Archive for October, 2008

Donations: Ethics of Cleaning Out the Closet

I regularly donate old clothes and items to the Salvation army/Goodwill stores.   I just drop off bags/boxes of clothes & they give me a little receipt to fill out.  Last year when I did this, I happened to be cleaning out my old room in my parent’s house, which is in a more affluent neighborhood.  I asked the guy – what should I fill in for an estimate?  He said, ‘beats me – the last lady who came here, drove up in her Mercedes & dropped off two pairs of jeans and a dress and estimated the value at 10,000 dollars.”  Wow, I mean wow.  That takes cahones.  This was certainly illegal, but really she would never get caught – so what bothered me most was how she could walk away with a good conscience.  The IRS code lists guidelines for donations as “thrift store value” – I doubt anyone is going shopping for a 10K cocktail dress at salvation army, even if it is worth that much.

So I was pretty offended by this, and made sort of a rash determination about my haul – which was 3-4 garbage backs full of  shirts, pants & dress shirts, and 10 gently used suits that didn’t fit me.  I also threw in some electronics, a DVD player & a VCR.  I estimated the total value as $100 dollars.  When tax time came around I looked at this again and thought – I completely underestimated the value of at least the suits and dress shirts.  But it got me thinking, I’ve never bought a suit from Salvation Army or Good Will.  Each of these suits new were 150-350 dollars.  So how off was I?

This year again, it’s donation time, I’m clearing out the closet and I am faced with the Ethics of Donating used clothing.  I want to do the right thing, but I also could sure use an honest amount for my itemized donation this year (can’t we all?).  I think I’m going to go with $3-5 dollars a dress shirt or pants & $15 dollars a suit. 

Thoughts?

Possible Penny-Pinching: Coinstar – Thoughts & opinions?

The typical family has about 100 dollars worth of change around the house, I read that in some magazine I read over the past week, which makes the source Kiplingers, Business Week, or Forbes (the best I can do for a reference, sorry).  I am the typical family then, I have a bag of loose change at home, as well as a desk full of pennies at work – the pennies are there because I empty my change into my desk, then in times of stress or hunger I dig through for the silver ones and go to the vending machine – the pennies are are left over.

I have in the past used Coinstar machines to convert my change into cash & into Amazon.comgift certificates.  Conversion into cash costs a relatively steep 8.9% – but then i just take the certificate & pay for my groceries with it – I never get the cash.  Similarly, the amazon conversion costs nothing, but then I am stuck with this gift card code (not even a card, just a code) that i have to use before I lose it (physically, because in my state these codes don’t expire).  I like neither of these solutions, but between the two I prefer the cash (if you can’t tell by the blog so far. )

A third option is out there, prepaid visa cards – normally cost 10 dollars for the card + 5 dollars to refill.  The cards are manufactured by green dot.  However, while perusing my newspaper this week, I saw that green dot mastercards & visa cards are available for free after rebate from walgreens – so the 5 dollar refill charge leads to a 5% or less fee for counting my change.  That is not bad, and I can figure out places to use a visa card.

I’ve seen other places in the blogosphere with strong opinions on not using coinstar due to the 8.9% fee and suggest that I become a member at a bank that will count my change for me (not a big plus for the inconvenience of changing banks); go to a casino & change up (don’t live near a casino – not legal in California; or roll it myself (which I estimate will take 30-45 minutes + 2 trips to the bank, one to get rolls, one to change them in- way inconvenient)

Update: Going well on Cashforlaptops.com

So, I recieved my laptop carriers over the weekend and it looks like I should be able to send them back to cashforlaptops by tomorrow.  The clock will be ticking to see how long a check takes.  I read the BBB reports, and I have had no problems communicating with them.  I had a question about a lack of an OEM restore disk affecting price – very responsive.  Will post a full review with turn around times on receipt of fundage.

Gift Cards Part Deux: We’re going with Giftcardbuyback.com

All right, so after being stood up by giftcardswap, I’ve done a bit of research and going to give Gift Card Buyback a try.  The percentage is not nearly as good, but again this is a sale not an auction that I have to wait around for a buyer.  My test case: I had have a merchandise credit for a book on tape i recieved (I’m an avid library user so this book was bound to go unused).  The merchandise credit is for $37.92 from Borders, and Gift Card Buyback is currently offering to pay 70% for this card which is $26.54.  At first blush this seems like some steep interest I am giving up, when I can possibly get 80-85% for the card value at auction or swap somewhere else or 100% if I just waited and bought another replacement book with it. 

However, two things.  First, the book that I returned to get the credit was worth $0 to me – I was not going to read it and it in all liklihood would have sat on my shelf for several years before I ultimately donated it to charity.  Secondly,  I consider the certainty & ease of use of just selling the card to be worth $5.00 (the difference between a guaranteed 70%  & a possible maximum return of 85% of 37.92), it is worth 5.00 not to set up an auction or wait for a matching trade and possibly have to relist the card multiple times before an actual sale.

Update: Second Sale to cashforlaptops.com

So far, the response from cashforlaptops has been quick and pleasant – they have UPS’d me laptop bags and say they’ll guarantee my laptop sale prices even without an OS or restore disc, we’ll see what they do with the laptops once they receive them.  I went ahead and sold them my second laptop after wiping both hard drives.  I sincerely recommend that anyone selling they electronics over the interent do a full wipe of the hard drive, not just a system restore.  I used Darik’s Boot and Nuke – which is used by the canadian government.  It is free – you can see why I’d like it.  Why buy the paid programs when the the open-source community who invented these products is giving it away for free?

Dividend Investing: Resources to follow

In terms of investing, I’ve been researching dividend investing for some time – although I am not actively investing right now aside from my deferred compensation through work (which is taking a beating).  The appeal of divident/income investing to a cheap skate like myself and all the Penny pinchers of the world should be obvious.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and getting paid now in the form of dividends allows you to make the choice to either reinvest in the same stock, to make new purchases, or to pay for your bills.  I’ll be including some resources on the long decried now Dogs of the DOW theory, along with the income stocks I’m looking at. 

I personally am looking at investing now, because with companies or mutual funds prices pushed so low due to the current economic crisis, the yields are extremely high – far above either treasury notes or certificates of deposts.  Further, closed-end-mutual funds are trading at all time high discounts to NAV, so if I can lock in income streams now, I can obtain income streams of 7-10%, which is what I would expect from a growth stock in good times.

I am not a professional investor, just an interested personal investor – with just pennies to invest, so I’ll also be posting about different investment sites.  I am in the process of opening a zecco account and will be trying out sharebuilder, as penny pinching ways of investing.

Update: Stood Up By GiftCardSwap.com

On monday I attempted to get an estimate from www.giftcardswap.com, but as of today, I’ve been stood up – no response.  I suppose this was too good to be true in this day and age with lending problems to small business combined with lessening consumer spending – the model upon which this website is flawed and would probably go under.