The Basics of Online Selling: How to Calculate Your Costs

I’ve been selling on eBay for a long time, just random stuff that I or my siblings don’t use or want. I never understood the basics of selling something, except the concept of getting money. Just recently, though, I have been selling collectibles for which I have no more use. Collectible stuffed animals, mainly; I was really, REALLY big into the whole TY Beanie Baby thing when I was a teenager, and now I find them just sitting around collecting dust.

So, while I am keeping a few that have some sentimental attachment to my heart, the rest are being researched and shipped off to new owners. Here’s what I know now (after a few sales and incurring more loss than gain), and here’s how you can avoid my mistake.

Learning how not to lose:

First off: Grab a pen and pad, and ask yourself these questions:

How much did (insert selling item) cost you? Write that down.

If it was a gift, then it cost you nothing, and you can basically pick your price. But hold up! Picking your price doesn’t mean selling your item for way more than it’s worth. Do some research and see how much items like yours are selling for, and that will give you a good price range from which to pick.

If you bought this item, how much was it? And since buying it, has it become damaged in any way? Look very carefully, and use a detailed eye. Look for scratches, dents, dirt, stains, marks, chips, broken pieces, et cetera. Be aware that these devalue the item in your possession, so anything you can do to clean it up helps you sell it for a better price.

(Major tip: Avoid “cleaning up” if you have a piece of art. Where art is concerned, unless you are a professional in the field of restoration, DO NOT try to clean it up… you see this on shows like Antiques Roadshow, where the owner tries to paint over a mistake or glue something back together, only to find that their work has greatly decreased the value of the item by trying to fix it. Take your piece to a professional first, if you can.)

How old is your item? Time itself devalues any item. Once it is no longer brand-new, its value drops. If it has never been used, it can be sold for about the same price.

Does your item use batteries? Make sure it works fully and completely. If it doesn’t work somehow, make a note.

Write down what you think the current value of your item is, and subtract that from the original price.

Second: Pictures are essential to selling things online. Take pictures with good lighting. If you are selling furniture, leave pillows or decorations out of the picture (unless they come with the furniture you’re selling). Let people make their own deductions. What you think is pretty and fashionable may not be your buyer’s cup of tea. If your item has any important features or damages, be sure to get a close-up shot of it. Do not hide details that you think will not allow it to sell. Be honest.

Third: You want a good, detailed description of your item, its benefits and/or accessories. You can make the description appealing and marketable, but be honest. If there is damage in any item, in any form, put it in the description. This ensures that the buyer knows what they are getting when they buy, and cannot come back to say, “This isn’t what I ordered! I want my money back!” It also helps you sell things later on, because people leave good reviews and know you are a trustworthy seller. Trust goes a long way in the online world of shopping.

Fourth: You need to account for shipping when selling an item. I made the mistake of putting things online for great prices with free shipping. People love free shipping. The problem was that my item’s bid price did not go up as I had hoped it would, and left me to pay more than the selling price. If you want to go the free-shipping route, that’s great; but make sure you know how much shipping is going to be, and add it into the selling cost. If you do not want to pay for shipping, most websites (like eBay, Amazon, or Etsy) will calculate shipping costs for you; just put how big and how heavy the package will be into their calculator, and they tell the customer how much it will take to ship the item.

Fifth: If you use a site to sell, like eBay, you may be charged a selling fee, such as 10% of the selling price. Make sure this is added into your cost, because you’ll be giving 10% of the money to the website.

Just for kicks, let’s run through how you would do this with a simple item.

This is one of the selling items I had a while back.


Let’s say this bear cost me $1.00 at a thrift shop. With some research, I find out that with its original tags still attached and great condition, it could sell for up to $17.00 (USD). I decide to go a few dollars lower to make it more salable.

Price for which I bought it: $1.00

      Value and selling price: $15.00

This means that I could make $14.00 in profit. To ship it, I’m going to be paying for it. The United States Postal Service will cost me about $2.54 to purchase shipping for this beanie bear. I have to count in my website’s selling cost, as well. So, if I do free shipping and subtract the selling cost:

                                    Current profit: $14.00

                                 Minus shipping: $-2.54

Minus selling cost (10% of 15.00): $-1.50      

                                      Profit now  =   $9.96 USD

If I decide that the buyer will pay shipping, I don’t need to worry about it. I just need to know what the item weights, and what kind of packaging I’ll use. My profit will be $13.50, having only subtracted the selling cost of my item.

Nice job!

STUFF TO KNOW:  1. Remember to take any batteries out of your item before shipping it – it’s illegal in the USA to ship anything with batteries inside. So, if your item runs on battery power, they CANNOT be inside your package. Take them out before packing it. Be sure to tell your buyers that the item needs batteries to run, what kind, and that you will not provide batteries.

2. In your description of anything, make sure you put “PLEASE READ DESCRIPTION BEFORE BIDDING OR BUYING”. As you know, we humans can be idiots and we ignore things. Putting this in your description or subtitle tells people that there is need-to-know stuff in there. It also helps you if someone tries to say they had no idea your product had a scratch, a dent, a paint splatter, or whatever. Be on the safe side!

3. Remember, be honest!

Feel free to comment, ask questions, or correct me if I forgot something! Ciao!


The Day My Dad Was My Hero

My dad wasn’t around a whole lot when I was growing up. Often, I find myself bitter about it.

A lot of us have “daddy issues” and I realize mine seem minuscule in comparison with other people who have had abusive fathers, disapproving fathers, or no fathers at all. I know I have a lot to be thankful for and I work continuously on replacing those bitter feelings with ones of forgiveness and happier memories. Sometimes, it is hard to forgive.

The other day, I was sitting with a friend and we talked over a couple glasses of pinot noir, something we hadn’t yet tasted in the realm of wines. We came upon the subject of pets, past and present, and pets we wanted to have in the future. We are both dog people. We agree that nothing is better than a warm doggie that will curl up beside you and cuddle, or one that will run like crazy around the house after being given a bath.

I recounted a tale I had long forgotten from my childhood. At one point, my family had a rather wild, hyper dog named Lucy. She was a beautiful black dog with a long nose and full, fuzzy tail, but she was not trained. There were three of us kids at the time (I am the oldest of six children now) and while we did like having a dog, none of us would go near her unless it was absolutely necessary. She would jump all over us and bite our arms, legs and head. While to her it was simply playtime, to us it was a fearful trip to get to her food bowl for two seconds. I usually resorted to waiting until she was at the opposite end of the yard on her zip-line, then darting in fast, dumping the food in the bowl and running to get away before she caught up.

I always hoped (usually in vain) that her bowl was on the outskirts of her leash-bound perimeter, so that Operation Dart-Dump-Run would be easier. I remember we had just come home from a weekend trip to the beach, and I was told to feed the dog. Lucy knew we were home, but was at the other end of the yard, barking at something on the reverse side of our six-foot wooden fence. I took the chance and filled her bowl, then darted away again, out of her reach. Another successful operation completed.

Or so I thought.

Not even halfway back to the house, from behind I heard a loud SNAP, then the sound of heavy breathing and fast, four-legged footfalls (puh-da-dum, puh-da-dum, puh-da-dum) bearing down upon me. In my sudden realization, I didn’t even look back as I sprinted toward the house with fear and adrenaline in control of my 10-year-old body. With Lucy closing in from behind, I knew I was not going to make it to the back door in time. I readjusted my course for the nearest thing that would get me out of reach — the plastic trash bin that held our rabbits’ straw bales, which was about 3-4 feet high. I don’t believe I have ever leaped so high as when I desperately launched myself on top of that bin. The screaming and crying commenced, as I tried to keep my feet out of her reach. The wild canine jumped and bit the side of the bin, her tongue lolling out the side of her mouth and the whites of her eyes showing. She seemed fantastically happy about intimidating me and hearing my cries of fright.

After what seemed like minutes rather than the few seconds it probably was, my father came out of the back door. He yelled at Lucy to get down and shooed her away. At that moment, my dad was my unfailing hero. He had saved me from the savage canine that my family was calling a “pet.” He picked me up off the bin as I sobbed in terror and carried me to the back door, setting me safely inside where the evil dog could not get me.

Only now, twelve years later, do I realize that God truly does use everything to His advantage, even our most terrifying and painful experiences. As I find myself bitter against Dad for not being there a lot of the time and for hurting our family in many ways, I also have to recognize that he did a lot of good. Nobody is perfect, and parents are held to standards of perfection that are impossible to hold up all of the time. Everyone falls at some point.

Looking back, as painful as the past may have been, I would never change a thing. I can only look for the times that he did well in our lives as children. That is what helps me to forgive him. That was the day my dad became my hero.