balances, but it’s reassuring to have more than a couple of months of expenses in our savings accounts.

We’ve automated almost everything and gone to a cash-only system.   I now spend about 20 minutes a month balancing the checkbook and less than 5 minutes paying bills.

A year ago, we were in a hole, digging as fast as we could.   Now, we can see the end of the debt tunnel and we are rushing as fast as we can to get there.    According to my debt spreadsheet, we will be completely debt free in just under 4 years, ignoring any money coming from our side-hustles and work bonuses.

We’re making better progress than I had hoped for, and it keeps getting easier.    Smart spending is becoming a habit, instead of a just wishful thinking.

Update:  This post has been included in the Carnival of Debt Reduction.

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