Saving Money – The Joys of eBay

Sep 14, 2010 by

The magical thing about eBay is that it allows manufacturers to cut out the middle man. It is perhaps the largest and most diverse business-to-consumer marketplace. While it used to have a reputation for being a place for buying used items, now eBay contains large numbers of new items being sold by their manufacturers. Why pay Wal-Mart to import something from Hong Kong (and make a profit after importing the item) when it is possible to buy the item from Hong Kong yourself?

What to buy on eBay
eBay offers better prices than stores for lightweight, low-tech items. It is the best place to get these items when they are not needed instantly. Weight matters, as everything sold must be shipped. For example, an iPad case sells for around $5 on eBay, while the cheapest such item from the Apple Store is around $40. Dramatic price differences likewise exist for products like cables, cell phone batteries, and even velcro.

What not to buy on eBay
It is next to impossible to return things on eBay. It can be done, but it is a very painful process. When buying an item from Asia, your motto should be, “If it doesn’t work, throw it away.” The return shipping alone will likely be more than the cost of the item. So, don’t buy new clothing. Also, don’t buy used clothing. I bought some “new without tag” clothing last year, and one shirt was mildly stained while another was an obvious forgery. Following that line of reasoning, don’t buy other used personal items. I’ve had many issues buying used cell phones and LCD screens. In general, I’m happiest when I buy new, lightweight items.

What role should eBay play in good personal finance habits?
While it may seem weird to promote a shopping site while discussing personal finance, eBay is great because it can both enable you to save money when buying and can help you liquidate unused items. Electronics tend to not get more valuable over time, so whenever I have a device that I do not plan to use for six months, I look into reselling it on eBay. While there is a little bit of inflation, storing electronics as cash allows me to avoid holding a depreciating asset.


  1. Ozama

    Good balanced view here. There is that dark and dank side to EBAY. As to Asian factory direct trend and the “forget about it” returning reality… I suppose the good Buyer Rating they need is a mild deterent to sending over junk …but they probably set up several accounts, and close the ones with low ratings. When these entitiies get better – perhaps with low cost local mechanisms for returns they could do a number on the Wally Marts out there. We all should better at getting our unused products out into the market for others to benefit from – good for the environment too.

    My son has started to use lately. Basically he puts up items like DVD sets and video games he has and swaps for things of equal value that he wants – from a list (inventory and wish list) that he has provided to the system. The software system is pretty slick at giving a description of the products from the UPC codes.

    You are right Adam… no sense having this stuff sit around the house gathering dust, when the pocket book (yours and others) can benefit from getting it out in circulation again.

  2. powellmac

    Thanks for the link. By the way, eBay offers a similar site for selling media (books, DVDs, CDs, video games, etc.) called The one advantage that it has over Swap is that you are trading items for money rather than for other items.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *