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Shop Till Your Mouse Drops


Sure there’s wacky stuff on the Web, but there are also great deals to help you stretch your shopping dollar.


By Selena Maranjian

What do Willie Nelson’s new CD, posters for your classroom, and a Toyota Camry have in common? They’re all for sale on eBay. And eBay isn’t the only online general store out there these days, either. Here are some of the top Internet marketplaces:

eBay.com—Make a bid and buy items in online auctions. Can’t wait to see if you’ll snag that vintage Jetsons lunchbox for your little one? Choose the “Buy It Now” feature and scoop it up for a fixed price before the first bid comes in.

Amazon.com—It’s not just for books anymore. This site features auctions and fixed-price sellers offering a wide variety of wares. A new feature now lets you buy new, gently used (even signed) books from a private seller on the site for less than Amazon’s own retail price.

Half.com—Buy and sell books, movies, music, video games, and more for fixed prices. Sick of watching Steel Magnolias? Don’t just toss it. Unload it on someone else and make some money.

Craigslist.org—A hip version of your newspaper’s classifieds section. In addition to local personals, job listings, and discussion forums, there are also sales listings for everything from auto parts to houses. You can even barter with others or scoop up free items that folks are trying to get rid of in your city. A recent posting on the Omaha, Nebraska, Craigslist page offered a free praying mantis hatchling, calling it “great for science projects or school.” Can’t find a much cheaper classroom pet than that.

How to Haggle

It’s simple enough to buy something you find offered for a fixed price online, but navigating auctions can be trickier. Below are some tips for buying at the best price:

First, engage in some due diligence. Check out the seller’s reputation. Has he sold many items? Is the recent feedback from other buyers who did business with him mainly positive? Look up closed auctions to get a sense of price ranges for past sales. Look at prices on several sites, in case you stumble upon a clueless seller offering the item for a song.

 Read the item description carefully, and make sure it’s what you expect. Is it made of wood when you wanted metal? Is it new or used? Take note of the shipping and handling charges, and make sure you can deal with the payment options offered. Some sellers won’t take personal checks, for example, while many will take PayPal payments, which are handled on  another Web site to which you’ll be directed. At sites such as Amazon.com and Half.com, you’ll likely pay via credit card, with the Web site serving as middleman, sending a payment to the seller.

Hold off as long as you can before bidding to avoid driving up the price. At eBay, you can “watch” all the items you want, and track the auction deadline by adding them to a list maintained on your “My eBay” page. You can also set up searches on eBay to alert you by e-mail whenever a new item is listed that meets your search terms.

Sell Your Stuff Online

Online marketplaces don’t just exist to take your money—you can make some, too. Here are some tips for selling effectively:

  • Make the most of your listing’s title by including all words a buyer might use to search for the item you’re selling. List those DVDs as “Sopranos—Season 3 New Complete DVD Set Three Third,” not “Sopranos DVD.” Use brand names, descriptive terms, and photos.
  • Research each item before listing it. Find out how much it’s selling for elsewhere, and don’t be willing to accept much less. The going rate might be considerably higher on one site than another, so take note.
  • If you don’t like the uncertainty of auctions, sell your item for a fixed price.

Get a Move On

There’s no getting around the fact that moving from one home to another is a big pain. But it doesn’t have to cost as much as you think or be as much of a burden as you fear. Here are some tips:

Traditionally, people think of two options: save money by renting a truck and doing all the heavy lifting, or pay professionals and part with more hard-earned dollars. There’s another option, though. Do your own packing, rent your own truck, and hire movers only to load and unload it. For example, U-Haul’s Web site links to a directory of movers in your area, with customer reviews and contact info.

Get written estimates from professional movers . Consider letting them pack your fragile or expensive items, so they’ll be responsible for any damage. (Don’t forget to buy insurance.) Number all boxes and keep good records of what’s in each, lest one or more get lost. You can save money by not moving in the summer, moving mid-month, and moving Monday through Thursday.

Don’t make boxes too heavy . Use smaller boxes for books. You can get free, sturdy boxes from liquor stores, grocery stores—which typically stock shelves late in the evening—and other retailers.

Keep valuables such as irreplaceable photos, documents, medications, and computer equipment with you, and move them yourself . You don’t want the only photo of Aunt Gertrude tangoing at your wedding to end up in a box that falls off the truck. Also keep the moving company contract with you in case you need to refer to the terms during the move.

Try to do as much as possible at your new home , such as cleaning, painting, and refinishing floors, before you move in.

Learn more and get estimates at http://www.moving.com/,http://www.homefair.com/, and http://www.homestore.com/ . Get tips for avoiding scams at http://www.movingscam.com/.

School, on Sale Now!

Heading back to class doesn’t necessarily require breaking the bank. If you’re thinking about going back to school for additional coursework, there are ways to cut costs. Consider these options:

  • Look into a variety of education vendors . A local community college or state school may be inexpensive, but a private university may offer a special program or rate for teachers and other adults. Check out online schools as well, which may offer more flexible scheduling.
  • See if your employer offers any education assistance , such as tuition or book reimbursement. Many require that you earn at least a B grade to get reimbursed, so make sure you hit those books hard.
  • Take advantage of available tax credits that reduce your tax bill dollar-for-dollar. The Lifetime Learning Credit, for example, offers up to $2,000 if you qualify. 
  • Get that tax deduction . If you don’t qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit, you might be able to deduct up to $4,000 paid for tuition and fees, reducing the amount of income subject to taxes. (Income limits apply.) On the other hand, some student loan interest may be deductible—if you’re attending school at least half-time in a degree program and meet income requirements. 
  • Consider tapping your IRA only as a last resort . (You don’t want to rob yourself of retirement savings.) One plus, though, is that you won’t get hit with a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty from an IRA if it’s used for your qualified higher ed expenses.

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25-Apr-06