Make Money: Selling, Scrapping, and Flipping

“WELL, what do you think the hobo’s are doing?”

“I don’t know. They’re deranged?” – Newman in Seinfeld

There is an apocryphal tale that’s winding around the smorgasbord of stories I’ve heard and collected over the years. It has to do with a certain friend in law school (who will remain anonymous for legal reasons). He attended the University of Toledo, in northern Ohio. For any of you who don’t know, the city is only a few miles from the Michigan state line. His fraternity decided to save all the beer cans from their parties and keep them in a dumpster out back. When the year was up, they took the dumpster to Michigan – where you get 10 cents per aluminum can returned – and got over a thousand dollars back, which more than offset the cost of the dumpster and there was enough left over for one final kegger.

Now, it’s highly illegal to bring out-of-state cans into a “bottle deposit state” in order to collect on the refunds.

In theory, charging customers more for cans or bottles as a “deposit” encourages the customer to return the cans to be recycled – otherwise the customer doesn’t get their money back. It works: the recycling rate is something like 85% in those states, which usually charge 5 cents per can or bottle. But Michigan alone charges (and refunds) 10 cents per can. Hence the entire premise of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman “borrow” a mail truck to take a load of cans from New York to Michigan with “a thousand dollars worth of cans.”

So, if you live in one of those bottle deposit states, the answer is obvious: return those cans!

Scrapping

If you don’t live in a bottle deposit state (like Ohio), you can still make money on saving and crunching those cans. If you’re like me, and you drink a lot of pop and beer, then those cans can add up quickly. Almost any recycling center accepts aluminum cans and will pay cash for them, typically between 55 and 65 cents per pound. All you have to do is buy a can cruncher from Harbor Freight for five dollars and set up a separate trashcan for the cans – and you’re in business. I’ve been consistently able to bring in $15 or so every few months, or about $60 a year.

If you live in Cincinnati, I personally recommend Can-Dew Recycling in Covington. If you live in Dayton, I recommend First Street Recycling. Both websites quickly indicate that these organizations also accept a wide variety of other metals, including but not limited to wheels and rotors, copper, wheel weights, batteries, catalytic converters, and so much more. If a yard tool such as a weed whacker breaks down or a bicycle comes apart, don’t pitch the old one in the dumpster! Sell it to one of these companies, they’ll gladly pay cash.

The same goes for brass, and this is especially true if you like to go shooting, especially at public range. Sweep up all your brass and take it home with you. Even if you don’t handload your own ammunition, brass casings will fetch something in the neighborhood of $1.25 a pound.

Selling

There is another highly effective way to raise some quick cash (and probably make roommates/spouses happy), and that is to get rid of some of the clutter around your house by selling it. Old books and CD’s can go to Half Price Books. Clothing that doesn’t fit anymore or just doesn’t appeal to your fashion sense can go to Plato’s Closet. Stereos, iPod’s, computers, and other electronics can be sold at any pawn shop. Books, especially expensive ones like college textbooks, can be sold on Amazon or Craigslist for many times what you would get by returning it to the school’s bookstore.

(A bit of advice: tell the pawn shop you want to pawn, not sell it, even if you do intend to sell – they’re less likely to low ball you.)

On a personal basis, I sold some outdated political books, a few things I didn’t like, and just some plain inappropriate relics in exchange for $12 at Half Price Books. I turned around and used that money to pay for a $9.99 cut at Great Clips and I even had $2 left over for the tip. So I basically got a haircut for free, and I did myself a favor by clearing up a shelf on the bookcase. I’ve also done similar things at yard sales and picked up books that were given away, and boxes of books fetched in the $15-20 range – which went straight in my pocket (or I bought something I was actually interested in reading).

Flipping takes many forms and styles, but it generally all revolves around one premise: buy something low and turn around and sell it high. I’ve had friends who made money as kids in elementary school flipping Beanie Babies dolls because they’d buy them for $5 and turn around and sell them for $15 or more. Others buy cars from sellers who either need to sell in a hurry or simply don’t care; then sit on the cars until the right buyer comes along. On a grander scale, speculators buy and flip houses all the time (well, they did until the financial crisis).

But it doesn’t have to be all grand scale. Almost everybody knows someone who has a small arsenal of ammunition in their basements. If they bought in 2008 before President Obama was elected, they made a wise investment – as it has likely appreciated significantly, as the wholesale price of ammunition continues to rise. Anybody who bought gold or silver before Ben Bernanke was appointed Fed chairman is sitting pretty on their investments, too. A quick scan of eBay shows prices for Hostess Twinkies spiking as soon as news of the company’s impending bankruptcy went public.

So, somebody went to Wal-Mart and bought all the Twinkies for $2 per box and then flipped them on eBay for $30 – and then laughed all the way to the bank.

Now, none of these ideas or methods will by themselves constitute a big change in your lifestyle or your overall financial health. If you have a spending problem, it doesn’t matter how much stuff you pawn off if you’re spending ten times that on new stuff. If you don’t have steady employment, no number of crunched cans will keep the bills paid and the lights on. There’s a reason why you see homeless people pushing around shopping carts filled with cans – they can make a few bucks, but nothing near enough to pay rent on an apartment.

All of these are merely “supplements” to your income – a free haircut here, $10 in your pocket there – but a help nevertheless. It’s not unreasonable to say you couldn’t raise several hundred dollars per year this way. And in this economy, is anyone going to say “no” to free money?

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