Tag Archives: internet

Twelve Posts of Christmas–Music to Your Ears

I didn’t intend to write about this topic, but as I sit here filtering through Christmas music it occurred to me that the way we get our Christmas music fix has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Not too many years past, you either had FM radio or CDs–multi-disc changers if you were fancy. I used to have a 300 disc carousel and player (I spent a lot of money in college). Now, it was not just filled with Christmas music–those accounted for only about 9 CDs– and it also housed my husband’s CDs (he brought the Britney Spears to the marriage.) Regardless, the CD player got used less and less often even though my husband and I really enjoy music. I finally sold the darn thing a couple of years back when I finally admitted it to myself that it just wasn’t the way I was listening to music anymore. There are very few CDs you can listen to anymore from start to finish. And taking out the CDs to listen to in the car was annoying and inconvenient. As I started using iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora I wasn’t even listening to CDs anymore. Oh. You’re not too familiar with all of these? Well let me tell you not only how they can improve the quality of the music you hear, but also, often, save you money–with a focus on Christmas, of course.

Let’s start out with iTunes, which surely everyone has heard of. iTunes is not free. At least not always. However, did you know that almost every week you can download a free song. Just go to “music” and scroll around. And guess what you get in December? Ding, ding, ding. Christmas music. Today (December 12, 2013) you can download Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” for free! But the beautiful thing about iTunes is that you can choose exactly what you want, design your perfect playlist, with your favorite artists. Love “O Holy Night” but want to decide exactly which version buy dozens and dozens of artists is best? On iTunes, you can do that before you buy it! The answer is Mahalia Jackson’s version, by the way. So instead of buying a CD where you really like only half of the songs, you get to search through hundreds of thousand (not an actual statistic) of songs until you get your perfect playlist. And let’s face it. For those of us that love Christmas music, we may add something every once in a while, but we rarely take it away, so once you have your list, you don’t need to spend much more money to add to it. Plus, for those CDs that you do own, there are many ways to download those songs onto your computer to get them on your phone. Then you can pluck your most favorite songs and put them on your Perfect Christmas Playlist.

A coworker told me about Spotify a few years ago. It’s a great site that allows you to listen to entire CDs in addition to playlists. Spotify used to only be available through your computer, and I spent many, many hours listening to Jack Johnson’s entire catalogue of music at my office. Until recently, if you wanted Spotify through your phone or iPad, you had to pay for premium service. It is now free everywhere. What!? This is very exciting. I haven’t used Spotify in a little while because I changed jobs recently and never got around to putting it on my computer. So I didn’t know. I just downloaded it now on my iPad. Literally, just now. It’s awesome. If you know there is an entire CD out there you like, type in its name and chances are it’ll pop up. You can listen to the whole thing. No purchase necessary. And, to make your perfect Christmas playlist, all you need to do is create playlist category and then when the song you love is playing, hit the “+” sign and it is added to the playlist. It’s so easy. My perfect Christmas playlist is being created on Spotify as we speak.

Lastly, there is Pandora. On Pandora, you create stations for the music that you like. As you listen to those stations, you can thumbs up or thumbs down songs. These actions help your station get personalized to you. You can choose broad categories like “Rat Pack Christmas” or “Hipster Christmas” and Pandora will begin playing songs in that genre. And because you interact with it, your “Hipster Christmas” will sound much different than my “Hipster Christmas.” You can also choose multiple artists if you have eclectic musical tastes. My favorite “station” is my Jack Johson/Otis Redding/ Pam Tillis/ Mana/ Norah Jones station. It’s pretty awesome.

Pandora and Spotify do play occasional advertisements on the free service. But they are very brief and infrequent. Both are available in apps for your smart devices to make taking your perfect Christmas playlist EVERWHERE.

My perfect Christmas Playlist (incomplete):

The Man with the Bag– Kay Starr
O Holy Night– Mahalia Jackson
The Merriest– June Christy
Santa Baby– Eartha Kitt
Baby it’s Cold Outside– any version with Ella Fitzgerald
Old Toy Trains– Nick Lowe
All I want for Christmas– Mariah Carey
The Christmas Song– Nat King Cole
Father Christmas– The Kinks
Christmas (baby please come home) –Darlene Love
Blue Christmas– The Perishers
Please Come Home For Christmas– Bon Jovi
Merry Christmas Darling– The Carpenters

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The Urge to Purge–Shake your Money Tree

In my last article I discussed how enriching it is to get rid of your stuff. I meant that not only in a feel-good-about-yourself kind of way, but also in the literal sense. Now, can you retire by selling your stuff? Maybe only if you’ve been hoarding a lost Rembrandt or French antiques. So…it’s not likely. However, you can make some serious cash–enough to pay for a vacation, that pricey electronic you’ve been eyeing, or new carpet, for example. Or, maybe just provide an extra boost to help you tackle your debt. If you set a goal for yourself, you will get motivated to start getting rid of stuff to meet that goal.

I previously stated that you are surrounded by money. Granted, it is only a fraction of the money you originally spent on the stuff, but if you know where to sell it, you can maximize how much you can get back.

eBay:

Most people these days are familiar with eBay, though many have never sold anything on the site. It can be intimidating, especially with all these articles about ranking, sales techniques, and customer service. However, posting your stuff on eBay is quite simple. Even if you are just getting started, you can have success. After all, everyone at eBay starts at Zero. And with smart phones, selling on eBay is easier than ever.

You can successfully sell a huge range of stuff on eBay, from socks to cds to kitchen appliances. The thing to remember about eBay is that buyers pay for shipping, too. So if something is disproportionately heavy to its value, then you probably shouldn’t bother selling it. Also, if the object is so large or unwieldy as to make finding a box nearly impossible, you may want to reconsider selling it on eBay.

Listing on eBay is not free. However, they offer enough promotions that you can most always list for free. Wait for these promotions. Do not cut into your bottom line by paying to list. EBay also charges a percentage fee of the shipping you charged. So keep in mind that if you price your shipping exactly, you are actually paying something from your own pocket to ship. It is okay to charge for packing materials and handling fees.

When you set up an eBay account, you should connect it to a PayPal account. That makes transactions a lot easier and makes keeping track of your money a piece of cake.

In my opinion the hardest thing about eBay is finding boxes and shipping supplies. You can make this easier on yourself if you have a designated place where you keep supplies and if you find a good resource for free boxes and shipping supplies like bubble wrap and air packs (such as an office or store).

You can do pick-up only on eBay for items such as furniture and large appliances, but this tends to be a frustrating process because a lot of buyers don’t catch that they are purchasing something for pick-up. This happens because eBay buyers are not only nation-wide but world-wide. However, you may get more money for your items since a bidding war might start.

eBay requires relatively little upfront effort. You can start small, too, so it’s not overwhelming. But once you see the the stuff you considered junk start to sell you will get addicted. You will then start to sift through all you appliances and question whether you really need a magic bullet, a blender, and a plunge blender. (The answer is yes to the blender and plunge blender, but no to the magic bullet, so off it goes). Your stuff will sell. You may have to list it a couple of times and adjust some prices, but it will eventually sell.

This method is like having a slow, manageable garage sale all year long. So instead of hoarding a pile that never goes away (sometimes in your garage left over from last year because it never got further than that) you are working through your stuff all the time and making money. If it really doesn’t sell on eBay, then set it aside for your garage sale.

Craigslist:

I recommend using Craigslist when you have an item that is too big or difficult to ship. People shop Craigslist based on their location, so they are local to you. Craigslist is great for furniture, appliances–big and small–, exercise equipment, and home improvement supplies. Craigslist is FREE to list, so it is very low commitment up front. You will likely get contacted pretty quickly and often in the first day of listing because your listing will be one of the first that pops up. You can direct people to contact you by phone or email or both.

There are a few annoying things about Craigslist. First, you might have to re-post several days in a row so that people actually look at your stuff. Unfortunately, Craigslist has a policy against this. You are not supposed to re-list the same thing over and over. But if you are in an area where searching for “dining room table” yields hundreds of results per day, then few people will scroll back a couple of days ago when you listed your dining room table.

The second thing to be cautious of with Craigslist is that people will come to your house. If you are not prepared or preferential to this, then this is not for you. I have never had a problem with Craigslist, but I suppose there is a reason that it is warned about.

Also, you either have to be very clear about having people bring someone to carry heavy items or make sure someone from your end can help. If you are having them move it, they will walk through your house and carry heavy stuff without much care and caution.

To combat those annoying Craigslist issues, have the item brought down on your end before-hand to your garage so that people are not coming into your house. Ask for cash only, or set up payment with PayPal before hand so you know they are legit. And have someone at home with you so that when four large men come by to cart away your old bedroom set, it’s not too terrifying.

Craigslist also has a pretty good smart phone app. It makes listing a piece of cake.

Half-Price Books:

Half-Price Books (“HPB”) is a chain of second-hand stores located in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. They will give you cash for books, cds, magazines, games, puzzles, some kid’s toys, records, comic books, and stationary (among other things). Cash. In. Your. Hand. Granted, unless you are taking loads of best sellers from the last two years, it won’t be a ton of money, but it beats sitting at a garage sale for three days selling this stuff for 25 cents a pop and still having a ton of it left over. Rather than wasting your time doing that, just take it all to HPB and call it a productive day, then enjoy the rest of your weekend. You don’t need an appointment to bring your stuff by, it usually doesn’t take too long for them to tally up your winnings and you get to walk away with CASH. And if you think it’s way too little, then lug it all back home and save it for the garage sale.

Consignment

I have successfully sold clothes on eBay, though I have only found it to be successful with new or like new name-brand ladies’ clothing or accessories. In fact, if you have Guess Jeans that you finally acknowledge are too tight after your second uncomfortable wear, list them on eBay. They will sell for a surprising amount of money.

Unfortunately, in order to maximize your earnings on eBay, you list one item at a time, and it gets really tedious to list and re-list all that stuff. The point is to get rid of your clothes, not store it for another year until it finally sells on eBay. Plus, the great normal majority of us don’t go through our closets one name-brand item at a time. Rather, you probably have that one day when you are finally fed up with the mess, or that or that one day you feel ambitious enough to re-organize your closet. Either way, what you end up with is a huge mound of clothing. In the olden days, I would put these in a bag or bin and wait for THE Garage sale. But now, I do things differently because I am tired of selling the nice things I buy for 50 cents a piece.

So I finally decide on another route and searched for a consignment shop near my house. I took my pile of clean, mostly name-brand clothes and lugged a large box over to the store. I then found out that they are only taking summer clothes. Okay, that was a bit of an inconvenience but apparently they start taking fall clothing in July so it’s not too much of a delay. Basically, once I figure out this process a bit more, I will be better organized. Granted, I have to see if any of the stuff sells, but if it does, I will get a healthy percentage of their sale price and all I had to do was let someone else do the work. The consignment store I went to also handled home furnishings, home decor, and children’s clothes. So next i go in, i may take some more junk with me. Unfortunately they do not handle men’s clothes.

Garage Sale:

All this Garage Sale bashing aside, they do have their place. After all, you can’t sell random juice glasses and cheap candle holders and free t-shirts on eBay. ( If you can get it at the dollar store, it’s just not worth trying to list on-line.) However, it is worth putting it on all on a table and seeing if anyone else wants it. It is surprising how fast 50 Cent transactions add up to some real spending money. Yes, you’ll need some big ticket items to make the Garage sale really worth your time, but it is a perfect opportunity to get rid of your odds and ends.

What I have found myself doing recently is trying all of the above methods first and then leaving it for a Garage Sale when it doesn’t sell. My Garage sale pile is smaller and what is left is stuff I know I can’t get a good price for in other places.

Donations:

Why not just donate? Well..it’s tricky to figure out how much monetary value you are going to get. It may very well be Zero. So if you are donating to get the tax refund, you better make sure that you are actually going to get a tax refund. In order to make the donation affect your taxes, you must itemize your deductions rather than taking the standard deduction. If you take a standard deduction, all that nice stuff that you are giving to the Salvation Army is simply a donation and not a tax deduction. Even if you are itemizing, your tax benefit is worth only the rate of your tax bracket. So, if you are donating a book and you say its value is $1 and you are in the 15% tax bracket, then the tax savings/benefit is only 15 cents.

So let’s say that you are going to make $500 at a garage sale over a three day weekend. In order for a donation to be more valuable than that to you, you would need to value your items at the following amounts depending on your tax bracket:

Tax Bracket / Estimated Value of Donated Items

10% / $5000

15% / $3333

25% / $2000

28% / $1785

33% / $1515

35% / $1428

Sometimes a donation can put you into a lower tax bracket by reducing your taxable income, and that is something to consider. If you are considering donations, you should keep receipts in case of an audit, especially if the total annual donation amount is more than $500. Donations above $500 need to be reported on form 8283 and need to include information on the organization, as well as the date and articles donated. The tax professionals hat helped me sound like less of a moron in this paragraph also recommended that you seek the advice of a tax professional if you have any questions and that you should not take this article as a replacement for tax advice.

These are some of my methods, though I am sure there are plenty others out there. I have heard that Facebook is a good forum, but I have not explored it. Some people also have success with flea markets or those antique malls (which really aren’t just for antiques), especially with large quantities of one thing like books or tea cups. If you have a good source, let’s hear about it.