We Americans have a lot of stuff.
One survey determined the average U.S. home has 300,000 items. Another revealed one out of 10 Americans has off-site storage, even though the average home size has tripled in the past 50 years. Earning money by clearing out some of that stuff makes a lot of financial sense.
I’ve been using these various methods for the last five years. But I recently came to a realization: As a freelancer, it might make more financial sense for me to donate the items to charity instead of sell them.
Making Money Can Also Cost You
Rummage or garage sales are often touted as easy ways to make money, and I’ve held several over the years.
But I’ll be honest — once I figured out how much time I spent getting the items ready, setting up and then sitting there, not to mention cleaning up, I realized I could have spent those hours writing for clients. I’m sure I would have earned more than the $200 the rummage sale brought in. Or, even better, I could have relaxed and spent time with my family.
Another example is the consignment store where I take my items. It’s located 20 minutes away, and I can check online to see how much money I’ve made. My current account balance is $2.50; I guess all the clothes I took in at the start of summer aren’t selling. Driving to the other side of town and back right now isn’t worth the $2.50.
Then there’s my recent eBay selling experience. My son is a Boy Scout, and I had some odds and ends — think badges and neck ties — I thought I could sell for a little cash. I was wrong.
Ebay suggested I list the first item at 99 cents, which I did, and someone bought it. But by the time I included the cost of packaging, plus eBay’s seller fee, I realized I lost money on the deal.
However, this probably has to do with the items I was selling; I’ve sold jewelry on eBay in the past and made a good profit.
Finally, let’s face it: Selling items yourself can be a hassle.
With eBay, you have to mail items off to their destinations, and with Craigslist or Facebook groups, you have to arrange a pick-up time and place. Sometimes, the meeting point is close to your house. Other times, it’s not.
And then there are the inevitable no-shows, which put you right back at the beginning. Sometimes, tracking someone down to meet and exchange an item for $5 or $10 just isn’t worth it.
Why I Choose to Donate Instead
Even though my family is solidly middle class, and we have two children and make mortgage payments (the last two are great tax deductions), we pay thousands of dollars in taxes each year because of my freelance writing business.
That got me thinking: What if I increased my family’s charitable income? That would help us come tax time, right? We already donate to our church and a few charities, so this would add to the total.
By donating the items instead of selling them, we can claim them as a charitable deduction on our taxes.
Let’s look at the clothes I took to the consignment store as an example. If I deem their value to be $30, that’s $30 my husband and I could include in our charitable deduction column at the end of the year. As the deductions add up, our overall income decreases — which hopefully leads to lower tax payments.
Another Reason Why Donating Wins Out
Donating items to charity also has another benefit beyond lowering my tax payments and saving me time: It makes me feel good.
Our community has a great non-profit that gives clothes to needy families, free of charge. It’s nice to know someone benefits directly from our donation.
We donate non-clothing items to non-profits that sell them to support job training opportunities for the disabled or a local women’s shelter. The organizations even come to our home and pick up the donations — another timesaver. It’s a win-win: We get rid of our stuff, and we help someone else.
Your Turn: What do you think? Is donating items to charity and claiming the tax deduction better than trying to sell the items yourself?
MaryBeth Matzek is a freelance writer and busy mom of two tweens. Follow her on Twitter at @1bizzywriter.