Turn Cast-offs into Cash

by Shaunna Privratsky


Last week was Clean Up Week in Fargo, North Dakota. A lot of people consider it the perfect opportunity for spring-cleaning. They throw out broken appliances, old car parts and garbage that have accumulated in garages, attics and basements.

Others, however, look at it as a free for all smorgasbord of treasure waiting to be discovered. I saw countless pickups, vans and cars pulling trailers stuffed full, cruising past tempting piles of trash at five miles-per-hour. I overheard people chortling over all the "great stuff" they found. I even saw a woman standing by a pile of garbage higher than her head. She protectively held onto a heavily carved coffee table.

Okay, I'll confess. I am a boulevard browser, a curb connoisseur, and a (blush) garbage picker. My five-year-old son is my enthusiastic sidekick. He eagerly "shopped" the boulevards with me last week. His excitement was contagious and my eight-year-old daughter decided she wasn't too cool to "shop" with us, yet she ducked down if we saw anyone coming.

There is nothing wrong with it. Since time began, resourceful people have turned cast-offs into cash. A friend told me that she collected aluminum with her husband. They turned it into a recycling center and made $33.50. Another friend found an old book of patterns for doll clothing and sold it on eBay for $75. Someone else found twenty boxes of office supplies that she plans to sell at her garage sale.

I noted that many people set items aside that they thought others might find useful. My husband threw out a scrap of bright green, indoor/outdoor carpet. Before he walked back into the house, a car pulled up and a man snatched up the carpet. He drove off after a sketchy thank-you wave.

I don't think there is any etiquette for trash diving, but I always ask if the owners are around. My kids and I were taking a walk and spotted a sturdy redwood table on the curb, perfect for our deck. We knocked on the door of the house and asked if it was okay to take it. The man laughed and said, "Sure, no problem." As we grabbed the table, a truck pulled up beside us. I managed to secure the table into my trunk and drove slowly home. The man in the pickup followed me the whole way. I suppose he was hoping the table would fall out, or I would change my mind.

This year I was very selective, only taking items that weren't broken or that I thought I could use. I had a garage sale this weekend and netted $82.50 from the items I found during Clean Up Week. (I marked the tags with a discreet "G" for garbage) My customers were delighted with my low prices and I smiled all the way to the bank.

editor's note: Be sure to check the legality of taking things from the curbside in your area before you begin boulevard browsing. We would hate to hear that a Stretcher is behind bars.


Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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