Saving Money on the Homestead

Two Decembers ago I was sitting on the porch enjoying the smell of wood smoke rising from our little outdoor cooking grill, and I made a New Year’s Resolution: to start saving money on the homestead, and to make as much at home as I would if I had a part-time job.

It didn’t seem possible when I started out but I’ve more than realized that goal in the time since.  In fact, I made my first profit within 24 hours.

I didn’t really know what I was going to do to follow through on my resolution.  Serendipitously, my answer came about a month later when I was trying to buy a book about apples.  We have 2 1/2 acres of fruit trees and day jobs, so a computer is still part of our trappings.  Looking at Amazon for a used copy of the book I needed, I saw a little sign that alerted me to a new concept: “Sell Yours Here.”  Did this mean that I could sell my books to Amazon?  As an experiment I took a less-than-beloved title from my shelf and went through the simple steps to sell it.  24 hours later I got a message that I now anticipate 4-5 times a week: “SOLD! SHIP NOW!”

I told a friend about this little business when I was just getting started, and he said, in his charming Carolina drawl, “Oh, that’s what my grandma called ‘butter’n’egg money.'” I thanked him for giving my business a good name, Butter ‘n’ Eggs Specialty Services (BESS).  Even though it has nothing to do with chickens and cows, BESS provides my personal spending money just like selling butter and eggs helped Grandma to get things she needed in town.

And Grandma saved her pennies too, just like I have learned to do.  Recently, while my husband was in the hospital and we were short of ready cash, I was proud to realize my “little” BESS stash was enough to carry us through a couple of weeks!

Having been a book lover and a thrift shopper all my born days, I knew I was on to something.  I ran, not walked, to my nearest Goodwill store and bought several books, put them up for online sale, and BESS was launched.

Within a short time, I had two major markets for the books: Amazon and  I had set up a corner space to keep the books in and store my mailing supplies and a bank account in which to store my money.  And I knew the location of every thrift store in three counties!

I began to develop some guidelines for this business which make it uniquely successful and wrote a set of BESS’s Ten Rules.  Some being:

Don’t despise a dollar!  Some sales may yield a net profit of only a dollar, but we were taught in school that if you have a dollar, and take zero away, you’ll still have a dollar.  The point of BESS is to keep money!  And if you follow my advice, most of your books will have an average sale price of $5 or more.  You can let this income pile up, satisfyingly, in the bank account which is a requirement for the payment process.

Condition Condition Condition!  Don’t buy books that are not in near-perfect condition.  You’ll be surprised how easy this is, how many people dump books at thrift shops after one read.  If your books are nearly new, you’ll never get a Bad Seller Rating from the, and you’ll be able to use the precious space you’re allowed for describing the book to extol its marvelous contents rather than having to list its embarrassing appearance.

Nonfiction Nonfiction Nonfiction!  Nonfiction books are the ones we keep.  The price for fiction drops off as soon as the books hit the stands – non-fiction books are perennial good sellers.

Using my own rules (always a good idea), I found that I was bringing in about $25 per week, even after mailing costs.  This made me a happy hobbyist but not quite the grand entrepreneur I aspired to be.  Then alerted me to another possibility – I could write reviews of the books I was selling.  If there was some information about the book at the sale site, I reasoned, it would make the book more interesting to a potential buyer.  So, if the book hadn’t already been reviewed, I wrote a short review of my own, always positive and enthusiastic of course.

Once again, serendipity played a role in my development of BESS.  I’ll never know if my reviews stimulated sales, but the effort led me in yet another direction: book reviewing!  I found that there are various on-line sites that will send you new books to review.  Suddenly, BESS ratcheted up to a new level, with what I call a “piggy-back enterprise.”

For brand new books you get more money!  No more hunting through dusty thrift shop shelves (though I do that for pleasure anyway, as I have since my mother took me to the Junior League store to get my first prom dress).  No more worries about condition.  Some websites even let me choose the books I wanted to review, so I could check them out for price and resale value before requesting them.  Or I could select books for family gifts.

Writing book reviews helped me hone my writing skills.  Generally, a book review has to be of limited length and cover certain essential details.  By the time I’d been writing reviews online for about 6 months, I found I could write 4-6 per month and was enjoying the challenge, as well as the money I made from higher and more frequent BESS sales.  I then took courage and sent out query letters to local newspapers, offering my services as a book reviewer.  I got one bite.  I used that bite to solicit two more, and now review for three state papers.  To my delight, they pay me to do it!

The result is that BESS has become a non-stop moneymaker for me.  The books I review sell quickly because they’re current, and because I can offer them in mint condition—as long as I don’t spill coffee on them as I did once in a rapture of absorption…

But I still treasure my scavenging time and the thrill of chasing down a good seller at thrift shops.  My best find, so far, was a big book in good condition, an obscure historical tome, that sold online for $50.00.  This was a net profit of about $47.50 after the cost of the book ($1.00) and the mailing at media rate.

Meanwhile, I have good books (that cost me pennies) to give to friends, great books to read at any given time on every subject imaginable, and an income of about $70 per week from what I think I can validly call my “second career.”  I’m now contemplating cutting down my regular work hours to have more time at home to pick and can, weed my flower beds and smell the roses.  BESS has made that a real possibility.  And the business will carry over into retirement when we want to spend full time on the smallholding.

I have a pamphlet about BESS that is, believe me, chock-full of info—no fluffy feathers, just the straight poop.  I sell it for $8 including postage—another piggyback rider on the original “little” business.  The pamphlet describes everything you need (access to a computer with internet service and a few used books!) and all the steps you’d need to go through to get started successfully in BESS.

The beauty of it is that there’s no problem with competition—the World Wide Web is our mall and at this mall, there’s room for all!

Grandma would be proud.


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