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Author: Suzanne KuhnDigital Apps Donating Family General Special Needs Tax Prep

FIVE USEFUL WEB SITES

In my work organizing finances and paper for aging adults and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, certain problems tend to recur.  Among them are:

  • Difficulties divesting a lifetime of possessions.
  • Sudden, urgent needs for care, either long- or short-term.
  • Frustration dealing with technological interfaces that often seem like barriers.

Here are five different web sites I have found useful in addressing these issues:

Better World Books (http://www.betterworldbooks.com/)

Several years ago, I helped close out an estate that included nearly one thousand books.  They were heavily concentrated in engineering subjects, and varied in age from 15 to 100 years old.  The owner was emphatic that they not simply be recycled or buried in a landfill, and that they should benefit people in need if at all possible.  Better World Books provided the way to grant these wishes. This organization is a huge on-line used book store.  They accept any size donations of books, and try first to sell them through the web site.  Proceeds are used to fund literacy programs around the world, but, even more important to my client, books not sold through the web site are actually shipped to third-world countries that can use them.  Only when these two alternatives are exhausted are the books recycled—and never sent to a landfill. Better World’s staff was extremely helpful, and taught me how to inventory and package the books. Better still, they sent a tractor trailer to the site to pick the books up and transport them to the Better World facility, all at no charge to my client or me.

Care Calendar (http://carecalendar.org/)

In the site owners’ own words, “Care Calendar is a web based system to organize meals and other help for families during a time of illness or life changing event, such as the birth of a baby or death of a family member. “ It allows a family, group of friends, or organization to coordinate care for an individual in need by posting and responding to assignments such as meals, visits, rides and errands.  Currently, I am using Care Calendar to coordinate care for a frail elderly woman living in her working daughter’s home.  I posted the mother’s needs on the web site, and friends and family members have responded to fill every assignment.  Care Calendar greatly reduces the need for phone calls and follow-ups, as the site forwards me and the care recipient a list of upcoming assignments and volunteers on a daily basis. The service is offered free of charge, and donations are invited.

Get Human (http://gethuman.com/)

Did you know you can talk to a live human being at Amazon or Ebay? Get Human enabled me to do just that.  The site provides free direct-dial contact numbers for over 8,000 businesses, along with other direct contact avenues such as call-backs, live chat and email.

It’s Deductible (http://turbotax.intuit.com/personal-taxes/itsdeductible/)

How do you know how much to deduct as a charitable contribution on your taxes when you give away a mountain of things?  It’s Deductible, a free online service from the makers of TurboTax software, combs the internet for actual selling prices of commonly-sold items.  The site allows the user to create lists of items donated, by charity, by date, and then provides the fair market value for the item.  Where prices aren’t available, guidelines on establishing the FMV are provided. At tax time, the lists can be printed out or imported into TurboTax.  I have been using this service for myself and for my clients for nearly ten years, and have yet to be challenged by the IRS.

Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare (http://www.medicare.gov/default.aspx, then select Resource Locator/Nursing Home Compare)

Three years ago, this free service quickly allowed me to find nearby nursing homes and compare them on a host of relevant features when my father suddenly became too ill for me to care for him in my home. I found a wealth of excellent advice that enabled me to make a rapid decision with confidence.  A similar comparison feature is available for Home Health Care in the same Resource Locator menu.

Did I mention that all of the above sites do what they do for free? If you or someone you care for is facing worsening illness, down-sizing or simple frustration contacting businesses, give one of these sites a try.  I’m confident they’ll help you as they’ve helped me and my clients.

Author: Vali HeistClutter Donating General Home Organizing

Making A Difference

I went to see The Lorax with my niece and we really enjoyed the movie, including dancing to the song at the end of the movie after everyone had left! The environmental theme revolved around saving the trees so I told my niece that I would take her to IHOP for pancakes since they are offering free tree seeds as a promo for The Lorax. I’m hoping that Universal Studios keeps with the green theme of the movie and doesn’t decide to flood the market with Lorax theme-based stuff: toys, plush animals, games, etc. However, there’s probably not much chance of that happening.

The main theme of the story however revolved around the word ‘UNLESS’. The Lorax said, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” At my previous employer, there were a lot of built-in opportunities to “care a whole awful lot” such as volunteering, raising funds for various charities, and hold clothing and food drives. It felt like we were making a difference in the lives of people on an almost daily basis. Now that I have my own business, I look for ways to volunteer in my own community.

My former college roommate and I spent one Saturday morning with our fellow alumni from Shippensburg University volunteering at the Reading Berks Food Bank. We packaged boxes for elderly clients of the food bank. A few months ago I spent a morning working with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity by laying a floor in one of the offices at the Blind Association in Reading. I had never laid a floor before so that was really fun!

If you are cleaning out the kitchen and pantry, donate your unexpired dry goods and canned food to the food banks in your area. If you are cleaning out the bathroom and linen closet of toiletries, make-up, linens, and personal products, donate your excess personal items to emergency shelters, women’s shelters, elderly organizations or any other agency that could use your unneeded items. Go to the website for the agencies in your area and find their wish lists for the most needed items.

Author: Naomi CookCloset Clothing Consignment Donating General Home Organizing Wardrobe Management

Use it or Lose it!

Ok, we’ve all heard that we should keep our bodies active in order to lose weight.  We’ve also heard that we should keep our brains stimulated so we can keep our minds sharp and therefore, remember where we left our keys!  But how does “use it or lose it” relate to clothes?  Well, I will tell you now!

Clothes are tied to sentiment, self expression and comfort, so it’s no wonder why closets can become overloaded.  Sentiment, for clothing we wore at meaningful events in our lives and also times when we were a couple sizes smaller!  Self expression, for clothing we buy to show off our different sides.  And comfort, for those days you just can’t deal with constricting buttons and zippers!  Often though, these items don’t fall into your everyday wardrobe.  Did you know that there is actually a statistic created for that?  You wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time.  So what can you do with that 80 percent that is rarely worn?  Here are some options:

1)     Consign …for formal gowns or cocktail dresses (yes, those bridesmaid dresses too!) that you don’t know if and when you will wear again.  Interview some consignment shops and let someone else appreciate and enjoy them for their special occasions!

2)     Host a clothing swap…for friends that have been eyeing items in your closet.  Beware of taking in more than you have put out and aim to use those items in your day to day 20 percent.

3)     Donate…if there are items that you know you will never wear again (maybe they’ve fallen on the floor and got pushed to the far corner!), or haven’t worn in a year.  Give them a gentle wash and bring them to your favorite charity collection site.

But maybe you’re not wearing some clothes because they are missing buttons, have ripped seams or you are just plain tired of them.  Here are some options for these dilemmas:

1)      Head to a tailor…for items with the quality to last and take them in to repair seams.  If you are missing a button, look to the stash of buttons that come with the shirts you buy – that’s what they are there for!  I store all mine in a small decorative box.

2)     Head to a low cost retailer…for items that you’re bored with.  Look for accessories like belts and broaches that can enliven and refresh what you own.  You can follow the color trends without having to buy clothes.  Plus accessories are much smaller and easier to store!

3)     Head to an art center…for shirts that have faded or just can’t be fixed.  They make great smocks for kids!

Now, with all that done, how is your closet looking?  Have you gotten to 70/30?  60/40?

Take it one day at a time and know you are not alone!  Strive to make your closet a place that you can enjoy going to, filled with items that make you happy, are flattering, and reflect your personality.  Then go out into the world, smile, and know that you look fabulous!

Author: Darla DeMorrowConsignment Donating

Is it Better To Consign or Donate? The Economics of Purging

Babies don’t stay babies for long. My babies have grown out of baby bug rattles and hundreds of adorable, cute outfits. ‘Tis the season for fall consignment sales, especially for childrens’ clothes. My clients are often tortured with the idea that by donating their goods, they are somehow losing money. Is selling on consignment, eBay, or Craigslist any better? I decided to run the math on my own involvement in a community consignment sale and see how it compares to donation values.

Let’s set aside the emotional distress tied up in pawing through teeny tiny clothes, hand-knitted sweaters and beautiful booties. Look, I’m a professional, and even I did a mini fashion show for my husband as I tagged items for sale. (Aaaaw, remember her in this cute little outfit? It hardly looks worn!)

Let’s examine facts. I had about 250 outfits, shoes, and baby gear that were consignable:  in good shape, no stains or tears, matched in complete outfits, and looking like-new or lightly-worn.  I signed on to be part of a local one-day only sale, but working with a consignment store is similar.

First came the scramble for child-sized hangers. Clothes on hangers tend to sell better. Every dollar I spent on prep would reduce my profit, so I scoured Freecycle and hit up friends and clients, but it was tough coming up with enough extra hangers.

Using straight pins to attach sale tags is a no-no. One DollarTree package of safety pins cost, yep, just one buck. Sale tags were provided by the event host, but some sales require consignors to print tags at home, adding paper and printer ink costs.

Then came the real cost. Little outfits had to be checked for condition, put on hangers, steamed in some cases, grouped and priced. I spent at least 10 hours, maybe 15 hours or more.  At minimum wage of $7.25 my “cost” for time spent would have been at least $73 bucks.

Last came the trip to the sale site for drop off. Loading items and delivering to the sale site took a little more than an hour, so rack up another roughly $10 in opportunity cost and aggravation.

Now comes the fun part. Each sale works a bit differently, so read up on what’s available in your area. This sale gave 60% of the proceeds back to the consignor.  I opted to volunteer at the sale and earn a higher percentage of the earnings, in my case 75%.  I donated two hours of volunteer time for greater profit and an additional shot at end-of-day markdowns.  I scored big, getting an all-wood three-piece play kitchen for just $10.

I priced nearly all my items at $2. Price items to sell, for sure. Remember, folks, pricing something unreasonably high at a consignment sale actually lowers your chance of earning any profit at all. Most people come to these sales for deals, so play along or don’t play.

Potential Results:

  • potential gross = $500
  • potential take = $375 (that’s 75%)
  • potential net (minus my costs) = $292

My results:

  • actual gross = $192
  • actually paid to me =$144
  • actual net (minus my costs) = $61

I’m not surprised that $61 is just about what I spent at that very same sale. My check came in about two weeks. Unsold items can be donated by the host, but I picked up mine to take to another sale or perhaps donate for the tax deduction.  That means I dragged home 150 outfits, which was no easy haul back out to the car, but they are still worth another roughly $75 back on my taxes when properly documented.

So was it worth it? People who itemize deductions, about one-third of us, can use charitable donations on Schedule A. If I had bagged and dropped off those same 250 items at my local Goodwill, I would have been able to assign a thrift value to them of the same $2, and taken the deduction on my taxes next April.  My donation would have reduced my taxable income by the value donated ($500), and reduced my tax bill by about $125. (Note: Please check with your tax advisor regarding your situation.) Hmmm, that is suspiciously close to my net, but without the time that I spent prepping, delivering and retrieving my unsold items, and volunteering at the event.

So should you or shouldn’t you?  If you enjoy consignment sales, if you absolutely need the cash more than the time, or if you have some current, quality items that you know people are willing to pay top dollar for, then go the consignment route. I appreciate it, because I’ll probably be buying your stuff.  Just remember, the longer you wait to send items to consignment, the less likely they will be trendy and desirable. If, however, time is more valuable to you, then donate your goods to a charity like Goodwill or any local charity that will provide a receipt for tax purposes, knowing that the financial outcome to your bottom line will likely be similar.