Friday, January 20, 2017

Making Money versus Saving Money

A few years ago, I thought I wanted to be an independent bookseller on Amazon.  I even read this book about how to sell books on Amazon.  I'm sure there are people who do it and are able to make a living from it.  I'm not one of those people.

I've tried to be an eBay seller, too.  I had some great items, which I sold at a profit.  My problem with both Amazon and eBay is a lack of inventory, and I lack inventory, because I lack the space to store it.  Also, I lack the capital to build an inventory that I may have to store for a long time.  That is, I have to purchase the whatever it is, and then, if it doesn't sell quickly enough, I'm out that money. 

I'm sure there are a lot of people who do okay with both Amazon and eBay as sellers, but I think most people have my experience.  It sounds good, on paper.  The reality is that, while I made a couple of dollars, once one adds in the time spent both buying and selling the item, shipping, seller fees, and the general nuisance of dealing with it, there was no profit.  My experience with online selling is that the ones who make money with those markets are the people who own the portals. 

In the fall 2015, I finally convinced Deus Ex Machina that it was time for me to dissolve my home-based office service.  It had been almost 20 years since I started, and as my daughters got older and their schedules more full, I was finding it increasingly more difficult to give my clients the service they deserved and had come to expect. 

The problem was that we had come to depend on that income, and I assured Deus Ex Machina that when I quit my job, I would be able to find a way to recoup, at least part of, my income.

My first project was to rent a table at a local indoor flea market.  Unlike online selling, all of my customers were local folks (or tourists), and so there was no shipping charge.  It was almost completely passive.    The facility was open seven days a week from 9:00 to 5:00.  They did all of the work, mostly.  All I had to do was maintain my table - make sure my items were appropriately labeled with my vendor number, an item description, and the price I wished to receive.  The cashiers there don't haggle with the customers, and so people can buy what I have to sell at the price I'm asking, or they can move on.  There was even a website with weekly reporting of what I had sold.  Checks were issued weekly.  Heck, I didn't even have to pay my table fee, if I earned enough from sales.  They just take my table rent out of what I'd sold the previous month. 

So, we had all of these really cool things I'd collected over the years from who knows where.  My house was a stuff magnet: old tools, cast iron extras, books, antique-looking (not real antiques, though) stuff, toys, and all sorts of glass items.  It was a hodgepodge of eclectic clutter.  Even if we didn't make much (enough to cover the table rental), I reasoned, getting the clutter out of our house would be a huge bonus. 

So, I signed the contract and set up my table (the more expensive one that I didn't want squeezed back in a corner, but that was the only one they (said they) had available at the time).  The first month I earned back my table rental fee, plus about $60.  The second month I didn't do quite as well, but I was still making more than the table cost.

Most of the really eclectic, cool, collector-type stuff went pretty fast (wooden clam basket and rake; picnic baskets; some glass jars; a child's tea set).  The high-end collector's items (like the authentic hand-painted Steinbach Nutcrackers) sat on the table, being mishandled by potential buyers, who looked at the price tag, looked at the shabby surroundings of the flea market and passed. 

It's curious to me that the people who go to places like that don't really understand the whole principle of putting things back the way they found them.   

The third and fourth months, I was super busy with other projects.  Getting there before 5:00 PM proved to be extremely difficult.  In that sixty-day period, I only checked my table once. 

Summer wound down, and I found myself with a bit more time.  At the beginning of the fifth month, I stopped by and found that I had a deficit. I owed them money - and it was a substantial sum - more than I had earned in the entire time that I'd had my table.  I hadn't sold much of anything in those two months, and so I didn't meet the table rent.  Then, I discovered something I'd overlooked when I signed the contract.  There was a $25 late fee for table rents not paid on time.  Two months worth of table fees, plus a late fee.  That's what I owed.  I was a little afraid to tell Deus Ex Machina. 

We're still married.  That's good. 

I gave my thirty-day notice, and in October, I boxed up what was left on the table, collected my final check (a whopping $6), tucked my tail and went home.

One time, about fifteen years ago, I tried to have a yard sale.  I realized then, even though I keep forgetting, that I have no idea what other people want to buy.  Mostly it's never the kinds of things I have for sale. 

What I do better at than selling is not spending.  I don't rush out and buy a thing the first time I identify that I might need it.  I look for another solution, first, and sometimes discover that we didn't need it after all. 

I cook at home, which saves quite a lot.  A meal out for our family, if we eat at the restaurant - and we're not talking a high-end place here, but just a casual dining restaurant where people wear cut-off jeans and throw peanut shells on the floor - is more than $100 (which is a whole week's worth of groceries, even if we buy all organic and local!).  Our cheapest option is take-out from someplace like Chipotle, and that's still almost $50, for the five of us, without beverages. 

If I were going to make this a #FrugalTip, it would be advice to stay-at-home parents - concentrate, first, on not spending, and then, if there's a lot of time and energy left over, maybe finding some easy, passive ways to earn a few dollars is worthwhile, but unless one is a really savvy consumer with a large storage area and some extra capital to invest in the "business", do something other than reselling.

For the record, I do earn some cash still.  I'm a certified teacher and work as an advisor to the homeschool community.  I earn some money doing that.  I'm also a Notary Public.  I can earn some money notarizing documents and solemnizing marriages.  And, occasionally, I sell a piece of writing.

Mostly, though, I don't earn money, I look for ways to not depend on it.

And if I had to choose one that's better for me, it would be the latter.  Making money is easy.  Keeping it? That's tougher.  Not needing it is the Holy Grail.

I walked into the craft store last summer, and I saw this display of stuff. 

I won't say what my first thought was, but it centered on a disbelief that people paid, you know, like, REAL money for this stuff.  I love the look of the stuff, but ... not enough to pay any money for it.  In another section of the store, there are these plastic jars filled with odds and ends, scrap pieces of paper with cute sayings, mismatched game pieces, pieces of twine.  It looks like someone's junk drawer in a jar.  I still haven't figured out what it's for or why someone would buy it.  If the jar were glass, maybe I'd buy it just for the jar ... probably not, though.

Then, as I whipped out my phone to take pictures, I thought, if I were more crafty, I could make this stuff for my flea market table.  I'm not crafty, but those who are, please take note.  I'm sure you can do better than these cheap, mostly plastic and fake wood, replicas made in China.


  1. Not spending money is my forte! By doing it on a daily basis I seem to have more 'spare' money even after paying all the bills, than many people I know who earn bazillions of dollars and spend them just as fast.. this year I have dropped back from 3 days to 2 days work a week to see if I can still manage to save on that tiny income, and have more days to write and work in the garden..

    Here's to not spending:)

  2. I have sold some things on eBy for alittle extra cahs, and higher prices items. I'd need to create things/bake to do a market booth. I know one blogger who does a lot of business making homemade breads (multiple bread machines going) as a side hobby. Tough to do otheriwse consistently. I still thirift for a lot of things. Currently wearing my thrifted jeans, flannel blouse. Wore my eBay LL Bean parka tody, cheaper than a new cheapo made. And I have seen those "farmy shabby chic" cheap items new too, funny, but sad. Some one will buy that and never thing to use recycled materials or buy used, or do without...

  3. Saving a dollar is like earning two dollars. Because there isn't the expense of having to go to work, or buying special work clothes or finding child care and money saved is tax free
    So like you. I'm really good at saving. I think it's ingrained in us that to be a worthwhile human you have to be getting a pay packet. But that's just not true

  4. On Amazon now you can send your inventory to them and they take care of the shipping (Fulfillment by Amazon.) You make less per item but for us it's worth it not to have to store and ship. It meant we could have an inventory in the thousands, which we could never do if it was all in our basement. If you ever want to try again I'd be happy to share some info with you.