Get Out of Debt in 9 Steps # 3- Turn Your Junk into Cash

If you have been living beyond your means for a while and spending frivolously with credit cards, you probably have a lot of ‘junk’ in your house that you don’t need and never should have bought in the first place. It’s time to get some of that money back! This isn’t easy, and it can take a really long time (I’m still working on finding stuff I bought frivolously and getting it sold), but it is well worth the effort. I have made roughly $800 since starting on this step and I still have more junk to get rid of.

There are several ways to sell your stuff and I will offer a few ideas here.

  • Mention it to friends and family – you don’t want to nickel and dime your loved ones so this may or may not work for you, but there is a good chance that people you know will want to buy some of the stuff you have. This can save you time and shipping expenses.
  • Yard sale – I’ve never tried this, but obviously yard sales go on all of the time. Your success here will probably vary by the community you live in and how much time you feel like investing in the process. Check out this comprehensive list to see if you can handle it.
  • Craigslist – Again, I have not done this myself, but I know many people who have and it is obviously a very popular resource. Check out this link to learn more
  • Ebay – Probably the most popular way to buy and sell used stuff these days. You can search for tips on selling with Ebay and you will certainly find a lot of information. One thing I have noticed though, no one really seems to agree on the ‘best’ way to be an Ebay seller. I recommend picking a process and trying it, but be ready to change your methods and learn as you go.

I don’t want to turn this into a how-to article on selling your stuff since those articles are plentiful on the Internet. Instead, I want to focus on how to go about finding the stuff to sell and why you should consider certain things.

The easiest way to start is by looking for the stuff you have hidden away in closets, the garage, or storage. There is a good chance if something is hidden away already you won’t miss it if you sell it. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used something for 6-12 months you can safely get rid of it. Of course you will need to make these decisions based on your needs. I find it very helpful to look at the item I am considering getting rid of and think if I would rather have it or rather have the cash in my emergency account or the extra money paid on my debt. Emergency funds and debt payments will trump most things, but you also need to consider how much cash the item you have is going to bring in- I’m not generally going to bother with something that is only worth a few dollars so that item becomes a candidate for charity or the garbage.

A wonderful benefit of this process is not just the cash you can raise by getting rid of junk, but you will also be simplifying your life. The junk we have accumulated has to be moved, cleaned, or stored- that takes time and energy. This brings us back to living simply and de-cluttering, topics brilliantly covered in Your Money or Your Life. You should really read that book if you haven’t already. I have reached a point that I am annoyed by seeing clutter or junk that I don’t need in my house and I am constantly moving things to boxes for donations, sales, or garbage.

One major downside to selling your junk is the time it takes to get it done. I spent several hours listing things on Ebay for a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff, followed by the hassle to package the items and bring them to the post office. Personally, I find those tasks highly annoying but I made the time to do it because I wanted the cash and I also consider it partly as paying for my mistakes of the past and using it as a reminder not to make frivolous purchases in the future. If you are really busy and don’t want to invest the time, you might try finding someone to do this for you- teenagers in your family might be a good option since they likely know Ebay well and will be happy with a small commission. There are also businesses that take your stuff and list it on Ebay for you. You’ll have to decide how much of the cash you are willing to sacrifice for your time.

It’s up to you to decide how ‘vicious’ you want to be with getting rid of your junk, but so far I don’t miss anything I have sold and I keep adding things to my box of stuff to sell. Spend time thinking about your wants versus needs and decide where your priorities fall.

Some people are very serious about selling on Ebay and there are a number of ways to run an Ebay business to earn an extra income. We aren’t taking it to that level for purposes of getting rid of some junk, but it’s something to think about if you have the time and desire to find another source of income. This can be a test run of sorts to see if maybe that is a viable option for you some day.

This step is great to do early in your Get Out of Debt phase because it can give you a nice head start on saving your starter emergency fund, catching up on late bills, or getting a quick start on making extra debt payments. I strongly encourage you to take the time and try to be a bit brutal on your first pass through the house to find stuff to sell.

Good luck and come back for the next step in the Get Out of Debt series- Creating an Emergency Fund.

9 Steps to Get Out of Debt

Turning Junk Into Debt Payments

I posted previously about how much junk I have and how I’ve wasted money on ‘stuff’. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started work on getting rid of this stuff and turning it into some cash for extra debt payments. So far this month I’ve brought in an extra $267 by selling stuff that was collecting dust on a shelf or hidden away in a closet somewhere (you know, in case I needed it some day). I can’t say that I miss any of it. Well, I do miss my Seinfeld DVDs a little, but I already watched them once and it was unlikely I would watch them often enough to justify the cost (could always get them on Netflix later). This money will be going straight to debt and that actually has me excited to find more junk to turn into cash.

I took some books and DVDs to a local used book store to save some time over listing all of them on Ebay. They don’t pay a lot, but for not-so-popular items, this is really a time saver. I also listed some items on Only one has sold so far, but the price is decent and the fees you pay to are much lower than on I listed the higher value and more popular items on Ebay. I tried a few new things on these listings, with mixed results. I started the prices really low and I don’t think that worked out so well for me. I’ve never done this before and I felt like most of my auctions didn’t finish as high as they could have. I also listed on a Saturday and I’m not sure that was a great move either- I’ve always listed on Sundays before. I can’t tell which change resulted in the weaker results, but I’ve always felt better about my Ebay sales in the past so I will be going back to my old ways next time.

I still have a fair amount of stuff to sell, but I’ll be very busy wrapping up a project this month so it may be a little while until I can get the rest of it sold. However, this will give me some time to take a few more looks at the shelves and closets and see what else I can do without- do I really need those Simpsons DVDs? I’m afraid I don’t. 🙂

How To Save Money On Food At Work

Recently, I posted about my poor budgeting and spending at work. Now I would like to share some tips on how to reduce spending on food at work and what I have done to save about $100 a month compared to my old ways.

Skip Starbucks and drink coffee at work– a lot of offices have coffee available for free. If so, that is obviously a great chance to save some money. I don’t have that option at my office so I bought a Senseo coffee machine and brew my own coffee at my desk. The Senseo machine is about $60, but you could pay for that by skipping lattes for a month. Admittedly, you could get a less expensive coffee maker, but the Senseo does not require filters and is easy to clean up. I think it payed for itself very quickly for me. The Senseo doesn’t brew the greatest coffee, but it’s not bad and for less than $0.50 per cup it gets the job done. Whatever your substitute, the goal is to cut out the $4 lattes.

Brown bag it– again, an obvious solution, but if you haven’t tried it you will truly be amazed at how much money you can save by doing this. My favorite ‘brown bag’ lunch is leftovers from dinner, preferably pasta or something easy to heat up in the microwave at work. Another easy option is sandwiches, which can even be made the night before to save time in the morning. I also keep an emergency stash of Hot Pockets (Lean Pockets) for days that I don’t feel like preparing anything or days that I forget to bring food (I keep some in the freezer at work). A lot of these options depend on having a refrigerator at work, so hopefully that is possible for you. If not, your variety may be limited a bit, but perhaps an insulated travel bag with an ice pack would get the job done. Even if you have to go out and buy something, it will quickly pay for itself.

Keep snacks and favorite drinks at the office– I’m trying to cut snacks and sodas out of my diet as much as possible, but if I am going to indulge, I don’t want to pay the prices at the vending machine. Your money goes so much farther on these items at the grocery store, so stock up on the things you like, but don’t let yourself go crazy with it. For example, I try to allow myself either one cup of coffee or one diet soda per day at work. Sometimes I’ll skip one or the other for the whole week. My desire is to avoid becoming dependent on these drinks and form a habit that could get pricey. Some of my coworkers will go through four or more sodas per day, and buy them at vending machines- paying a huge premium over the grocery store. The other part of this tip is to replace the foods you like with low calorie options- I try to go for some Baked Lays or the new Nabisco 100 Calorie snacks. I’m not going for perfection here, just trying to make the best choices I can while I’m away from home.

Drink water– most offices have a water cooler, which makes this so easy (and free). I don’t have that option at work- only a drinking fountain. I’m not thrilled with drinking tap water, and even less thrilled with the germs that may be floating around it, but I just bring a bottle of water to work each day and refill it. I’m really tempted to bring in a gallon of purified water each day, if for nothing else than to avoid the germs around the fountain, but I haven’t bothered yet and I’ve survived on the tap water so far. 🙂

Tell your coworkers you’ll never eat with them again! Okay, that’s a joke, but you definitely can’t make it a habit to eat out every day if you want to save money on your lunches. If saving money isn’t important to you or the camaraderie is worth more, then by all means go for it. I work with programmers, who tend to be a quiet bunch, so we are fine with going out to lunch together every couple of weeks or so. That works for us and makes it easy on the budget. If going out to lunch can somehow better your career or help you get ahead (maybe going to lunch with the boss) then I would consider it money well spent, you’ll just have to look for other areas to cut back.

A typical month in the past would have seen me spend about $80 – $100 eating out at work (that’s after I had kicked the latte habit). There is nothing inherently wrong with spending some money on lunch. However, for myself I found that I was often just picking up something convenient and fast and eating it at my desk in a hurry. There just wasn’t a good reason to spend $5 – $10 to do that when I could bring food from home about a fourth of the cost and get the same result. If your office goes out to lunch and you want to be part of the culture then make that part of your budget and have fun. At the very least, I think everyone can benefit by spending less on coffee and skipping the vending machines. I practice all of these tips and it has made a big difference in my budget. Good luck!

Wasting Money On Food At Work

When I totaled my weekly budget summary on Sunday I noticed that I had spent about $22 eating out at work over the past week. I only had one ‘real’ meal that week when I went to lunch with some coworkers, but that was only about $7 anyway. I dug into the numbers and realized that a bagel here, some coffee there, and a few snacks had all added up quite quickly.

$22 is probably a lot less money than I would have spent in a typical week eating at work just a few months ago (actually probably less than I would have spent on coffee alone in one week), but now that I’m committed to my budget, and paying every extra dollar I can find toward debt, the total really jumps out at me. I need to focus this week and keep the cash in my wallet. So far I’m two for two on days not spending any money while at work. This post will hopefully keep me accountable for the next three days.  🙂

How I Saved $44 on My Water Bill

To be honest, I don’t deserve any credit for this one. I only had the opportunity to save $44 because I let a leaky toilet run for about four months and only did something about it when my bill for one month was $83! For reference, my normal bill should be in the $32 – $35 range. It slowly started creeping up and I didn’t think too much about it until the problem had snowballed and I had easily let more than $100 run down the drain.

Now the good news. Fixing the toilet only took about ten minutes of research and about fifteen minutes of work. The only tool required was a Philip’s head screwdriver. I’m not a handyman by any means, but I can take care of most things if I have a good set of instructions. This article from Ace Hardware is very comprehensive and includes some illustrations and a list of parts you may need. If you want something a bit more short and sweet, try this article with a nice illustration from Denver Water.

It turned out that I didn’t need to buy any new parts and just making some adjustments solved the leak. So….I traded about a half hour of effort for well over $100 wasted due to my laziness. Ouch! I have to admit that I’m somewhat new to the homeowner thing, going on three years now, and I really didn’t get the fact that a little running sound coming from the toilet could cost so much money. All I can say is, pay very close attention to your statements and as soon as you start to see water usage trending up, start looking for the problem. I wish I had jumped on this sooner. I hope this will save someone some money!