Starting Out


How to Cash in on Spring Cleaning

Stacy Rapacon

Look for these six potential income sources while you spruce up your living space.



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.)

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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).

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.

4) Jewelry

Pat down your jewelry box to fill up your pocketbook. As of late March, gold is topping $1,400 an ounce, up 28% over the past year; silver is nearing $40 an ounce, double what it was worth last year; and platinum is hovering around $1,750 an ounce, about 7% higher than a year ago. So now is a great time to trade in your brilliant baubles for some big bucks.

You may immediately think of commercials for Cash4Gold.com and similar gold-buying services (you late-night TV addict). But before you throw your jewelry down the mail slot, try shopping around at auction houses, estate buyers and jewelers to find and compare offers. Even better, find an appraiser via the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. For a per-item or hourly fee (typically $50 to $200 per hour), the appraiser will evaluate your jewelry.

5) Clothing and Accessories

Go shopping in your closet for items to sell at a secondhand store. Sadly, a BCBGMaxAzria dress hangs in my closet, for example, having never fulfilled its purpose of being my wedding-rehearsal dress -- thanks to my freakishly cold, snow-flurry-filled mid October wedding week in New Jersey. Caught up with the trifling matter of getting married, I never got to return the dress or find another reason to wear it. But the pretty frock may find purpose once again: Originally priced at $238 (forgive me my mild bridezilla-esque splurge), it could resell for about $85, says Derek Kennedy, co-owner of Mustard Seed, a secondhand store in Bethesda, Md.

Typically, clothing will resell for just a quarter or a third of the original retail price, Kennedy says. But handbags may do better -- up to half the original price tag. At his store, you get half of the determined resale price for your item upfront. So I would immediately pocket $42.50 from my un-rehearsal-dinner dress. Other stores may offer part of your payment in cash and part as store credit. If you sell to a consignment shop, you’ll have to wait until your item sells before collecting any money.

Call your choice secondhand store or check its Web site before you head in. You may need to make an appointment to peddle your wares. And your goods ought to be in season, in style and fit in with the rest of the shop’s offerings. You probably don’t need to have your duds freshly dry cleaned, but they’ll need to be clean, stain-free and neatly folded.

Just like your electronic goods, if you can’t profit from your apparel, consider donating it and claiming the tax benefit.

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% 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% to 15% 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.

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