How to Raise Money Instead of Debt

IMG_6213Whatever the reason, no matter what political policies or economic currents caused it, many people who fall into the Middle Class live paycheck to paycheck, one crisis away from massive, high interest debt that will take years to pay off. Whether from decisions we make, or circumstances beyond our control, money problems plague the Middle Class. It can be frustrating to work hard and still have nothing left after you pay your bills.

Sometimes an expense pops up that is outside your monthly plan. You want to go an a trip. Or maybe you need to build up that $1000 emergency fund again. Or need to buy new school clothes. Or anything that is outside the normal monthly expense of making ends meet. Don’t put it on your credit card! There are other ways.

How can you raise money instead of increasing your debt?

Increase your cash coming in, Reduce cash going out.

  • Find extra money in the budget. If you don’t have one, make a written budget. In one column write down all the money that comes in for a month. In  another column write down every monthly expense. Are you spending more money than you earn? What are you spending it on? Make some hard choices. Do you need that big data plan on your phone? Do you need the whole cable package? Do you need Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime streaming? Do your kids need an allowance that large? Hey, this is a team effort, and letting your kids contribute will teach important lessons about handling money. Is it time to consolidate those high interest credit cards?
  • Rework your W4 form. Do you get a big return on your income taxes every year? You don’t have to wait to get that money. Talk with your HR person at work, and add some allowances on your W4 form. It’s nice to get a big check from the IRS, almost like a savings account, but you need that money now.
  • Get an extra job. Find a way to work from home on the evenings. Deliver pizza. Pick up an overnight shift or two in retail somewhere. Pick up a freelance gig. These jobs don’t pay much, but they do provide some extra income when you need it.
  • Downsize. Want to get radical? Trade in your nice, fancy car for an older, reliable model. Get something you can buy outright or at least reduce the monthly payment and insurance on. Consider selling your house. It’s no fun to be house-poor. Is it possible to sell your current home and buy a house that costs less while meeting your needs? Imagine not having a monthly car payment, or having a rent or mortgage payment that is hundreds less than what you pay now.

Sell Stuff.

  • Yard sale! People buy a lot of weird stuff at yard sales. And you probably have some things laying around that you never use anymore. Pull out your furniture, old electronics, clothing, home decor and anything else that might have value. See if you need a permit for a sale in your area. Put an ad on craigslist, tell people on social media, and sell your unwanted stuff. You can easily make a couple hundred dollars for a couple of days work. And you free up storage space in your house. This is not the time to sell collectibles. It’s the time to price unwanted items at low prices to get them sold, and get more money in your hands.
  • Sell books and movies and music and video games. Whether in person or online, you can often sell old media. We have a store in our town called Hastings, and they will buy most kinds. They don’t give a lot for it, but they do give cash for books, music, movies and video games you don’t want. If you haven’t watched a movie for over a year, consider selling it. Go through all of your books and music. Get rid of what you don’t need.
  • Pawn Shops. Never pawn anything at a pawn shop. Just sell it outright. Expect to get 20-40% of what the item would sell for used-condition retail. If you have extra tools, electronics, cameras, yard machines, bicycles, etc… you can sell those to your local pawn shop. Clean out your storage and sell what you’re not using anymore.
  • Collectibles. Find the right place to sell them. Yard sales are not the place to sell collectibles. In our last yard sale my daughter wanted to sell a well-worn American Girl doll. She priced it at $15. No one looked at it. The next week we sold it on eBay for $27. Same yard sale had a set of baskets that no one would buy, but later sold for $50 on eBay. Auctions, online communities, Craigslist, eBay; all of these may be a good place to sell off collectible items. Remember, with collectibles, most are only worth what people will pay for them. You can buy any beanie baby in the world for about a buck today. There are some coins that are only worth the price of the materials in them. But my son once got a quarter back in change from a store that he sold for $15. I once had a collection of G.I. Joe toys that books said was worth over $1000, but I was only able to sell for $289. When you’re raising money, it may be time to cash in on your collection.
  • eBay. It’s an amazing website that puts you in touch with buyers from all over. You can sell just about anything. You can research the price of an item, and purchase shipping at a discounted rate. They take 10% of the final sales price and shipping costs. Then Paypal, which is the way you transfer money with eBay, takes 3%. So that $50 item you sold netted you $43.50. And depending on how you listed it, you may have to pay shipping out of that. That’s more money than it made sitting in your closet, but be aware of the fees. Always consider how you will ship the item before you list it. Will you need to buy shipping boxes and materials? It is worth the hassle? I normally don’t sell anything worth less than $10, including shipping. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself clearing under $5 for your item. That’s not much, unless you are doing a lot of volume. One caveat, eBay and Paypal ALWAYS side with the buyer initially, and the burden of proof is on the seller if there is a dispute. Describe your item accurately, ship promptly and safely, and always track the package.

And there are lots of other ways to earn cash.

My family and I are taking a trip soon. We estimated that it would cost about $400 in gas and food. And we didn’t have that sitting around. So we started raising it. We made a couple hundred at yard sale. We sold a ton of books and movies. We sold some electronics and collectibles on eBay. Within a couple of weeks we had raised $430 for our trip. Plus after working through or budget again and adjusting my W4, we will have more income with less bills going forward so we can save more for things like this.


Fishy Tale of a Sale: Part 2

fishyA few days ago I ordered a 19mm Sigma lens for my new camera. It’s a hard to find one, for some reason. But I did find a place on eBay that said they had several in stock. I wrote the other day about how fishy this sale has become. So after my phone call to inquire as to why my lens aid shipped but had not moved yet, they promised to 2-day air my new lens to me.

I had little hope that I would actually see the lens I wanted. I had ordered the Black version, Sony E Mount. A few hours after my call, in which the customer service rep promised that they suddenly had the lens in stock and would be shipping it out he same day, I had a new shipment tracking number.

Lo and behold, it was for 2 day shipping from Fed Ex. OK, I waited to see if the package was actually picked up. That evening the package was picked up and on its way to me. What was in it?

Was it a box of rocks? A 19mm for the MFT Mount? A silver version of the lens I ordered? At this point I would have taken the silver one. Would it be a new lens or a return?

This afternoon I got the package, and there was my brand new 19mm Sigma Art f2.8 for Sony E Mount, in black. I still think marking an item as shipped to protect your eBay rating is slimy. Since the offer “free shipping” if they mark it as shipped within a day buyers cannot adjust the shipping rating down. In this case, if I hadn’t called to complain my shipping would have taken over a week longer than expected.

However, I am very pleased with the lens so far. Loving the video AF capability. I can’t wait to use it.

I will probably stay away from this seller on eBay in the future. They did get the right product to me within a reasonable timeframe, but I had to call them and complain to get it done.

eBay: A Bunch of Jerks that Are a Photo/Video Guy’s Best Friend

dollar singI recently sold off all of my Canon camera gear to fund the purchase of a Sony Alpha a6000. When selling electronics there are a couple of ways to go about it.

You can always visit your local pawn shop. They will give cash to purchase most photo equipment. They give about 25% -33% of what it’s worth, so they can make enough money off of it to pay employees and overhead. If you are in a huge hurry for some reason, this may be a decent route to go. Similarly, there may be a used camera gear store nearby. Same sort of expectations on what you’ll get, but they may offer store credit and have something you want to trade for.

Then there’s Craigslist. I’ve never sold anything on Craigslist. I have bought a few things. If you live in a decent size area, you may find a buyer who will give you what your gear is worth. I’ve never wanted the hassle of dealing with calls/texts and meeting people. A few camera web forums also allow you to sell gear, most for a small fee. When I sold my Pentax gear I used a Pentax enthusiasts forum to sell most of it. But be careful. Not every group is the same, and not everyone is trustworthy.

By in large, the easiest and safest way to sell and buy used camera gear is on eBay.

I’ve been a member of eBay since 1999. I have 138 100%-positive feedback ratings. I’ve bought and sold all sorts of stuff online. I remember selling something and waiting for a money order to arrive in the mail before you shipped the item. Now eBay owns Paypal, and the money changes hands almost instantly.

eBay is your best friend because they bring a worldwide audience to your listing. They provide all the research you need in order to list and sell your item for the most money possible. The more you sell for, the more commission they make. They also provide protection from scams. If you work within their system, communicate in their message board and ship through their Paypal shipping ecosystem, you have very little chance of being scammed. People will still try, but it’s harder to get away with it.

For this service eBay charges you 10% of your sale price. Sell that lens for $200? eBay snaked $20. Oh, and by the way they ripped another 2.9% plus a transaction fee off that sale when you used PayPal to get your money. Let’s call it 13%. You sold that lens for $174, not $200. Ouch.

And eBay is so very helpful when you are trying to figure out shipping prices. They suggest the weight for you, what size box you can use based on the item. Then they suggest shipping by Priority Mail, and tell you how much it will cost. Sure, there are cheaper methods available but you get a discount on this shipping, and there is tracking and it’s just a good deal. And then these jerks turn around and take 10% of the shipping fee they helped you calculate. They push you toward a higher shipping cost and then make more money off of it.

But where else can you get this large of an audience for your camera lens?

And if you’re the buyer? I love some cheap, used gear from eBay. Or even new gear. I just ordered a brand new lens from a brick and mortar store in New York through eBay. They are one of the only places in the USA that still had this lens in stock. And I got it tax free, free shipping, suppose to be delivered next week instead of months from now. And if you ever do get stiffed by a seller, you can not only leave negative feedback to warn others, but eBay will work with you to resolve the issue, even refund you the money. Want something not released in the USA? Try eBay. Want an older lens and an adapter for your camera body? eBay has them.

Yes, eBay is the best bunch of jerks ever when it comes to buying and selling camera gear online.

Dear Paypal, Why Do You Think I’m a Thief?

I woke up to a disconcerting letter from Paypal today. After being a customer for years without incident, suddenly I am classified as a high risk account, and they will hold all payment for put to 21 days. The only incident I ever had resulted from a buyer giving me the wrong address, and then opening a claim with no communication when his item did not arrive. It was resolved when the Post Office delivered the package back to me, and I sent it to him again, at my cost. 100% the fault of the other party, and I resolved it to the buyer’s satisfaction. That was years ago.

Now, I get this email. No explanation, just notice:

“Hello Scott Link,

We’re writing to let you know about a change to your PayPal account.

Starting 12/2/2011, money from payments you receive will be placed in a pending balance for up to 21 days. By doing this, we’re making sure that there’s enough money in your account to cover potential refunds or claims.
Why are my payments being held?
We reviewed your account and determined that there’s a relatively higher than average risk of future transaction issues (such as claims, or chargebacks, or payment reversals). We understand that it may be inconvenient to have your payments temporarily held but please know that we didn’t make this decision lightly.

Before deciding to hold payments, we consider many factors. These factors include account and transaction activity, the rate of customer disputes, the type of business a seller runs, average delivery timeframes, customer satisfaction, performance and history.”

So, I dug through the Paypal website and found an email address. I sent a message:

Hello, after years of loyalty, with only one incident years ago which ultimately was resolved in my favor, I got an email today saying my account has been changed so that all future payments I receive will be placed in pending balance for up to 21 days.


Why does my account have a higher than average risk of future issues, when there have been no issues on my part in the past? You said you didn’t “make this decision lightly’ in the email, I’d like a detailed explanation as to why you did make this decision.

I know that modern western civilization doesn’t value honesty and integrity very much anymore, but I do. And I take offense at your actions. It is just shy of calling my a thief, with absolutely no reason. In fact, my history shows that I have been nothing but above board.

I’ve been a loyal customer for years. I deserve to know why this has happened.

Scott Link

I received an immediate form letter:

“Dear Scott Link,

Thank you for your email. Customers who contact us using this form tend
to have questions around money being held from an eBay sale. In order
to provide you with assistance as quickly as possible, I have included
some basic information that may help you.”

The form letter goes on to describe multiple situation where this could happen, none of which apply to me.

I went and checked my seller rating with eBay. My performance is Standard. My policy compliance is High. My ratings range from 4.8 to 5.0. I have 100% positive feedback. And have had it since 1997.

Paypal is one of the few online businesses that has a fairly easily located phone number. So I called them. The first person I talked to confirmed that confirmed that this really isn’t about high risk accounts, but is about the number of transactions I execute. I asked to speak to his supervisor, who also said the only reason I am labelled “high risk” is because I do not sell a lot of stuff.

I asked her to pass on my feedback. I take my integrity seriously. I do not like being classified as higher risk when my actual account history shows I am very low risk. I suggested they reword their nasty-gram email to reflect the real reason they have decided to hold my payments: I don’t do enough transactions that generate enough fees for them to take any risk at all. I understand their business decision. I don’t like it but I can understand it.

But Paypal really needs to do better PR. Both the email and the form letter response left me feeling like a person of suspicion. I’m no theif, and Paypal has no reason to think I am. They really shouldn’t imply it in their emails.

Update: I got an email reply from a real person, who basically said what the other customer reps on the phone did. I replied to him with the same thing I told them. Then I got a survey from Paypal about the whole matter. I took the time to share my honest opinion with them.

Limiting eBay: A Tip to Save a Headache

The other day I was selling an old lens on eBay. I’ve been using eBay for a long time, mainly to sell electronics and camera equipment I don’t need anymore. While I don’t always like the way they do business, generally it’s an easy way to make some quick cash from stuff that would otherwise just sit in my closet. You can definitely make more than you would selling it to a pawn shop or similar.

But the most annoying thing happened on this particular auction. I had chosen to limit shipping to the USA only. I checked that box in the listing process, and mentioned it very plainly in the auction itself. I only ship to confirmed Paypal addresses in the USA. I have some reasons for that I won’t go into here, but that is my choice as the seller. You would think that by checking a box that says you won’t ship internationally, that eBay would not show the auction to potential international buyers. That is not the case.

My lens was won by a guy from Canada. Should he have read the listing and looked at the terms for shipping before he bid? Absolutely. He knew he had made a mistake and kindly agreed to cancel the transaction. But why would he have even been able to see it? eBay refunded my final auction value, but not the listing fee. I tried to offer a second chance to the second highest bidder, but they declined. So now I have had to pay to list the item again. This time I found a way to limit who can see the listing.

Unless you tell eBay not to show your auction to people from primary addresses that you will not ship to, they will show it to anyone. Toward the bottom of the listing form there is a section where you can limit who can see/bid on your item. In this list there is a box you can check that does not allow people from other countries, from countries you have said you will not ship to, to see your item.

I would prefer this was automatic, but at least you can do it. I don’t want to sell this lens a third time.

Shooting Pentax in a CaNikon World

Why Pentax? How did I end up shooting Pentax DSLRs? Luck. Blind luck.

A few years ago I wanted to get into a DSLR. I didn’t have a huge budget, so I was looking at used kits on eBay. I wanted high enough resolution so I could print a 5×7. I figured I would buy one and maybe one or two lenses. Then upgrade a couple years later.

I didn’t realize that buying a DSLR body was actually buying into a collection of lenses. I bought a Pentax *ist DS 6.1 Megapixel body with the basic DA 18-55mm f3.6-4.5 lens. At $295, I had gotten into a DSLR for less than I ever expected.

And I was pleased with how it took pictures. The kit lens, normally not the best of lenses, was pretty decent. That’s not to say there weren’t some deficiencies, like vignetting at the wide end. But it’s still a lens I use, years later. [Below is picture from near Rainbow Falls in TN. Pentax *ist DS and kit lens]

When I bought that Pentax, I didn’t realize that I had bought into the perfect lens collection for low budget photography. I started doing some research on what lenses are available for Pentax bodies, and they have some very nice ones. Having spent under $300 for a body and lens, dropping double that on one lens was not going to happen.

I happened onto and started reading reviews and posts. Suddenly I realized that every K Mount lens made in the past several decades would work on my DSLR body. And with an adapter, even the M42 screw mount lens would work. That means that any good glass from years past would work on my DSLR. And there was quite a bit of decent glass for cheap available online, as long as you didn’t mind shooting in manual mode.

I first found a Vivitar 75-150mm F3.8 for $30. From my research I knew to look at the serial numbers. For a while in the 80s several of these were made by Kiron, Komine and Tokina. I got one from Kiron. Then I snagged one of Pentax’s fast 50 mm for $20. [Right: *ist DS with Pentax M 50mm f2.0] So my lens collection began to grow. Over the years I have bought and sold lots of older lenses online.

Spending such a small amount on a lens allows you to do things you would never dream of with more expensive lenses. For example, I spent less than $6 on a Ricoh 28mm f2.8 prime lens. I had to take it apart, cut off a flange and remove a pin before I could use it. But I took a great picture of my daughter with it [below]. I ended up selling it because it lacked the multiple-coating others had, and I didn’t like the lens flare.

My most expensive lens is an f2.8 16mm Zenitar fish eye. It was $160. I got it just in time. The main seller on eBay announced they were selling the last of them right before I got mine. In time I upgraded bodies. Mainly because I kept damaging them. Leaving a DSLR where it can be knocked off a ledge is a bad idea. Although upgrading to a video capable DSLR would great.

Right now my entire kit (K10D with 6 lenses) cost less than a Canon T2i body. Shooting in manual is fun, and teaches me a lot about how light an lenses work together. I use my kit lens when I need autofocus. In body shake reduction works on all lenses. I’d like to have better, newer glass, but not on this budget. Pentax makes some great glass today.

Hard to find it though. I can go to any photo store in town and see the latest offering from Canon or Nikon. There’s only one place I have found that has any Pentax gear, and it’s used. I can buy new from B&H, or used from KEH or eBay. Or from fellow Pentaxians. But it’s not like you can check out the latest lens at Target or Best Buy. (Of course, they don’t sell the best CaNikon either)

My friends who are onto Photography have either Nikon or Canon. Discussions about DSLRs end up with me trying to explain why I still shoot Pentax. Now, my photo-interested pals have some very nice kits. I’d love to have one like it. But dollar for dollar, my Pentax kit will take pictures as good as I need for my family memories, and more.

And really, that’s what matters. I specifically chose to post pictures here I took with the oldest, least capable camera I owned, the *ist DS. I like to think they are pretty good. Maybe not award winning, but they please my family and me. I now own more capable equipment. I have a lot to learn.

There are people who own Canon and Nikon (Sony, Pentax, etc…) kits that could show pictures that would blow me away. There are some who have spent thousands and thousands on their kits, and cannot take a decent picture to save their life. Equipment is important, but not as important as the photographer.

So, whatever you shoot with, shoot well. Learn how to use what you have and capture life around you.

Upgrade Paths to iPhone 4 (Early Upgrade)

After yesterday’s keynote from Steve Jobs many are eagerly awaiting June 24. The iPhone 4 is a great device, one that lots of people are going to get.

A phone that records the same quality video as the Flip Ultra HD, and for $5 can edit that same video on that device, is enough to almost push me over the edge. Almost.

I like my 3Gs. In order to get it I had to rework my contract with AT&T, and now I don’t get to upgrade until February 2011. But never fear, AT&T has released it’s pricing for poor guys like me who are not ready to upgrade. TUAW reports that the cost to early upgrade with a new 2 year contract is $399 for a 16GB and $499 for a 32GB. Add $200 to that price if you don’t want to extend your contract.

That’s a lot of money. But let’s say you don’t want to wait… What then?

If there’s a line on your account that is eligible for upgrade you can upgrade that one and then swap the equipment to your line. Bear in mind that both lines will be locked into a new 2 year contract, and will have to wait at least 18 months to upgrade again (with special pricing anyway).

You can also sell your current iPhone. When the 3Gs came out, I sold my 3G on eBay for $400. It wasn’t jailbroken, it was just an iPhone without a contract. I would not even ship overseas. If you could sell your 3Gs for that, the new iPhone 4 16GB would be covered.

Currently, 3Gs iPhones without contracts are selling between $300 and $600, depending on condition, memory size and other factors. If you go this route, beware of scams. The iPhone is a highly sought after device and you will probably get an email asking you to do something for a sale, something that could set you up to get ripped off. Just remember that eBay and Paypal are designed to protect the buyer first. Take precautions and then don’t bend the rules.

When I sold my iPhone 3G I was requiring Paypal immediate payment, and only shippng to the USA, to verified Paypal addresses. I got an offer from a buyer that seemed legit on the surface. The buyer from New York would pay me through his account, but would I please ship the phone to his brother in the Phillipines for a birthday present. Simple enough. Unless you know how Paypal works.

I get the money from the buyer. I ship to the Phillipines where the package cannot be tracked, and as soon as the phone arrives he opens a dispute with Paypal claiming I never shipped it. Without package tracking I cannot prove I did. Because of Paypal’s rules, he wins the dispute. I’m out phone and the money.

I did not sell to that guy. I told him he could pay for overnight shipping to his Paypal confirmed address, then he could ship to his brother. I never heard from him again.

Be careful if you do sell your current phone on eBay. Done right, you could make enough to cover the early upgrade pricing for the iPhone 4.

I am still thinking about whether I want to go this route. The iPhone 4 is tempting. But of the iMovie app can work on an iPad or my 3Gs, I will probably wait.