Craigslist Shopping 101

By Linsey Knerl on 5 October 2009 (Updated 18 August 2011) 15 comments

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This article shares tips from the 7th episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.

We’ve often joked that Craigslist is a haven for unworthy junk and hopeless cast-offs, but in my experience, it has proven to be a time and money-saving resource that I regularly use for finding amazing deals and solid bartering opportunities. Here are the basic details of how this shopping site works and the tools that can give you the advantage in buying only the best!

What Is Craigslist?

I’m sure most of you already know, but it is essentially the online classified ad service. It is free to use, heavily regulated by its own community, and a go-to destination for things you might not be able to grab easily at a megastore (like an apple picker, 10 pounds of morel mushrooms, or a collection of late 80’s records.)

How Do I Use It?

Broken down by state and then city, Craigslist lets you zone in on items that are as close to your home as you wish. Since the biggest consideration to purchasing a hot item can often be distance, it’s a good idea to set limits to how far your willing to drive in order to pick up a purchase (since most sellers have no interest in delivering or shipping.) I usually prioritize driving distance by how much money I’m saving or how rare a find is. (It’s not worth my time to drive a few hours to pick up a couple of bags of baby clothes. Buying that registered Dexter bull, however, took my husband a day’s drive, and it was well worth it!)

Tools to Give You the Advantage

Like Ebay, Amazon, or any other online retailer, there are some clever tricks to finding outstanding bargains and getting them first. Some worthwhile sites that help you find listing with spelling errors include Typobuddy.com and Misspellr.com. If you think you may have more luck finding an item that is simply mis-categorized, try SearchAllCraigs.com.

Feed junkies (like me) can always use an RSS option to amp your chances of being the first to know of a coveted find. (Wondering what RSS is? I suggest you listen to this podcast by the Digital Marketer.) If you are like me, you usually have a list of search terms that you check frequently. (Lately, I been checking Omaha, NE for “food dehydrator” and “apple baskets”.) Once your search results come up for any particular term, check the bottom of the page for the RSS link. You can use this with your existing reader to get updates to that term almost instantly (and you won’t need to return to Craigslist to do so.)

Shop Smart, Stay Safe

A good thing can’t usually stay untarnished, and Craigslist is no exception. Between the Nigerian scams, flame wars, and serial killers, it’s fast becoming the place that urban legends live for. I usually send my husband to do my bidding, but even if I coordinate a purchase myself, I follow a few tips to ensure my safety:

  • Keep your information to yourself. (I don’t give out my full name when doing business, and I try to always email or call the seller. They really don’t need my info to schedule a transaction.)
     
  • I avoid areas that I’m not familiar with, take a friend with me, and don’t pick up purchases at night. (If the seller can’t bring the item out to me in my car, the deal is off.)
     
  • I always pay cash. This is what most sellers want anyway, and it keeps them from getting a hold of my other sensitive financial info. (Always ask for a bill of sale, however. You may need it for taxes or for legal protections down the road.)

For the most part, I’ve had an amazing experience with Craigslist. My husband uses it regularly in the course of his small farming business. (We’ve purchased cattle, a tractor, lumber, drywall, mechanic work, and hauling services from it in just the past year.) The free stuff category has been worth it alone for us. (We’ve managed to score paving stones, a brand new bathroom sink, and lots of cardboard boxes.) If you’ve been avoiding it out of fear or because you weren’t sure it could meet your needs, I suggest you give it a try!

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

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Guest's picture
claire7676

I like this article. I would like to use RSS for Craig's List, but if I search for something, and then click on the RSS button, I get a pop-up page with a bunch of HTML garbage. I have no idea how to use that and incorporate it into my RSS reader. Any suggestions?

Thanks

Guest's picture
Ian

Your browser doesn't support RSS. That "page of gibberish" occurs in older versions of Safari and Internet Explorer.

Copy/paste the location or address box at the top of the browser (the URL) into your RSS software.

Linsey Knerl's picture

That's interesting about the RSS feed.  When I click it, I get a new page that asks which feed reader I want to use (select from a drop-down box.)  Does anyone else know what could be doing this?

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
MichaelM

Re: RSS -- could depend on your browser

Also Re: RSS, -- I find that the feeds are about an hour behind the website, so if you're looking for a hot item (like something in the Free section), it'll be too slow.

I love Craigslist though. I got a free laser printer from it this weekend (even had some toner left!) and several small computer gigs from it recently.

Guest's picture
econobiker

RE safety:
"(If the seller can’t bring the item out to me in my car, the deal is off.)"

Often doesn't really work for large bulky items like furniture but you have to have a least two people to handle anyhow so one waits in the truck/van with the money/cell phone while the other scopes the item for sale. It helps to google map and then view on google Street's prior to going if there is a question of the area and you live in a region already covered by those services.

This also doesn't work for buyers who want you to deliver the item. Depending on how desperate or where you are located, you are for money, you may need to do a delivery but always try to upcharge on delivery to an actual address (versus meeting somewhere to sell items).

Any major cash transaction can be performed in a bank lobby, supermarket, big book store, or similar place with alot of people around and security cameras. I have used photocopy shops for selling vehicles as you have copiers readily available to make copies of the bill of sale etc and these often have security cameras too.

Financial Samurai's picture

I've bought and sold 15 cars on Craigslist over the past 8 years, and I can't tell you how many scammers there are.

Beware of:
Grammar errors
Shipping vehicles
Escrow

Same thing goes for any jewelry you want to sell. If no phone number, forget about it.

Be careful everyone!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture
mindy

I have to recommend Hey Craig - http://heycraigapp.com/ - it's a simple application that lets you get notifications when something you want is listed on Craigslist. Super useful.

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i happen to really like the craigslist toolbox add on for firefox - it shows thumbnails of the included pics on the search page. you can save time by not having to click on the listing if the sofa/car/bookcase isn't what you are looking for

Guest's picture

In my apartment hunting this summer, I had some specific parameters that the new place had to meet - specifically, a modern kitchen (dishwasher, finally!), off-street parking, and some preferred neighborhoods. I set up RSS feeds to match my search terms, and got a notification whenever a new listing matched. Because of this, we were able to be the first ones to see the beautiful apartment that we wound up renting and are loving it! It's a definite gem, and if we would have been even a few hours later on responding to the listing, I think we would have missed out and had to settle for something less.

Guest's picture
Stella

I've sold stuff, given stuff away, found jobs and recently furnished my new apartment on the cheap using Craigslist.

Guest's picture
MichaelM

I have another Craigslist trick I use...

I keep an eye on the Gigs section, watching for gigs which require a tool that I am interested in but don't have. I then offer my services for the gig, in order to offset the tool price.

eg. 1) I saw a request for converting audio microcassettes to CD. I didn't have a microcassette player, but I knew they were about $30. The lady had 11 tapes, so I charged her $5 each, bought a tape player and made $25.

eg. 2) I want some new tongue and groove router bits, so I bid yesterday on a gig to make a replacement in-cupboard cutting board. I already have the wood I would need and a router, so the price I quoted would cover a little more than 1/2 the cost of the bits.

Guest's picture

When I first moved to a new city to pursue graduate studies it was the first time I was living in my own apartment. I turned to craigslist for furniture and everything else I would need for my apartment. My apartment was all ready to go for under $500!

Guest's picture
Guest

I LOVE Craigslist and am almost embarrassed to admit how much awesome stuff I've gotten off of there. My kitchen table, tv stand, treadmill, car, engagement ring, and even my wedding dress have ALL come from CL!! That makes me sound cheap, but I am actually a very picky, know-what-I-want kind of girl who likes NICE and classy things... I just can't exactly afford them brand new. I'm very psyched about the CL app that was posted about. I had never heard of that!! Happy C-listing everybody :0)

Guest's picture
Guest

in the context of craigslist, i use a site called allofcraigs.com, which is the fastest way to search the entire craigslist site to locate hard-to-find items.

Guest's picture
Ndifreke imeh jumbo

how can i buy and get items delivered to me in Lagos, Nigeria without hassel or be defrauded?