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How to Buy & Sell Used Curriculum

By Jennifer Thieme
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #64, 2005.

Jennifer Thieme tells us how.
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Jennifer Thieme

It's springtime folks, and you know what that means: it's time for the annual used curriculum fairs! Have you ever been to one? If not, you should go! They are a great way to find used items at a discount, or to sell your used items and get some extra cash.

In my almost ten years as a homeschooler, I've been to many used curriculum fairs, both as a buyer and a seller. Here are some tips I've used, observations I've made, and lessons I've learned. First, I will address issues facing sellers; then, issues facing buyers. Next, you will find ideas applicable to either buyer or seller. Last, I will discuss buying and selling online. I hope you get something useful from my experiences!

As a Seller

Bring a box of free items clearly labeled as such. If you are like me, you get many educational catalogs throughout the year. Don't throw them in the trash to go the landfill - save them for this box. New homeschoolers appreciate receiving an interesting-looking catalog. Also, save for this box unpopular curricular items, older books, and other items which didn't sell at previous sales. Two purposes are served by bringing this box: first, it draws potential buyers to your table, and second, it just makes sense to give away items that still have use.

Write the price of each item on those small, yellow, Post-It note pads, pricing each item slightly more than you think you might get for it. After about an hour, if an item hasn't sold, mark it down by crossing off the original price and writing the new price under it, continuing in this manner periodically throughout the sale. I suggest you bring home a popular item in good condition before marking it down too much; in my experience, this means the right buyer hasn't come along yet.

Position items in an attractive manner. Sometimes there isn't room for everything to fit on your table. Leave these in a box with the bindings facing in one direction - it makes the titles easy to read.

Price to sell. It's very common to see popular items in good condition selling for 50-60% of the suggested retail. Expect to unload unpopular or unfamiliar items pretty cheaply. I've seen it many times: a homeschooling mom brings old and unfamiliar games, toys, books, and curriculum, and asks too much for them. As a result, they don't sell and she has to load them back into her mini-van. Personally, I'd rather get rid of those types of things than have them collect dust on my shelf while they await next year's sale.

Consider charity. Another option for getting rid of unpopular used items if you cannot bear to mark them down too much is to donate them to a charity and take the deduction for the fair market value on your tax return. For this option, you must be able to use Schedule A and the charity must be the kind where you may write off donations to them. Not all are. Please consult your tax advisor before using this option.

It's OK to say No. On receiving offers from buyers: I suggest you don't accept an offer you feel poorly about. I've had a few situations where buyers offered what I thought was ridiculously low prices for popular, good condition titles. Because I wanted to appear charitable, I accepted their offers, but in reality I was angry. I later learned that I was angry with myself for not being able to say no. It took me a long time to figure out that there is nothing wrong with saying no to an offer. My lesson: feeling angry later isn't worth trying to look charitable now. Learn to say no if you have a problem in this area.

As a Buyer

Don't lowball. Because of the above-mentioned unpleasant experiences, I've learned to not make an offer the seller will feel poorly about. If an item is on my "must have" list and it's priced high, "low-balling" the seller is not the way to get it, even at the end of the day, when prices are lowest anyway. It's true that sellers are more inclined to negotiate at this time, but something in us gets sacrificed when we make money our chief aim, even if we have a good reason, such as being on a tight budget. I try to remember that I'm helping a fellow homeschool family and still saving money over buying it new (don't forget to include shipping charges of new items when calculating savings). If I leave the table with the seller feeling upset or angry, then I've failed to be the kind of person I know I need to be.

"How can we know how the seller will feel about an offer?" I do this by placing myself in the seller's position, imagining how it might feel to receive the offer I want to make. Does the offer feel good or not? Then the answer becomes clear.

Neatness counts. Try to leave a seller's table looking like it did when you arrived. Tables become disheveled very quickly. Try not to add to the mess. Besides, it's what our mom's taught us, right? "Put it back where it was when you found it."

On Either Side of the Table

Bring the right stuff. Supplies to bring for a successful experience: plenty of cash (for buying, or, for making change if I'm selling); a hat; sunscreen; a water bottle; a snack; a chair and table (or blanket) for displaying items, if I'm selling. Be prepared for wet grass if the sale is at a park.

Cash or check? Occasionally buyers wish to pay by check. As a seller I always accept checks and have never had one bounce. I prefer cash, however, because I feel that asking a home school mom to accept a check puts her in the difficult position of trusting a complete stranger. Consequently, as a buyer, I don't use checks.

On saving money. In our quest to save money at these sales, as either buyers or sellers, my advice is to avoid giving the impression that a few dollars or cents are more important than our fellow homeschoolers. Negotiation is a fine line to walk, but a little generosity on either side of the table makes for a more pleasant and enjoyable experience, rather than trying to save a few bucks at somebody else's expense.

The Online Experience

If you are unable to attend used curriculum sales, you may be able to buy or sell online. Try www.home-school.com/forums/ (Curriculum Trades section), www.ebay.com, or www.vegsource.com/homeschool/. I've used Vegsource a few times.

I'm not a big fan of selling online for a couple reasons. First, I find frequent trips to the post office distasteful. Two, sometimes buyers are unreliable. I had more than one experience where buyers said they wanted my items, but either backed out at the last minute or I never heard from them again. Meanwhile, I turned down offers from other buyers, thinking my items were sold. However, many people seem to enjoy buying and selling this way, and for people in remote locations I imagine it's the best say to acquire used items.

PayPal is an online service designed to streamline the exchange of money over the Internet. Visit www.paypal.com to register. This is a worthwhile service, and I highly recommend it if you plan to buy and sell online with private parties. Funds are transferred immediately and PayPal emails both parties as to when the transfer takes place. PayPal charges 3 percent of the sales price to the seller for him to accept a payment from a buyer via credit card.

Regarding postage and insurance: this is how I advertised items the few times I sold online: "Insured, book-rate postage included in the price." The price reflected an additional $5 or so to cover the additional cost. Sending items insured made sense to me, because neither party would be shortchanged if the items were not received. The Postal Service now has very convenient online services to calculate postage and print shipping labels. Visit www.usps.com for more details.

Workbook Ethics

On making copies of workbook pages, then reselling the workbooks. My friends, this is not a good practice, because when you bought the workbooks, you tacitly agreed not to do this very thing. Here's how it works: on the inside cover, publishers print the copyright restrictions. A few publishers will grant rights for the original purchaser to make copies for immediate family or classroom use only, but most do not. Read the inside cover to be certain. Remember what Jesus said: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more then these is from the evil one." Matt. 5:37 (NKJV). There are many other scriptures on which I could elaborate, but the bottom line is that the practice cannot be justified from a Biblical standpoint. Don't do it!

On buying used workbooks at a used curriculum fair. It's not illegal, and it's not appropriate to hold up a workbook and ask, "Did you make copies of this?" However, you know when something is "off" at a seller's table, when things just don't feel right. Trust your gut, not the part of you that wants a good deal. Saving a few bucks isn't worth going against your instincts.

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