The Great Banks Merch Challenge

The Great Banks Merch Challenge

On Monday, we shared an introduction to Merch by Amazon and tips for beginners. Today’s post is our personal Merch by Amazon experience.

Our Merch by Amazon Timeline

At the end of February, I heard about Merch and signed up. It sounded like the perfect platform for us (especially Mr. T – our local graphic designer that needs a creative outlet). It’s all about designing and researching (sound like a pair of people you know?!) and you don’t have to do any selling or customer service! At the beginning of June, Mr. T and I sat down to do our periodic financial date night. We talked about how our financial priorities for the next year were to get our kids to Europe and pay off our mortgage. The combined total of those was $40,000. We brainstormed how we could earn more money to make sure those things happened. Shortly after this discussion, we were accepted to Merch and threw ourselves into it. We uploaded our first shirt design on June 22 and sold our first shirt on June 27. We made a total of $7.07 in June (which showed up in our August plan update because of Amazon’s payment timeline).

Merch by Amazon has tiers. When you first start, you only get 10 slots. After you sell 10 shirts, you get 25 total slots. When you sell another 25, you get 100 total slots. It’s hard to test anything or make much money in the 10 or 25 slot. Some argue it’s worth buying yourself out of them. We lucked out that the eclipse ended up being a huge t-shirt event and Mr. T’s sold pretty well. We now have 500 t-shirt slots and have earned another few hundred dollars (you’ll see the exact amounts in plan updates but they aren’t finalized until the check is sent because of cancellations, etc so our earnings for July showed up in the September update).

How We Research for Merch

As there are no start-up costs for Merch by Amazon, we decided we would splurge and pay for a research tool to help us in this journey. We use Merch Informer (affiliate link), which costs $19.99/month but helps so much. When we think of a niche idea, we can type it in Merch Informer and find out what the best selling shirts in that niche are, what keywords are being used, and if our idea has already been done. The tool costs us about 4 shirt sales a month (about $5 royalties per shirt), but has helped us sell much more than that. When we first started, Merch Informer’s free Merch competition search helped us out before we started paying (and now they have a free app too with more functionality for free!).

As for ideas, Mr. T and I are hilarious people (ha!). We think, we read, we look, we joke. Idea sessions end up with some pretty hilarious options on the cutting room floor. Mr. T will also draw something and then we’ll figure out what we can do with it. (ie: Flying Bacon 90s shirt in header. I think it’s funny!)

The Great Europe Trip of 2018

So we already had our “kill the mortgage” plan in place, but then my parents decided to move to Leeds for 1.5 years. They leave next month! Now we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go visit, so now we have a 5-person Europe trip that is a financial priority on top of killing our mortgage. It won’t be cheap trip as we’re taking the kids to 3 of the most expensive countries in Europe: England (to see London, Wales, and visit the parentals in Leeds), Norway (to visit the Banks family homeland for all of our first times), and Iceland (to see what the fuss is about and eat the volcanic bread I’ve been dying to try for YEARS).

The Merch Challenge

When the Merch opportunity dropped in our laps, we decided to make the most of it. Our goal is to pay for the entire Europe trip next year with nothing but Merch by Amazon earnings. Is it possible? Yes. Can we do it? I have literally no idea, but you know I love a fun challenge and something else to track! Then, we plan to use Merch earnings to kill the mortgage earlier than the end of 2018. Lofty goals? You bethcha!

The Current Merch Challenge Numbers

Current Trip Costs:

  • Flights: $2,035.48 – This amount includes :
    • Flight from Anchorage to NYC for a day before flying to England (we used Alaska miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from NYC to London (we used AA miles for this leg + $28 in fees)
    • Flight from England to Norway (paid Cash, SAS airlines – $355.63 for all 5 tickets)
    • Flight from Norway to Iceland (free layover for 4 days) to Alaska (paid cash – $2,123.85 for all 5 tickets)
    • – $500 – from our sign-up bonus on the Barclay Arrival+ card. Yay for a $500 discount!

Our flight costs would be higher than if we went with the cheapest route or hacked the whole thing. Instead, we sought to find a balance between breaking up the flights, finding good times, and saving money. We are flying to NYC so we can spend a day exploring the city before flying over the ocean (that breaks up the super long journey from Alaska to Europe). The flight from NYC also arrives at 10pm in the UK so we can all go straight to bed which is ideal for jetlag recovery in my opinion.

  • Lodging: $1,608.53 – All AirBNB so far – this amount includes:
    • 3 nights in London, England – $677.01
    • 1 night just outside Reykjavik, Iceland – $250.49
    • 3 nights on the Golden Circle in Iceland – $681.03

Like I said, expensive locations. And a family of 5 is a problem because most hotel rooms in Europe only hold 2. “Family rooms” can hold 3-4. So… we’re stuck with the AirBNB options. With the PFD coming up in October, we want to get most of our trip booked and paid for when we have that extra money.

TOTAL SPENT SO FAR: $3,644.01

Current Merch Earnings (earnings are 2 months behind as that’s when we get and report the money):

  • June: $7.07
  • July: $218.24
  • August: $810.78 (will be reported on our October plan update)
  • TOTAL: $1,036.09

Merch Challenge Totals: $-2,607.92

Those are our first three months selling shirts. Remember we could only list 10 in June and 25 for most of July. Now we have 500 shirts loaded and the holiday season is coming. We did, however, do pretty well with the eclipse, so we’ll see if we can maintain momentum. We also have to purchase about 20 more days of lodging for our trip and that will cost quite a bit more as well (I’m lookin’ at you, Norway).

Think it’s possible? You ready to see if we can travel large just on t-shirt sales?

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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4 Comments

  1. Chris @ Keep Thrifty

    I love the approach here Maggie – of creating an income stream to cover a dream. It’s something I saw a lot in Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek, but outside the book I haven’t seen it much in practice.

    It’s so cool what you guys are doing here – you seem to be off to a great start. Best of luck! With the progress you’re making, I’m thinking that trip is going to be more than paid for by the time you get there!

    • MaggieBanks

      I must have picked up that line of thinking from Tim Ferriss – but I really like it. I love looking at an amount earned and putting a use on it! And I love using extra money (ie: Merch) to pay for extra stuff (like trips!).

  2. This coincides perfectly with my realization that if I want another dog, we need some way to pay for it. We’re pretty frugal but the vet care, food, medications, and boarding if we ever travel all add up really fast with just one dog. Cashflowing two isn’t going to cut it! I just have to learn to be funny!

    • MaggieBanks

      Or just research what other people think are funny. People are weird. 🙂

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