Posts Tagged ‘women and money’

Cohabitation: Your Ticket to Financial Freedom?

August 20, 2011

I recently had the privilege to write an article for LearnVest, a great website for women and finances, regarding the potential financial benefits of moving in with your significant other. Since the article that ran was a much-edited version of what I submitted, essentially losing the spirit with which I wrote it, I felt it necessary to post my original submission here. Hopefully this clarifies that my opinion is IF you decide to move in with your boyfriend/girlfriend, it can also significantly boost your bottom line. Read on for my original submission:

 

When my aunt moved in with her boyfriend in 1988 it caused quite a stir in our family. The perception was that she was “giving up the milk for free,” and he was the one gaining while she must be losing. It wasn’t until he’d put a ring on it that my grandmother was able to chill.

 

Nowadays, things are different. My grandmother still isn’t excited about the fact that I live with my boyfriend, but she understands that times have changed. It seems like young women who don’t cohabitate before marriage are the unusual ones now.

 

The thing is, rather than compromising ourselves by shacking up, we’re hoping to avoid divorce by giving it a test-run first. “Paradoxically, more people today value marriage. They take it seriously. That’s why they’re more likely to cohabit. They want to make sure before they take the ultimate step,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg in the May 28, 2001, issue of Newsweek.

 

Over 12 million unmarried partners are living together today according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey: 2005-2007, a number that increased 88 percent between 1990 and 2007. “Today it’s unusual if you don’t live with someone before you marry them,” John Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin stated in Newsweek.

 

The decision to move in with your significant other should obviously be based on your love and level of commitment to one another, but it also offers some financial benefit if you play it right. My friend James* summed it up best when he said, “We moved in together because we simply wanted to be around each other all the time.”

 

Back when Shelby’s boyfriend moved in with her, she found that it improved her financial situation “quite a bit. We were saving his rent payment plus utilities, gas going to and from his place and we were able to cook our own meals more since we were coming home to the same place.” Shelby, who is a CPA, was appointed the CFO of their relationship and took over management of both of their finances.

 

Combining their homes and money also enabled them to become debt-free. “[Sam] did have a boatload of debt when he moved in. Combining our finances definitely helped pay off that debt more quickly. By a lot. Both because we significantly reduced expenses and because I was more aggressive in paying it off than he had been.”

 

Similarly Kaylie, a project manager from Ohio, found her financial situation better than it had ever been once she moved in with Zach. She was able to eliminate credit card and student loan debt and they “had the money to do pretty much everything we wanted to without worrying about whether we could afford it.”

 

The key is to be strategic about what you do with the money you save when moving in together. Like Kaylie says, “When you go from supporting two households (as a couple) to one, there is likely going to be a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to finances.”

 

Rather than increasing your daily latte intake or becoming a regular at Ann Taylor, sock your extra cash away to jettison any long-term financial worries you’ve been harboring. If you’re still paying down credit card debt, increase your payments till you’re debt free. And if you don’t already have an emergency nest egg of six months salary tucked away, get that going. Nothing spells financial freedom like knowing you can take care of yourself if things don’t work out.

 

When my sweetheart and I moved in together, our joint housing costs decreased by almost half. But that’s not the only perk I’ve enjoyed. Sharing a household with the love of my life has allowed me to save more toward retirement, and concern for our joint financial health has drawn us closer while offering us the chance to really improve our communication.

 

Walking through a financial decision together is also one of the best ways to really see someone else’s values in action. The way my boyfriend makes financial decisions shows me what’s important to him and the fact that we make decisions jointly serves to deepen our trust in each other and gives us a greater sense of being in it together.

 

In the end, if you’re considering sharing an address with your significant other, it can also be a great opportunity to change your financial picture for the better. With proper evaluation of the savings realized and honest communication with your partner, moving in together could be the ticket to long-term financial success and freedom for both of you.

 

* All names have been changed to protect privacy

 

 

 

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Tax Time = Tuneup Time

March 28, 2011

This recent article by NY Times writer Ron Lieber is a great reminder that tax time is a great time to check in with your complete financial picture and make some tweaks to keep you on track. It’s also a great time to organize your filing and get rid of financial clutter!

In short, the article suggests the following steps as long as you’re digging into your financial records. I’ve added my own tips to the steps as well as the author’s advice.

1. 401k checkup: First, rebalance your funds. As mutual fund values change, so does the allocation of your 401k account. It’s important to go in at LEAST annually (I recommend twice a year and help clients do the same) to reset to your target allocation.

While you’re in there, liquidate any company stock that you have accumulated. Many employers give their match in company stock, but it is risky to hang onto this. If things go south with your company, you could be out of a job AND see your 401k value go in the tanker. Diversify away from having all your eggs in that basket.

What about those old 401k accounts from former employers? If they’re still sitting in the company’s plan, this is a good time to consolidate those accounts into a rollover IRA, where your options will be greater and you’ll save on administrative fees. Not sure how to do this? Guess what else I help my clients do…

2. Saving for the Medium Term: We’ve all heard the rhetoric about saving for retirement and the benefit of saving early, and who hasn’t heard of the absolutely-necessary emergency fund? But what about the other things in the medium term, like vacations, large purchases, home maintenance or other big-money items that probably don’t fit into your day-to-day budget but that you’d like to eventually buy? Get started today by setting up a separate savings account for each goal, then make your savings automatic. Fifty bucks out of each paycheck probably won’t be missed, but it can add up quickly toward that week in Nantucket or new tires on your car. ING Direct lets you set up subaccounts and they offer great rates, compared to what you might get down the street at your bank branch.

3. Automatic Donations: If you’re charitably minded but often put off writing those checks till the end of the year, consider dividing your donation by 12 and setting up automatic monthly donations to ease the burden on your end-of-year budget. And no matter when you are giving money to charity, make sure you’re either writing a check or using a debit or credit card to provide an accurate record of the donation for your tax return. The IRS no longer allows the “I put ten bucks in the offering plate at church,” deduction. You gotta prove it.

If you’re an American Express cardholder, Lieber recommends their Members Give program, which lets you set up automatic donations or you can even use Member Rewards to make your gifts. I’m all about credit card rewards as long as they’re not incurred by debt you’re going to carry from month-to-month!

Taking these little steps should only take about an extra hour as long as you have all your financial information out, and it can make a tremendous difference in your financial health going forward, so just do it! You’ll be glad you did when you begin to reap the rewards of sound financial management.

Kelley C. Long, CPA is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

The Innocent

February 21, 2011

If you’re not already subscribed to my monthly newsletter, you’re missing out on my monthly review of the eight financial archetypes presented in Brent Kessel’s book It’s Not About the Money. For the month of February, I profiled The Innocent, which struck a chord with a lot of my friends and contacts. Read on and see if you maybe see yourself or someone you know.

The Innocent

Innocents, whether they have money or not, have the common thread of being unable to master money. Either they weren’t taught the skills, are confused by money or their natural gifts are not economically valued in our society. Innocents aren’t necessarily against money like Idealists are, they just have a hard time hanging onto it and dealing with it.

Many of the other financial archetypes develop their relationship to money in response to fear, anxiety or frustration. Innocents don’t have a coping strategy, so the pain they feel about their financial situation is often deeper and more obvious for others to see. They might feel like they should have the ability to be better with money, but when it comes down to trying, the response has historically been to shrug and say, “I guess I’m just not good with money.”

Even if they earn a high income, Innocents don’t have the know-how to secure their financial futures, so at the end of the day they find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. Innocents are far more likely to be regular lottery players and fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes, looking for a quick fix. When these endeavors fail, it just adds to their lack of confidence and feelings of inadequacy when dealing with money.

Practical Ways to Manage Cash Flow and Budgeting

Innocents usually spend everything they have and sometimes more, without any idea where the money is going. They are often people with no earnings of their own and depend on a spouse, family members or the government for support, which further adds to their financial distress. The first step of getting their financial house in order is to look at the numbers.

If you’re an Innocent and you don’t know how to look at the numbers, get help. Ask a financially savvy friend or hire a financial coach. Find out where your money is going, then start living within your means immediately. Find ways to simplify your lifestyle so that you can become self-sufficient. Prepare a debt pay-off plan and stick with it. It won’t be easy at first, but ignoring your financial situation won’t make it go away.

Many Innocents are women that are divorcing after many years of being financially dependent on their husbands. They know one thing: that they want out of their marriage. But they don’t know where to start when it comes to becoming financially independent. With a little bit of planning and professional guidance, I help these women save their energy for dealing with the emotional aspects of ending their marriage so that financial concerns don’t cloud their options as they move on.

Next month I’ll be covering the Caregiver archetype, someone who regularly subjugates her needs (both emotional AND financial) to those for whom she feels responsible, leading to resentment and poor financial health. Sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss a single review!

Kelley C. Long, CPA is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Are You “Making It?”

January 31, 2011

I finally got a chance to watch the Oprah show last month that had Suze Orman putting the smack down on “Octomom” Nadya Suleman. And let me tell you, Suze let her have it. I’m usually not a fan of calling someone on the carpet and making her feel like crap about her financial situation, but in this case it was absolutely necessary.

Suze, Nadya, Oprah

I could go on and on about how the conversation played out (or you can read it yourself here), but what I found most compelling about Nadya’s little “come to Suze” was Suze’s answer to Nadya saying she was “making it” financially when she decided to have eight more babies (in addition to the six she already had).

When Suze asked Nadya what she was thinking when she decided to have more kids, Nadya commented that she was getting by day-to-day just fine. Suze asked if she was “making it,” and Nadya said that yes, she was making it but things were tough. And then came my favorite part:

Suze stopped Nadya mid-sentence to inform her that she was not “making it.” Making it is NOT getting up in the morning and making it through the day to try the next day. Making it is:

  • Having an eight-month emergency fund
  • Not having credit card debt
  • Not needing food stamps
  • Putting money in your retirement

This made me really think about how many of us spend money on things we can’t afford and don’t really need, thinking that just because we are still able to pay the bills and we have a job that we are making and will figure it out in the future. I did this when I first graduated from college – I spent a summer living on my credit card, figuring that when I started my new job in the fall, I would pay off the debt right away.

Little did I know that it would take me more than five years to finally see a $0 balance on that card. And that didn’t come easily either – I threw every little “windfall” that came my way into getting that debt paid. Tax rebate check? Straight to VISA. Work bonus? In the mail to VISA. Raffle winning at a fund-raiser? Hello, VISA. You get the point.

I sacrificed quite a few opportunities to enjoy exotic travel or indulgent spa treatments or even just an extra visit with family because I knew that until that debt was gone, I shouldn’t be spending a lot of money on non-essentials. I WASN’T making it, even if I had a great-paying job, was putting money in my 401k and was still in my 20’s.

I’m not professing that unless your financial picture is perfect, you shouldn’t take a vacation or buy that new couch you need. “Making it” is a goal to be worked toward for most of us and getting there doesn’t guarantee financial peace. Just don’t fool yourself when you’re whipping out that credit card next time you know you probably shouldn’t.

So, are you making it? Please share your story or opinion in the comments.

Kelley C. Long, CPA is a Chicago-based financial coach who believes you shouldn’t have to have a million bucks to receive personalized financial advice. Check her out at www.kelleyclong.com.

Financial Advice for the Ages

October 12, 2010

There are some personal finance rules of thumb that are set in stone across the board, no matter who you are, how much money you have or what your financial goals are. For example, whether you make $1,000 per month or are worth $10 million, you should have an emergency fund that equals a minimum of three months expenses.

But then there are also rules and suggestions that change as you age and (hopefully) earn more money. Depending on your situation, here are a few age-based tips to maximize your financial well-being.

Mid-twenties
At this age you’re probably still single, no kids, making pretty decent money, traveling a bit, pretty career-focused and not thinking too much about retirement. What essential steps should you be taking?

  1. Get debt-free and stay that way. Pay off your credit cards, student loans and car loan to get your credit score in tip-top shape for when you will inevitably want to qualify for the best mortgage rates.
  2. Take advantage of your employer’s 401k benefit. If you’re offered a match, put at LEAST the amount in there to maximize the match. Aim to defer at least 6% of your salary, 10% if you can afford it.
  3. Get your emergency fund in place ASAP. Start with only $25 per paycheck if you have to, but make it automatic, and once the money is in there it stays. You’ll be glad you have it if you lose your job or have an accident.

Mid-thirties
If you’re a typical American, by this time you own a home, have 2.3 kids and are settled into a career that provides a solid income. You probably spend a lot of time at your kids’ events and have a couple of nice cars in the garage. Make sure you’re staying financial healthy by also doing the following:

  1. Keep socking that money into your 401k. Do NOT sacrifice retirement savings to pay for your kids’ education. They don’t give retirement scholarships or loans.
  2. But you should be saving for college if you can. Decide how much you do want to help (some people want their kids to pay for some to make sure they value the opportunity) then open a 529 account for each child with monthly automatic contributions. Also, make sure you’re matching any expensive extracurricular activity costs with college savings. If you can’t afford to save for college AND pay for select soccer or elite gymnastics, reconsider the high-end program. Chances are your child won’t be making a career out of it and while it might be a tough pill to swallow to drop down to a more affordable league, it will be a lesson in sacrifices and choices that won’t be forgotten.
  3. Make sure your emergency fund balance has been adjusted to cover increases in your expenses over time. Once you’ve reached the goal, keep up with the automatic monthly savings into a Roth IRA or money market savings account.

Mid-fifties
You survived toddlers and are now enjoying the final teen years with your kids, who are hopefully college-bound overachievers. You may be considering a second act career or wondering what the heck you’re going to do with your time once the last of your brood flies the nest. What else should you be thinking about?

  1. It’s probably time to really think about what retirement means to you, then putting that story into numbers. Most people these days aren’t really planning to live out their days on a golf course, but would like the flexibility to hit the links when they like while also staying engaged and active. Think about how the cost of your lifestyle will change and make sure you can weather that.
  2. Take a look at how your 401k (you’re still contributing, right?) is allocated. At this point you should only have about 50% of your funds in stocks, so make any updates to put the other 50% in solid bond funds or other fixed income instruments.
  3. Try to get your house paid off sooner rather than later. Your goal should be to retire completely debt-free.

As with all personal finance tips, these are simply general ideas based on what the “average” American deals with through life. Of course your situation is going to be different and you’ll make adjustments as needed according to what’s important to you. Above all, remember that the purpose of all of this is to simply allow you to enjoy life without having money as a barrier to pursuing your calling.

It All Adds Up!

August 31, 2010

Today I had the chance to engage in one of my favorite activities. It was coin-rolling day – the day my piggy bank won’t allow me to put another penny in, and I break out the paper coin rolls then head to the bank for a nice little bonus deposit to my checking account.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Call me a nerd, but I love coin-rolling day. Sorting quarters and dimes into neat little piles satisfies my organizational tendencies and rewards me with extra money I didn’t even miss. And it only takes 15 minutes – I kept track! You can sort your change while watching TV, listening to a podcast, or make it a family affair by getting the kids involved.

I had lots of help

I had lots of help

Back in the day when Suze Orman first hit the airwaves as a guest of the Oprah Show, she wisely suggested that one way to save money without even trying is by saving your change. OK, so maybe she wasn’t the first to think of it, but I remember seeing it and have been saving my change ever since. Do you? If not, I suggest you try.

What’s that? You don’t really spend that much cash? Well, I didn’t think I did either but even the little dollars here and there I use to buy coffee have produced enough change to add up. In fact, this little pile totaled $26 and I had several dollars left over that went back in the piggy bank since they weren’t complete coin rolls.

I know that doesn’t seem like much, but if it’s money you didn’t miss anyway, it adds up over time. Twenty-six bucks per month equals annual savings of $312, which is enough for cross-country airfare from most major airports! Think of it as a bonus vacation fund.

For complete disclosure, I have to share that when I arrived at the bank, the teller simply dumped all my neat little coin rolls into the electronic change counter. It turns out the banking centers in Chicago are a little more technologically advanced than those in Cincinnati! At least at my bank… I have to say, I’m a little bummed to learn this, as I actually like rolling my change. (Some banks charge for this service, so don’t toss those paper rolls yet!)

Regardless, my point remains: the next time you use cash for a purchase, use only dollars and pocket the change. You’ll be surprised how much money you “find!”

Note: No animals were harmed in the production of this blog post.

Estate Planning Really IS For Everyone

July 5, 2010

A couple high profile stories have been published recently regarding the disposition of multi-million dollar estates, demonstrating the dire importance of having an updated last will in place. Most notable was a case involving the dispute of Sammy Davis, Jr.’s widow’s estate, in which Mrs. Davis’s assets (including rights to Sammy’s artistic property), were in danger of passing into the wrong hands. Luckily the LA County court decided in favor of Manny Davis, the survivor of Sammy and Altovise Davis because there was sufficient evidence supporting her self-drafted will.

Sammy Davis, Jr.
The more interesting case involves the relatively unknown drama behind the estate of Stieg Larsson, author of the wildly popular Millennium trilogy that began with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Larsson passed away unexpectedly in 2004 at age 50 without a will, leaving his long time live-in girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson with nothing. He had written the trilogy as a means to provide retirement income to himself and Gabrielsson but died before the books became a sensation. Control of his literary legacy went to his estranged father and brother by Swedish law, who are reaping the benefits of the delayed success of the books.

Dragon Tattoo
As these cases demonstrate, the signing of a will can make all the difference in ensuring your wishes are carried out should you die unexpectedly. And while these stories involve extraordinary wealth and pop culture influence, they also demonstrate why it is necessary to take care of this important step in your family’s well being. Not having a will in place leaves control of the disposition of your assets and possibly your children to the state in which you reside. It also makes a sad and difficult time for your survivors even more painful, as your wishes may not be realized.

Most people put off drafting a will for a couple reasons. First, they think it is wildly expensive and time consuming, so they procrastinate in favor of when they have more time and money to deal with it. While the process can be lengthy depending on the complications of your situation (second marriage, step-kids or a small business to name a few), most estate planning attorneys these days offer a “package” price, where you know what it will cost before you get started.

If you still think that can be a drag, try Legal Zoom, which offers a fill-in-the-blanks will starting at just $69. As the Sammy Davis, Jr. case demonstrates, these wills contain the necessary legalese to stand in court. But again, if you have a more complicated estate I suggest engaging a qualified attorney who can help you address issues you may not be aware of.

The other reason I find people avoid the process is that they just don’t want to consider their own mortality. They figure they don’t really need a will until they start collecting Social Security. I get this. I cried while typing out my burial wishes to be included with my will. The last thing I want to contemplate is where I want my ashes spread. But someday it’s going to be done, and avoiding painful thoughts of what will most certainly be is not a valid excuse to leave your kids at risk of becoming wards of the state.

If you don’t have a will, do you know what would happen to your family if you were to die unexpectedly? Depending on the state you live in, your estate may not pass 100% to your surviving spouse (or your parents if you are single). And even if it did, dying “intestate,” which literally means “not making a will,” is a much more burdensome and expensive process than if you had a will stating your intentions. And if you’re not married but have kids or a significant other, the result can be even more devastating for your loved ones.

As Benjamin Franklin so famously said, “… in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Myth-busters: No such things as “healthy” debt

June 21, 2010

Clients often ask me to recommend a “healthy” credit card balance that they should carry in order to boost their credit score. Contrary to popular belief (a belief created out of confusion and no doubt encouraged by the credit card industry), the answer is $0. You do not need to carry a credit card balance in order to demonstrate good credit history.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have credit cards or that you shouldn’t use them. Having them and using them responsibly are what helps keep your credit score high, and while carrying a low balance doesn’t always hurt your score, it doesn’t help it either. In fact carrying a balance that is too close to your limit can hurt and with high interest rates and fees it is certainly not the best way to maintain financial health. Let me explain.

When a lender, like a mortgage company or auto finance department, looks at your credit report, they are looking for the likelihood that you will pay them back if they give you a loan. Other parties also use them to protect against making a bad deal, like landlords who use them to judge whether you will pay rent or cell phone companies that want to determine whether you will actually pay for the airtime you use.

Even employers will sometimes request your credit history for insight into whether you are a responsible person. For example, if you consistently pay your electric bill late or have a history of running over your credit limit, chances are you may also be chronically late for work or distracted by personal financial issues on the job.

The reason that it is important to have a couple credit cards (two cards issued by major financial institutions like VISA or American Express will suffice) and to use them occasionally is to demonstrate what credit examiners are seeking: that you can be trusted with credit and that you will pay it back on time. Just make sure you pay your balance off each month and you will enjoy life debt-free!

Another way to ensure that you maintain the best credit score possible is to review your credit report at least annually, which you can do for free. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to print your credit report from all three credit-reporting agencies and review each agency’s report for accuracy. If you find any errors, take the proper steps to correct them. Each agency tells you how to do this on their respective websites.

Things that could bring your score down include credit card accounts that are at or near their credit limit, unpaid bills from your past or too many examinations into your history in the recent future. If you have these items on your report and they are legitimate, you should take action to fix them. Pay down the high-balance cards (and stop using them until they are paid off), pay off any overdue bills and stop applying for credit at every opportunity. It will take time (up to seven years for some items), but eventually your score will improve.

Budget: NOT a 4-letter word

April 26, 2010

What does the word “budget” mean to you? Do you cringe when you hear it, thinking of an end to spontaneous dinners at your favorite restaurants and a new habit of packing your lunch? No more cute shoes and Starbucks runs? If so, then you are like most people! But to me and in my financial coaching practice, budget means nothing more than an on-paper look at where your money is going.

Most of my clients come to me with needs including debt-reduction advice and help with saving more money. They’ve done the basic budgeting in their head and know there is extra money somewhere to put away, but they struggle to find it. The thing is, when they add up all the “fixed” stuff like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, other loans, childcare, etc, and compare that number with the amount of money coming in, a lot of people are sad and discouraged to see what “should” be leftover.

More often than not, the process usually stalls out there with feelings of poor willpower and negative self-talk. It is at this point that I remind clients they aren’t counting the other little things that are also needs in our everyday lifestyle. Haircuts, oil changes, personal care items, house cleaning, gas money, and yes, food. Most people do have an amount of money each month that they could put toward debt reduction or savings without really feeling a pinch to their accustomed lifestyle, but it isn’t as much as it initially appears.

So once you have all the predictable bills down that won’t go away without major changes, take a look at the other things you’re spending on. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to learn that even when you factor in such indulgences as date night at Nada or your daily stop at Coffee Emporium, you will still be able to find that little bit of extra money.

And even if it is only $50 per month, if you make saving it automatic through payroll deduction or auto-transfer from your bank, you will be surprised at how quickly you will see a difference. Then as you acquire little windfalls like tax refunds, a raise at work or some other bonus, you will be more inclined to put some of that money toward your goal, getting you there even quicker. So enjoy your gastronomic pleasures, knowing that you can still stick to a budget and achieve your financial goals.

A version of this article was published in Cincy Chic on April 26, 2010

Feeding the Urge to Purge Your Stuff

March 29, 2010

Have you ever taken a look around your home and thought about all of the stuff you have that you don’t really NEED? Then keep reading for hot tips on purging these items while adding a little bonus cash to your wallet.

I’ve written of Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover in a past column and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of Mr. Ramsey’s advice, I have tried some of his suggestions. One of my favorites was his chapter about ridding your life of extra “junk” by selling things you don’t need or use on craigslist. Guided by William Morris who said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” I took Mr. Ramsey’s advice and satisfied my urge to purge.

To date I have raised over $700 by selling items such as an old TV stand from three apartments ago and the water fountain that my cats shunned for three years in favor of standing water in a ceramic dish. This experience has taught me a few things about engaging in commerce this way, so I’d like to share some of those tips with my readers.

First, be prepared to bargain. I learned this lesson the hard way right off the bat when I made my first sale. I had listed some furniture at a certain price as a set, but a buyer came by to purchase just one piece. We had agreed upon a price ahead of time, so when he arrived to pick it up, I was unprepared for him to request the rest of the set. As we stood in my dining room negotiating, I was intimidated by his cajoling and anxious to get the furniture sold. Regrettably, I ended up accepting less than half of what I had listed the furniture for. Even worse, the next day I received an offer for the entire set at my asking price.

After that, I listed everything for a higher price than I hoped to receive, and that has worked well for me. For example, when I wanted to receive $20 for an item, I listed it for $23. The buyer inevitably arrived without correct change, so when I accepted $20, we both felt good — I received the price I wanted and the buyer left with a bargain.

Second, remember what craigslist really is: an online garage sale. You will probably not be able to sell your crystal candlesticks that would earn you a decent price at an antique market or on eBay. The items that I’ve been able to sell quickly and without hassle include furniture and small appliances. That iced tea maker that you received as a wedding gift ten years ago that has only brewed three pitchers of tea? You can sell that for about $10 on craigslist. And that wooden nightstand from your first apartment that you’ve dragged through three moves but doesn’t really match any of your furniture now? Twenty bucks, easy!

Finally, as you’re preparing to sell your treasures, make sure the listing maximizes your chance for a sale. Use descriptive titles, including key words that someone might use to search for your item and always try to include as many pictures as you can. Be prepared to suggest a central meeting place when someone does want to buy an item — I’ve met countless strangers in the parking lot of Rookwood Commons to exchange goods. Larger items may require buyers to come to your home, so if you’re a single gal like me, try to have someone there with you when your buyer arrives.

You will also have a fair share of scammers and spammers trying to get you to click on their links. Do not click on any links from response emails and be wary of anyone asking for your home address to send a check. In my experience, any email that comes with the subject line: “Re: ,” is a scam. Emails from real buyers have a legitimate subject line, either referencing your item or with your listing title. It is the “Re:” that gives the scam away. In fact, I don’t even open those messages.

Remember that you probably won’t recover the price you originally paid for any item, even if it has never been used, but my philosophy has been that it is much better to have that cash in my wallet now than to continue to tote stuff that I MIGHT need someday from place to place. Good luck!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on March 29, 2010.