Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tis The Season....To Sell Stuff

Even though we have not roasted the turkey, mashed the potatoes or savored a slice of pumpkin pie -- the stores are engulfed with Christmas decorations.  Santa has arrived at a local mall here in Madison. Sure, the temperatures (a whopping 16 degrees F) feel like the dead of winter, yet we have not even given thanks and watch football -- or in my case the American Dog Show.

Holding on to Turkey Time -- wild turkeys, UW Arboretum, 10/31/14

Stores are prepared with Christmas items, clerks eagerly mark down fall and Thanksgiving stock-- this afternoon I bought a garden flag that was 50% off, costing me $5 and giving me more than a week to display it out front. While many may be shopping and crossing items off their list, I am "opposite girl".  Instead of buying, I'm in a selling mood. Whether it is a box of furnace filters in the basement (sold to a friend) or unread books (listed on Amazon) or outgrown Halloween costumes (donated), I am in full blown cleaning house mode.

If you are frugal, give some thought to these points.

  1. You have to put your stuff somewhere, and that place costs money.  Whether it is a storage locker where you pay a monthly rental fee, your basement, the attic, etc. -- space costs money. Even if you are mortgage free, that space needs to be insured and is subject to property tax (although that varies greatly between states).  The more you own, the more space you need, the more you pay;
  2. Before you can clean you have to put the stuff away.  This is a huge issue in a house with a 6 and 4 year old.  Growing up in an age when stuff is made of cheap plastic means they get trinkets at an alarming rate.  I covet the simplicity of the home decor in the Little House on the Prairie books (but not the bathroom facilities).  Back then a single toy may have cost a months pay.  Today toys explode out of packages, birthday grab bags, library rewards, and birthday and holiday gifts.  All that stuff requires time to be put away before I can even clean the house that stores it.  Stuff, it costs you time and money.  Sure my kids and help clean up, but their time is valuable too.  Read books with mom on the sofa, or pick up the piles of toys?
  3. Cash talks.  I'd rather have more cash and less stuff, it's as simple as that.  Well stocked emergency fund, small mortgage, no consumer or education debt, hefty 529 college plans for the kids, a decent health savings account, and the big one, IRAs.  In a dual self-employed home cash is key, we have no illusion of stability.  Cash gets us groceries or medical care, an awesome pair of designer boots (even if bought at 50% off) does not.  It's all about balance -- what is enough stuff, what is enough cash.
  4. It's easy to sell.  From Amazon to Ebay to Craiglist to a Facebook post to your neighborhood page, it has never been easier to transfer the stuff you are done with to new owners and receive a little jingle in your pocket.
Liquidity is a main motivator for me, but on the back burner sit the images from this past year as I cleared out my childhood home.  With both parents now deceased, the job of emptying their ranch home fell to me.  Sell, share, donate, toss, keep -- asked over and over again.  Given the work I do as an estate planning and probate attorney, daily I face the reality that at some point in time someone will have that job for my possessions.  In the end I hope they are simple, prized, filled with meaning -- and the rest of my "stuff" can sit in an investment account with a transfer on death label.

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