Sunday, August 16

The dribs-and-drabs effect

A huge check off our to-do list: The moving sale is done, done, done!

It was a bit of a debacle. We started at 10 a.m. instead of 9 because I simply couldn't face the idea of getting up early enough. So we had a slow start and probably missed out on a lot of customers.

By 1 p.m., I was shaky as hell (everything took longer than expected so no time for food) and dejected. Sure, people came by off and on, but there had been almost no sales over $10. I was wondering if we would even make $100. And the idea of having another sale the next weekend was beyond horrifying.

Towards the end, as we were packing up, several more people stopped by which helped pad things a little. Still, I was sure we'd have no more than $70. If we were really lucky, perhaps $100.

Instead, we ended up with $165.

This just reminds me of what I like to call the dribs-and-drabs effect. That's when small amounts quickly add up to a rather astounding total. Usually, this is a less pleasant experience -- one we've probably all had at the end of the billing cycle. A bunch of small purchases with the card suddenly become $300.

You are sure there's a mistake, perhaps even pull out the calculator. But it's correct. It's just that seemingly cheap purchases total up quickly to a not-so-cheap amount due.

It's an important lesson to remember when you're trying to pay down debt and/or live frugally: Even the small stuff can take a big bite.

That is, perhaps, the mixed blessing of yard sales. On the one hand, you get money for things you no longer want. On the other hand, you are reminded just how much money you spend on items you don't use.

We did have a few of those. The $70 cashmere sweater I got and wore for a whopping 3 hours before having to take it off. The suede skirt I got for $20 but never wore, with the $80 tag still attached. A few different things that I got at garage sales, for such is the cycle of yard-sale life.

But I'm proud to say that, for the most part, we had gotten our money's worth from our stuff. For example, at a Museum Store going-out-of-business sale 8 years ago, I snagged a Greek- or Roman-style, metal horse figurine, plus a small Grecian-style urn (no ode included) for $40. Both were on display for about 6 years. So I'd say I had gotten plenty of value from those purchases. Similarly, a lot of the jeans we were selling had served Tim faithfully until steroids meant he had to go a size up. That simply meant they were in good shape when we decided to get rid of them.

Other items were gifts that simply weren't getting used, or at least not enough to bring with us. That included clothing, tchotchkes and other miscellanea.

Still, it is humbling to realize just how many of your possessions are disposable. That is yet another area of life where the dribs-and-drabs effect hits: a couple pieces of clothing, those books you'll never reread, a few toiletries you'll never use and suddenly you've got a veritable mound of unwanted items. Not only is it a solid argument for a more minimalist lifestyle, it is a harsh reminder that even people like Tim and I are sitting on a lot of potential money.

At one point, I had tried to make money buying/selling on eBay. (Yes, yes, not terribly original.) When I sold off four of the bigger items, I made just under $200. I still have a few more to list and those should bring in another $70 or so.

Even selling my beads at prices beyond the craziest clearance sale, I made nearly $100. And the yarn that I'm bothering to list should bring in a minimum of $30. If it's remotely close to regular eBay prices, perhaps twice that.

I also listed a bunch of Aveeno Eczema Care that we had stocked up on shortly before Tim switched over to hemp. I don't know what, exactly, the final price will be but I'm expecting at least $20, hopefully closer to $50.

It's all just another part of the dribs and drabs effect. You look at an item or two that you no longer want, but you don't bother to sell it on Craigslist or eBay. What's the point? It would only bring in a few bucks and isn't worth the hassle. And, for busy people, that's a pretty understandable point of view.


What would happen if you went through your house for two or three hours? Took a good, long look at your belongings and grouped them all together? Wouldn't those "few bucks" add up pretty quickly?

My advice is to make a pile of unwanted items and then take a good long look. Wouldn't that extra $5 against debt be nice? And are you so sure that's all you'd get? If the item isn't too heavy, go on eBay and look up completed listing prices.

Also remember that eBay now offers you 5 free listings every 30 days. That's not huge -- you still have to pay final value fees and for any listing upgrades you choose -- but it may be enough to get you online and listing.

Still don't want to bother with eBay? There's the ever-popular garage sale option. Check with some friends and neighbors and you might have enough to garner some interest. (Multi-family and neighborhood sales are always one of the best ways to get people's attention.)

Or you can donate. If you're itemizing anyway, it's a nice little boost to your charitable contributions section. Remember, you don't have to list what it would go for in a thrift store. You can use fair market value. (The IRS defines this as what two reasonable parties would settle on, if neither were under pressure to make the sale.)

Donations at fair market value add up quickly. Like any other list of items, the dribs-and-drabs effect applies here, too.
  • A few pieces of furniture, for which we would probably get $10-20 each.
  • Several pieces of art, nearly all with some form of frame, $7-25.
  • A formal (ie prom- or fancy-party worthy) dress from London, $30.
  • A few random dresses, $15 each.
  • A few jeans, $5-10 each.
  • Some textbooks, $20-30 each.
  • A whole bunch of stuffed animals, $2-$7 each.
  • Various random items, from unopened makeup to used clothing to some issues of Vogue Knitting.
It probably doesn't sound like a lot, but it took over 120 lines to record it all, so probably about 200 items total. And it added up to an even more impressive amount: nearly $1000 (!!!)

Of course, if you're not moving, you're less likely to get rid of furniture. (Though the furniture you do get rid of will probably be a lot nicer than ours.) But those fancy dresses you never wear anymore? The $60 shoes that are gorgeous but hurt you to wear? You may be surprised just how quickly it all adds up.

It's just the dribs-and-drabs effect in action.

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