Craigslist 101: How to Buy Successfully

posted by Andrea | 06/22/2011


If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a mini infatuation with Craigslist…  it’s like the hugest on-line garage sale and I just LOVE it! I’ve found so many great deals and steals, and I’ve sold THOUSANDS of dollars worth of “stuff” over the last 3 years… seriously!

Craigslist is an amazing FREE tool that I use to my advantage, but over the past several months, I’ve come to realize that many people have no clue how to successfully buy or sell items on Craigslist. I get so many questions and emails that I figured it was time for me to put together a post {or series of posts} about how to Buy and Sell Successfully with Craigslist.

So today, I’ll be talking about how to BUY successfully on Craigslist, and then Friday, I’ll share my tips for SELLING successfully on Craigslist {so make sure you come back to read that!}


1. Search Often:

In your specific area, there are literally thousands of new posts every day. So if you’re searching for a freezer {this is currently at the top of my list}. You might want to search for “Freezer” every day or every other day to make sure you don’t miss a great deal.

I have a list of things I’m looking to purchase right now {specific baby items, extension ladder, freezer, etc.} and I do a quick search for these items nearly every day. It only take 5-10 minutes and I know I’m not missing out on anything!

2. Search Smart:

I use the Craigslist Preview extension for Chrome which allows me to see preview images of every item without having to click on every title {see image below}. You can also use the Craigslist Image Prefetcher for Firefox or Craigstoolbox Image Preview for Internet Explorer. {If you haven’t installed one of these yet, you will seriously save SO much time!}

This way, I can just scroll through pages and pages of Craigslist postings without ever having to click on them!

3. Ask Lots of Questions::

You are in control here so don’t let the seller “push you around”. If they don’t have a picture, ask for them to email you one or two. And if they only post a picture of the product from a retail website, ask them for an ACTUAL picture of the item in their home. You’d be surprised how junkie the item might be in real life!

If they don’t have the dimensions posted, ask for them. If they don’t have their location posted, ask. If they don’t have the price listed, ask. Make sure you know what IS and IS NOT included. Ask if they have the manuals, warranties, spare parts, etc. You get the idea!

You can even try asking them if they would be willing to deliver — or at least meet you half way. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to do this — especially with smaller items.

4. Email Whenever Possible:

Sometimes the sellers only provide a phone number, but if there is an email address, I will use that every time because then it’s “trackable”. I can look back through my email conversations if I forget the seller’s name, address, or phone number. I can also refer back to the questions I’ve asked them and the answers they gave me.

Also, any time I send the sellers an email, I include the URL link to the exact product ad at the bottom of my email. That way, I can quickly find the product if I want to look at it again, show Dave, or reference it for any other reason.

I would also suggest that you create a “Craigslist” category or label in your email so you can keep all those emails together. If you’re doing lots of Craigslist buying {or selling}, you’ll get lots emails and your life will be SO much easier if you keep them organized in one location. If you use Gmail, I show you how to create labels here.

5. Know What You Want and How Much You’ll Spend::

Like I said earlier, I keep a specific list of everything I’m looking for and what I’m willing to spend. For example, I have been looking for a grill for several months and because I knew exactly what we wanted, I could search specifically for “propane grill” from $50 – $200.

I don’t wast my time searching for just any grill in any price range, I search specifically for what I want.

I almost ALWAYS type in a specific price range because there are so many people who post their items for $1 and then really ask way more than that. So I start my searches at a minimum of $5 to weed out those annoying $1 ads. {note to sellers: don’t post your items for $1!}


6. Be Ready to Move:

I know that when I finally find exactly what I’m looking for… I better be ready to move.

Craigslist items go quickly so if you’re interested, you better be ready to stop what you’re doing, drive over there, and pick it up right away.

Just last week, I found THE grill — it was everything we wanted, only 10 miles away, and only $65. It posted at 8:45 pm — I saw it at 9:00 pm, and by 9:45 pm it was back at our house! Dave and I literally stopped everything we were doing, jumped in the truck, and headed over. And how we have a $500 grill for only $65!

Obviously, not every situation is like this, but most sellers will not “hold” an item for you… so don’t contact them if you can’t go look at the item for several days.

7. Learn How and When to Negotiate:

As a frequent Craigslist buyer AND seller, I’m 100% confident in my abilities to negotiate {I’m really good!!}

For example, when we went to pick up our grill, I realized it was an AMAZING deal so I did not try to negotiate a lower price…that would have been ridiculous!

However, I looked at a baby monitor priced at $45, and even though it was the exact monitor I wanted and it was in VERY good condition, I figured I could get it for $35. So I made my offer, and it was accepted.

It’s important to know how much that item would be worth brand new, and then be confident when you negotiate. I often do a quick “Amazon” or “Ebay” search for the item before I go look at it, just to make sure I know what I’m talking about.

I knew the grill was probably close to $500 brand new, so I didn’t feel comfortable negotiating any lower than $65 since it was in excellent condition. However, I knew the monitor was only about $120, so I felt $45 was still a little high.

8. Have a Plan of Action::

You all know how much I love “plans” so it should come at no surprise that I think you need a plan for your Craistlist shopping too!

Make sure you have the address and adequate directions of how to get there. Make sure you know the name of the person you will be meeting and have exchanged phone numbers in case the plan changes.

Also, make sure you know what you’ll do if you try to negotiate {see #7} and they don’t accept your new offer. Will you walk away, come back with a counter offer, or simply purchase it for their asking price? This is why it’s important to know how much you’re willing to spend.

Oh, and I should also mention that you should NEVER, EVER feel pressured to buy something just because you drove to see it. You’ve already wasted your time, don’t waste your money too if it’s not exactly what you want.

9. Have Cash

This is the hardest part for me because I normally don’t carry a lot of cash. We use credit cards for everything and then pay the bill {in full} at the end of the month.

However, most Craigslist sellers only want cash… so if I’m actively looking for a bunch of items, I’ll make sure to have a stash of cash at home. Sometimes, if I’m short on cash, I’ll ask the sellers ahead of time if they would take a check… it never hurts to ask!

Also, if you are going to pay with cash, make sure you do not need change. I’ve already had someone pay me $40 for something I was only asking $35 for because they only had two $20’s and I had no change {and they really wanted the item}.

I usually try to keep lots of $10’s, $5’s, and $1’s with me when I go to purchase something —  just in case they accept a lower offer. That way, I know I’ll always have the right amount — and I won’t look ridiculous by offering a lower price and then asking for the seller to make change!


10. Don’t Waste Time with “Dealers”:

I know, this is kind of biased, but I’ve NEVER had a good experience working with “dealers” so now I only buy from “owners” {see image above}.

There are only a few things you can specify between dealers and owners — like cars, motorcycles, furniture, concert tickets, and houses — but I’ve found that the dealer prices are WAY higher and often seem like a SCAM {see #13 below}.

So, speaking from LOTS of experience, I personally would not buy from a dealer.

11. Test Your Purchases:

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every purchase, but for many purchases, it is important to adequately “test” it out before you hand over your money. When we purchased our grill, we specifically asked him to have the propane tank hooked up so we could test all the burners.

When I buy furniture, I make sure it is fully assembled when I go to look at it so I can test every drawer, every cabinet door, etc. When I purchased my baby monitor, I fully tested all the features before agreeing to the sale.

Just like you would never buy a car without test driving it first, you should never buy something on Craigslist without testing it out as well.

If you purchase jewelry, I would suggest meeting at a reputable jeweler so you can have them verify the item.  If you’re purchasing technology — make sure you know what to look for or bring someone who does.

If you purchase a baby car seat, you should have it inspected at your local fire station to make sure it hasn’t been in an accident. And if you purchase any appliance, make sure it’s plugged in and hooked up when you arrive so you can test all the functions.

12. Don’t “No Show”:

Seriously, there is NOTHING more frustrating than a buyer who says they will show up at a certain time and then doesn’t. If you say you will be there… then be there; and if something comes up, then at least call the seller and explain that you can’t make it or ask if you can come 15/20 minutes late.

I’m asking this on behalf of anyone who has ever sold anything on Craigslist — don’t “no show”!

13. Don’t Get Caught in a Scam:

I’m a pretty savvy Internet shopper so I’ve never gotten caught by a Craigslist scam… but they are definitely out there. These scams mainly target elderly shoppers who might not know what they are doing; but if you are concerned, here are a few things to watch out for.

  • Anyone who asks you to send them money ahead of time — NEVER DO THIS!
  • Any products that needs to be “shipped” — that is fine for Ebay, not for Craigslist
  • Anything that sounds suspicious and/or seems “too good to be true”
  • Posts that only show retail images — and won’t email you another image if you ask
  • Sellers who won’t answer all your questions or seem to be dodging your questions
  • Sellers that ask you to cash a check for them {yes, these weirdos are really out there!}
  • Click here for more SCAM information from

14. Be Safe and Be Smart:

Let me just reitterate that I have NEVER once had a problem buying or selling anything on Craigslist. I’ve never felt nervous or uncomfortable, I’ve never gotten caught in a scam, I’ve never gotten “screwed” or received a faulty product — but I know it does happen.

Safety is one of the constant questions I get from women who are interested buying or selling on Craigslist — so if you are worried about this, here are a few of my tips.

  • Don’t meet anyone in a secluded place
  • I’m fine with going to someone’s house, but I usually won’t go alone if I’m meeting with a male
  • Tell someone where you are going {address} and when you expect to return
  • Don’t go into a neighborhood you don’t trust {there are some neighborhoods around Grand Rapids that I won’t buy anything from!}
  • Ask the sellers to have the items by the front door, in the garage, or somewhere that you can quickly and easily access them.
  • Talk to the seller via phone. I almost ALWAYS get a phone number from the seller and actually talk to them via phone before I purchase an item. I feel like I “know them” a bit more after hearing their voice and I’ve already had one time where I decided not to go look at an item based on my phone conversation.

Craigslist is not a scary thing, and as long as you are safe and smart about your online shopping, you should have no issues!


If you’re the type of person who’s never had great luck finding the deals on Craigslist, you might want to try implementing a few of my tips. I can almost guarantee your luck will improve!

Now start shopping!!

What are your best tips for BUYING successfully on Craigslist?

All summer long I’ll be talking about different Craigslist tips, so make sure you search “Craigslist 101” if you’re looking for more information!


Filed under: LifeFrugal Living

Leave a comment


  1. Johann


    Another way to ensure you don’t get scammed buying from Craigslist is having the item you are planning to purchase get inspected. And, tt is really important that the inspection should be done by a 3rd party person who will give an honest review and report. Why not use the new Veryfier app to hire an independent third-party person to go out inspect and check the item before you purchase? Download the app at or go to iTunes store and install the VeryfierApp.


  2. James


    Thank you for the information but id there is no email or phone number , how do i contact the seller expecially to but a car?
    do i need to create a craiglist account?


  3. barbara


    Where do I find listings of rings to purchase. I don’t need to see all the “how” to”. I need to see pictures of rings to purchase.


  4. Trudy Nicolet


    Hi Andrea, you have done a great job in explaining everything , pertaining to buying from Craigslist Now I need to know how to get in touch with a Pearson who is selling an item .- I don’t know the processes of steps to walk thru & get in contact there is just some numbers & no email or phone no . so then what do I do. they say don’t get in touch with me so I am confused. Thanks for your good report & your patience with me Blessings
    ps I hope I did all this properly


    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Trudy,
    You just need to click on the “reply” button in the top left corner, and then click on the “gmail” link (since I see you are using a gmail address). It will automatically open up a gmail window for you to type your response.


  5. B Louis


    How do you handle the “what will you take” emails? I always price my merchandise at a fair price and yet there are always those that will offer half my asking price without even looking at it. So lately I don’t respond to them. What do you suggest?


    Andrea Reply:

    I’d probably respond to those low-ballers and say something like “I’m not willing to come down that low, how about ____?”.

    Also, if it’s only been on the market for a few hours (or a day or 2) I say “I’m not ready to drop my price just yet”


  6. Shaun S


    I just found out about GoShare. They will send a pickup truck or van with a driver on demand to help you buy/sell furniture on Craigslist! check them out if don’t have a truck of your own.


  7. barbara danielson


    How do I successfully purchase an Item when there isn’t an EMAIL address.? There is a http:// HELP PLEASE .


    Andrea Reply:

    you’d just contact them via the phone number listed then.


    barbara danielson Reply:

    Where is the phone # located ? Don’t see it.


  8. sumera


    Thankyou All very useful tips, I’m also a big fan of craig list and cash is always always accepted on craiglist. Although this have never happened to me but from another seller told me he had a bad experience where he was given counterfeit bills so buyers and sellers be aware and make a small investment in a counterfeit pen to check for faulty bills. That is a good idea and you will have the peace of mind, as not many but there are few bad people out there, so safety is very important.


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  10. Demaroge


    At the risk of asking a stupid question – What is RSS feed? How does one capture it? Why would one want to capture it? When is it useful to do so? Wait…. That was more than one question. 😉


  11. Laura


    Here’s a tip from a seller to the buyers:

    Don’t email with just one sentence saying to call your phone number about the item. As a seller, I almost always push them aside and answer the emails first, call them only out of desperation or email them anyways. You haven’t said WHY you want a call, so I don’t know what I am calling you about, half the time the buyers don’t bother to pick up, don’t return the phone call or don’t know what I’m talking about when I return the call. It is a waste of time.

    Also, don’t email a seller and say, “What is the lowest you are willing to go?”. OBO truly does mean ‘or best offer’ and I will take the highest offer, unless I’m in a time crunch. When I get that question, I tell them that I would like $ but will consider any reasonable offer they submit. Sometimes, the buyer will press on trying to get a lower number, and I often cut the deal right around then.


  12. arthur


    wood work bench


  13. Shopping on Craigslist - The Good, The Bad, and the Sketchy - City Hits


    […] So, all you really need is some basic tips and etiquette to get through craigslist sales like a pro. One rule I try to abide by is that a vague description tends to describe a useless item. Same goes for no photos. You don’t want to end up with a new computer that looks like this, do you?: […]

  14. City Hits - Shopping on Craigslist - The Good, The Bad, and the Sketchy


    […] So, all you really need is some basic tips and etiquette to get through craigslist sales like a pro. One rule I try to abide by is that a vague description tends to describe a useless item. Same goes for no photos. You don’t want to end up with a new computer that looks like this, do you?: […]

  15. Lori


    What do I do if I use an iPad to search? I don’t think I have the option of the preview you are using.


  16. Lori


    Any tips for this situation? I sent my husband to buy a dresser yesterday for our kids’ room. I talked the the person on the phone beforehand, he seems fine, answered my questions. My husband said the dresser was in the seller’s unheated front porch, which was about 8 degrees yesterday. Once it was in our home, we noticed a very strong chemical odor/fumes from it. I’ve called and emailed the seller and left messages. I asked if it had been recently oiled or finished with something, and if so, what, so I can figure out how to remove the smell. Haven’t heard back yet, though. I guess I expect this is one of those “buyer beware” situations and I’m stuck with it, so I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for this type of situation. Thanks!


  17. Cindy


    I’m hoping to buy a fridge for our garage, and see a nice one that seller is currently using. Says he is moving cross-country so I can’t pick-up until Sept 13th. Pics show inside stocked with food, so seems reasonable – and at least I know it works. My question is how would I handle payment so I get the fridge but they don’t take off with my money & the fridge? -assuming that the real things matches the pic of course. Thanks for info as I’m new at this!


    Andrea Reply:

    I wouldn’t pay until you actually get the fridge.


  18. Noelle


    Great post! I just have to chime in with Amy and say NEVER buy a used car seat. You can’t tell if it has been in an accident and I would not trust a complete stranger with my child’s safety (especially when they are making money off the deal).


  19. Nick


    If you call a seller about an item, make sure you actually know the item and ad you are calling about! I list a lot of stuff for sale on CL, and I get so annoyed when someone calls and says, “Do you still have the camera?” or something similar. Since I might have more than one camera posted, I have to ask, “What camera are you calling about?” Then I have to ask the buyer 3 or 4 more questions to figure out what camera they were calling about because they don’t even know what they were calling about! CL buyers can be so annoying. Especially the no-shows with no courtesy call.


  20. Jeff


    I know what you mean about being leery of selling on Craigslist, but ever since I signed up with, I’ve never worried since! If I tell someone I only accept transactions through payondelivery, then if they are out to scam me anyway, they usually say “No thanks”. It’s NOT a lost sale, either, as they were about to scam me!


  21. Anne


    I have just recently found your site and am loving it. I have been wanting to try selling things on Craigslist but am one of those people who is really leery of it. But what a coincidence that some of the things I have to sell are little girl’s toys – Little Tyke car, Fisher Price doll house, etc. And I am not far from where you are. If any of these things might be something you’re interested in, please e-mail me!


  22. Monday Mix-4/23/2012 – Simplify To Save


    […] Craigslist 101 […]

  23. Anon


    Also for searching smart:
    In the search box, putting a dash (-) in front of a search term excludes results that contain those terms.

    This is a search I recently used:
    chairs -rocking -sofa -couch -wicker -office -plastic -ikea -patio -stool -wrought -upholstered -folding

    You can grab the RSS feed off these custom searches and then check them often.


    Andrea Reply:

    Great tip — thanks for sharing!

    I did not know this and will definitely be trying it out this week!


  24. sheree


    What do you do if a person gives you a check, says they will be back the next day to pick up the item and they don’t show up. They’ve called a couple of times and tell us to cash the check, but they still don’t come and get the $150 item. I’ve called them, they don’t answer the phone and don’t have a message machine.
    Help!!! Do we cash the check like they told us to do. Do we put it back up for sale on Craigslist? What do we do? WE missed 2 other buyers holding this for them.


    Andrea Reply:

    Hmmm…that is a crazy situation that I have NEVER run into before!!

    I would be very tempted to simply cash the check, especially since you had to turn down other buyers who would have paid you the same amount. I would suggest calling their bank first to verify that they have enough money to cover their check {banks will give you that information} b/c otherwise you could be stuck with fees for returned checks.

    If you don’t feel comfortable cashing the check, then I would at least put the item back up for sale on Craigslist and sell it to the next person — and say “Cash Only!”

    Good luck!


  25. Betsy (Eco-novice)


    I saw this post earlier and knew I had to come back later to read more thoroughly. I purchase off CL ALL the time and still learned lots from this post. Am installing the Chrome extension NOW! I have been burned a few times by not asking enough questions or not testing out the item well enough. So, I would add, don’t be in too big a hurry (this is very hard with kids) — and, like you said, don’t throw good money after bad time.


  26. Doris


    Thanks so much! I just listed 3 items, hope they sell. Loved your tips!


  27. Touring | jodimichelle


    […] I’m a craigslist shopper and loved this write up from Simple Organized Living on How to buy successfully: Craigslist 101. […]

  28. Faith


    So how about perfect timing! 🙂 I went around today to three different places to pick up items from Craigslist (outdoor toys and tricycles for the kids). I did pretty much everything you listed here. (Great minds think alike..haha) Great advice!! 🙂 I agree with Tammy. I didn’t know about the Chrome extension either. I was excited about that since that will really be a time saver when browsing through ads. 🙂


  29. Tammy


    I recently purchased something online and the lady said if she has anything of significant value, she will only meet the purchaser in a bank parking lot or other location with security cameras on their parking lots. smart! I have pretty much used the process you do except I had no idea bout those chrome extensions, YAY!


  30. Amy K


    Two quick thoughts:

    Once you do a search on CL, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “RSS” in the corner. This way you can add it to your Google Reader and new items will automatically show up without you having to search again every day.

    Also, please NEVER EVER buy a used car seat. There is NO WAY to tell if it has been in an accident and it’s just not worth it. This is the one piece of baby gear you need to buy new every time.


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the tips Amy. I did not know about the RSS for Craigslist!


    L. Reply:

    what is google reader? How do I use it?