Monthly Archives: April 2014

For Sale: A Basement Full of Regrets

When I look around my basement I see a wealth of bad decisions and procrastination.  Things I purchased thinking they would be perfect…and then they weren’t.  Things I replaced with upgrades and then never got rid of the old ones.  Clothes I never wear or can’t fit into.  Hobbies that are no longer my hobbies.  So much stuff!

I know that there are several ways to purge my stuff and make some money in the process.  The easiest way to clear everything all at once is to have a garage sale.  In one or two days the stuff disappears and I get some cash.  But this is the method that reaps the least financial reward.  Garage sale shoppers are shrewd hagglers.  They won’t pay a lot for most things.  Maybe a dollar for a shirt or fifty cents for a book.  You have to be selling a lot of stuff to make much money this way.

The next step up from here is local online sites.  Craigslist.  Swap and sell pages on Facebook.  These are free to use and will command a higher sale price on your items.  But this method is more work.  You have to list your items online with descriptions and pictures.  You have to arrange to meet with your buyers to make the transaction.   But I find that this is the best way to actually get a fair price on bulky items such as appliances or garden tools or camping gear.  It’s worth the time and effort.

The highest yield I have found comes from selling on eBay.  This is especially true for electronics.  My last cell phone and my old Kindle will be finding their way to eBay soon.  But this is an even bigger investment.  You have to put together a great listing with lots of pictures.  There is a charge to list your items.  You have to be set up with a PayPal account to receive payment.  You have to predict shipping charges. You have to package up and ship the item once it has sold.  It really does require some serious work.  But you can control the reserve price to make sure you receive at least the lowest price you are willing to accept.

As with so many things, reselling items will bring varying reward depending on the effort you invest.  But any of these options will have to be a better choice than maintaining a basement full of guilt and regret.

Everything’s Easier the Second Time Around

Everything is easier the second time around.  Everything.  Just having experienced something before makes it easier to swallow.  If you know something is uncomfortable (like taking a law school exam or having surgery), you rest a little easier knowing that you’ve survived it before and you can do it again.  If you know something is fun (like going to a Penn State football game or going to an amusement park), then you look forward to repeating the joyous experience.

Having an experience under your belt, you can be much better prepared for the next time you do it.  Better prepared mentally.  Better prepared physically.  Just all around better prepared.  You know what you did badly the first time and you have corrected for it.  You know what you did well the first time, and you’re ready to repeat and build on that.

So what does all of this have to do with your financial life?  Everything!  There will be many financial firsts in your life.  The first time you start a retirement account.  The first time you have a major medical issue.  The first time you buy stocks.  The first time you buy a car.  The first time you make a payment on your student loans.  The first time you buy a major appliance.  The first time you buy a home.  The first time you hire a contractor.  The list can go on ad nauseum.  But thankfully, you don’t have to go through any of this blindly.

Home purchase

We live in the age of the Internet, which makes firsts a million times easier to handle.  Through the magic of Google, you can easily read about other peoples’ experiences with any of these (and a thousand other) first time financial events.  Just type in “How to buy a refrigerator” and a wealth of knowledge is at your fingertips.  And this doesn’t just work for major purchases and decisions…it’s also helpful in preventing buyer’s remorse on smaller items.  Whenever I purchase anything, I’m likely to look at either Consumer Reports reviews or customer reviews on Amazon.  It’s just silly not to take advantage of what others have learned before sinking my money into something.

Still, everything is easier the second time around.  But the first time doesn’t have to be nearly as frightening if you do a little research beforehand.

What You Get Out of It / What You Put Into It

Blue and White weekend consumed University Park this past weekend.  It is a really big deal for Penn State.  I know that the alumni and development staff were in preparation for a very long time for this.  And it got me to thinking about Penn State’s alumni network and how I’ve heard people refer to Penn State’s alumni as “rabid,” which doesn’t seem far off the mark.  Before Penn State I had never been associated with a school with such a proud student and alumni base.  It’s actually quite magical.

All of this led me to think about how what you put into something depends on what you get out of it.  We’ve all heard the old adage about how what you get out of something depends on what you put into it.  But I think it works in reverse as well.  Penn Staters love their school….they get/got a lot out of their time here…and the development staff are happy to take their donations in support of that connection.  They get/got a lot out of their educational experience, and they make alumni donations to put something back in.

This kind of connection between intrinsic satisfaction and financial outlay doesn’t stop with your alma maters.  It easily translates into retail establishments as well.

For example, I used to do all of my grocery shopping at one particular store.  And as time passed, the prices rose and the quality declined.  It just wasn’t a pleasant experience any more.  So I stopped going there.  Completely.  I now split my grocery shopping between two other stores where I feel like I have a better experience and receive what I pay for.  I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I stopped putting anything into it.

On the flip side, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my local brew pub.  I’m there at least once a week.  The food there is consistently good, but not great.  The beer is consistently good, but not great.  So why do I keep going back?  The experience is fantastic.  There are enough employees on duty to serve the large number of customers they have.  Always.  And the employees are friendly and good at their jobs.  The restaurant is always clean and pleasant.  I never have a bad experience.  Is it the best restaurant in town?  No.  But it is a great experience.  That’s why I continue to spend my money there.  I get a lot out of it, so I continue to put a lot into it.

We all know that what you get out of something depends on how much you put into it.  But in the retail world, how much money you put into someplace depends on what you get out of it.

The Rewards of Regular Maintenance

I rolled 100,000 miles on my Prius this week.  It wasn’t ceremonious.  I didn’t pull over to the side of the road to take a picture to post to Facebook.  In fact, I wasn’t even looking when it happened.  I knew it was close, and when I looked down on my way home from work on Thursday, I saw 100,001.

There was a time in life when 100,000 miles on a car was a really big deal.  Almost nobody kept a car that long.  And many cars just wouldn’t last that long.  But in today’s world that marker is a pretty normal, expected milestone.

I probably should have mixed feelings about the fact that I’ve reached 100,000 miles and still have a year and a half of payments to go on the car loan.  But the fact is I drive a lot.  And I bought the car used, so I started at 38,000 miles.  I can’t complain too much about the fact that I’ve logged over 60,000 miles in three and a half years.  And the reality is that it just doesn’t bother me.  I fully expect to continue driving this car for at least another 100,000 miles.

How can I be so certain that my car will be able to stand up to all of those miles?  Regular maintenance!  I follow the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual to a T.  I change the oil and rotate the tires every 5,000 miles.  I check the fluids and change the air filters.  I have the big services done when they are due (seems like just yesterday I took it in for the 90,000 mile check-up).

Does regular maintenance cost money?  Absolutely.  But it costs a lot less than fixing something that has gone wrong because regular maintenance hasn’t been done.  Skipping an oil change for too long can cause serious problems to the engine.  Not draining and replacing the transmission fluid from time to time can cause the transmission to go bad.  So I’ll happily pay $25 every 5,000 miles to get the oil changed and $100 from time to time to drain and replace fluids.  It’s way better than paying $3,000 or more for a new transmission or engine.

My Prius is my baby.  We spend a lot of time together.  So I’ll continue to take care of that car.  Because if I treat it right, it will treat me right.