Guest Column: How I paid my rent by thrifting



For six months, Justin Peddycoart, a 30-something from Minneapolis, Minn., challenged himself to generate his $800 monthly apartment rent solely through buying and selling antiques and collectibles found at thrift stores. His experiment is reprinted here.
-Editor.

Let me first start by saying that having to make rent this way was in no way fun or recommended – unless you’re retired or insanely dedicated to it.

Paying my rent for six months via scraping by on reselling thrifted goods was a ton of work. I was able to use my in-depth knowledge of Web selling platforms to more easily liquidate most of the items. I was able to achieve this feat mainly by selling just a few items each month that made up most of my then $800-a-month rent.

On a soapbox-rant side note: Let me say that when Congress or some rogue old senator (who you know doesn’t even use the Web) dabbles with the idea of taxing people’s income from selling items on sites like eBay.com and Etsy.com, it makes me seriously cringe. Some folks do this for a living and it’s grueling. An extremely slim percentage of the Web sellers are making good coin from doing it. Like I said above, reselling items for a living is not what I’d call fun.

How did I do it?

You have to have a keen eye for items that you know will sell. “Don’t sell what you don’t know.” A bus driver wouldn’t apply for a job as an Army helicopter pilot would he? You have to know what you’re looking at or you’ll waste a lot of money on stuff you can’t liquidate and end up looking like a hoarder with a garage full of junk.

My item of choice was art, because that’s what I’m comfortable in. Having a fine art and design background I was able to find rare prints that had probably been turned in by someone who didn’t know any better. I found real screen prints by David Weidman, hand-colored etchings by UK artist Jo Barry, and original impasto oil paintings by Italian artist P.G. Tiele (which still blows my mind!) I also found art objects such as original McCoy pottery and vintage little sculptures and plant holders from various artists and eras that sold for amounts that still surprise me to this day.

America is a nation of collectors and when they see an item they want or don’t have – they’ll pay for it.

What happens is when someone passes, all of their stuff has to be dealt with by their spouse or relatives. Most of the time it’s in hasty fashion and a lot of the items get put in a box and donated to thrift stores – that’s just my guess. Whereby, I heroically pluck them from their dusty shelves and find a better venue for them to be noticed and subsequently sold. In some ways I’m helping keep these works of art from the trash or thrift store purgatory. In a way I’m helping to connect the items with someone who collects or genuinely cherishes that artist’s work.
Where did I find the time?

I had the time to pull this off because I was freelancing in the evenings and would go out and thrift by day to avoid heavy crowds.

Being a night owl, doing this by day made it exactly like having an 8-5 day job. I’d set my alarm and get up to go hit my spots six days a week. Through this experience I quickly learned how, when, and what time the newest goods were delivered to each location. I even started to notice (and feel) like some of those old creeps sitting in their cars for the stores or garage sales to open, just to be the first to get in there and peruse. Quick Tip: Using a phone with fast and strong Internet service can help you quickly search Google for any artist or item you think may have good value. I personally use an Apple iPhone and will attribute it to helping me find and sort through a lot of the stuff I’ve scored over the past couple years, all while shopping in the store!

It’s now been well over a year since I was doing this and have found a real comfort in knowing that if I ever hit a rough patch again in my life, that I’ll be just fine due to my sheer resourcefulness. Anyone can do this if they really have to. It may take a little bit of studying and a keen eye, but you can pull it off. The thrill of scoring something you know isn’t supposed to be in there for $2.99 is the best feeling in the world.

Q&A with Justin Peddycoart

Antique Trader:
When did you first shop at thrift stores for fun, not necessity?

Justin Peddycoart: I started thrifting back when I was in high school. I was mostly looking for ironic band t-shirts, cardigans, and art supplies for cheap.

AT: What types of things do you search for?

JP:
I search the entire store methodically. Sometimes I feel like Rain Man in my approach. My arts background lends me to specialize in vintage and original artwork and prints. I love everything from vintage shirts, hand-tooled leather belts, cuff links, jackets, board games, ceramics, etc. I tend to pick up a lot of stuff for friends and family too. You never know what you might find; it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps me coming back.

AT:
When did you start reselling your finds?

JP:
I started reselling my finds my freshman year of college around 1999-2000. If I flipped a vintage band shirt or satchel online for $20 or so, I’d have beer money for a week. I’d also go into independent record stores and scoop on all of their free album promo posters that they accrue rapidly from record labels, they usually just throw them away, but I’d take them and resell them online since they cost next to nothing to ship.

AT:
Where do you sell your finds? Do you feel this source delivers the best return?

JP: I sell most of my finds on Etsy.com and eBay.com. However, if it is a larger item that would cost a bunch to ship, then Craigslist.com works better for that. You have to familiarize yourself and know which outlet to best liquidate the particular item. A couch or lamp goes best on Craigslist.com, but a t-shirt goes better on eBay. Here’s a free startup idea for a Web entrepreneur: I feel there should be a micro-auction site like Sotheby’s meets eBay – for JUST art work.

AT:
What advice could you offer those interested in reselling thrift store finds?

JP: Know what you’re selling. Become an expert in a micro-niche and stay focused. I know next to nothing about antique jewelery, thus I’m not going to go buy a bunch of antique jewelry and try to sell it. If you go in with too broad of an approach you’ll just end up looking like a hoarder with a garage full of random stuff.

Next is to stay meticulously organized. Use a shelf numbering system by date. Or if you sell clothing, I’ll occasionally use a colored hanger system to keep things straight. If you’re doing it to pay your rent or supplement your income, then treat it like it’s your job. You can lose money and reputation really fast if you’re a slow shipper or if you’re known for lying about your item descriptions.

Justin Peddycoart is an entrepreneur, blogger, cat lover and thrift store enthusiast from Minneapolis, Minn. Catch more of his thrift outings on his blog www.ThingsIFoundAtTheThriftStore.com.


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Part-time dealer Justin Peddycoart says to make it online you've got to stick to what you know, get organized and sell with integrity.
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Part-time dealer Justin Peddycoart says to make it online you've got to stick to what you know, get organized and sell with integrity.

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