By Janet Groene, F47166
One of the toughest aspects about becoming a full-timer is parting with the goods and possessions in your home. These are the things that you used and needed for years. But with limited storage space in a motorhome, only so much of that stuff can make the lifestyle transition with you. So, before hitting the road, you will have to unload items in your basement, attic, garage, and most of your closets, too, that won’t be making the trip.
Yard sales, auctions, used furniture dealers, estate sales, want ads, and consignment shops all play an important part in downsizing your life. However, you do have another choice: Give your things away.
The used clothing and other items that you donate to charity can be a good tax deduction. This write-off may come in quite handy as you sell the house, take a lump-sum retirement buyout, sell off a portion of your portfolio, or have other large tax liabilities that go with making the transition into full-timing. A useful guide to help you determine the fair market value of your donated items is It’s Deductible: Cash For Your Used Clothing ($19.95, Income Dynamics) and the companion ItsDeductible software. The book and computer program contain thousands of fair market values for common items that are donated to charities, such as clothing, household items, sporting goods, and more. Each article is given three values depending on its condition: good, fair, and poor. For those who are donating expensive items or a large number of things, the book is well worth having just to help you avoid running afoul of the IRS. To find out more about the book or software, visit www.taxsave.com.
When we sold many of our belongings to go full-timing, most of our yard-sale customers were dealers hoping to find valuables priced for peanuts, or poor people searching for used clothing they could buy for next to nothing. We couldn’t get anything for tailor-made business suits and expensive college textbooks, so we took them to a charity that knew their real worth and got a tax receipt that more fully reflected the true value of the items.
International charities such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries International are good places to start. Visit their Web sites: www.salvationarmy.org and www.goodwill.org. It’s likely that your town has many deserving local services too, such as battered women’s shelters. A church in our city, for example, operates a service that outfits people who have lost their home and possessions to fire or are otherwise down on their luck. Another group collects clean, conventional clothing for men in prison who don’t have proper clothing for court appearances. First, check out local charities. For more specialized giving, you may want to think about donating to other worthy organizations. Here are a few you might consider.
The Association of Junior Leagues International may be glad to receive household goods that can be resold, with profits going to good causes. For information about the needs at your nearest center, call (212) 951-8300 or visit www.ajli.org.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America sometimes collects household goods that can be repaired, refreshed, and resold. Some chapters make regular rounds of neighborhoods, notifying residents several weeks in advance when pickups will be made. For information about a chapter near you, call (215) 567-7000 or visit www.bbbsa.org.
Career Gear is an organization that helps outfit men who are actively searching for employment but who do not have a suitable set of clothing to wear when applying or interviewing for a job. This service is found in only a handful of Eastern and Midwestern states. Donated clothing should be suitable for the workplace and cleaned, pressed, and delivered on hangers. Call (212) 273-1194 or go to www.careergear.org to see if there is a drop-off site near you.
The Women’s Alliance has more than 25 affiliates whose goal is to outfit women who are trying to get off welfare and into self-sufficiency. Clothing must be smart enough for a career woman, in good shape, and freshly cleaned. Each woman is fitted with two complete ensembles for interviews and, after she gets a job, with three more outfits to wear for at least the first week of work. Call (305) 762-6400 or check out www.thewomensalliance.org to see if there is a group near you. Volunteers will pick up the donations.
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) provides assistance to women who have fled their homes because of domestic abuse. Often, these women and their children escape with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing. YWCA shelters are happy to receive any clothing that can be used by women and children as long as it’s clean, in good condition, and doesn’t present a health or safety hazard. Call your local YWCA; the national office at (212) 273-7800; or, visit www.ywca.org for more information.
If you’re counting on a charitable tax deduction, it’s best if you have receipts for the original cost of the items. Don’t forget to ask the charity for a receipt for the items you contribute. Some charities provide a blank receipt that you can fill out yourself, but the IRS may ask you later to substantiate the amounts. Keep a list of the items you donate, their original cost, their condition at the time of donation, and what value you placed on them.
The value of your items will be determined by their condition: good, fair, or poor. Their actual value will depend on prices in your area, the brand names of the items, and the individual garment’s material and cut. For example, a virgin wool sweater with a prestige label is worth more than an acrylic, generic brand sweater even though both are in like-new condition. Likewise, a suit with a designer label is worth more than a bargain brand.
A worn, dirty garment with missing buttons is worthless to you, to the charity, and to the poor. While some charities employ and train people to reupholster furniture or repair appliances, some items are no longer useful to anyone. It’s demeaning to donate items that need dry cleaning or major repairs. Few people want used mattresses and stained pillows, outdated computer gear and other electronics, electronics in non-working condition, and any items (such as electrical goods with frayed cords or a gas appliance that leaks) that could present a danger or health hazard to the next user.
You can learn more about the value of your items by browsing consignment shops and auction sites on the Internet. Yard sale prices are a poor indicator of the value of your items as tax deductions. Here are some ballpark figures for goods, depending on their brand, age, and condition, that I found in consignment and thrift shops in central Florida and several northeastern states: books, 25 cents to $6; girls’ preteen coat, $6-$40; high chair (not antique), $5-$28; computer printer (current technology, in working condition), $200 or more; boys’ jacket, $7-$20; child’s snowsuit, $6-$18; woman’s suit, $8-$250; man’s sweater, $4-$40; vacuum cleaner (working condition), $10-$35.
Sales and trades
If you’re looking to sell off some of your old video games, CDs, and DVDs, you may want to check out two Web sites that deal in purchasing trade-ins. One is www.videogamedepot.com and the other is www.spun.com. Neither buys games or equipment outright, but items in good condition can be converted to a line of credit that you can spend on other used games, music, or movies from the same company. These services do require postage and time, so you may want to look for a local dealer who accepts trades.
To help find a new home for your library of books, check into a used bookstore. One such store in our city offers one paperback for each two that are brought in.
New college textbooks cost a fortune, which means there’s a good market for used texts as long as they are in good condition and still in use. Students can buy or sell used textbooks at www.bigwords.com, www.classbook.com, www.bookswap.com, and www.pdxbooks.com. It’s usually necessary to provide the book’s ISBN number (found on the back cover), so be prepared before you go online. Online auctions, especially eBay, are the best places to sell almost any specialty item, including rare or offbeat books that would not sell at a yard sale or through the classifieds.
Books for travelers
If you look for the familiar KFC sign when your stomach starts to growl while on the road, you’ll enjoy Robert Darden’s book about Pete Harman, Secret Recipe ($24.95, Tapestry Press). He was Colonel Harland Sanders’ first “” and largest “” Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee and the “man behind the bucket.” The book is filled with nostalgia and homespun advice.
Many full-timers choose Florida as a home base because it’s one of a handful of states that have no state, city, or county income taxes. But depending on where you live, you may be required to pay other taxes. Florida Almanac 2002-2003 ($23 hardcover, $15.95 paperback, Pelican Publishing Company) by Del and Martha Marth tells you practically everything you need to know about living in the Sunshine State. It is not a travel guidebook, but a reference book.
If you love traveling through the mountains, check The Rough Guide To The Rocky Mountains ($22.95, Rough Guides) a new 648-page book that covers Colorado, Idaho, Montana, northern Utah, and Wyoming. Learn about the history, culture, wildlife, hiking trails, whitewater rafting, and bicycle trails of the Continental Divide. Rough Guides books tell it like it is, with plenty of information for the motor coach traveler as well as for non-RVers who stay in hotels.