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How to Shop on Craigslist (Without Losing Your Mind)

7 tips from “the Nester” for using Craigslist safely and wisely
How to Shop on Craigslist (Without Losing Your Mind)
Image: nadja robot / Flickr

What comes to mind when you hear the word Craigslist? Special hidden camera episodes on 20/20? Generic fonts and a hard-to-navigate website? Killers? Yes, Craigslist is all that . . . and so much more!

Joking aside, Craigslist is a fantastic way to find one-of-a-kind or deeply discounted items for your home.

Sailfish, antlers, and my best find ever

I turned to Craigslist when I wanted a few specific items for our home. One was a sailfish. See, growing up, I distinctly remember my grandparents having a sailfish on their wall. The fact that a dead, mounted fish makes me happy is a lesson in itself. Children associate memories with just about anything. It doesn’t have to be something fantastic or beautiful. I loved being at my grandparents’ house with the sailfish; therefore, seeing a sailfish makes me feel happy. (This theory also explains why I love the smell of cigarette smoke. I don’t smoke, but I rarely mind it when others do because the smell takes me back to good memories with my grandparents. But I digress.)

I ended up finding a vintage sailfish on Craigslist. It took more than a year of searching, but I was patient and ended up finding one within 10 miles of our house. That meant I didn’t have to pay for shipping and we saved more than 500 dollars compared to similar items I’ve seen in stores.

Each time, we considered the risks that someone might be trying to scam us, or worse.

Another dream find: A few years ago I really wanted some mounted antlers. My husband is a duck hunter so we don’t naturally have any antlers around our house. I priced them at antique malls and found that most mounted antlers cost 500 to 1,000 dollars, which was far beyond my price range. So once again I turned to Craigslist. Every few days, I popped on the site for several minutes looking for antlers for sale. Within a few months, I found a man asking just 100 dollars for mounted antlers. He had only one tiny photo, and it was so unclear that I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at, but it was close enough to my house that it was worth the risk of wasting my time. So I stopped by and, lo and behold, there were two huge mounted elk antlers (the kind many stores were asking 875 dollars for) as well as two smaller deer antlers—and he was selling all of them for 100 dollars total. Score!

But my best ever Craigslist find happened just recently. My husband and I bought a little fixer-upper house and had to gut the kitchen. I’ve wanted a gas stove for years. I had a budget and had to stick to it, so as much as I love the high-end Viking ranges, I knew that wouldn’t be a reality for me. So one day, on a whim, I checked Craigslist and, shock of all shocks, a six-year-old Viking gas range was for sale—and it was priced under my budget for a new, lower-end model! We paid less than a quarter of what that range would have cost brand-new. We did have to borrow a trailer and drive 90 minutes to pick it up, but it was entirely worth the effort.

Risk and reward

Was using Craigslist a risk? Yep. But we started small, beginning with just a 100 dollar purchase, then eventually working our way up to the Viking range. Each time, we considered the risks that someone might be trying to scam us, or worse. So far, we’ve had mostly great experiences.

Of course, not all of our experiences using Craigslist have been positive. We had one bad experience buying a plane ticket on Craigslist that ended up saddled with all sorts of extra fees. But that one bad experience hasn’t scared us off. The savings we’ve had using Craigslist make it worth it for us.

Craigslist is not for the faint of heart. You have to be diligent and pore thought lots of stuff you won’t want.

Are you looking for something special for your “nesting place”—your home? Craigslist can be a great, moneysaving resource for you as long as you use it safely and wisely.

Be safe

There are a few tips you should keep in mind to make sure you’re prioritizing your safety when shopping on Craigslist.

  1. As you communicate with the seller, always clearly indicate that you’ll be bringing your husband or a friend with you to pick up the item you’re purchasing. This will make it clear that you will not be alone.
  2. Never go to a seller’s house alone. If you must go alone and the item is small, plan to meet in a public place like a coffee shop.
  3. Always pay in cash. This way, you aren’t giving your address to a stranger.

Be wise

Craigslist is not for the faint of heart. You have to be diligent and pore through lots of stuff you won’t want. Craigslist makes you work for the deal, but if you are willing to put in the effort, you can find some really nice things. Here are my suggestions for making wise purchases on Craigslist:

  1. Ask a lot of questions. When we bought that Viking Range I was so afraid that it was going to be broken or falling apart. But after asking questions and getting to know the owners, it became clear that they simply didn’t need that kind of range anymore and they wanted someone to have it who would enjoy it.
  2. Look for something specific. It can be difficult to browse Craigslist if you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re looking for.
  3. Get creative with keywords. As you search Craigslist, think of the words someone else would use to describe what you are looking for. For example, you may want a Chesterfield sofa, but perhaps the person selling one doesn’t know or care to call it that. Be sure to search all the words like chesterfield, sofa, couch, leather, tufted, buttons. You’ll have to sift through a lot more items, but you may have a better chance of finding that perfect Chesterfield listed under “brown couch for sale.”
  4. Don’t waste your time with listings that don’t have photos. This will save you time driving to see an item that you may not like and could have nixed online in about five seconds. Once you type in your item and hit “search,” be sure to click on the “gallery” style layout and also check off the “pic” box so that you’ll only see listings with photos and they’ll be laid out nice and big so it’s easy to scroll through. If you’re interested in a listing that does not have a photo, try emailing the seller to see if they can provide one. Make sure the photo isn’t a stock photo or a link to a store listing—you want a photo of the actual item in its current condition.

Just like my memories of my grandparents’ home, special items in your own home give it its unique feel—and can build lifelong memories for your family and loved ones. So if you’re looking for something special, consider Craigslist as a great alternative to thrift stores or high-end furniture stores. It takes a bit of savvy, but you can find some amazing deals if you put in the work. Is there an item you’ve almost given up searching the stores for? Try out these Craigslist tips now to see what you can find!

Myquillyn Smith has been encouraging women to embrace the home they are in for the past five years. She’s known throughout the blogging world as “The Nester” and writes a blog called “Nesting Place,” a site from which she wants readers to leave with hope, motivation, and inspiration for their homes. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three boys, their hockey paraphernalia, and plenty of brown dog hair. Everything in their house is washable, destroyable, and imperfect. They have moved thirteen times in eighteen years of marriage. They are renters. And they love their home. Connect with her at www.TheNester.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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