8 Ways to Spin Straw into Gold

Linking up with Gina at Someday Saints for...

I suppose I should clarify my title a little bit.  I'm speaking of the fairy tale character's ability to turn straw into gold, not to intimidate frightened mothers into giving up their firstborn children.

You've all heard it said, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."  It's not just an empty cliche, folks, it is true and I'm going to share with you some things that we do to make some extra bling bling around here.

None of these, by themselves, could probably sustain a family of five as a full time job.  But I can tell you that doing all of them in combination have gotten us through two or three months of my husband being unemployed and me making a pretty small (about $1100 take home pay) monthly paycheck.

Some of them may not be applicable in your state; you'll have to do your homework.  And some may just make you shake your head and say, "No way I'm gonna do THAT."  Take what you like and leave the rest!

These are all things that I've learned from my fine, fine hubby, Allen.  Some are things that he learned from his family, and others are just things he's found out on his own.  This is one of the reasons why my man is an awesome husband: he does what it takes to provide.  Nothing is too unworthy a job (well, nothing legal and morally permissible…he's not making money as a Chippendale because that's just wrong).  He has a great work ethic and he tirelessly brings home money for the family.  He is our resident Rumplestiltskin (again, in the non-creepy way), able to spin straw into gold.  Here are some ways that you can too!

1. Metal Recycling (AKA Scrapping)

 Other people leave washers, dryers, broken dishwashers, whatever it is out on their curb to get taken away by the trash truck, but if Allen gets to it first, it is going in the bed of his truck by hook or by crook!  Before he got his truck, it got strapped to the top of our Echo.  This is one reason why that poor car is dented and dinged, but you'd be impressed by the things he has managed to haul to the scrap yard on it (hint: an oven.)  One time he dragged a bag of golf clubs behind the car (it was a very short drive, don't worry).  You know the saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way?"  Yeah, that's his motto.

It's not a huge money-maker per load, and not something we could live on.  He makes maybe $25 per load on average…but there are occasions when he makes several runs to the scrap yard in a day.  It adds up, and it is all stuff that otherwise would have gotten pitched into a landfill!

2.  Can and bottle recycling
Another bit of "junk" that can be redeemed (in our state, anyway) are cans and bottles.  In Oregon, aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, and beer bottles are worth 5 cents each.  You pay a 5 cent deposit per bottle/can whenever you buy them and you can get that 5 cents back when you take them to a bottle recycling center (for us, it is Bottle Drop).
A lot of people, though, don't want to deal with the (minor) inconvenience and just throw the things away or put them in the recycling.  Once again, this is a great chance to take someone else's trash and take it to the bottle drop.  We specifically use all of the money we make on other people's cans and bottles (we rarely buy them for ourselves) for our anniversary fund.  Since our last anniversary (August 8th), we're now up to around $100, and we still have half a year to go of collecting and adding to the fund!  Woohoo!

One of our huge "tools of the trade" here are websites like the Free section of Craigslist and Freecycle.  The free section of Craigslist has some real humdingers, to be sure (free sawdust, anyone?) but Allen has found tens of thousands of pounds worth of scrap metal, all of it free for the taking.  We've gotten free clothes, free food, free furniture, free books, free tools, free toys, free arts and crafts stuff…if you're willing to take the time to look through it (and spend the time to go fetch it), you'll find a lot of great stuff amidst the things you don't want.  The following tips can all be used with things you might find for free, either on curbs, at garage sales, or on Craigslist and the like. 

3.  Book Reselling
Another fun and easy way to make some spare change is www.bookfinder.com.  They buy up books to resell, and you never know what they'll take.  They specialize in buying back textbooks, but they will take far more than that.  They'll also take books in less than mint condition, too, so if your books have some notes or highlighting don't count them out.

What we do is to look for free books at garage sales, on the curbsides, or on the free section of Craigslist.  We snap them up, and then enter the ISBN codes into the bookfinder website.  The website then runs it through several book-buying websites and tells you which (if any) will give you money for it.  To be honest, most of the books that are being given away aren't worth anything to a book-buying website, but sometimes you strike it rich (assuming your definition of rich is a few dollars).

Then again, sometimes you can make upwards of $30 on one book…you just never know.  It's not a huge use of time to go through the pile and enter ISBN numbers, and you might come up with some cash doing it.  Also, Amazon.com often will buy back books in exchange for Amazon credit, and that's nearly always useful.

But what about shipping, you may ask.  If you have a printer, paper, boxes, and packing tape already (which most of us do, I'd venture to say), you won't have to spend any money. You print up the packing slip and label, pack it all up, and leave it on your doorstep.  The nice folks at USPS will take it and you don't have to pay shipping.  Now that's a bargain!

4. Getting store credit by resale
I have had some success with reselling some of the kids' clothes and baby gear and I usually go with the store credit option (usually because stores will give you a larger percentage of the value of the merchandise than if you're just trying to cash it out.)

Besides kids stuff, don't forget about sporting goods stores.  We have one in Portland called Next Adventure which buys lots of used sporting equipment of all kinds.  Allen has earned over $200 in store credit there just by finding unwanted sporting equipment on the curb or Craigslist.  We have outfitted our kids in high quality winter coats and boots thanks to this store credit.  And since people often give away old skis or snowboard shoes or whatever it is when their interest wanes or they get a new one, there are usually some to find for free if you are keeping your eyes open.  And hey, if the store won't buy it, maybe you can scrap it (if there's any metal on it, that is).  

5. Selling on Craigslist (or eBay)

We have never tried using eBay to sell things, although my brother in law has had some success with it.  We have sold things on Craigslist.  I wouldn't say it has been hugely successful but it has happened.  Another thing to think about is if a relative, friend, or acquaintance is complaining about all their crap that they want sold, you can offer to sell it for them on commission or splitting the profit.

6.  Selling to antique stores

Allen has made some decent money developing relationships with some local antique dealers in town and has sold some items to them.  He gets them from his grandpa and they split the profit.  But again, keep your eyes on CL.

7.  Pawn shops
We haven't done this a lot, but it definitely pays to build up relationships with local pawn shop owners and dealers if you think you have goods to offer.  Word to the wise, though: don't even bother trying to make money on VHS tapes.  Nobody wants 'em.  Maybe in 50 years the antique stores will take them??

I think you're sensing the pattern here!  Find stuff that nobody else wants and squeeze every last penny out of it.  The last thing I'll present is one of those "desperate times call for desperate measures" type of scenarios, and Allen doesn't often resort to it…but in times of trouble, it is an option.  

8. Plasma donation
Yes, you can make money donating the plasma from your blood.  There are plasma banks and they will pay you to be a donor.  Not a ton, mind you, and there are health restrictions surrounding it (you can only donate every three days, should be in good health, etc.), but it is something.  It can take a lot of waiting around.  Not something that most people do just for the fun of it, but when times are tough, it could be the extra $100-200 a month you need.  

I hope you enjoyed this rather random list of ways to turn trash into treasure.  It takes patience, time, and some effort and ingenuity, but it can reap rewards.  What do you do to augment your family's income?  Tricks and tips always appreciated!


  1. Neat ideas!! I thought of another book swap site that I use: paperbackswap.com We've gotten several "free" books just by listing books we are done with, mailing them, and earning credits to have books sent to us. It's easy and fun. Thanks for linking up!


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