One of the most common-sense ideas for saving money is this: make your own meals and take them with you. Restaurants, coffee shops, and vending machines all charge a hefty markup on food, for both the service and the convenience. These temptations are plentiful around my office, but oddly, it’s not my appetite that leads to me spending too much money there. No, I overpay for food, because my lunch is sitting on the counter at my house, getting licked by my cats and growing room-temperature bacteria.
I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, lunch forgotten, I’d walk the two blocks home and my mom would cook for me and let me watch a little TV. In college, I was perpetually broke and could usually only scrape together enough change ($1) for a Wendy’s baked potato to replace whatever food I had meant to bring along on my marathon school-work-meeting days. It was only at my first real grown-up job that lightning struck:
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A few months back, I got serious (er, even more serious?) about making a side income and improving my finances. I started reading a number of personal finance (“PF,” as they call themselves) blogs. And after reading them for several months–3 of them in my RSS, one as a daily digest email–I’ve dropped them all, one by one. Why? They’re not good writers. Sentence after passive-voice sentence, post after boring post, you might read one good tip in twenty. Don’t worry about missing that good tip, they’ll recycle it into a half-dozen or more posts for you. I realize that blogging is essentially self-indulgent, but pf-blogs seem especially so. When there’s nothing to absorb, it’s usually best just to move on.
So my yard sale left me with far too many clothes items (both mine and other family members) from bygone years. After some research about the new tax laws, I decided to donate them all to Goodwill and take an itemized deduction. Why? Well, my used clothes have never sold terribly well on ebay, for one thing. The collective IQ there seems to have plummeted as well, so I spend my time fielding questions already answered in the listing, taking pointless complaints, and even (on one occasion) receiving negative feedback because the buyer didn’t understand the measurement units used in the listing! I chose Goodwill because 83% of donations go to the intended recipients, unlike many charities that pad their own pockets. Also, your donation to Goodwill helps in several ways: they employ individuals who would otherwise have trouble entering the workplace, plus the money raised from direct donations and from the sale of donated goods goes to help other people in need. Lastly, they are recognized by the IRS, so you don’t have to worry about your deduction being questioned later on, as long as you follow the rules.
I’m no tax advisor, but just so you know what I’m talking about, the rules are basically:
- This year, you need a receipt for all donations. In the past, you could claim up to $250 without a receipt.
- Many charitable organizations (including churches and non-profits) are recognized by the IRS, so that you can claim up to 50% of your income in donations to them. For the ones who don’t have this status with the IRS, you can claim 20% or 30%, depending.
- You cannot deduct donations to an individual. So you could give to your church, but not your minister, even if there was an occasion of special need.
- You can deduct certain expenses related to charitable giving. You’d best take a look-see here.
With Goodwill, you write up your receipt with what you think your donated items are worth, and then take it in to an attended donation center. If the attendant finds the items to be in “good, used condition” (his/her discretion, it seems), he or she will sign off on the receipt, and you’re merrily on your way. Today I spent all morning going through old clothes and writing up the “good condition ones.” It took all of 5 minutes to make the donation itself, and I walked away with a receipt for $300 to deduct on my taxes. Plus a clean closet. Yippee! I see they also take books, so I might have to make another trip this holiday season!