Maximize Your Cash Flow By Selling Your Stuff

Putting a little extra money in your pocket might be as easy as looking around your house. Experts say there's a treasure trove of unwanted items you can easily sell to the highest bidder. Guest host Celeste Headlee speaks with personal finance guru Alexa von Tobel about earning extra holiday cash from home.

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. If your wallet's already hurting this holiday season, we're going to spend the next part of the program helping you out a little. In a few minutes, we'll find out how to make the most money selling your used car. But first, some financial experts say if you're looking for extra cash, look no further than common things in your own house.

You can get rid of unwanted clutter and make some money along the way as well. Personal finance guru Alexa von Tobel wrote about this for the website Manilla. The article is called "Top 10 Things Around Your House That You Can Sell in Under Five Minutes." She joins us now. She's also CEO of LearnVest, which is an online financial planning company. Alexa, welcome.

ALEXA VON TOBEL: Hi.

HEADLEE: In this article, you give specific things - specifically 10 things for people - that you suggest people could sell. Is that because they're the things that are - people are most likely going to have in their home or because they're the easiest to sell?

VON TOBEL: That's exactly right, Celeste. They're the things that people tend to have in their home that also are worth the energy and effort of selling.

HEADLEE: As opposed to say, what, like a set of Legos?

VON TOBEL: That's right. Right, we - you know, you have limited time. So we wanted to come up with the things that are going to actually return the best value and that are actually easy to sell or there's a marketplace for them, so that it's easy for you to do with not too much time.

HEADLEE: OK, so, I mean, it makes sense. It's a no-brainer, right, that an iPhone, for example, or an expensive BlackBerry is going to sell well.

VON TOBEL: That's exactly right. So things like technology, textbooks, tend to be some of the best things that you can sell. And there's a really great marketplace. You know, the site Gazelle.com, for example, for old gadgets.

HEADLEE: Wait, did you say textbooks like college textbooks?

VON TOBEL: Yes, so there's a great site to resell books. And that means anything from textbooks - which, you know, a lot of us still have some of those lying around - to just expensive books. But a site called BookScouter really helps you resell or even swap books.

HEADLEE: Is that really lucrative? Because I can remember turning in my books and reselling them at the campus bookstore. And you got almost nothing for them.

VON TOBEL: Yeah, so all of these things are things that I've personally done. So, you know, you can go to Amazon. You can set up a seller store. And it's a great site. And you can get up to, you know, $75, $100. I had some old economics textbooks lying around. They were just really gathering dust. So, yeah, it can be worth your time.

HEADLEE: So what is not worth selling? I mean, I mentioned Lego sets, although I would imagine there's some toys that sell pretty well. But what should people just, you know, not bother with?

VON TOBEL: Yeah, so I think some of the things - we have a basic rule where if it really touches your body - so anything that's like clothing, shoes - those are the types of things that are not necessarily going to get the greatest value because they depreciate so quickly 'cause you can sweat on them.

So as, I think, a general rule of thumb, things like jewelry, any designer goods, handbags, old wallets - those types of things are going to be good things to sell. I would avoid things like clothes unless it's, you know, a gown and you can go to a consignment store.

HEADLEE: So explain to me exactly how all this selling works. I imagine you'd have to, like, open an account with a variety of different places in order to sell them.

VON TOBEL: So, yes, you do. And I think that, you know, the main sites are really eBay and Amazon. You can set up a seller store. You can link it to a PayPal account so that you don't ever have to share any bank information. And then you simply just start putting up what you'd like to sell. I recommend taking, you know, a few hours on a weekend and just think about all the stuff that you can't necessarily donate that has value that you'd like to potentially sell. That's a great place to start. And again, eBay and Amazon are some of the best two sites where you can really unload some of your extra stuff.

HEADLEE: Now, I mean, Alexa, I understand that out of the millions of these transactions that go on, we rarely see - you know, hardly any of them end up in disaster. But people do get a little frightened about interacting with strangers, either over Craigslist or eBay because of some of these headline stories in which they've gone badly. How do you protect yourself if you're having interactions like this? How do you protect your information, how to protect yourself?

VON TOBEL: Yeah, so I think the most important thing here is never, ever give your personal information or banking information via e-mail. That's why I recommend you use a third-party site like a PayPal, which is extremely secure because it does create an extra level of security for you. But, you know, I think that these are now good, proven practices. So I don't think that - as long you use a third-party site like PayPal and don't share any identifying information, I think you're protected.

HEADLEE: All right. So let's get back to the specific things that people should be looking for. I mean, obviously, a cell phone, a technology, a laptop - that's a no-brainer. But what about things that are - that people think of as collectors' items? Maybe they have old comic books or old baseball cards. Are those the kind of things they should hold onto, or should they go ahead and get rid of them?

VON TOBEL: So I think one good filter is, you know, is this something that you haven't touched for a year? We all have things that we hang on to. If you really love the comic books - they're sentimental - keep them. But I'm not saying part with anything that's deeply emotional for you. But we all have extra money lying around. And we say that you often can find even up to, you know, maybe a few thousand dollars lying around your home. So look to things of value.

Look to old jewelry, maybe something that's just so out of style, you're never going to want it. Look to things like old china sets. That tends - again, there's a great marketplace of - a site called Replacements.com where you can sell things like china. Look to designer goods. Look to textbooks. Look to collectors' items. If it's something that you really just don't want to keep - think about all the moving costs, right? Every time you move, you have to carry all this extra baggage with you. If it's something that you're willing to part with, put it up. You can always see if you get a bid. If you don't get a bid, you know...

HEADLEE: You haven't lost anything.

VON TOBEL: ...Nothing's been lost. Yeah, you've lost maybe an hour of your life. But it's worth it. And you may actually declutter, which is - in its own right - you know, pretty emotionally impactful.

HEADLEE: But how do you make sure you're getting a fair price for it, especially if it's a collectible? Many people like to go to a personal dealer that they can talk to or maybe trust who has a background who can price it appropriately. How do you know you're getting what it's worth?

VON TOBEL: That's a great question. And so a few things - first, if it is something that's a collectors', get an appraisal. Get a third-party opinion. You also can Google and get a sense of other things that are online that are happening and currently, you know, up for sale. And get sense of the market. On both Amazon and eBay, you can often enter what the item is, and they'll show you the exact same item and what other prices are. So you can quickly do a market check. So if, you know, you're thinking of selling it for $200, and it's being offered by another person for $50, quickly you can get a good sense.

HEADLEE: You know, I think, Alexa, there's probably a lot of people who are listening to this and saying, oh, I don't have anything like that. I don't have anything to sell. But what kind of surprised me was the research that shows that most people do. Maybe without even realizing it, people have old outdated video games or VHS cassettes that they can actually get rid of and get a little cash, right?

VON TOBEL: Yeah, that's exactly right. There's a great stat from uSell.com - found that 51 percent of Americans fess up to holding between, you know, two to five electronics that they haven't touched for at least three months. So we really all do - think about it. I know in my household - go to those junk drawers. Go to those closets. Go to bookshelves.

And we all really do have some stuff. And it's, - again, it's sort of a fun process. You know, take a few hours. It's like a game. Put it up online. See if you get a bid. And there you go. You may be able to find a few extra hundred dollars without any effort. And again, I did this myself. That's why I wrote the story because I think we can all use a few extra hundred dollars. And so I came up with the best way to do it.

HEADLEE: Alexa von Tobel is the CEO and founder of the personal finance company LearnVest, also, author of the forthcoming book "Financially Fearless." She joined us from NPR studios in New York City. Alexa, thank you so much and happy holidays.

VON TOBEL: Thank you, Celeste. Bye-bye.

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