Downsizing, money, Craigslist and you

The uncertainty of the pandemic has brought to mind a name from my young adult years: Howard Ruff. Do you remember reading his 1978 sensation, “How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years”? It was a survival guide for personal and financial decisions. “How to Prosper…” advocated storing a year’s worth of food and water while eschewing stocks and bonds in favor of investments in precious commodities.

My husband and I didn’t follow his advice to the letter, but the book greatly influenced our outlook as a young couple. Whenever we suffered rough financial times in our 40-plus years together, our analysis of the situation tended toward doomsday thinking.

In the last few months I thought of Ruff enough to turn to Amazon to learn that his old book (as well as some newer ones) is still in print. I’m not exactly thinking, “What would Howard say?” but my thoughts have tended towards husbanding our resources in times of COVID-19.

Husbanding resources means making efficient and effective use of the resources at your disposal. It also means determining what’s important: recognizing which needs are really just wants and slimming down your lifestyle.

Now that we’ve reached this “disgorge and dispatch” period, I find myself turning to exchange sites like Craigslist. A plethora of online sites have replaced the functions of the old classified section in every locale.

In the last few years I have sold a dryer, musical instruments, a ping-pong table, and a redwood deck. Previous owners of our house left the dryer. We brought ours from our last house, so we had a surplus. That was a happy transaction, but the ping-pong table is a sore point. I priced the practically new table at half the retail price; a potential buyer offered half of that. I should have taken it, for we have it still. If it lasts another year or two, however, the grandkids will be old enough to use it.

The deck is a better story. After a wildfire that came dangerously close to our home, we decided we’d prefer a tile patio to the existing redwood deck. The contractor’s estimate included about $900 to haul away the deck, including the dump fee. I didn’t like the price or the idea of adding to the dump if it could be reused. I offered the deck on Craigslist, free to anyone who would take it apart and haul it away. Twenty-one people clamored for it. One I recognized as a friend, so he won.

We live a bit out of the city, so I have been reticent to give strangers my address. I make sure both of us will be home when the buyer arrives. Now that my husband is working just part-time, I put him in charge of exchanges.

Important tips on how to safely sell online:

- Make sure the transaction is worth your time.

- Always use a proxy email address.

- Plan details in advance.

- Meet in public and bring a friend.

- Stay safe when a buyer comes to your house.

- Accept cash only.

- Trust your instincts when vetting buyers.

These guidelines, from the security firm ADT, will help insure a smoother transaction.

In my mind’s eye I’m efficient and not particularly materialistic. Our “stuff” shows otherwise. Even though we clean out every few years, there’s inevitably new accumulation. I have to laugh at some of the aging items that apparently seemed essential last time we cleaned out but now are obviously surplus.

My main goal this time wasn’t cash but keeping things out of the dump. Free stuff makes you pretty popular. I felt joyous on several fronts: the pile dwindled to nothing, we helped people in the time of COVID, and we keep it all from the dump – at least for the time being.

Karen Telleen-Lawton is a Certified Financial Planner professional in Santa Barbara, Calif.