Apart from not bothering to pick up a dropped penny, nobody really throws away money, do they? Well, maybe they do by accident. A garbage man in Georgia did find $8,500 in the trash, and a man in Florida spent years collecting over $21,000 left behind in change slots of car wash vacuum machines.
But even if you don’t forget your change in a machine or accidentally drop currency in the trash can, you might throw away money in other ways. For example, maybe you toss out items you can sell, or discard things you can use to save cash.
Here are fifteen ways you might be throwing away money, and some suggestions on how to turn that trash into cash.
1. Cans and Bottles
I once made $1,500 collecting discarded soda cans in the breakroom where I worked. It took over a year, and I lived in Michigan, where beverage cans and bottles have a 10 cent deposit. If you live one of the states with a “bottle bill” don’t toss out those beer cans and Coke bottles. Return them for the deposit.
You can even make some extra cash returning bottles and cans thrown out by others. I made $35 from “returnables” when I helped a friend clean out her garage.
Warning: If you live in a state that doesn’t have beverage container deposits, don’t try cashing in your cans in another state. That scheme was part of a “Seinfeld” show, but in real life people have been arrested for trying it.
Cans without a deposit still have value as scrap aluminum. One report found that some people make up to $50 per day collecting and recycling cans that others have thrown away.
Aluminum cans are worth only a penny or less, but that can add up if you drink a lot of soda or beer. Rinse your cans and put them in bags in the closet or garage instead of in the trash. When you have enough, sell them to a local scrap metal buyer.
2. Other Scrap Metal
When things break you toss them out, but are you throwing away money? You are if you throw out metal items.
The last time I brought a pile of metal from broken lawn furniture and other household items to a scrap metal buyer I was paid about $15. It was better than nothing, and recycling those metals is also good for the environment.
Copper is one of the more valuable metals. For example, if you have a window air conditioner headed for the garbage you can scrap it and make up to $18 because of the copper tubing.
Aluminum isn’t quite as valuable, and scrap steel and iron bring in even less, but any metal you otherwise throw away can be salvaged and sold for something.
3. Wine Corks
There are more than a thousand listings for wine corks on eBay. People used them for various craft projects. And you’ve been throwing them away, right?
Well, you might keep throwing them away when you see the prices they fetch. On eBay at least, they only sell for 4 cents to 10 cents each, usually in batches of 50 or more. Unless you drink a lot of wine it may not be worth the trouble.
On the other hand, wine corks are a good example of just how many things with cash value we throw away. And the next one on our list is potentially worth a lot more.
There are over 7,000 listings for coupons on eBay. It makes sense. If someone is about to spend $1,000 at Home Depot, a 10%-off coupon is worth $15 (that’s an actual listing at the moment). Maybe you’ve thrown away $15 more than once, right?
Bank account bonus coupons are perhaps the most valuable. Current listings start at $1.99, but go as high as $75 (for a $500 bonus at Fifth Third Bank). Have you ever received an offer for a account-opening bonus and thrown it in the trash?
5. Convenience Store Soda Cups
As a frugal expert I should be ashamed of the gas station cups in my garbage. They could have been reused. Not only is that the “green” thing to do, but refills at most convenience stores cost less than a new soda. Throwing away an easy discount is throwing away money.
6. Old Furniture
If you toss out your old furniture you might be tossing out easy money. Save it for your next rummage sale or try selling it on Craigslist instead.
I once took a kitchen table out of the garbage and sold it for $50 on Craigslist. I’ll bet the original owner didn’t know he was throwing away that much money.
Do you trash your leftover boxes? BoxSmart and other buyers will pay you for them if you have enough, especially if you have moving boxes.
My favorite money-saving use for old boxes is as cat condos for our two felines. I cut out a few “windows” and “doors” in the sides and top, and Jack and Opie love them. If you’ve ever shopped for cat furniture at a pet store you know how much you’ll save.
8. Ink Cartridges
You can also refill your ink cartridges instead of throwing them away. According to Costco that can save you up to 70% versus buying new.
9. Toilet Paper Tubes
Really. There are over 400 listings for toilet paper tubes on eBay. Apparently they’re used for various art projects.
They sell for as much as 20 cents apiece, usually in batches of at least 50. So start saving them in a box in your garage. You know, right next to the boxes with wine corks, scrap metal, and….
10. Old Clothing
Of course you don’t throw away clothing that’s still in decent shape. You at least give it to a charity thrift store or try to get something for it at a rummage sale.
But did you know that if you search “t-shirt rags” on eBay there are more than 4,000 listings? People used them for rags or for sewing projects that require cheap cloth.
The new shirts seem to sell for more, but there are listings for small bags of old (clean) t-shirts starting around $3 or so. Cut up clothing scraps are sold on eBay as well.
11. Water and Soda Bottles
Why throw away a perfectly good plastic bottle when you can fill it with less than a penny’s worth of tap water and take it with you in the car? That beats buying water at a buck per bottle.
Soda bottles are great for hiking and backpacking. Despite all the marketing hype about water bladders, canteens, and other ways for hikers and campers to carry water, I’ve never found a cheaper, lighter (important for backpacking), or more practical water container than a basic plastic soda bottle.
12. Lego Blocks
Don’t throw away that set of Lego blocks when the kids outgrow them! Even if you’re missing pieces you can sell it online at the BrickLink Marketplace.
You can sell many other used toys on eBay.
13. Old Socks
Throw away those old socks? But they might be worth something! According to the Broward Palm Beach New Times, there is an “underground sock trade,” mostly on Craigslist, thanks to fetishists. If you’re their type they’ll pay you up to $25 per pair… as long as they stink.
Hmm… I’m going to keep throwing away those old socks, and I suspect you’ll do the same, so moving on…
If you have old magazines, do a search on eBay before tossing them out. They might be worth some money.
Of the millions of magazines on eBay, many are sold for just a few dollars. But if you sort the search results by “highest price first” you’ll find dozens for sale for more than $20,000. So be sure you’re not throwing away a treasure.
15. Pre-1982 Pennies
You wouldn’t throw away actual money, right? Maybe, even when you’re in a hurry, you stop to pick up that dropped penny. But if you’re spending pennies that were minted before 1982, you’re throwing away money.
That’s because pennies minted up until 1982 have more copper, and the melt value of that copper is worth close to two cents. At the moment it’s illegal to melt them — or any other U.S. coin still being minted. But penny hoarders are waiting for the penny to die. When the government stops issuing them they can cash in.
So you might want to set aside any older pennies you find in your change. Someday your stash might be worth a small fortune, especially if the price of copper keeps rising.
If you have enough of the old pennies you don’t even have to wait for the big meltdown. Already pre-1982 pennies on eBay sell for about 1.5 cents in larger quantities (batches with $100 face value are common).
Oh, and if you find any “wheat pennies” (older than 1960), be sure not to throw those away by spending them. They might be valuable to collectors. You can look them up on the PCGS Coin Price Guide to see if you have a rare one.
What things have you saved from the garbage to make or save money? Tell us about it, and keep on frugaling!