Experts say there's money in hills of clothes, junk, and paperwork at home. We'll help you find it. By Melody Warnick, REDBOOK.
How many Saturdays have you looked at an overstuffed closet or a piled-high mail table and thought, I've got to get that under control? Here's an incentive: Your mess may be hiding anything from lucrative missed opportunities to actual cash. We got experts to tell us how much may be stashed in the average home--and how you can cash in.
STRAY LOOSE CHANGE: $90 for the average household
All those nickels left in couch cushions and pennies in car cup-holders add up. "Approximately $10 billion in coins is just sitting in U.S. households," says Martha Belden, spokeswoman for the coin-counting company Coinstar.
Clutter buster: Buy a piggy bank. Seriously. "Get an electronic one that automatically counts your change, or a giant bottle, whatever," says Regina Leeds, author of Eight-Minute Organizer and One Year to an Organized Life. "I suggest that my clients keep it near where they empty their pockets, usually in or by the closet." When the jar fills up, haul it to your teller. Banks such as TD Bank and U.S. Bank will count change for free for their own customers, as will some credit unions. And Coinstar waives its hefty 9.8 percent fee if you take your proceeds as a gift card or e-certificate to Amazon, Lowe's, or one of its other partners.
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MISPLACED TAX PAPERWORK: $400 per return
W-2's, 1099's--they're around here somewhere. And did we mention it's April 14? "Some clients tell me, very sheepishly, 'I don't open my envelopes when they come in,'" says Karen Altfest of Altfest Personal Wealth Management in New York. But if you have to scramble to get organized by the IRS deadline, you could leave hundreds in deductions on the table, according to H&R Block.
Clutter buster: First, you gotta open your mail. Then, try Altfest's simple system for keeping financials organized. Label four big manila envelopes with Bank and Brokerage Statements, Income, Expenses, and Charitable Donations. Shuffle documents into the right spots and, come tax time, you won't be chasing paperwork around the house.
RENTED STORAGE UNIT: $480 to $1,800 a year
You know you're going to use that practically new exercise equipment some day--you just don't have room for it right now. So, like one in 10 households, you cave and rent a storage unit. Next thing you know, you've paid $2,000 to keep a 10-year-old Soloflex.
Clutter buster: Give yourself permission to toss (or sell) stuff. "There's this feeling that, 'If I get rid of it, I'm being wasteful,'" Leeds says. "But trust that if you ever need this item, you can borrow it, get a deal on it, or 10 years down the line there'll be a better version of it."
MISSING RECEIPTS: $100 a year
Those jeans that give you grandma butt? Hanging in your closet, because you can't find the receipt to return them. Americans return almost 9 percent of the merchandise we buy in stores, according to the National Retail Federation--and you may be able to get a piece of that cash even without a receipt. Many retailers will let you make a return without one, though if they can't find a record of the sale, you may only get credited the item's lowest-ever price.
Clutter buster: When they ask, "Do you want the receipt in the bag?" say no, and keep it safely in your wallet until you know the purchase works. Another option: Cut out paper altogether with Lemon Wallet, an app that lets you snap a pic of receipts, then store them digitally. You'll flash your phone at the store clerk as you hand back those bad-butt pants.
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FORGOTTEN FOOD: $43 a month
According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away up to $43 worth of food every month. That's a lot of budget to shoot down the garbage disposal.
Clutter buster: Figure out a menu plan before you shop, even if it's as rough as "three proteins, four veggies, four grains." Then at home, tack a whiteboard to the fridge and list perishables as you store them--preferably in clear containers--so you know you've got a yellow squash in there. (Stilltasty.com will tell you how long you have to use it.)
GONE-AWOL CREDIT CARD BILLS: $1,116 over the first 12 months
Oh, look, there's your Visa statement--buried under a mound of catalogs and already overdue. These days, being 30 days late could easily saddle you with a penalty interest rate of 29 percent. On minimum payments, that would add almost three years and $93 a month in interest to the average household balance of $6,576, according to Bankrate. Plus, one late bill can ding your FICO score by 100 points.
Clutter buster: If you tend to be scattered, set your checking account to auto-pay at least the card's minimum. Financial management sites like Manilla and BillQ can also email you reminders. Tuck any leftover paper bills into a drawer, to be handled in a monthly finances meeting with your partner. "Anything that's routine is easy for us to show up to, mentally and physically," Altfest says. "If you say, 'The first Tuesday of every month, from 7 to 9 p.m., we're dealing with our bills,' you're more likely to actually do it."
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UNUSED GIFT CARDS: $39 each
"I can't tell you how many hundreds of gift cards I've found in clients' homes," says Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis. "They're mixed in with mail, buried in drawers, left in old purses. People forget them." With the average card worth about $40, that's like tossing away two 20's.
Clutter buster: Designate a holding tank, like an envelope or file folder. Then schedule a shopping trip to use your card. For backup, record the numbers on the card (including the PIN) in a word processing file. Should the actual card disappear, some retailers will replace it if you can provide those digits. Or enter the details into the free app Gyft, which stores balance info and lets you redeem gift cards from your phone.
PLAIN OL' TOO MUCH STUFF: $3,100 per household
Your ceramic owl collection. Outgrown Gymboree gear. An old roll-top desk. According to eBay, most of us have thousands of dollars' worth of unused stuff gathering dust around the house.
Clutter buster: Begin by selling the valuables. "Of course, there's valuable as in 'I paid a lot of money for it,' and there's valuable as in 'Someone else would still pay a lot for it,'" says Julie Bestry, president of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN. To find out which you have, look up comparables on eBay. If you'd make more than $20 on an item, list it--or pay an eBay reseller to do it for you. For bulky stuff like furniture, where shipping would outstrip the sale price, try Craigslist. Then donate the rest to charity (keep track of your donations at itsdeductible.com to make sure you're not shorting yourself on a tax deduction). And think of the cash as a reward for spring cleaning.
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