What I Learned Last Week Could Be More Valuable Than My College Education

July 13, 2014

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This is a guest post by Aaron Powell. Aaron is a high school music teacher who started buying and selling items on Craigslist to assist his efforts in shedding 89k of debt in two years.

Fifty-Six Thousand Dollars. Eight years ago I went off to college to follow my dream of being a school music teacher. I went because I was told from a young age that this was the path that would lead to success. Five years later, I graduated, was handed my diploma and a student loan tab of $56,000. I got married, discovered Mr. Money Mustache, and realized that my wife and I had to get our financial situation under control. As a teacher, I wasn’t making very much money, and I was going to need a second job to get out of my college debt.

My name is Aaron, and I have been a long-time reader of the ReCraigslist blog. I am a teacher that has been earning extra income on Craigslist for the past three years. Last year, I wrote a post here about what I had learned from two years of re-selling used cell phones. While I was making relatively good money selling phones and electronics, I wanted to see if I could find something a little more profitable. When I saw that Ryan had launched ApplianceSchool.com, I decided to give appliances a shot during my summer break. I figured that if he was making a living at it, then the training had got to be worth $147 bucks, so I signed up.

On the ApplianceSchool site, Ryan makes it really easy to get started. He lays out exactly what tools and supplies you absolutely need to get started and provides links to the best online prices. For those interested, he also lists all of the professional power-tools that he personally uses to get appliances repaired even faster. As I had some extra cash, I decided to go all out and buy everything that Ryan uses. The things that set me back the most were a trailer hitch, a 5×8 utility trailer and an air compressor. Below is a general breakdown of my startup costs:

Appliance Start Up Costs

Now, if you already have a pickup truck and/or a trailer, then the startup costs of selling appliances could be recouped in no time. As I was only planning on doing this during the summer and in my free time during the school year, I opted to rig up my commuter vehicle, a 2005 Honda Civic, for towing light loads (1-2 appliances). If I were to make the jump into doing this full-time, I would buy a truck. Note: If your vehicle doesn’t have a wiring harness hookup to connect to trailer lights, and it’s not something you feel comfortable doing yourself, I recommend going to U-Haul and having them rig it up. It took me 30 minutes and $87 instead of the $40 and hours of my time spent searching the internet and sifting through Honda message boards that would have happened if I had gone the DIY route. Here’s a picture of my rig in action:

Civic With Trailer

Once I had everything I needed to get started, I took a morning and completely cleaned out and organized my garage. It’s only a single-car, so I needed to maximize my space so that I could both store appliances and still have room to work with them. I spent $4 on some L-brackets and used some scrap wood to make shelves that would keep everything easily accessible and also leave room to keep washers and dryers underneath. I’ve found that I can store around 11 appliances comfortably, and could probably get up to 15 or 16 if I needed to. Here is my workshop in it’s current state:

aarongarage

While waiting for my supplies to come in from Amazon, I read through the entirety of course materials that Ryan has at ApplianceSchool. I went from knowing little more than how to clean a lint trap and press the “start” button, to knowing how to easily diagnose and fix nearly every common problem in just a couple of hours. Ryan had videos going through just about every repair that you would need to do, and after watching them a couple of times, I felt confident enough to jump right in. The first dryer I bought was already working great and just needed a thorough cleaning. It sold a few days later for a profit of $120, and from then on I have been hooked. I can count on one hand the number of cell phone sales that netted me that kind of cash. After two weeks, my average profit per appliance sold has been $100.71.

One thing that I’ve noticed that’s different about selling appliances on Craigslist than electronics, is there are far fewer number of “tire-kickers” that waste your time. For example, when I was selling a Galaxy s4 when they first came out, I fielded probably 20 text conversations before someone actually stepped up to the plate and wanted to buy it. People were entertaining the idea of having the phone, but not actually willing or able to fork over the $500 cash for it. Some of this lack of window shopping is also due to me taking the advice that Ryan has for structuring ads. I learned how to make my ads really sound like I know the value of my product, and people have not tried to haggle with me or waste my time.

After going through ApplianceSchool, I have a clear picture in my mind of how to run the proven business model and how to price different machines. I haven’t had to waste valuable time probing and testing the market to figure out exactly how much people are willing to pay for each type of appliance. The website also has an active forum for members of the site, that Ryan moderates, and I have been able to get quick responses to some of the early repair questions I had. Overall, I think it is a tremendous resource, and if you are just now thinking about doing business on Craigslist, you should give ApplianceSchool some consideration, and jump right in. In two weeks I’ve made just under $1,000, and my goal is to be making $1,000 a week by the end of July and surpass my monthly income from teaching.

My first child’s coming arrival has had me reconsidering my life choices, and how they are affecting my family. My profession prides itself in making sacrifices to go above and beyond for each student: tutoring before and after school, holding parent conferences, weekend and evening extra-curricular events, etc. But deep down, what I really want, is to be there as my own child grows up, and to make sure our family is financially secure. What started out as a possible side business is now causing me to think about changing my career. Over the next four weeks, before school is back in session, I want to prove to myself that I am capable of making it on my own, and I think that selling appliances on Craigslist might be the path that gets me there.

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16 Responses to “What I Learned Last Week Could Be More Valuable Than My College Education”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Great post Aaron. The one little thing that stuck out for me is how you have fewer ‘tire kickers’ with selling appliances than selling cell phones.

    My husband and I build small buildings from used building materials. One of our favourite sources of building materials is house flippers. House flippers are generally happy to have us take away anything we can which will lighten the weight of their dumpster. So we take a lot of random stuff and sell it on kijiji. (Canadian Craigslist).

    One of my biggest pet peeves in this whole process is the large number of ‘tire kickers’ who contact us. They want us to hold the item for hours and sometimes days-and then we never hear from them again. Then the people lined up behind them make other arrangements and we lose them as customers also. It is truly annoying and takes a lot of time to sort out.

    I have noticed a few things in common with these tire kickers. The lower the price of the item I am selling-the more tire kickers I attract. Higher priced items tend to bring out more serious buyers. Also there are far more male tire kickers than female. And the quicker I respond to an inquiry-the more likely it seems that inquiry will result in a sale for me. The above are just observations I have of my part of the world-nothing scientific-but it is what I have seen.

    What I need to do in the near future is set up ‘rules’ for buyers. To deal with the no-shows. I am also considering the yard sale route for smaller items. It is a work in progress….

    Reply

    • Ryan Says:

      It’s amazing how much different the selling process is when the item is more of a need. I almost never get a haggler, but part of that is because we are pricing the appliances at a fair market rate. The ads are attracting people that are willing to pay more than the rock bottom level to get a good quality appliance.

      Reply

    • Mike Says:

      Margaret, you should entertain a “no hold” policy.. first come first serve..! Once the first interested person receives the meeting place, people can get in line behind them but if they don’t pick up and pay for the product within an hour or two move on to the next person in line! time = money

      Reply

    • Aaron Says:

      Couple of things:

      1) Find some ways to make yourself sound more serious in the ads. Things like “firm price” or “Call only, no text or email”, “low-ball offers will not be considered”, that sort of thing. You might lose some business, but you’ll save time dealing with losers. My fastest transactions have taken place via a phone call. Texts can drag on forever. Also, Ryan is right about fair-market price helping as well.

      2)First come, first served is the best way to go. Unless I have a confirmed, “on my way to pick it up”, it’s up for grabs. If someone offers to pick it up sooner, I send a “Sorry, it’s been sold” text to the other person. Time is money.

      Reply

  2. shanna Says:

    Excellent post! It is sad that an education has now backfired by creating the very debt that it was meant to avoid. I have contemplated the subject myself. I’m sorry that teaching does not pay as it should. I too went to school for teaching. It’s sad how undervalued the profession is.

    Great job on your Craigslist journey! Congratulations on the addition to your family!

    Reply

  3. matt Says:

    great post Aaron/Ryan! A story of change-of-mindset into greater freedom. I hope for your continued success Aaron and love the sort of “paradigm” change that it takes to leave the W-2 nest and start flying. Surprisingly to some it doesn’t take genius, just a bit of wisdom and lots of hard hard work.

    Reply

  4. Dennis Says:

    Thanks for the post Aaron and cograts on venture your hard work will pay off .
    Question for ryan or aaron do people still buy the old brown face kenmore’s
    if so what can you sell them for. Thx

    Reply

    • Ryan Says:

      Absolutely, they don’t sell for quite as much, but they are essentially the same dryer as models 20 years newer. Same parts, motor, case, drum etc etc. Great machines. Just stay away from the really old style where it’s a chrome button in the middle of the control panel. Those things are usually on death’s doorstep haha. A working dryer will almost always sell for $100-$120.

      Reply

  5. Aleks Says:

    Another awesome post, glad to hear others finding such success with the help of ApplianceSchool! The main thing that sparked my interest was the lower number of tire-kickers (as mentioned above). Often I deal with a large number of people “just testing the waters” and it gets old, because as others have stated, time = money. It makes sense to me though, that needed items, like appliances, have more serious buyers instead of wanted items, like electronics. I haven’t yet stepped into the appliance world due to my time restrictions from school and lack of space, but I flip what I can in my spare time (bikes, motorcycles, car parts, drums). Seeing that Aaron uses his Honda Civic to tow appliances is awesome: it proves that a pickup isn’t necessary when first starting out. I have used my Volvo sedan to tow several motorcycles and it’s been great. Keep it up Aaron!

    Reply

  6. Michael Says:

    Good thoughts. I have also noticed that you get fewer time wasters when pricing things near the top of market value. The people looking for rock bottom prices are typically not even going to see your add in the first place due to the price filter. Thanks for the great work on here guys.

    Reply

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