How to use Craigslist and Google Reader for power searches (and getting free stuff)

Have you found discovering good deals on Craigslist more trouble than is worth the effort? If you know exactly what you’re looking for, the search works great. But returning day after day is a pain. What if you’re looking for good deals on stuff, but aren’t sure what you’ll buy?  Let me show you how I scan hundreds of ads and laser in on what interests me using one tool and a couple of keywords. Plus, I’ll show you how to find piles of free stuff (could be junk).

I use Craigslist 3 different ways, every day. I look for free things, scan everything being sold in my town, and I’m usually looking for a couple of specific things. I do all of this without going to the Craigslist site; the information just comes to me.

Keywords and free stuff

curb alert - click to enlarge

Savvy users of Craigslist with things they want out of the garage or basement put their crap (in the eyes of some) curb side with the sign “free stuff”. I’m sure you’ve seen these piles. Here’s where Craigslist comes in: you then post an ad with the keywords “curb alert” in the title. Give a basic list of things people can find, your address, and the time you left the things curb side. Believe me, no matter the backwoods road you may live on, people will come and pick through your pile.

Do you want to find these piles of free things? Go to your local Craigslist and search for “curb alert”. The ads will come flooding at you.

Want to keep an eye on what’s being sold in your city or town? Search for your town name — mine’s “Sunderland.”

Are you looking for something specific on Craigslist? Search for “dumbbells” (one of my recent searches).

I probably haven’t told you anything you didn’t know already, so let’s start cooking with gas and push all this information to you automatically.

Using RSS feeds to track searches on Craigslist

Google Reader - click to enlarge

Enlarge the above photo to the left and you’ll see that I circled the orange “RSS” link. You’ve probably seen these before on sites all over the Web; if you didn’t know, that stands for Really Simple Syndication (Wikipedia). This is the tool we’re going to use to get the custom Craigslist searches delivered to you. After doing your custom search, at the bottom of every page, you’ll find that RSS link. The data inside that link will update in real-time; whenever a new ad is posted that falls into your custom search, your RSS link will also update. Simple!

But before copying that RSS link, you need a tool that can process it and output the data into a format your eyes can read. I use the free Google Reader software, but there are many other tools. You can Google “rss reader mac” or “rss reader windows” or “rss reader web” (for Web based software like Google Reader). Find your RSS reader, set it up, copy your Craigslist RSS link, then “add subscription”.

The image to the right is of my “curb alert” RSS feed inside Google Reader. Notice the second ad? They forgot to include their address so people could pick up the free stuff. That’s a common mistake.

Are you overwhelmed? I hope not, because in the long run you’ll save a lot of time and money.

If you have any other Craigslist/RSS tips, please leave them in the comments below.

Photo (CC) by Kevin Dean and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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