Hope, Despair, Trade Me

Posted by: James on: Tuesday, 1st November, 2011

We’re winding up our life in Auckland. Where we’re heading next is not entirely certain. It’s actually not certain at all, but our destination must certainly fall within several parameters, the most limiting of all being that it must be a place where both of us – an unmarried Pom and Yank – are able to legally live and work.

This factor alone is pretty limiting. Our only other choice for a working holiday visa apart from NZ seems to be Singapore, which would stomach us for six months before vomiting us back out into the world.

There is hope of course: there are jobs out there which require particular skills that could entitle one os us to a visa; there are ways to hop around between countries on a tourist visa while holding down an international online job; and don’t imagine that we’ve missed the bloody obvious solution – so there’s hope.

One thing I’m finding hard is selling up. We were intending on a longer stay when we moved into this flat, so it didn’t matter too much at the time that it contained nothing but a bathroom, a cupboard, a sink and some floorboards. It’s the first time we’ve lived in a place we had to furnish ourselves and we’ve done it very cheaply. We looked hard for the bargains and the bits that would work well together and we created something quirky but homely too. It did take a couple of weeks of quite hard graft though, what with the organising of pickups, the bidding itself and, in the meantime, living without a fridge or a washing machine, or even a place to sit.

A very empty room.

Ash in a very empty room in a very empty house.

Undoing all of that work is a considerably faster process, but arguably no less stressful. We’re selling most things on Trade Me – the NZ ebay, and we’ve planned the listings so that the essentials go last – the vacuum cleaner; the chest of drawers; the fridge. But it’s a balance – we want to use them right up until the last minute, but we’ve got to give people enough time to contact us after our auctions have ended, then pay, allow the payment to clear, then arrange pickup. The worry that maybe we’ll be left in the lurch with a washing machine on our hands on the day we’re booked on the train to Wellington sometimes keeps me awake at night.

Trade Me also gives you both a depressing and an uplifting snapshot of human nature:

People on Trade Me are really cheap. Seriously, when we looked for bargains in the beginning, we would pay what we thought was reasonable. We also took the ‘buy now’ option quite often, just to get the bits we needed badly. With our own listings it often seems that nobody will even make a bit until the very last moment. This ‘sniping’ happens on ebay too, but the difference on TM is that auctions auto-extend by two minutes if there is a late bid. This leads to a little late bidding war, but nevertheless the only casualty remains the seller’s price, which is uniformly below expectation.

The other fun manifestation of Kiwi thrift is micro-bidding. We’re selling a floor lamp that we picked up for free and fixed. I figured I’d start it at a dollar – so 50p in UK money. What you see below is 7 bids of 50 cents each over a period of a couple of days.

Micro-bidding on Trade Me

Micro-bidding. Why bother?

Surely this kind of bidding is exhausting, isn’t it? One of the great things about electronic bidding is that you can put in your highest offer and walk away – the computer will auto-bid for you. Why hover over the page waiting for someone to outbid you by a fraction so that you can then up the bidding by another fraction? It beats me.

But as much as they can be thrifty, the New Zealanders who got their bargain have been rather lovely. On two occasions we’ve actually had people telling us to ‘keep the change’. Not that they’re talking about stacks of cash, but enough to buy a beer – and beer is pricey here.

I’m left wondering why – if they’re happy to part with the money – do they care so much about getting a bargain and pay bottom dollar whenever they can? It’s a charge I’m happy to level at myself too: I know I’m pretty tight – I drove Ash half crazy when we first arrived just trying to find the cheapest way of buying decent cheese.

I think it’s partly a question of cultural indoctrination: when it comes to spending, we’ve been trained to think thrifty, which is fine up to a point – but there is a point at which we no longer want to pay what something is acually worth – we’re just looking for the cheapest thing that will do the job. I suppose that this is the dangerous ground where the unscrupulous can undercut quality items by making their product a little less ethically sound; maybe paying their workers a little less. Paying bottom dollar really might not be such a good idea in the long run.

Of course, what I’m really saying is: “Buy my stuff, people! Come on – we need the travel money.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

What I’ve been on about: