The year is 2021. You’re a happy Apple customer with a brand new iPhone 12. Your previous device was an iPhone X, which you managed to keep for nearly four years before replacing it. You look at your X and think, “Nobody wants this ancient technology…I guess I’ll just throw it in my desk drawer in case my new phone ever breaks and I need a backup for a few days.”

Four years pass, and it’s time to upgrade again. With your new iPhone 14 in hand, you go to toss your trusty 12 in the junk drawer and see the dust-covered X sitting there — “Hmm…guess it’s finally time to trash this thing,” you think. And the cycle continues.

This is perfectly normal behavior*, but it’s also bleeding you dry. An “ancient” iPhone X in used condition would actually sell for around $275 on eBay as of August 2021 (a number that will continue to rapidly decline thanks to digital rot). If you sold it today and put that money into a stock market index fund over the next four years, you might end up with about $400 extra in your brokerage account by the year 2025, instead of a dusty iPhone X in your garbage can**. And consistently selling your old phones each time you upgrade could turn into as much as $16,000 over a 30-year period through the magic of compound investment returns.

Graph of the benefits of selling stuff online
30-year effect of adding $275 every 4 years to a stock market index fund investment, assuming the same 10.5% annualized total return that the S&P 500 actually provided for the last 30 years (1991 – 2021). This is how much money you may be giving up by keeping your old phones.

Maybe $16k over 30 years doesn’t seem like that much to you, but this isn’t just about smartphones! People do this with cameras, video games, furniture, and in extreme cases, even cars! These things sit in drawers, closets, and garages, depreciating until they morph from valuable assets into literal garbage. The cumulative effect of this behavior can be hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime — especially after accounting for investment opportunity cost.

The solution? Pledge to own only the possessions you actually get value out of, and consistently convert the rest into investment capital (or debt payoff ammunition) by selling your unnecessary “junk” online. Think of your closet as a slow-bleeding container of your money, and the only way to stop the the leak is to sell your unused stuff as soon as possible.

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Unlocking A Superpower: You Can Sell Anything Online

“I would sell valuable stuff online if I had it,” you might think, “but I don’t just randomly have a perfectly functional iPhone X laying around my house.”

Remember though — the internet is a very big place! You might be surprised at the things there’s a market for.

When Lauren and I moved into our new house last year, I needed to set up the electronic lock on our front door. While installing new batteries, I noticed a tiny cartridge inside labeled “Z-Wave Module.” It apparently allows the lock to be controlled by smart home devices (which we don’t own). Since we had absolutely no need for it, I immediately listed it on eBay and made $40. Who would have thought that the lock on our front door had two crisp twenty-dollar bills hiding inside of it?

Everything in your house that you don’t actively use is just waiting to be converted into cash. When you start to see things this way, you unlock a hidden superpower: You find money everywhere you look.

Photo of junk drawer

One time, we were taking a walk and noticed an old Google Pixel in the gutter on the side of the road. The front and back glass were shattered, and it wouldn’t charge or turn on. After failing to identify its owner, we auctioned it on eBay “for parts or not working” and got $25!

We’ve also noticed recently that video games and trading cards from the 1990s and 2000s have skyrocketed in price, and we’ve been selling some of ours. If you’re in your 20s or early 30s, chances are good that you have a small fortune collecting dust in your parents’ house.

Time is Money: Sell Stuff Online Without Wasting Time

A major complaint about selling stuff online is that it takes more time than it’s worth. That can definitely be true if you’re inexperienced.

Here are some tips for selling stuff online efficiently:

  • Be honest. When you sugar-coat an item description or take deceptive photos, you are inviting time-consuming returns and disputes. Lauren once dropped her phone in a toilet, then clearly listed it on eBay as a “toilet phone,” and it still sold. Seriously. Just tell the truth.
  • Choose the right marketplace. The big three are eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist. If it’s a niche item, like a collectible, a part, or a broken device, go straight to eBay to find the widest audience — almost anything will sell there. eBay is a global marketplace though, so if your item is too big to ship easily (like furniture or a car), try the local options (Facebook and Craigslist) first. It’s worth noting that Facebook and Craigslist are free, whereas eBay charges fees. We’ve personally never tried selling on Amazon, but it is possible.
  • Limit crossposting. It might seem like a good idea to list every item on every platform, but it’s not worth the hassle. Once you learn which items sell best on which platforms, you will rarely feel the need to crosspost. Just experiment a lot in the beginning to figure out what works.
  • Price to sell. When figuring out your price, take a look at sold listings (which show what people actually paid), not active listings (which only tell you what other people are asking for their items). eBay has a filter for this in their advanced search.
  • Don’t hold on to the past. If you paid $1,000 for something, but it’s only worth $100 today…list it for $100! Nobody is going to pay more for something just because it used to be worth a lot. And it’s only going to continue to depreciate more every day.
  • Try listing for $0.01. If you have no idea what something is worth (or you don’t want to spend time researching it), just list it on eBay as an auction with a starting price of $0.01. While it’s not a guarantee, competition between bidders will almost always ensure that you receive a fair market price. I’m such a believer in this concept that I have actually done it fearlessly with $1,000+ items myself. Just make sure you describe your item well and write a keyword-rich title.
  • Schedule package pickups. eBay makes it very easy to print shipping labels for your packages at home, and you can schedule free package pickups at your front door through USPS. You should never actually have to leave your house to ship stuff.
  • Spend time in proportion to price. If you’re selling a car, take 30 extra minutes to clean it, take nice photos, and write up a detailed description. If you’re selling a destroyed old phone for $25, just do the minimum amount of work to get it listed quickly.
  • Throw stuff away. If you’re considering selling a single item that’s only worth $2 online — don’t bother. Give yourself permission to donate or trash stuff that’s just not worth the time (or shipping cost) to list.
  • Ignore dumb requests. Especially on local marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist, potential buyers will ask you to drive across town, adjust your schedule, put items on layaway, or jump through hoops to sell to them. Politely say no. If selling stuff online isn’t easy, you’ll stop doing it — and that will cost you a lot of money.
  • Ignore rude people. About 75% of buyers on Facebook Marketplace will completely ghost you in the middle of a conversation and never reply again. Don’t get too invested. And don’t get mad about it. Keep your replies short, and move on with your day.
  • Stick with it. Your first listings will probably take more time than they’re worth. But once you learn which items sell, which items to skip, and how to navigate the sales platforms quickly, it will seem effortless. Remember that you’re learning a valuable lifelong skill, not completing a one-time task.

Side Effects of Selling Stuff Online

The biggest appeal of selling stuff online is the fact that it will rescue a lot of your money from silently oozing out of your closet through depreciation — allowing you to pay off more debt, invest more, and ultimately free yourself from your 9-5 sooner.

We don’t count possessions like smartphones, cameras, and cars in our monthly net worth calculations, but if we did, we’d be horrified to see them losing value every month. Give that concept some conscious thought, and use it as motivation to sell stuff online early and often.

The financial benefits go beyond just the money you recoup, too. For us, having fewer possessions has allowed us to comfortably live in smaller houses, avoid paying for storage units, and even travel more often — with less planning required. Plus, religiously pruning your possessions will de-clutter your house, reduce stress, and make you feel lighter and freer.

Optionally, if you get good at selling stuff online, you can even turn it into a lucrative side hustle. A lot of people overestimate how difficult the process is (or just don’t know how to do it), and they just want someone else to do it for them. I’ve had several people give me piles of their junk to sell over the years, and I’ve been able to keep as much as 50% of the proceeds for myself.

So go look in your closet, and list some stuff online today…it really is worth it!

— Steven

* We did a poll in our Instagram story and found that 60% of our followers still own the smartphone they used before their current one. Of the remaining 40%, many of them traded in their old phone for credit toward a new one with their carrier. Unfortunately, most trade-in deals are just marketing ploys designed to convince people to spend way too much on a top-of-the-line, $1,000+ phone that they didn’t need in the first place. Our preference is to sell our obsolete phones for cash, and then buy a 2-year-old phone model brand new or refurbished on eBay for even bigger savings.

** “But wait!” you might argue, “doesn’t the $275 really just get rolled into buying the next phone? I’m not really getting $275 to invest here.” Sure. But that $275 “discount” you get on the new phone (by selling the old one) represents money you would have normally paid out-of-pocket. So that leaves an extra $275 in your pocket that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And since all excess money should be swept into investments by default, that truly does represent an additional $275 that winds up in your brokerage account, compared to the situation in which you didn’t sell your old phone at all.

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