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The Best Way to Spring Clean

How to Cash in on Spring Cleaning


We're thrilled to present this smart Kiplinger story here on Savvy!

After about a year and a half of marriage, my husband and I have finally unpacked the boxes of his stuff and our wedding gifts that had piled up in every corner of our apartment. In doing so, we organized the whole place — finding a home within our home for all our "new" things while purging the old.

Through the whole process, we've unearthed a veritable trove of potential income sources littering our former wasteland. If you invest some time in spring cleaning, be sure to take stock of these six possible treasures disguised as trash:

1) Receipts

My level-one hoarding issues have finally paid off… big time. (Kiplinger’s does not encourage or condone hoarding in any way.) Shuffled amid our apartment’s piles and piles of papers, we located receipts we were able to use for Flexible Spending Account claims amounting to nearly $2,000.

You just missed most employers’ March 15 deadline by which you needed to spend 2010 FSA funds. But you may still have time to file your claims: My company, for example, gives participating employees until June 15, as long as the receipts show services were rendered or purchases were made before March 15. If you don’t drain the account in time, you’ll have to kiss that cash goodbye. (See ASK KIM: Make the Most of the New Flex-Account Rules for more about how FSAs work.)

Also keep an eye out for receipts you can use to claim tax deductions, such as for charitable donations or job-hunting expenses, if you itemize. For more write-offs you may have forgotten, check out our slide show: The Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions.

2) Gift Cards

Be sure to sift through your clutter for unused gift cards. Even if you don’t care to use them yourself, you can still gain value from them before they expire. Exchange sites such as Gift Card Granny or Plastic Jungle will buy gift cards for a portion of their value (see KIP TIP: Get Cash Fast for more information).

Read on to find out how to deal with your electronics.

3) Electronics

With upgrades coming out faster than you can say, “I love this new thing I just bought!” (stupid, sexy iPad 2), your latest gadget might go into the passé pile sooner than you think. Rather than junking all your electronic goods, you can try:

. . . selling them. Gazelle.com will buy computers and accessories, game systems, MP3 players, digital cameras, satellite radios and GPS devices. Type in the kind of electronic device you’d like to sell and answer a few questions about it. Gazelle will then make you an offer. If the item is valued at more than $1, you can ship it to the company for free and, if all checks out, you’ll get paid within ten business days.

. . . exchanging them. Some companies may also let you trade old items for credit. For example, the Apple Recycling Program will take any old computers off your hands -- Macs or PCs -- (the company will provide shipping materials and postage, and you can just mail it in) and give you an Apple gift card for their determined value. If the company says your old computer isn’t worth anything, it will recycle it for you anyway. Hewlett-Packard offers a similar trade-in program, but you have to buy a new HP or Compaq product first. You then send in your old product and get a reimbursement for your new purchase. Bring your old iPod into an Apple store and get 10% off a new one.

. . . donating them and reaping the tax deduction, if you itemize (see TAX TIP: Only Itemizers Can Deduct Charitable Contributions). The National Cristina Foundation will take your used computers, software and accessories and find them a new home, helping provide computer training to the less fortunate. Old cell phones can be donated through ReCellular.com.

. . . recycling them. Best Buy, for example, will take your used television (up to 32 inches), but you’ll have to pay $10 and get a $10 gift card back to do so. Or try freecycle.org to find a new local home for your old stuff.

For more information on donating and recycling electronic goods, including how to safely and completely wipe all your personal information from them, visit the EPA’s eCycling home page. See How to Dispose of TechnoTrash for more information.

6) Books, Music, Movies and Other Miscellaneous Items

Many overlaps in my husband’s and my music and movie collections helped reaffirm our compatibility and may help pad our piggy bank.

First, we’ll try selling them online. With 94 million active members, auction giant eBay will likely draw the greatest number of deal seekers to your virtual table. To sell auction-style, you have to pay listing fees of 25 cents to $2, depending on your starting price. And if an item sells, you also pay 9 percent of the final price, up to $50. To fix your sale price, you pay a listing fee of 50 cents. If you sell something for between 99 cents and $50, you pay eBay 8 percent to 15 percent of the sale price, depending on the type of product. Also see Sell with Success Online.

Or you might enlist an eBay trading assistant, such as iSold It (or Catherine Keener’s character in “The 40-Year Old Virgin” . . . of which I have two DVD copies, if you’re interested in buying) to help push your goods. It’s free to list your item, but if iSold It stays true to its name, you’ll pay 33% to 40% of your sale price, plus eBay and payment-processing fees. Other sites to try: Amazon Marketplace, Overstock and Craigslist. Especially if you’re trying to sell furniture, use Craigslist or your social network to find local buyers who can swing by to pick stuff up themselves. Just be safe about it: See Craigslist safety tips.

You can also try (gasp) stepping offline and meeting potential customers in-person with a garage or yard sale. See the five tips in KIP TIP: The Right Way to Have a Yard Sale. And check with your local community center -- many organize neighborhood-wide garage sales. For example, my sister’s town will be holding its annual garage sale soon. For a $25 donation to the local volunteer first-aid squad, she can set up her sale without the usually required permit and soak up all the foot traffic from everyone else’s concurrent sales without having to worry about advertising on her own.

Have any other ideas to cash in on spring cleaning? Please share them in the comment box below. And let me know if you’re desperately looking for an “About a Boy” DVD; I currently have three in my apartment. I’ll throw in the novel for free.

To find out how to cash in your jewelry and clothes that are lying unused around the house, read the rest of the article at Kiplinger.

Check out these smart tips from Kiplinger:

QUIZ: How Much Is Your Junk Worth?

Paper Records: What to Toss, What to Keep

11 Spring Maintenance Tips for Your Home

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