These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 2

I hope you enjoyed the Favorite Things Part 1 post. Today we’re trucking right into Part 2 and I’m excited it :) Drum roll…

3. The “Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day” Book

If you love bread, especially the “fancy” bread at the bakery and feel like it’s a splurge, or you’re like us and just can’t get it where you are, you need this book!

It’s amazing, and amazingly simple! I was already using a no knead bread recipe that I baked in my cast iron dutch oven pot, but this just expands on all of that. You can literally make a batch of the master recipe and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks, just taking enough out for a loaf whenever you want to make some. My basic problem with the no knead bread I was making is that I would forget to plan ahead and allow enough time for the rise. Yes, it was minimal work – if I remembered several hours ahead of time to start. With a big batch in the fridge all ready to go I can just take out the container, cut enough off, and prep it for baking. That’s it! And it’s delicious. The master recipe is hugely versatile too. I made pizza with it the other night, and hands down the best pizza crust I’ve ever made. Again, because it was already in the fridge I was able to decide at 4:30 pm that we were going to have pizza for supper, and by 6 we were at the table oohing and aahing over how yum it was.

If you get it, definitely spend a few more dollars for the revised version as it has updated info based on reader reviews and more testing, and more recipes. You don’t need any special equipment to make it, and it literally takes about 5 minutes to mix up, and a few minutes to prep when you’re ready to bake. They give you a ton of suggestions for what to use and how to bake, so you can probably use things you already have at home rather than feeling like you need to go buy a ceramic stone baking sheet, etc. Definitely a good addition to any kitchen if you love bread!

4. My new camera & eBay!

I know, I already spent an entire post talking about it and showing off some of my pictures, but I really love this thing!

DSLR (digital SLR) cameras can be a pricey investment, and I think there’s a feeling that in order to take good pictures you need to have the latest and greatest model. Not true. in fact, most professional photographers will tell you that unless you’re planning on doing massive blow ups of your photos you don’t really need a ton of mega pixels. Most people who are taking pictures of everyday life, or even getting into photography as a hobby or small business would be fine with 10-12 mp. A lot of the newer models also have the added HD video feature, which is very cool and definitely worth considering if you want an all in one type deal.

If you’re wanting to upgrade from a point and shoot type digital camera, or even upgrading an entry level DSLR like a Canon Rebel (any version of it) I would definitely recommend looking on eBay. Amateur and professional photographers are often upgrading equipment and one of the easiest ways to recoup some of their investment is to sell their older stuff. EBay has opened up this whole world where that is much easier, and you can find some wonderful stuff if you’re willing to do a bit of work.

When I started looking for a new camera I started looking at the Rebel class, just the newer versions of what I had before, and while I could have gotten a brand new one for about the same price as my used 40D, I realized that what I would be paying for was stuff I wasn’t really worried about having, like more mega pixels and HD video. The mission already has an HD video camera, and I have no plans of doing poster size blow ups of stuff, so why pay for those. I decided I would rather have a more solid work horse of a camera than bells and whistles. The Canon D series have a great reputation so I focused on what we could afford, knowing that it was enough for what I wanted. I knew we could afford a good condition used 40D, so I didn’t look at other stuff. It doesn’t help anyone to focus on what you can’t afford because then nothing else seems good enough.

I know some people are really hesitant about buying electronics, especially what would be considered higher end, on eBay, but here are my recommendations:

  • Know what you’re looking for. Narrow down your search results so you don’t get overwhelmed with the sheer number of options. Do you only want a “new” item. Choose that. Open to refurbished or used? Select those options.
  • Read the listing carefully. Seasoned Ebay sellers will often indicate right in the condition line (the first one right next to the picture) if an electronic item is for parts or not working.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures! If there are no or few or really crappy pictures, I don’t give a listing much consideration. This is a buyers way of essentially holding and turning and examining an item. Serious sellers will try to include good pictures of multiple angles so you can see the over all condition. Really good sellers will also include close up photos of any scuffs, wear or damage on the item so you really know what you’re getting.
  • What does the seller say about the item? I’m going to give a listing more attention if there’s a more thorough description of an item than something that just says, “Used iPhone 4 in good condition.” What does that mean? Everyone had different standards for what “good” means. The more info in a listing the better!
  • Check out the seller’s feedback score. This is something that Chris has been adamant about because it’s a really valuable piece of information. You might think that 98% positive feedback is a pretty good score, but that can be deceiving. How many transactions has the seller had (number in brackets next to percentage)? If they’ve had several hundred transactions and they have a feedback score of 98%, that’s actually a pretty good group of buyers who have had negative experiences. Go to their feedback page and read through the negative and positive feedback. Sometimes people have ridiculous expectations and nothing makes them happy, so they leave negative feedback. Sometimes though, it’s warranted. Be thorough!
  • If in doubt, ask the seller a question about the item and see what kind of response you get. If they’re prompt, courteous and professional they’re probably going to provide a good transaction. If you feel something is “off” then walk away.
  • When I’m looking at items I always save things that look like a potential in my Watch List. When I feel like I’ve looked at the bigger picture and am ready to narrow it down, I just need to go back to my Watch List and go through those listings rather than trying to remember what page an item was on.
  • Remember that eBay actually has a pretty good complaint system, as well as Buyer Protection for most purchases over $20 if you pay through PayPal, which I would definitely recommend. Between the two there are a lot of security features in place to protect you and ways of following up if something goes wrong.
  • If you have a good transaction, especially with higher priced items like electronics, please leave feedback for your seller. It helps them in the future, and it helps people like you who are trying to navigate the system.
  • On the other hand, if you have a bad experience, please also leave feedback and report the seller if necessary. EBay has high seller standards and enough reports of bad transactions can get a bad seller kicked off, which is a good thing!
  • What about shipping? Many listings on eBay include free shipping, but know your stuff. Is it really free shipping, or has the shipping been rolled into the overall price of the item, especially on Buy It Now items (items that you can simply buy without having to bid on). The really good deals are the ones that have free shipping and the final price is lower than the market average.
  • Know how much time you want to commit to looking for and buying the item you want. Often we’re working on time restraints because we need to make sure things can be shipped and arrive where they need to in order to be brought in to us. Waiting on an auction might take a few days, and you might not win. Decide how much value your time has, and then decide if it’s better to wait on an auction to end, or if it’s more worth it to find a Buy It Now listing that’s a good deal. Typically, when an electronics auction is lower than the average end price or a Buy It Now listing the last hour will go crazy with bids. Remember that you can enter a max bid price if you want, which most will do, so the system will keep bidding on their behalf until they’re out bid. You can suck up a lot of time waiting for listings to end, or finding another one if you don’t win the one you want. Just decide how much time you want to invest.

The long and short of it is that if you take the time and are thorough you can get some great deals from good people on eBay. If you know the average price of what you want to buy, both new and used, you’ll have a better idea of what to pay and what is a really good deal. Remember that Amazon sells used items too, so you can check there to get an idea about market value. Also, as you go through eBay listings you’ll start to see average price points of used items. From there you can generally judge what a good price is.

One last thing to remember about shopping on eBay is that a major percentage of the sellers on there actually use the whole eBay system as one way to sell their wares. In many cases they are people who have actual businesses and eBay is one portal for the online retail part of it. In many of those cases you can actually go to their website and buy directly from them, rather than eBay, if you’re more comfortable with that option. For example, when I was looking at cameras, there was one business called “Henry’s Cameras” based out of Canada. I was just reading a blog post today about camera equipment written by a Canadian woman and she stated that she uses Henry’s as her main source of camera equipment. Many businesses like Henry’s use eBay as a means of reaching a wider audience to move their inventory. I’ve seen everything from Tupperware to Pampered Chef to stuff from Toys R Us being sold on eBay.

I know I mentioned that I got a fabulous deal on my camera and that it’s hardly been used. See what I mean?

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A brand new 40D body on Amazon – just the body, no lens – retails at almost $1400 US. An aftermarket (non Canon brand) battery grip (that thing on the bottom that holds an extra battery and allows you to more comfortably shoot vertical) retails starting at about $50 US. It also came with two batteries and two 8G memory cards. I paid less than $325 US for the whole lot, including shipping, and it’s in like new condition. So yes, people, it’s often worth it to invest the time in checking out eBay! :)

~Leslie

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