I love the hunt for a great deal. There’s something uniquely satisfying about getting the things you need (and maybe a few things you don’t) for less than market value. During most of my 20s, for example, I did a daily scour of Craigslist before bedtime for vintage furniture to decorate my 350-square-foot apartment. Over the years, I walked away with plenty of scores — a velvet rocking chair from the Art Nouveau era, a set of gold-framed paintings from the 1920s, you name it. Nine times out of 10, I’d be able to sell these items for more than I paid for them when I was ready for something new.
And then I became a new mom, and all that went out the window. Craigslist wasn’t going anywhere, but amidst the onslaught of daily life, I no longer had the time to use it. So, despite the fact that baby-related expenses were piling up higher than my laundry, my husband and I found ourselves paying the “baby tax” on new items. You know—that giant fee retailers put on clothes, furniture and other supplies when the intended user is tiny and cute.
A full year of baby tax is a hit to the wallet and I found myself looking for ways to get back on the Craigslist train without having to sacrifice too much of my limited free time. Specifically, I’d been on the prowl for one of those Thule Chariot strollers, in hopes that the turn of the New Year might inspire me to rekindle my relationship with exercise. But, they move quickly on Craigslist, and my schedule as a working mom wouldn’t allow me to keep on top of it on my own.
A colleague of mine brought Visualping to my attention, which is free to use, and may be my best weapon yet in my battle against the baby tax. Though, it could really be used for any Craigslist search, whether you need a printer for the office, used auto parts, a piece of camping equipment or are looking for work or housing. Whatever the need, Visualping can monitor updates to Craigslist searches by tracking visual changes to the web page. It will alert you through your email when a change is detected, so that you can go about your day without worrying about missing a post.
Let me walk you through my search for the Thule Chariot.
Start by pulling up the Craigslist website in your region, and navigate to the section you want to track. For me, this was the For Sale section on Craigslist: Vancouver. I considered going further into the “baby + kid” subcategory, but since I was looking for a specific brand name item in a search that turns up relatively few posts in my area, I thought I may get more hits by searching the For Sale section more generally. Type your keywords into the search bar and hit enter.
Next, open a new tab and head to visualping.io. If you’ve never done Visualping site monitoring before, you can set up your account just by creating your first monitoring task. Unlike many free online services, which seem to require all your personal information, Visualping just needs your email, as that’s where you’ll receive notifications.
Once you’ve landed on a list of posts in Craigslist, copy the URL from your web browser, paste it into the search bar on the Visualping website and click “GO”. Note that the URL will contain all the search parameters (item description, category, price range, etc.) so make sure to copy the entire URL. A screenshot of your Craigslist search, exactly as it appears to Visualping’s servers, will pop up in the box underneath the bar where you just pasted the URL. Crop the image so that it covers the full section you’d like to track. For me, this involved catching the Craigslist search bar in the image, and several of the posts directly underneath. Enter your email address directly below and select how often you’d like the system to check for updates. Thule Chariots often move within a day or two when they’re priced to sell, so I selected “every day”.
For a basic search, click “Start free monitoring”. This will prompt you to verify your email address. Make sure to check your spam folder if it doesn’t come through within a minute or two to your inbox. Open the email and click “Activate”. This will send you back to the Visualping website and prompt you to select a password. Once you’ve completed this step, you’re finished setting up an account and your search is ready to go! Just sit back and check for updates at your leisure using your email.
[Screenshot of an email alert – we will redo it so the first search appears as there are no items]
You can do up to 65 free searches per month with a limit of two separate pages per day (each time the servers open the page to see whether there is an update, this is considered a “check”).
That’s a frequency of roughly two checks per day, which is within my Craigslist hunting needs at the moment. However, more active Craigslist users may want to consider upgrading to the basic plan at $4 dollars a month, which would allow you to search up to 10 pages a day.
Visualping also works for sites like Kijiji, Ebay Classifieds or the online classifieds section of your local newspaper. Anyone using Craigslist to hunt for rental housing in locations with a low vacancy rate like Vancouver or San Francisco, for example, should consider boosting the frequency of checks to ensure that you’re the first in line for communicating with landlords and building managers.
Lo and behold, I received an email notification from Visualping as I was writing this post. The most recent offer is a bit pricey, so I’m going to keep my monitoring active for another few weeks to see if another offer is posted or the price is reduced on this one. In the meantime, I may just get back into the antique furniture scene. Only, this time I’ll be waiting for the deals to come to me.