Lesson Earned

I don’t like Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly a Scrooge. I LOVE the holiday! But there’s always something that bothers me about receiving gifts. (By this logic, I also dislike my birthday, something everyone around me can attest is entirely false.)

Here’s the deal: receiving gifts–or payments, or praises for that matter–bothers me when I don’t feel like I’ve earned them. In fact, it makes me feel pretty terrible. Humbled, but terrible.

Backstory

December, I bought three copies of Batman: Arkham City Collector’s Edition from Best Buy for $35 each. With tax, the total came out to around $112. The intent, of course, was to sell them and make a very quick profit, since these were retailing for $75 in places like the Amazon Marketplace and eBay, and for $99 (plus tax) at most other stores. (I would have bought more, but there was a three-per-order limit, and by my second pass–six minutes after the sale started–they were sold out.) If I made enough, however, I’d keep one for myself.

Batman Arkham City Collector's Edition

This all could be yours if the price is… sufficient?

My original thought was to do a quick turn-around: post them for sale so that when they arrived they would already be sold: immediate profit. Being that this was my first time doing this, I decided against that. After all, I didn’t know exactly what condition things would be in when I got them. In theory they would be new. In theory. So I waited. In practice.

Arrival of the Fittest

Once they arrived I kicked myself: they were perfect! I could have sold them right there and then! I looked online to see how these should be priced and… OK, it looks as if a glut hit the market because the cheapest price was now $57.

Still, I wanted to learn about the business of reselling, so with a friend’s help, I went to sell them on Amazon. Because this was the first time I did this, I followed his advice regarding pricing: “To move it fast, place it $1 below the lowest price.”

I didn’t like this. Not one bit. I wouldn’t earn my copy: I’d either have to sell higher, “pay” a little for my copy (under $10, so still not bad), or I’d just have to sell all three of them. This had me pretty bummed out. At least I’d earn a profit, right? Sure, I’d have to pay Amazon their due (around $10), but then they would give me $4 for shipping, so in the end I’d get back… $50. Which meant a $12.50 profit once things were said and done. (With tax each unit was around $37.50.) Of course, then I’d have to pay for shipping, which according to the USPS website would be around $6. Can you see the problem here? Spend $37.50, earn $44. This would be great if I had a hundred of these instead of just three.

I did it anyway. Four hours later the game had sold…to some lady in North Dakota. Merry Christmas, lady.

Surprise, or Overprise?

The next day I went to the post office to deliver the package. Remember that estimate of $6? Yeah, that was off by about $5. It was $10.75 for shipping. So… $38.25 total for the unit.

A $1.50 profit.

Yay, learning.

Yay.

Sigh.

Another Approach

I didn’t want to just let these things go for the same price as I got them–that would be of no use to me, since I still wanted to, at the very least, make a profit. So instead of putting the next one back on Amazon, I decided to wait and look for other opportunities, hoping that the market influx would dry up some and the price would rise a bit. (It has, but not by much. Lowest price is still in the low $60′s. My guess is that it’ll stay that way.) Rolling the dice, I decided to put the piece up on Craig’s List for $70. This would net me a $32.50 profit, just about enough to cover the cost of the other unit at a very minor loss to me.

A few days before Christmas it sold, though the guy talked me down to $65.

The Lesson

This wasn’t enough, though, not to me. $27.50+$1.50 = $29. The unit was $37.50, so I’d still be $8.50 short. I wanted to EARN the thing, not pay for it. My wife said to keep it as a Christmas gift to myself, a cheap one. But I couldn’t. I mean, I thought about it, tried to justify it, but I couldn’t bring myself to keeping it. It would feel wrong, like I was violating some sort of cosmic rule.

This was when I learned my lesson. For years, I couldn’t figure out WHY I felt so guilty getting gifts, and why I always preferred buying things for myself. It’s not that I’m a control freak (though sometimes I can be that), it’s that receiving gifts like this feels like charity. While I’m not above receiving charity, I’m certainly not interested in encouraging it.

In this case this would be not just charity to myself, it would also be the worst form of materialism. I vowed to earn a profit. I hadn’t. To keep this would be to spend money I didn’t have, money that could go to pay a bill or give to someone who needs it more than me.

On the bright side, it would mean less crap in my house, right?

Aw Crap! It’s a Miracle!

Then, a Christmas miracle. Someone sent me a copy of another game, Battlefield 3. I’m not really into this type of game, so I told them they should keep it, that if I kept it, I’d likely sell it. “Consider it then a Christmas cash present.” And that’s what I did.The game sold for $50, netting me $40 in total profit.

Battlefield 3

There’s a reason we’re the good guys.

I’d just earned my game. And my lesson.

Retrospect

When we’re kids, being good IS the work. Going to school IS the work. And that’s how we earned our payments, our praises, and our Christmas gifts. (“He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”) As an adult there’s really no such restriction, at least I don’t feel any. In this case, receiving gifts, particularly at a time like this, becomes empty, mechanical, expected, and ultimately damaging to the self esteem. For the past few years–2011 included–I’d gotten around the empty feeling by shopping for deals for people, helping them save money, or by giving money and gifts to charities. I guess I felt that by doing that I could earn whatever I received, at least part of it. (I’m still terribly humbled at a life I can only call blessed.)

To be frank, when it comes to Christmas, I really would prefer just to give to people: I get a far greater joy when I do that.  But other people like to give–and I actually do like receiving, under the right circumstances–so I don’t want to take that away from them. However, now that I understand myself a bit better…maybe I’ll be a better recipient. At the very least, I know this lesson has made me into a better person.