Common Cents, Uncategorized

Different families have different traditions. Our family has a yard sale tradition.

When I say “yard sale,” I’m talking generally about yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, community yard sales–everything but consignment sales.  Come springtime, my wife and I enjoy scouring our town for neon paper signs on yards, stop signs, and telephone poles. Whether we discover a great find or not, it’s a blast!

Shockingly to me, my wife was not a big yard sale person before we married. (I have my own flaws, of course: I had no idea how good chicken curry was until she made it, for example.) Our first yard sale experiences consisted of my teaching my wife the art of haggling, and explaining why all yard sales are not created equal. 2+ years later, she’s a veteran. With yard sale novices in mind, however, here are 5 tips for those of you trying to save a buck in today’s economy. Also one tip for those of you on the selling side of yard sales.

  1. Have items in mind before you go. While yard sales are always interesting, they can also be a little overwhelming at first. Having an idea of what you need helps you to shut out all the stuff being sold and look for exactly what you want. Otherwise you might find yourself driving home with a bag full of junk you don’t really need.
  2. Set a cash or price limit. On a good Saturday, we might visit 30 or more yard sales, so budgeting is a must! Having a cash limit (or a price limit on certain larger items, like furniture) is a good way to avoid overspending.
  3. Have cash. This should be obvious, but I’ve made the mistake of not having physical dollar bills on me. Yard sales don’t usually take Discover. It’s also wise to carry a variety of bills, but not more than you’re willing to spend (see tip #2).
  4. Haggle. 9 times out of 10, the person selling their old stuff is willing to lower the price they’re asking. Often they just want the item gone! This can be tricky at first, but it’s actually a fun part of the yard sale game. Try things like suggesting a lower price than you’re willing to pay: $4 instead of $5, for instance. Or find the three items you want to buy, and offer a combined price. A question as simple as, “would you take $5 instead of $10?” can save you nicely. And always make your offer with a smile. 🙂
  5. Learn to perform a “yard scan.” When my wife and I enter a neighborhood with dozens of yard sales, we don’t stop at every single home. Instead, we  take a slow drive down the street, checking for items that suggest what we’re looking for. It’s a safe bet, for example, that the house selling a box of vinyl records and an electric guitar isn’t to have clothing for a toddler.

And now, one word of advice for those holding yard sales: WRITE LARGER SIGNS. If I can’t read your sign clearly from my car, chances are I won’t stop. My favorite signs are the ones that just say “YARD SALE” with a big black arrow pointing towards the right street.


For those of you who are already making your signs legible, bless you.

There you have it! Now go save a buck or two when your neighbors start spring cleaning.

Oh, and most important: have fun!





Common Cents, Uncategorized

The problem with hindsight is that it’s always so obvious. “Well, duh,” I tell myself, “if I’d known THEN what I know NOW, of course I would have bought a Windows phone!”

Actually, I’ve never wished I bought a Windows phone. (Has anyone ever wished that?)

Let’s use a better example: cars. My first car was a Kia Spectra, stick shift. If you’ve never seen or owned one, be grateful. It was old, beat up, and lasted about 3 months. In a fun twist of fate, the transmission wore out on the way to an Entreprise car dealership. Here it’s pictured dying on the side of the road, moments before being towed off to car heaven (or the alternative… probably the alternative).

Kia Spectra


I’d tell you how much I paid for it upfront and in maintenance, but I’m too embarrassed.

Now, is about helping people be their best selves, and that includes making car decisions. So, what would older and wiser McCTaft tell younger, naive McCTaft about cars?

  • Learn to haggle. I got this part right, and managed to talk the seller down (a little) before buying. This also meant not buying the first couple of cars I inquired about: if someone wouldn’t budge on price, I’d walk away.
  • If you’re buying used (and a lot of “first car” buyers are), have an emergency fund! Many home finance gurus, Dave Ramsey for example, suggest $1,000.00 as a “uh-oh” or “Murphy’s Law” fund, and I agree with them. This is another one younger McCTaft got right: when looking for a car, I didn’t even bother looking at one that would leave me with little or no emergency cash. Think about it: if you spend all your savings on a used car, and something important breaks a month later, you’d better have a way to pay for repairs.
  • Talk to a good mechanic, and take their advice. The first part of this, I got right, the second… I blatantly ignored. My parents’ mechanic advised that I stay away from older Kia models. What did I buy? A really old Kia. Guess who got to eat crow?
  • Be realistic about how long your car will last. I poured way too much cash into minor and major repairs for that pile of scrap. Without damaging my pride too much, I can tell you that I could have made payments on a much, much better car for less than that thing cost me per month. Ouch. What’s really sad is that I didn’t need most of the repairs: why replace the tires on a car that won’t live long enough to see the tread wear? A rule of thumb that some families use: if repairs are costing us the same, on average, as a car payment, it’s probably time for a new car. Saving that money to make a bigger down payment on (or outright buy) a newer car would have been a much better choice. (Younger McCTaft bows to older McCTaft’s wisdom.)
  • Unless you can pay cash for a new(er) car–which is an admirable goal–start working on a (good) credit history. Don’t, however, go into debt for it! Using a credit card responsibly could help. Buying an expensive computer you don’t need and making payments on it? Not so much. I got the no debt part right–unfortunately, my lack of a credit history meant I was locked into higher interest payments on my next car.

I’m sure there are other things older McCTaft could tell younger McCTaft, but for now this will do. In the meantime, older McCTaft is going to have a friendly chat with his mechanic about new wheel bearings on a solid, comfortable, and reliable hatchback, which should last much longer than its predecessor.

What would you tell your younger self about buying a car?




©2016 (and yes, Microsoft and Kia own the Windows and Spectra brands, respectively.)