Mastering Craigslist: 15 Tips for Buying on Craigslist

buying on craigslistThis article is all about buying on Craigslist. It takes skill, luck, perseverance, and a quick finger on the mouse to master the art of buying Craigslist items. It often takes newcomers years before they move on from novice Craigslister to Master buyer…

Ok, that’s a lie.

Even though I've been talking this up to sound really hard and dramatic, it’s actually pretty easy. You just need to learn some basics and then you’ll be on your way. I've compiled a bunch of tips that I think will be useful in making your interactions go smoother and get you off to a great start.

Tip # 1- Know what item you are looking to buy

This one seems basic, but it can’t be stressed enough. Before you dive into buying items on Craigslist you need to know what you want. I’ve spent countless hours reading through the various classifieds sections finding every item under the sun. And you know what…I’ve often bought those random items that I find, even though when I started I had no need or want for them. This is the problem with Craigslist, everything looks like a good deal and before you know it your emailing a seller that you want to buy his unicycle and can pick it up tomorrow…ask me how I know :p

Tip # 2- Know the item you want to buy inside and out with proper research

When it comes to buying stuff on Craigslist, it’s usually up to you to do all the research to make sure your getting what you want for a good price.  Make sure you come armed with the knowledge of what the item does, what its worth, what size it is, if there’s any common problems or defects, etc… As a buyer being informed will let you separate the junk from the gold.

Tip # 3- When searching for items; use multiple spellings to capture all results

This is a common problem with Craigslist. If the item name is spelled wrong or described in an odd way you can miss listings. There isn't really a spell check feature like on Google search. Try the correct spelling and all common misspellings of an item that you want. In Example: I’m an audio guy. I have bought and sold many pieces of A/V equipment on Craigslist over the years. One of the common items I search for is vintage receivers. When I do this search I always type in “receiver” and “reciever” as it’s commonly misspelled. This brings up listings I otherwise wouldn't see with the correct spelling, and If I initially had trouble finding it, I’m sure other people searching did too. This might be the advantage I need to find that hidden gem.

Tip # 4- Don’t offer full asking price on your first offer

So you've found something you like and want to buy it. When you email the seller, don’t offer full price on your first offer. Craigslist is like a virtual yard sale, haggling is expected. If an item is listed for $50 you can often get it for $40. Just don’t be rude with your offer and throw out an extreme low-ball. If you insult the seller they may not want to do business with you and that rare item you've been lusting for will be sold to someone else.

However, if the price truly is an amazing price and you think it will be snatched up quick, feel free to offer full asking price. You can’t always haggle and don’t want to risk losing the perfect thing over a few dollars.

Tip # 5- Make sure to include your proper contact info in any communication

This one is easy, but often overlooked by buyers. Make sure to include your name and email when you first contact a seller. This makes you look serious and less like a scammer. As a seller I generally send emails with no contact info to my trash folder. Eventually you will need to include a phone number, but I suggest waiting until you've sent a few emails back and forth with the seller.

Tip # 6- Make sure you see pictures of the item

A picture is worth 1,000 words right? If you are driving any sort of distance, make sure you see current pictures of the condition of the item. Don’t just take the sellers word that it’s in “good” shape. There might be damage that is unacceptable to you which pictures will show. It’s way better to find out via email that the mint condition action figure is really a used play toy then to drive 100 miles and find out.

Tip # 7- Have the seller double check the measurements/double check your vehicle's measurements

If you’re getting something big, make sure it can fit in your vehicle. There is nothing worse than arranging a meeting with the seller, driving to them, and having the item not fit. The same goes for the seller. If they say they “think” its 36”, have them double check that it actually is 36”

Tip # 8- If it’s heavy, bring friends

It goes without saying, but often times lil ole granny selling her piano will not be able to help you load it. This is the perfect opportunity to buy your friends pizza and beer in exchange for ruining their backs.

Tip # 9- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

There are a lot of scams on craigslist. Don’t fall for them. There is a whole section on how to avoid scams on the main menu of Craigslist. Basically, don’t wire money and don’t give out any super personal info about yourself. If you pay attention to what you are doing you probably won’t be scammed, but make sure you stay alert.

Tip # 10- If possible, try to do the sale in a public place

Lets face it, people are shady. The downside to Craigslist is you are doing monetary transactions with people whom you have never met before except in emails or phone calls. They could very well be the next Craigslist killer. Ok, this isn't likely as thousands upon thousands of people sell and buy stuff on Craigslist each day without anything bad ever happening to them. Just make sure to take precautions. If possible, meeting in the parking lot of a well lit retail store is a good idea. Just don’t make it look too much like a drug deal…

Tip # 11- Search multiple cities in your area

Often times you will live in an area that is in between two of the city categories on Craigslist. This can often lead to people posting in one or the other of the cities. Craigslist has search results for nearby areas listed below the main results, but they aren't very good. They usually are randomly sorted and don’t always include everything as they seem to be limited in number displayed. The best way to search multiple cities would be to go into each one to perform the search.

Tip # 12- Check back often

If you don’t see what you’re after on your first search don’t despair. The items for sale are constantly being updated. When I search for an item I usually check multiple times a day to make sure I don’t miss any new postings. It pays to be the first to respond to a post, as usually its first come first served.

Tip # 13- Don’t delay in picking the item up

Like I said, Craigslist can sometimes be shady. Even when you think a deal is done; the seller might change his mind and sell to someone else who has more money or who can pick it up sooner. That’s why it’s best to not delay. Get the item as quickly as possible to minimize deals going south. Once it’s in your possession you can take time to relax and enjoy your new purchase.

Tip # 14- Don’t be a flake

Please don’t be a flake. Craigslist is famous for people backing out of deals or not showing up when it’s time to meet. Please don’t be one of those people. If you commit to buy something, follow through. Show up at the agreed upon time with the agreed upon money. Everyone ends up happy this way

Tip # 15- Bring exact change

As a buyer it’s on you to bring exact change for the item you are buying. You shouldn't expect the seller to have change on them as plastic cards are commonly carried in place of cash these days. As a seller one of the classic things we see from buyers is them showing up with either $40 or $60 when the agreed upon price was $50. No I don’t have change and no I’m not taking less than we agreed on. Don’t be that guy sellers hate.


Phew…that’s a lot of tips to memorize. But there you have it, everything you need to know to be a successful buyer on Craigslist. Well maybe not everything, but close.

Tune into the next part of the Master Craigslist series where we give you tips on how to be a great Craigslist Seller.

Part 1: Mastering Craigslist: The Ultimate Guide to Craigslist Domination

Part 2: Mastering Craigslist: Tips for Selling on Craigslist


About Potato Head

What's up everyone. I'm in my mid twenties and live in PA. I helped to start this blog so I could share my thoughts and experiences with making and (sadly) losing money. Hope you enjoy my posts and feel free to drop me a line if you ever want to chat or ask me a question.


  1. Great tips. Craiglist is really one big virtual garage sale and I am always surprised by how much good stuff is out there. And really for both buyer/seller it's a better deal than ebay in my mind.


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