Get Paid to Donate Your Stuff

If you itemize your tax return, you probably know that you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of items you donate to charity. But what’s the fair market value of say a pair of shoes or a lamp? More than you might think.

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The law does not allow the charity to determine the value of an item you donate. The charitable organization gives you a receipt saying that you made the donation. You, the donor, must determine its value. And that’s the problem.

If you overstate the value you risk an audit, penalties and interest. If you underestimate you’ll pay more taxes than you should.

In the process of paring down and purging in anticipation of our big move to Colorado in the spring, my husband and I donated an antique pump organ to a church where it will be used in services and enjoyed by many.

The organ is more than a hundred years old so looking up the new price and depreciating it appropriately was not possible. Our accountant suggested we locate similar antiques that have sold in say the past year and then adjust accordingly for our specific situation. Right. Like there’s a brisk market for antique reed organs down at the mall.

But then I got to thinking …. hmmm … eBay! Sure enough, several pump organs have sold in the past year. I printed the documentation and will attach that to our next tax return to back up the deductible value we assigned to the donation.

A Dozen Dandy Uses for White Vinegar

It costs hardly anything ($2 a gallon on sale), it’s available in every grocery store in the universe and so useful around your home you are going to have a hard time believing it. That’s the power of vinegar. Yep, plain, cheap, 5 percent acidity, white vinegar.

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1. Instead of fabric softener or dry sheets, add 1/2 to 1 cup vinegar to last rinse in your washing machine (as you would liquid softener). Your clothes will come out soft because the vinegar helps to remove every trace of laundry detergent, which cause fabrics to stiffen.

2. Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to a quart of very warm water to make a good window cleaner. Wipe with crumpled newspaper or a coffee filter and your windows will sparkle.

3. Vinegar will dissolve hard-water marks like those on shower doors, faucets and in vases. If the vinegar is hot (heat in the microwave) it works even faster.

4. Instead of pricey commercial rinse agents, fill that little reservoir in your dishwasher with white vinegar. Your dishes will sparkle. Refill often. If your dishwasher does not have this feature, simple add 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the hardness of your water) to the last rinse.

Turns Out it IS Easy Being Green

Have I got a story for you about the Hubs and me. I don’t like to think that we cave easily to peer pressure, but apparently that is the case.

We have these friends who are way into healthy lifestyle—clean eating and extreme exercise. I call anything with the words running, jogging and cycling in it, extreme. They’re so into these things, they don’t even think about taking a short hiatus when we visit. Oh, no. We’re talking green smoothies all around, every morning. No question, no excuse.

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Let me just say right here that my husband has never met a vegetable he enjoys. He’s just not into them. Never has been. But he’s kinder than he is finicky, and so in the interest of friendship, he (OK, me too) would put on a happy face and down the green whenever we visited our friends Carol and Steve. And Harold would kind of shudder in a way that only I was aware—the way kids do when they have to eat something they think is really gross. This always made me laugh but I tried really hard not to show it.

I cannot fully explain this, but after several of these occasions, something went off inside of both of us suggesting that perhaps, just maybe we might think about doing this ourselves. At home.

One thing led to another—and by that I mean we started with bananas, apples and one teeny tiny leaf of baby spinach—until without quite knowing what hit us, we were actually making smoothies every morning that turned out the color of wet concrete.

Who Else Wants to Slash Their Phone Bill?

I just read about a woman in Philadelphia who decided to go over her parents’ phone bill only to discover they were paying $21 a month for three leased telephones—one of which they’d tossed out years ago.

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The daughter figured they’d been paying this monthly amount since the mid 1980s—more than $6,000 to rent phones.

It gets worse.

In order to cancel the lease, they had to pay an additional fee for not returning the phone they’d thrown away.

Up until 1982, AT&T had a monopoly on telephones. They wouldn’t sell them—only lease them to customers for a few dollars a month. Then the government stepped in and AT&T was broken up into regional companies. Suddenly, phones were cheap and available for purchase. Thirty years later, not everyone has taken advantage of the option to buy their phones rather than rent them. This company says they still service 300,000 leasing customers.

Failure to keep up with technology cost this family $6,000. What’s it costing you? I’m not talking only about phones either. What is your monthly phone service and long-distance calling plan costing?

Gadgets to Keep You Powered Up

It’s hard to imagine how we’d live our lives without all of the electronic devices we’ve come to depend on. I’m talking about everything from mobile phones to portable computers, tablets, MP3 players, GPS trackers and eReaders, too. And it’s not just an adult thing. My 5-year old grandson has his own bevy of things that need to be powered including his LeapFrog LeapPad and LeapFrog LeapBand (amazing learning devices, by the way).

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The challenge is more than staying powered while on the run. The trick is to keep electronic devices fully charged and ready to go. The more people in the household, the greater the challenge and greater potential for a big fat mess.

The best way to make sure you’re always powered up and ready to go it to make charging convenient. Not necessarily expensive, but well-thought out.

Today I thought I’d give you a quick tour of the charging tools I depend on and wouldn’t be without.

Like Fourth Grade All Over Again

I’m not sure why I loved fourth grade so much. Maybe it was because my teacher was extra pretty and her name was Mrs. Hunt (who could’ve guessed?). Or that I sat behind Rick Collier voted by all the girls to be the cutest in the entire universe.

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For sure it had something to do with “My Weekly Reader,” our very own kid-size newspaper that showed up on our desks after recess every Friday. I have to hand it to the genius who came up with that idea. We had no idea we were learning important current events and other stuff that would stay with us for a lifetime. Like Roy G. Biv. I swear I’ll never forget that guy.

No Friday in the fourth grade was complete without a few fun facts, not unlike the following that I learned only recently about credit cards:

1. The very first credit card was introduced in 1946, named “Charge-It.” The catch was that a user had to have an account at the Flatbush National Bank of New York and purchases could be made only locally. Technically, it was a charge card, because the bill had to be paid in full at the end of each month.

2. The reason credit cards expire is because the magnetic strip gets a lot of abuse and needs to be replaced. A magnetic strip is good for only about 3 to 4 years of swiping. 

Steps to Follow if You’re Out of a Job

These days it’s practically inevitable that you or someone you know will face a period of unemployment. Here are six practical tips every unemployed person should keep in mind while searching for a new job:

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Don’t take it personally. Losing a job can cause shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. You may feel depressed and lose your confidence. Yes, it’s a very stressful time, but don’t take it personally. Thousands and thousands of people have lost their jobs in this economy. Don’t hibernate, and be good to yourself. If you need it, seek emotional counseling. Let your friends and family be there for you. Remember, time heals everything. This too will pass.

Collect your benefits. You may have unemployment benefits, a lump-sum payout from your ex-employer, a severance package and options regarding health insurance.

Unemployment compensation protects workers against job loss by providing temporary income support to people who become unemployed through no fault of their own. Find out exactly what you qualify for and the limitations and rules regarding each benefit.

The U.S. Department of Labor website has a handy list of all unemployment offices in each state. Standing in line at the unemployment office is a thing of the past. States now allow you to apply online or over the telephone. Generally it takes two to three weeks from the time you file your claim to receive your first benefit check, so do not 

You Really Need a Good Night’s Sleep

What would you pay for a good night’s sleep? I just read about a soccer club in England that spent £150,000 on special mattresses and pillows for the 80 luxury bedrooms at the club’s £200 million soccer training base where players sleep the night before home matches.

The rooms even have wallpaper with a special sleep-inducing pattern. I think it’s pretty safe to say these people think good sleep is important!

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So how are your sleeping conditions? Getting a good night’s sleep, we’re learning, is not only a lovely thing, it’s mandatory for good health and a productive life.

Even if your mattress is lumpy, bumpy and in the fast lane to saggy, there are a few things you can do it get it back to comfy with a minimal investment. The best part? This could buy a few more years, giving you the time you need to save up for a new bed.