How to painlessly shop on craigslist

When I think of online shopping, I immediately think Amazon. If I think of an item I want to buy, I check amazon first. Having had Amazon Prime for the past 6 years or so, I've become quite accustomed to free two day shipping. Plus returns are about as painless as it comes. So of course they're going to be my first stop when I want to buy something. I'm sure it's your first stop, too.

But every once in a while there are things that I'm looking to buy that I don't really want to pay retail for and don't really care if the item has been used. A year ago I would have told you that my next stop would have likely been ebay to find the items I'm looking for. But now I do this sort of shopping on craigslist instead. But not in the way you might think.

My problem with Craigslist

I've known about craigslist for years, but up until last August, I had never made a single purchase from the site. It has always felt a little sketchy and finding an item that I was looking for in my area never seemed to work out. So I was surprised when a buddy Corey told me about the killer deal he received on a set of folding chairs he had just purchased. He then went on to explain HOW he shops on craigslist.

Hang tight, I'll show you how in a sec.

What I was doing wrong

The biggest thing I was doing wrong with Craiglist was thinking about it like an online store. I'd go and I'd do a search for what I wanted and if I didn't see it, I'd give up and move along. Maybe the item I was looking for wasn't available right that minute, but what if it somebody posted what I was looking for an hour or a day later? I was never going to see it because I wasn't about to check the site hour after hour, or even day after day.

So, what's the solution? Automation!

IFTTT to the rescue

Have you ever heard of ifttt stands for “If This, Then That” and it's one of the most useful websites on the planet. I've been using it for years to automate tasks. For example, I have an automated task that checks my instagram account for new photos and automatically moves a copy of the photo to my flickr account. But that's just the tip of the iceberg of what ifttt can do.

Corey showed me how he had set up a search on craigslist for the items he was looking for, and every time a new item got listed in his area that matched his search, ifttt would send him an email.

Mind. Blown.

I wanted to purchase some gym equipment cheaply, so I immediately set up searches for a number of items I was looking for. A squat rack, bar bells, plates, rowing machine, etc… Then I waited.

Within the first month I had received a handful of emails. I'd click the link in the email to check out the listing and if it looked like a good deal I'd reach out to the seller. It took about 6 weeks before I found somebody selling a number of items as a package deal at a price I was willing to pay. The bundle he was selling included two items I didn't want, so I took a couple photos of them and posted my own ad to craigslist and sold the items the very next day bringing my cost on the bundle I DID want down to an even more reasonable price. Sweet!

11 months later

I have meant to write about this process for quite a while, but keep forgetting. Mostly because I had deactivated all but one of my craigslist recipes (that's the IFTTT term for it) and I wasn't getting notices very often, and none of the ones I did receive panned out to anything. That is, until this past weekend.


I had a search set up for a rowing machine, but I didn't want to spent more than $600 on it. So when I saw the email come in that said “Concept 2 Rower, like new $250”, I immediately sent a text and an email to the seller. I was sure it was too good to be true or that it would be sold by the time I reached him. But luck was on my side and within 90 minutes of receiving the email, I was picking up my new rower.

Here's how it works

OK, you've put up with me prattling on long enough. Let me walk you through how this works.

Step 1) Define your search

Go to craigslist and do a search for the item you're looking for. You'll end up looking at a screen similar to this:


Step 2) Tighten up your search results

Notice in the screenshot above the items down the left hand side? You will want to uncheck “wanted” since you are trying to buy and don't care about listings from other people who are looking to buy the same thing as you. You will also want to click the “show 37 more” link to reveal 37 other categories that you may want to uncheck. Like these:


The tighter you make your search results, the less false positive emails you'll receive. You can also set a minimum or maximum price for your item if you want to narrow your search further. But once you're done, click the search button on the left sidebar to complete the updated search.

Step 3) Copy the resulting URL

After your set up your search and hit save, the URL is going to contain all the info needed to give you the search results you're looking for. Copy it from the address bar and we'll use it in a minute.


Step 4) Create an IFTTT Recipe

If you don't already have an account, you'll need to create one. This step has a number of sub-steps to it, so let's get started.

a) Click “My Recipes” at the top

b) Click “Create a Recipe”

c) The screen is going to say “if this then that” and ‘this' is going to be a link. Click it.

From here you are going to be able to choose a trigger. In the search box, type craiglist

d) Click the craigslist icon

You're going to see the following:


e) Click “New post from search”

f) Paste the URL in to the “Search results URL” box and click Create Trigger, like this:


g) The screen will now look like this:


Click “That”

h) Now you get to choose an action. Type “email” in to the search box and click the email icon

i) Click the “Send me an email” link on the resulting screen

j) You're going to see a screen that looks like this:


There's no need to change the subject line or body content unless you want to. Click “Create Action”

k) The final screen is going to be a summary of what you've created. Like this:


Click “Create Recipe” and you are all set!

Things to remember

1) Meeting up with a pocket full of cash at a stranger's place can be a little weird. Be careful out there.

2) This is NOT like shopping on Amazon. If you're trying to get an item right away, this method probably isn't for you. But if your timeline is flexible, you may just find a diamond in the rough.

If you try this out method out and it works for you, please report back. I'd love to hear about the deals you were able to find!

Happy Shopping!