Buying on Craigslist: How to Maximize Your Time and Money (Guest Post)

If you’ve never shopped for second-hand items on Craigslist, today is your day to start!  Whether you need furniture, kids clothing or even a new pet, you can likely find good quality items at a great price and have fun meeting some locals while you’re at it.  When shopping on Craigslist, it’s important to be clear about what you need, how high you can go price-wise and how much time you have to spend looking.  It’s easy to get sucked into the allure of getting things for cheap, but be mindful of your time and paycheck and have fun.

1. Best items to buy
Best things to buy are large-scale items that wear well and are pricey if new (like furniture and baby strollers), specialty items that people use infrequently (like children’s costumes) and appliances (like air conditioners and vacuum cleaners.)  Also, anything baby-related is a good idea, as many people buy brand-new baby gear for their first child, and just use it through their second, so baby-items are easy to come by and are usually in good condition.

2. Be mindful of your time
Don’t waste your time with uncommunicative or shady sellers.  Ensure the seller is serious from their listing – they should have included a photo and there should be a reasonable description in good English.  Stay local and try to look in your neighborhood whenever possible – it’s risky to take a far trip for an item that might not pan out.  If you’re looking for something specific, spend five minutes browsing listings each day for two weeks.  If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, consider buying the item somewhere else.  It’s not worth your time to keep browsing all month.

3. Communicate with sellers
ALWAYS ask if you can pay less that what the item is listed for.  If they won’t accept your price, they’ll tell you with no hard feelings.  Many sellers expect you to bargain and list their prices higher with that in mind.  It also helps if you add a bit of personal narrative in your email to the seller, like “we recently moved to the area and love this piece.”  They may be more inclined to give you a good deal or hold the item for you.  People would rather sell to a person that they like.  Also, if you need a lot of items, ask the seller if they have anything else in stock.  If they’re moving or getting rid of stuff, it’s likely that they do.

4.  How much to spend
Research the item online and see how much it goes for new.  A good rule of thumb is that used items in good condition should cost half of what the item goes for new, or less.  The older the item or the more wear and tear, the cheaper it should be.

5. Location, Location
Urban areas with dense living concentrations like New York City, Boston and San Francisco are the easiest locations for using Craigslist, due to the high number of listings in a close-knit area. But rural and suburban areas can be great too – just expect a longer “look-time” as you search for the item you want.

Enjoy Craigslisting!

Rachel is an LA-based writer, wife and mom, and “Craigslist obsessee.” Nearly all of her kids’ baby items – including stroller, dresser, bouncer, highchair, diaper bag, bookshelf and more were bought through Craigslist. (The rest were gifts.) She blogs about cooking, mothering, and life in between at Jewish Mommie.


  1. Buyers beware-
    People should be EXTREMELY careful of buying things second hand these days from craigslist or elsewhere. Bed bugs have become a really big problem. Particularly furniture. Clothes you can wash- but what you might save a few dollars on now, could cost thousands of dollars in problems later. It is tempting but I just dont think people are aware of this problem that exists everywhere. It is not just in cities and it is not just in “dirty” places.
    Also sometimes people are excited about freebies left on the side of the road- but you have to wonder- why is it out there. Yes, I’m a little paranoid, but I just want to warn people that sometimes, free or cheap can come at a cost. If you or anyone you know has had to deal with that nightmare you understand.

  2. The other thing I would say is watch out for recalls. A lot of unsafe kids stuff that is recalled ends up on Craigs List.

  3. You bring up some really helpful points. I sold some furniture on Craigslist, and it worked out very well for me. I’ve not bought anything yet, but I’m trying to learn more so I can be comfortable with that. I would say regarding your point #3 is that people who asked if I would take less via email I just ignored. I did take less than I advertised from the people who showed up, but if they were asking for a discount before even seeing the item, I didn’t want to waste my time with them.

    • Hi Sheila – Thanks for your comments. I totally agree – whenever I have sold things on CL, I usually ignore the ones asking for a deal right off the bat. Of course, if my ad hasn’t been getting any traction, I am more likely to negotiate. I am working on a “how to sell your stuff on CL” post, so I appreciate any and all tips!

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