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Spring cleaning. A time of renewal, rejuvenation and really impressive procrastination. It can seem overwhelming: delving into drawers of twist ties—unearthing last decade's shoes from under the bed—discovering what mold can do to broccoli.
But maybe this will motivate you: spring cleaning can do more than banish dust bunnies. It can also be a great way to make some extra money and save over the next year. The trick is to broaden your definition.
Spring cleaning can encompass holding a yard sale or selling on eBay and craigslist.org. It can extend to donating to charities. It can mean organizing your receipts and creating shopping lists. It can include a deeper clean to get the most from your appliances and car mileage. You get the idea: spring cleaning means taking control of your finances in lots of different ways.
Sell, sell, sell
With the warm weather comes the yard sale crew and they're ready to spend. Take advantage of spring cleaning and spring temperatures by throwing a yard sale. We have lots of tips in How to Throw a Killer Garage Sale, but here are a couple tricks to keep in mind.
1) While you're cleaning, keep a big Yard Sale Box on hand. Whenever you come across something that's too good to toss but not worth keeping, put it in your box. But before you do, wipe it down and put a price sticker on it so it's ready to sell with minimal effort.
2) The more customers you attract the better. Consider getting your neighbors together for a block yard sale. After all, it's a safe assumption that you're not the only one clearing the shelves this spring.
3) The best way to bring in foot traffic is bright, clear signage. Before your yard sale, buy some poster board and markers and briefly outline what you're selling and when your sale is being held. Post them on busy intersections with simple directions to your house. A few days ahead of time, post on craigslist.org, too. Lots of people check this site daily and use it to plan their weekend yard sale route.
For bigger ticket items, or if you're not up for organizing a yard sale, you can sell your goods online. For details on eBay selling, see our article Getting Ready to Sell on eBay.
Selling on craigslist.org uses the same basic principles as eBay with a few tweaks. Your photo is very important—make sure it's clear, not cluttered, and honest. If someone's driving 40 miles to buy your item, you need to be sure you're upfront about any flaws. And since selling on craigslist usually involves a face-to-face encounter, keep your wits about you. Don't arrange to meet someone at 9pm under the bridge in the park to show him that lawnmower you're selling!
Be a Giver
Anything that doesn't make the yard sale/online sale pile can be donated to charity. Yep, you'll have to sort through things you may not have worn (or even seen) since the nineties. But your effort will yield a nice tax write-off and a better sense of what you have so you're not wasting money on things you already own.
Start by making an honest assessment of the item. That political campaign is over—will you really wear your candidate's t-shirt again? And while we all hope to squeeze into our skinny jeans again, we also hope acid wash will never be back. Do you really need two blenders and mismatched pillowcases? It's time to lighten your load.
Once you've determined what you can get rid off, make sure it's clean and well packed. Goodwill prefers boxes instead of garbage bags�no need to buy them, just ask your local grocery store where they recycle boxes and pick up a stash there. As you pack your items, keep a running tally of what you're donating so you can guesstimate how much your donation is worth (you'll need to determine this yourself—honor system). Goodwill's website has a resource for finding out what your items are worth and some can even give you a price guide. When you drop off the boxes, make sure to ask for a receipt. If you're donating old furniture or heavy appliances, some charities will pick the stuff up for you.
Spring cleaning is also an opportunity to prepare for a year of regular pruning. Create a file called "Donations." Keep all receipts and lists of items donated in your file throughout the year, and you'll be ready for write-offs come next April.
Another spring-cleaning activity is to organize yourself for grocery shopping. Planning ahead is an important step toward savings. Start by cleaning out your fridge, freezer and pantry and removing anything past its "enjoy by" date. Then take inventory of what's in your freezer and shelves so you're not buying spaghetti sauce and tuna you already have. Come up with a weekly menu plan. Once your plan is in place, start investigating what's on sale and what coupons are available. Your grocery store should have this information online—some stores even let you sign up to receive email alerts. Sunday newspapers are also a reliable savings resource. Leftovers are a great way to save, so make sure to include them in your weekly meal plan. Make a little extra at dinner and brown bag it the next day (recycle those bags of course!).
You can also save on groceries by planting a garden. Even if you don't have a yard, some produce and herbs can be grown in containers or on windowsills and many neighborhoods have community gardens. If your thumb is particularly green, you can freeze or can your harvest and enjoy it all year.
Another good money-saving move is to shop at farmer's markets. Not only are you helping the local economy, but depending on your region, farmer's markets sell great produce for less. Localharvest.org will point you in the right direction.
Driven to Save
Spring cleaning isn't just for the house. Take it to the streets as well by cleaning out your car. Removing excess weight can save on gas.
Sure, you plan on beating your rugs and mopping the kitchen. But consider a slightly more in-depth clean as a way to save money. For example, cleaning your refrigerator coils once a year will keep the appliance operating more efficiently. Simply pull the fridge away from the wall, unplug it and then vacuum the coils or wash them carefully with soap and warm water. While you're at it, tackle your furnace filter. It only takes 15 minutes and can cut your heating costs by up to five percent. Find a step-by-step guide at www.thegreenguide.com
Another spring-cleaning must is cleaning your gutters, which can be a hotbed of mold and mildew. Scoop out all those rotting winter leaves and flush the gutter with water. If you're feeling really industrious, scrub them with a gutter brush.
The final step in your deep spring clean is to tackle any vents in your home. You can do this in a variety of ways: dust them with a broom or duster, wipe them with a damp cloth, vacuum with a dust brush. However you do it, it's worth the effort—you'll get rid of dust, and cleaner vents can save you money.
These are just a few tips for putting cash in your pocket this spring. If you cast your cleaning net past the mop and broom, you'll find lots of ways to get your life and finances running more efficiently.
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