Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on Thrifty Gifts

We're coming up on a season of gift-giving once again, and that always brings a conflict of emotions: we all want to get our loved-ones marvelous gifts, yet we also want to get a good deal, yet we don't want to look too miserly. If you have a large family or circle of friends, it can be especially tough to get everyone something special without breaking the bank. Usually, you solve your budget problems by shopping at thrift stores and such - but is it okay to buy secondhand goods as gifts?

Before you skip off to the swap meet and 99 Cents store to buy all your gifts, consider a few factors:

Are you shopping for someone who would appreciate secondhand stuff?
Some people love thrifted treasures. They love unique items with history behind them, and receiving something that took time and effort to choose will thrill them to no end. But some people think secondhand goods are haunted (don't laugh! one of my mother's friends was from a culture that feels objects are imbued with energy from their owners), and some people simply prefer modern designs to vintage ones. There's no right or wrong about this; it's just about choosing something in line with the recipient's tastes.

Is the secondhand item you're considering truly special? Or is it just cheap?
If I'm planning to buy a secondhand item for someone, it's usually because it strikes me as exceptional in some way. It's the prettiest one of its kind that I've seen. It goes perfectly with a friend's decor. It made me gasp or laugh out loud. It's of amazing quality and I can't believe that anyone ever parted with it and I wish it could be mine mine mine, but it would look so much better on my BFF. It's not simply a used version of a generic item you could find at any Target in America.

How much time do you have to shop?
I usually keep my eyes peeled for gifts at the swap meet all year long - but if December is suddenly upon me and I need to get that gift in the mail NOW, its too late to wade through the rough looking for a diamond. In this case, instead of choosing something in a hurry, without much thought, I'd rather buy a gift card and let the recipient take their time finding the perfect thing.

I've received some truly awesome secondhand items (including a fantastic vintage lion-head door knocker) that I went completely over the moon over - so, yes, believe me when I say that secondhand items can make fantastic gifts. Leave yourself plenty of time to sift through the used wares, keep the gift personal, and pay extra attention to quality, and your secondhand (read: vintage! antique! retro! lol) gift just might seem even more special than a brand-spankin' new one. Because, really, it is the thought that counts.

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Sell on Ebay

I'm a huge advocate of funding a splurge by reselling unwanted items you already own (i.e. "liquidating assets") - as such, it seems high time that I share a little on how to make that happen.

Before the Sale
1) Sign up for a Paypal account. You used to be able to sell without Paypal, but now it's required.

2) If you don't already have an Ebay account, sign up for one now.

3) Take several good pictures of your items. Show all relevant details/selling points. Do your absolute best to accurately represent the item in color, texture, and scale. You may want to use the macro setting on your camera to show a  pattern or weave better, or you may want to set your item next to a ruler or magazine to show scale.

4) Get listing. The actual listing process is super duper easy: you take a picture of your item and then just click on the "Sell" button over at Ebay, follow the prompts, and fill in the blanks. Ebay has pretty much done away with listing fees, now charging you only if your item sells, so don't be scared to give it a try. The hardest part is truly, honestly, writing up a good description. A good description will make your item sound appealing and - almost more importantly - minimize the potential for refund demands and bad feedback.
Tips for the Description:
  • Size - Don't stop at listing the size on the tag. If you don't have a ruler somewhere in your house, buy one for a buck before you proceed. People will ask you to measure things. If you won't provide measurements, then you have no leg to stand on when a buyer complains that something doesn't fit.
  • Composition - List the fiber content, types of seams used (princess, darts, gussets, exposed, etc.), whether or not it is lined. The more informed the buyer is at time of purchase, the less likely they are to feel surprised or let down upon receipt.
  • Color - All monitors are slightly different, so don't let your pictures speak for themselves. Also avoid using the "Crayola" names for colors, as there is definitely someone out there who will picture "chartreuse" when you say, "citron." I prefer to compare the colors of my listed items to items in the collective consciousness - baby chicks, circus peanuts, Cayenne pepper, broccoli, and so forth.
  • Condition - Be brutally honest. If you can tell it's been used, but still in good condition, say, "You can tell it's been used, but it's still in good condition." If it reeks of cigarette smoke, say so. If anything, play up the faults so that your customers are pleasantly surprised rather than painfully let down. You may take longer to sell your item - or receive a little less for it - but that's much better than giving a refund and dealing with angry people.
5) Set your price.
  1. Open a new window or tab in your browser and log onto Ebay (don't close your current listing window). Do a very general search for the item you want to sell (e.g. Tahari skirt). Leave off anything too specific, like color or size, because you want to make sure you get a good sample to work from. Narrow your search using the check boxes on the left to view only "pre-owned," "new," "new with tags," or "new with defects" items, as relevant.
  2. Click the check box on the left that says, "View Completed Listings." This will pull up a list of all the recent items listed that are similar to the one you'd like to list. Items that sold successfully show as green, while items that failed to sell show in red.
  3. Determine a good listing price for your item based on previous successful sales. It may help you to sort your results by price and set your price within the range that had the most successful sales. I like to price my items on the low end of that range. Don't forget to take Ebay and Paypal fees into account! I am not going to list the fees here, since they are subject to change - better to go straight to the horse's mouth.
  4. Fill in your list price as your "Starting Bid." This should be the lowest amount that you would be willing to accept for your item - don't start your bid at $0.99 unless you'd be happy with a sale for $0.99!
Example of Completed Listings Search       

Screencap of Sort Feature

    Note: Ebay's Selling page contains a tool that is supposed to determine how much your item is worth. I don't trust this tool and much prefer to look at the hard data myself.

    6) Set your selling parameters. As you go through your listing you will have the options to specify who (if anyone) to exclude from your listing (e.g. buyers with very bad feedback, international buyers, etc.), what kind of shipping you will provide, your return policy, which Paypal account you'd like to receive the payment, shipping price, and handling time.

    Selling suggestions...

    For busy people:
    • Go ahead and exclude International buyers. International shipping requires you to physically stand in line and fill out a customs form during operating, whereas domestic shipping can be printed online and simply dropped off at the post - no waiting. Many post offices also open up their PO Box and drop box area before operating hours, allowing you to make a quick run in the morning before work.
    • Do NOT offer local pickup - local pickup means that you will have to coordinate a rendezvous with the buyer, rather than dropping by the post office at your convenience.
    For everyone:
    •  Give yourself a little more handling time than you think you need, just in case an emergency or illness comes up. As long as you ship your item within your stated handling time, buyers cannot give you low ratings for shipping (event though they can give negative overall feedback at their discretion - more on this below).
    • I recommend stating a No Returns policy, unless you really want to run a business here. If you're just cleaning out your closet, set the expectation with the buyer that you won't expect returns - otherwise you will have to deal with buyers who didn't bother to read measurements and just wanted to try things on. Also, Ebay and Paypal's policys pretty much force you to accept returns, anyway, in the event that the buyer is seriously unhappy, so there is no need to offer returns on your page to cover possible errors on your part. You can always make an exception, but the expectation of no returns will save you time and hassle.
    • If anyone sends you messages that are insulting (Would you accept 1/24th your asking price for the item? In the form of a post-dated, out-of-state check?), demanding or belligerent (THIS IS RIDICULOUS I LIVE VERY CLOSE TO THE AREA SO WHY CAN'T I DO LOCAL PICKUP???!! GET OVER YOURSELF I DON'T WANT TO KIDNAP YOU OR ANYTHING!), or just plain indecipherable, I would block their user ID immediately. Poor communication can easily turn into unhappiness on both ends - and negative feedback on yours.
    Example of Buyer Requirements and No-Returns Policy

    Screencap of Shipping & Handling Options with NO LOCAL PICKUP, NO INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING, and 3 DAYS HANDLING specified

       After the Sale
      1) Do not ship until you have received a cleared payment. A clear payment is demarkated under My Ebay> Selling by a highlighted dollar sign icon. You can also log into Paypal to view cleare payments.

      Example of highlighted icons - a GRAY dollar sign means you have NOT received payment

      2) Never agree to ship to any address other than the address the buyer indicated on the payment. Paypal and Ebay will NOT recognize the item as delivered unless the desination address and payment addresses match - if they do not, then the buyer can claim that the package was never received and basically get the item for free (definitely not always the goal, but a few dishonest people ruined it for everyone). Offer to refund the payment and send a new invoice so that the buyer can fill in the corrected shipping address. If they get upset about this, it may be better to simply cancel the transaction and refund the payment anyway. You can verify the address by clicking on your listing, then clicking on the View Order Details link.

      Options Menu that appears in a sold item listing

      3) Make sure you pack your item so it will not be damaged in transit. Use sturdy boxes, sufficient padding, and maybe slip the item into a plastic bag in case of rain.

      4) If shipping with USPS, always buy delivery confirmation! Tracking is a bonus for the buyers, but the real value is that you have documented proof that your item was delivered to the address your buyer indicated.

      5) Shipping companies don't always scan every package at every stop, especially during high volume periods (e.g. the holiday season). If a buyer asks you why the package isn't tracking, just let them know this and ask them to be patient. I've had plenty of tracking issues, but nothing has gone missing yet (knock on wood).

      In the Event of Conflict
      If the buyer claims that they have not received their item, the first thing you should do is check the tracking information to verify that that claim. Under My Ebay> Selling, scroll down to the Sold section and click on the tracking number for the item in question. A tracking window will pop up with delivery information.

      Example of tracking information screen.

      Most of the time, I'd rather offer to refund a few dollars to make the buyer happy - even if I don't necessarily agree with them. I'm not selling super high-dollar items, so I'd rather spend a couple bucks to avoid bad feedback. Paypal hardly ever sides with sellers, so it is in your interest to make the buyer happy. Do this through Paypal.

      If someone is being particularly nasty or unreasonable (e.g. demanding a refund while refusing to return the item or complaining about an issue that was clearly listed in your description), I ask them to please file a claim with Ebay to initiate the refund process. This might seem counter-intuative, since now Ebay basically has to help satisfy your customer, but this is the only way you can combat the bogus refund demands that have started to plague Ebay. Ebay might still side with the buyer, but at least Ebay will have a record of the dispute and the ability to track buyers who ask for an inordinate amount of refunds.

      In the above case, I would definitely also block the buyer as well, so that they cannot cause any further stress by buying another item from you.

      ...And there you have it! Whew! I promise, it is not as complicated as it seems once you get started and get in the swing of things - especially since Ebay auto-fills most of your selling preferences (return policy, buyer requirements, etc.) after the first time. Now that Ebay only charges its fees when and if your item sells, moreover, it's a pretty risk-free venture. Now, get out there and fund some new purchases by selling unwanted stuff... and if you maybe-sorta-kinda pass on those unused gifts from holidays past, I promise I won't tell. ;)

      Sunday, November 20, 2011

      $1 Dry Shampoo :D

      Step one: Get thee to a Dollar Store.

      Step two: Buy a shaker of baby powder (make sure you get one with cornstarch in it).

      Step three: Scurry back home and apply baby powder to your greasy bangs/roots.

      Step four: Brush the powder through hair until you no longer have white, powdery bangs/roots.

      Step five: Party!

      Second-day bangs: weighed-down, threatening to go stringy by about 10am

      Baby powder applied to bangs

      Initial brush-through

      Baby powder applied to roots

      Second brush-through - bangs are way less heavy! Continue brushing until all powder is gone.

      Note: I did try Suave's dry shampoo as an alternative that might cut down on brushing time (I'm laaaaaazy), but that stuff smells terrible! It reminds me of when I first started using deodorant and chose a really cheap, terrible, tropical-pineapple-scented deal that mixed with the BO instead of preventing it. Yak. The baby powder is much better.

      Thursday, November 10, 2011

      The 40-Cents/Week Custom-Blend Oil Cleanser

      Cleansing oils really seem to be taking the beauty industry by storm recently. Every time I look at my blog roll, it seems like I see that another beauty line has introduced their own version. The concept, based on the idea that the oils (lipids) on your face are lipid-soluble rather than water-soluble and should, therefore, be dissolved easily and gently with other oils, is really attractive - who wants to put harsh chemicals on their face if they don't have to? The prices of these cleansing oils, however, all look painfully expensive: Shiseido - $25, L'Occitane - $22, Shu Uemura - $34.

      But never fear! The Oil Cleasning Method has been around a lot longer than the cleansing oil fad, and it can be implemented on the super duper cheap. All you need is 2-3 ingredients, all found at your local grocery/drug store.
      • Castor Oil - $5
      • Vegetable oil of choice (popular ones include EVOO - $6, sunflower Seed Oil - $8)
      • Tea Tree Oil (optional) - $8
      All you do is mix the oils, massage them into your face, steam your face with a washcloth, and wipe the oils away (longer explanation here). The vegetable oil helps penetrate your pores, the castor oil adheres to the excess oil in your skin, the Tea Tree Oil helps kill bacteria, the steam makes your face sweat, and the sweat pushes the oil back out of your pores. The result: bye-bye clogged pores!

      The ratio of oils will vary by individual, but this is a good starting point (from the link above):
      • Oily Skin: Try a blend of 30% Castor Oil to 70% Sunflower Seed Oil.
      • Balanced Skin: Try a blend of 20% Castor Oil to 80% Sunflower Seed Oil.
      • Dry Skin: Try a blend of 10% Castor Oil to 90% Sunflower Seed Oil.
      I used to pre-measure my oils and keep them in a special bottle I found at the 99 Cents Only store, but I found it messy and restrictive - some days, my face was more oily, and some days it was more dry. Now, I just dribble out the droplets that I need onto a flat cotton pad (I worked it out to a quarter size of Castor oil, four drops of Camellia Oil (my vegetable oil of choice), and one drop of Tea Tree Oil for a normal day). This way, I don't have to bother transferring the oils to a new bottle or anything, and I can add or subtract from the formula based on current needs.

      I used to struggle mightily with cystic acne, and I used to dry my skin out with ridiculous amounts of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Oil Cleansing has not only managed the cysts wonderfully, but it also keeps my skin so much more moisturized that the wrinkles that once threatened (at the ripe old age of 19 - yikes!) have gone away. Double awesome.

      The best part? These three bottles of oils will last me the whole year, provided that I don't contaminate them (by putting my fingers on the dispensers, leaving them open to the air, etc). That means I spend a grand total of $21 for the hear on cleanser - a whopping $0.40 per week. Now that's a deal!

      Monday, November 7, 2011

      Using the Golden Mean and the Camera to Adjust Proportions

      One of my favorite posts of all time is Imogen of Inside Out Style's take on the Golden Mean/Fibonacci Numbers in relation to outfits. I've no head for the math, but the gist of it is that the human eye naturally finds certain ratios visually appealing -- and, as Imogen writes, "[g]iven that we find things that use this ratio so aesthetically pleasing (fern fronds, snail shells, snow flakes) it has also been found that when we dress in this ratio we are also more fabulous."

      The ratios:
      8:13 etc.
      Now, here's where I would sometimes get hung up: if I'm human, and if humans naturally find these ratios most appealing, and if my goal is to dress in the most appealing way possible, then shouldn't I gravitate toward these ratios in the first place? Totally. But haven't we all experienced the dreaded, in-store skinny mirror? They're basically toned-down fun-house mirrors, and most of our in-home mirrors are just as misleading (if not as flattering). If you don't have the cash to invest in a macho mirror supreme, you can get a more accurate image - and more accurately adjust your outfit ratios - by using your camera. Get a slightly-zoomed, straight on, mid-height shot with the camera, as crazy camera angles will distort your body, too.

      Here's the outfit I started out with this morning. Because of the high neck and long body of the sweater, my belt placement, and the contrast of the skirt, I've created some very distinct horizontal lines. My bust looks unnaturally large compared to my rise, my rise looks unnaturally long compared to my legs, and my legs look quite stumpy despite my high heels. My legs (from toes to bottom line) look to have a 1:1 ratio with the rest of me (bottom line to top of head). 1:1 is not a Fibonacci number - no good!

      This looks much better - my bottom half is noticeably longer than my top half, closer to falling in line with the golden ratios. But now something still feels off with my torso. The widening effect of the turtleneck, combined with my on-the-fuller-side bust and on-the-fuller-side-waistline, makes for a big, 1x1-squarish expanse of neck/shoulder/boob.

       Here's what I ended up with. The high waist line makes my legs look noticeably longer than the torso, and the diagonal lines of the blazer fool the eye into thinking that my shoulder-waist and waist-hip ratios are more exaggerated and less squarish. 

      Oh! And I totally lied yesterday when I said I have no new swap meet finds to share - it'd just been so long that I'd forgotten about this $5 map-print bag and this $1 Zara turtleneck. Blazer is an old $1 swap favorite, tights from 99 Cents Only, boots from Ebay ages ago, necklace was a gift. 

      To tie this all back into One-Dollar Wonderland, the point of my story is that it doesn't matter how cheap or expensive your clothes are. As long as you have a fairly accurate self-image (brought to you by way of a quality mirror or via quality camera work), you can always flatter your figure by manipulating the relative proportions created by the lines of your garments.

      Sunday, November 6, 2011

      Faux Shearling from Forever 21!

      Howdy, hep cats! Long time no blog!

      I just recently started a new job, so I've been super busy getting all my ducks in a row and brainstorming on how I will adjust to a new, more relaxed dress code. I also just got sick, and it's been raining a bit here, so my swap meet foraging has been heftily hampered. Ergo, no new $1 finds right now.

      Action shot from shopping trip.

      Styled for cold night out to Korean BBQ
      However, I thought I'd share this fantabulous deal of a Forever 21 jacket with you (second pic lightened to show more detail)! It is black-on-black faux shearling, and something about both the color and fabrication makes it look way more expensive and convincing than a lot of the faux goods currently out there. When I tried it on, one of my shopping buddies popped the collar, and I instantly saw Burberry Aviator - as they say on icanhascheezburger, "What has been seen cannot be unseen." My shopping buddies would not let me leave without it.

      Burberry shearling aviator.

      Mine doesn't seem to be current stock on the F21 website, but your local store might still have it. They also have other faux shearling options that look mighty cute, so I'd take a look if you've been hunting for something like this. I paid $37.80. :)