MONEY

24 Things to Do With $10,000 Now

$10,000 bundle
Grafissimo—Getty Images

Got 10Gs burning a hole in your bank account or withering away in your 401(k)? Here's how to deploy that money wisely.

1. Stash your cash in a CD. Really.
Believe it or not, putting a portion of your emergency fund into a CD looks like a decent idea. Synchrony (née GE Capital Retail) Bank offers 1.05% for a 12-month CD of $10,000. Meanwhile, a one-year Treasury yields 0.11%. And Vanguard’s Short-Term Investment Grade bond fund returned 2.6% over the past year, which is not a lot of compensation for the greater risk.

2. Write the book that will launch your career
Julia Child’s first cookbook helped turn her into a star. Follow her recipe, but get to the table faster by self-publishing. You can hire an editor, designer, and formatting expert for some $6,000 via BiblioCrunch.com; use the rest of the $10K to pay a publicist.

3. Create a D.I.Y. home theater
The average home theater costs $26,000. But Dave Pedigo of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association helped MONEY put together this one for under 10 grand, with wiggle room for extras like 3-D glasses, movies, and a gaming console.

Seats: Novo Home Viewpoint (around $1,400)
Screen: LG’s 55-inch LED TV ($3,300) or Stewart Filmscreen ($1,200 to $1,500) plus Epson 5030UB projector ($2,499).
Sound system: Sonos Playbar ($699) plus Sub subwoofer ($699) and a pair of Play:1 speakers ($199 each)
Concessions: Nostalgia Electrics vintage popcorn maker ($370) and Avanti’s 3.1-cubic-foot stainless- steel beverage cooler (around $230).

4. Go to the jungle
Traveling with four or more gets expensive fast. But a trip to Ecuador can help you stretch your budget. Since the opening of a new international airport in Quito, airlines have instated new routes to the city and are offering roundtrip flights from the East Coast for as low as $400, says Smartertravel.com’s Anne ­Banas. G Adventures was recently advertis­ing a nine-day tour of the country, including a visit to the Amazon jungle and hot springs, for $1,599 a person, down from the usual $1,999.

5. Give like Gates
Create your own mini version of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—without administrative hassles or billions of bucks—by opening a donor-advised fund. Fidelity lets you start one with as little as $5,000. You don’t have to decide which charity gets the money right away, “so you can be more intentioned about the giving,” says Burlingame, Calif., wealth adviser Sean Stannard-Stockton. But you get to write off up to 50% of your income this year—which is especially valuable when you’re at your peak earnings.

6-8. Snap up an income property
In some locales, a $10,000 down payment gets you a three-bedroom home that will rent for twice your mortgage payment. “For a strong pool of renters, jump into a market with a big student population,” says Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac. Here are three:

Income property

 

9-10. Put Paul Bunyan in your portfolio
A tighter labor market may ramp up wages and lead to higher prices. Stocks can help you hedge, but for an unexpected support, try trees. Timber is a commodity, so it rises with inflation. Also, it’s used to make houses, and housing prices rise when investors seek shelter in hard assets. Global investment firm GMO predicts that timber will be the best-performing asset class over the next seven years, with gains of 5.4% annually after inflation, vs. 2.1% for high-quality stocks and 0.5% for U.S. bonds. Get your lumber through the Guggenheim Timber ETF CLAYMORE ETF TST 2 GUGGENHEIM TIMBER ETF CUT 0.2033% and ­iShares Global Timber and Forestry ISHARES TRUST GLOBAL TIMBER & FORESTRY ET WOOD 0.2516% .

11. Lock in a great deal on a ski vacation
Ski resorts are eager to get people to book early, before there’s a sense of what kind of winter it will be, says Leigh Crandall, managing editor of Jetsetter.com. For example, Ski Holidays Canada recently offered a 10-day 2015 hotel and ski package in Banff, Alberta, for $4,000 for a family of four, about 40% off the regular rate. Flights to the Calgary airport from the East Coast start at $500 a person in January.

12-14. Get your house ready to sell
If you want to sell next spring, focus on amping up curb appeal, starting now. For $10,000, you could revamp the plantings. Replace what’s along the foundation with a mix of evergreen shrubs of different textures ($2,000 to $4,000), add beds of colorful perennials with different bloom times ($500 and up) and put ornamental trees at the house’s corners ($500 to $1,500 each). Or paint the exterior, which can help your house sell faster, which usually means a better price, says Pasadena architect and realtor Curt Schultz. Or add, upgrade, or replace a deck or patio—since buyers “like to be able to step right outside onto an outdoor room that feels like part of the house,” says Schultz. You might be able to get a 20-by-40 deck, a 20-by-20 deck with a barbecue or a fire pit built in, or a 10-by-10 patio with a roof for 10Gs.

15. Give your investments a boost
Research has demonstrated that certain stocks—those that regularly grow divi­dends, have stable prices, are undervalued compared with fundamentals, or have re­cent­ly appreciated—tend to outperform. Split your $10,000 among these characteristics as follows:

16. See Europe by boat
The market for travelers who want to explore the continent by boat is growing exponentially, says Colleen McDaniel of CruiseCritic.com, but the launch of two dozen new ships last year has created competition to fill cabins. Recently you could get a seven-night late-fall cruise on the Danube for about $1,500 a ­person (a savings of $1,360). Nonstop flights from the eastern U.S. start at around $1,200. So a little over $10,000 would have a family of four out on the river in style.

17-19. Buy a great used car
Check out these three picks for $10,000 from Patrick Olsen of Cars.com:

  • 2008 Ford Fusion: The roomy Fusion— which is “great for a small ­family running errands around town,” according to ­Olsen—has a V-6 engine and gets about 23 miles per gallon.
  • 2008 Kia Sportage: While no-frills, the Sportage is one of the few quality SUVs at this price point. “It’s good for small-business owners and parents whose kids play sports,” Olsen says.
  • 2007 Toyota Prius: This second-genera­tion Prius “is good for those who have a long commute,” says Olsen. “You’ll save a lot of money on gas.” It gets 46 mpg.

20. Practice living in your retirement town
To determine whether a place is really a good fit for you, you need to visit different times of the year and stay for longer periods, suggests Miami financial planner Ellen Siegel. Allocate $10,000 to travel and costs to stay for, say, a month in the summer and a week in the winter. Rent a condo or house in a neighborhood where you want to live and get to know area residents to make the simulation more real.

21. Make yours a chef’s kitchen

Many homebuyers love the industrial looks of pro-style appliances, but a Wolf range can ring in at $10,000 and a Sub-Zero fridge might cost $16,000. And if you invest in one or two high end appliances, but stick with economy versions for the rest, buyers will likely penalize you for that old dishwasher more than they reward you for the gleaming “prosumer” cooktop, real estate agents say. “Still, you don’t need to invest that much to get the professional look in the kitchen,” says Mechanicsburg, Pa., kitchen designer John Petrie, who’s president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “Moderately priced brands like Jenn-Air, Kitchen Aid, and Whirlpool have jumped on the commercial trend.” So, you can now outfit the entire kitchen—and cook like a semi-pro—for under $10,000.

22. Chase a market sector before it’s over

Since we’re late in the sixth year of the bull market, many analysts think it’s nearing the end. Certain sectors perform well in the last year of a bull run, including energy (34% average returns in last year of bull), health care (27%) and tech (23%), according to research by Ned Davis. Both energy and technology companies have a lower forward p/e than the S&P 500, and are expected to outgrow the market over the next five years. Meanwhile, “the outlook for the health care sector is promising,” says Eddie Yoon, a portfolio manager and research analyst for Fidelity Investments, “based on factors including an aging global population, an expanding middle class in many emerging markets, and a strong product innovation style.” Look to Money 50 funds Sound Shore SOUND SHORE FUND I COM USD0.01 SSHFX 0.4165% , which allocates almost half of its holdings to energy, technology and health care, and Primecap Odyssey Growth PRIMECAP ODYSSEY F TRUST UNIT POGRX 0.7767% , which has two-thirds of its holdings in health care and technology companies.

23. Invest in the frontier
BRICS is so 2012. With emerging markets countries (recent case in point: Russia) struggling to sustain economic growth, it may be time to look toward faster growing smaller countries (like Ghana and Vietnam). These “frontier” nations have been expanding fast: iShares Frontier 100 ISHARES INC MSCI FRONTIER 100 ETF FM 0.5007% is up 15% this year, but is still less expensive than the S&P 500. (The MSCI Frontier Index forward p/e is 13.6). Moreover, an index of frontier funds has actually been less volatile over the past 15 years than its emerging markets counterpart, says Morninstar’s Patricia Oey.

24. Sprechen Deutsche
If you work for a firm that does business internationally, becoming fluent in another language may pay off. A second language is correlated to an average 2% to 3% increase in annual income, according to research from Wharton and LECG Europe. Chinese provides the highest return. But if you don’t have it in you to learn an entirely new alphabet—and your company is trying to land clients in Deutschland—try learning German, which is correlated to 4% higher pay. One way to get up to speed: A language vacation. LanguagesAbroad.com offers language immersion programs for travelers in 35 countries. An intensive two-week course with 20 group lessons and 10 private lessons in Berlin is $2200, not including airfare or accommodations. On a $100,000 current salary, it would only take you three years to recoup a $10,000 investment.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do with $1,000 Now
Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

 

MONEY the photo bank

Inside the ‘Pay What You Want’ Marketplace

For some, the Labor Day holiday marks the end of summer, the start of school, and the beginnings of college football season, but for others—like the folks lined up at Southeast Missouri’s nearly 60-mile Highway 61 Yard Sale—this is the weekend for serious bargain hunting.

Depending on where in the country you live, you know them as tag sales, rummage sales, yard sales, or stoop sales, But whatever you call them, these pop-up markets of used items are a uniquely American summer weekend tradition. Advertised by scrawled chalk on a sidewalk, Sharpie marker on neon poster board, or balloons and flags tied to mailboxes (the more savvy might put a blurb in the local newspaper or Craigslist), yard sales draw in friends, neighbors, and passing treasure-hunters.

They also drew in photographer Greg Ruffing, who has been photographing his Yard Sales project for seven years and is currently working on a book of the images. Ruffing recounts what attracted him to photographing these sales:

I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in a middle-class family where both parents had full-time jobs. We hosted occasional yard sales in the summer, as did many of our neighbors. My brothers and I would get hand-me-down items passed through the family too. Later, when I was old enough to drive and had access to a car, I would go to thrift stores all the time. I still get a lot of my clothes and stuff from thrift stores and other sources that facilitate reuse, recycling, etc. I’m very curious about how the informal economy (yard sales, flea markets, etc.) functions relative to the standard marketplace.

In 2013, according to Statistic Brain, more than 165,000 yard sales took place across the country each week, with nearly 5 million items changing hands. The average item cost just 85 cents—yet enough people bought those lamps, toasters, and baseball mitts to rack up to more than $4 million in total yard sale spending each week.

Getting good secondhand items for less than a buck means that a little can go a long way, and in tougher times, that meant a lot. In 2010, TIME explored the impact of the Great Recession on the World’s Longest Yard Sale, which spans 675 miles along Route 127 from Ohio to Alabama.

Ruffing explains:

The informal economy [of the yard sale] grants consumers much more power to stretch the value of their dollar—which has become especially crucial in the context of the Great Recession and other times of economic stress and uncertainty, where yard sales and other means of informal trade can be a survival strategy for many middle- and lower-class people. In that context, participation in yard sales and the informal economy has actually drastically increased of late, particularly during the time I’ve been working on this project since the recession began in 2007/2008.

It’s that economic and social aspect of yard sales that really interests Ruffing. The upper and middle classes peruse yard sales for kitsch and novelty items, he says, whereas “for people of lower social class, the sales are an important and economically strategic source of used but good-condition items at fair and reasonable prices.” The items less affluent buyers pick up in wealthier neighborhoods represent an aspirational lifestyle, since “wealthier sellers are assumed to have more reputable items and not just ‘junk.'”

What’s special about these informal marketplaces (including online marketplaces like eBay) is that consumers have more of a say in the buying process. They can bargain and negotiate prices, something that won’t fly in Wal-Mart or Target. At a yard sale, tags are merely starting points for a conversation between buyer and seller that ends with a mutually agreed-upon price. That personal interaction between friends and neighbors helps to build a stronger community. Ruffing says of the people he has met while photographing:

They enjoy the spontaneity of conversations, the storytelling about items and people’s personal assessments of value/meaning in the items, the friendly and casual atmosphere (which, for some people, can be totally festive), the bargaining and consensus-building of price negotiations, and an overall sense of community and shared experience that people feel. Really, as many interviewees have recounted, in an age where everyone is busy and where the Internet and other technologies have reduced our amount of direct face-to-face contact, yard sales are basically a great excuse to get people out of their houses, and the importance of this avenue for interaction can’t be understated.

He recounts one Minnesota woman who hosted a “Pay What You Want” yard sale. “She told people to name their own price on everything—including zero dollars—and she had this amazing outlook on life where she didn’t really get too attached to objects but instead was more interested in people, friendships, family, relationships, etc.”

Of course, when it comes to shopping at yard sales, you can’t ignore the excitement of the hunt and the thrill of discovery. You may recall the story of ex-trucker Terri Horton, who went on a quest to authenticate a yard sale painting that an expert said was by American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, or Rick Norsigian, who believed he had picked up negatives from American photographer Ansel Adams (in both cases their legitimacies were later disproved).

And I have a story of my own. People say there’s no way you can remember moments from when you are two or three years old, but I vividly remember my first yard sale. It was to raise money for my Montessori school, Children’s House, in Columbia, Missouri, and it was where my mother finally came face to face with my imaginary friend Cuck, a horse that lived in the woods behind our house.

Mom and my spirited equine playmate were never properly introduced, until the day we arrived at the Children’s House yard sale. Holding my mother’s hand as we rounded each folding table of tagged goods, I suddenly shouted: “It’s Cuck! He came!” and began pointing. There he was, in the flesh (or plush, so to speak) sitting nonchalantly on the gravel of the schoolyard: a two-foot-tall, soft, red-and-white rocking horse with a cowboy hat, saddle, golden sheriff’s badge and a price tag labeling him ours for a less than a dollar. My mother closed the deal, and opened the trunk of the Subaru to Cuck—one person’s trash, perhaps, but a treasure to me.

In the end, whether it’s out of necessity, for the hunt or—as it was for me—a place where a used item can gain a second life in the hands of a new owner, these yard sales are just one more way that your dollar can go just a bit farther this weekend.

Related:
How to Have a Money Making Yard Sale
9 Ways to Score Big at a Yard Sale
Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later

This is part of The Photo Bank, a new section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, online photo editor for Money.com: sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

MONEY Jobs

The Economy is Improving, but May Face a New Speed Limit

empty cubicles
Get ready for Boomers to leave the work force. Getty Images

The recession is gradually ending, but we're about to enter a world where fewer and fewer people work.

While it might not feel like it yet, the economy is getting better. On Thursday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced the U.S. economy grew faster than expected in the second quarter of this year.

Here’s the thing, though. Even as employers add jobs, we’re about to enter an era with the lowest percentage of working Americans since 1973. Below is a Congressional Budget Office projection, from a new set of charts they’ve released here, showing the labor force participation rate—the number of people working or looking for a job—through the year 2024. As you can see, despite the economic recovery, it has a distinctly downward trend.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 12.06.20 PM
Source: Congressional Budget Office.

Why doesn’t a better economic climate mean more workers? The boomers, largest generation in American history, is on the cusp of retirement, and will soon begin to drop out of the workforce in even greater numbers. Over time, this will have an dampening effect on the economy—though by how much is disputed. The CBO predicts that GDP growth will average around 2.2% per year, noticeably less than the growth we got used to in the 1980s and 1990s.

Another way to visualize the change is something called the dependency ratio, which measures the proportion of the population that aren’t of working age (below 18 or over over 65). As FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman points out, that number is about to increase from 59% in 2010 to 75% in 2030.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 12.05.20 PM
Source: U.S. Census.

As you’ll notice from the above chart, we’ve been a demographically fortunate nation of late, but we’re about to lose that tailwind. On the other hand, this country has faced big demographic changes before: Look the at the jump in the dependency ratio from the 1950s to the 1960s. Back then, an increasingly prosperous nation spent part of its wealth on kids. Those kids grew up and made the economy even larger, and soon we’ll have to spend part of that prosperity on their retirement.

MONEY Banks

Bank of America Is Paying Up for the Mortgage Mess, But Who Will Get the Money?

Affordable housing construction
Kiet Thai—Getty Images

The banks has agreed to provide billions of dollars in "consumer relief." Here's what that actually means.

Last week, Bank of America agreed to pay almost $17 billion dollars in a settlement with the Justice Department. The settlement is about what Bank of America (and Merrill Lynch and Countrywide, which BoA later acquired) disclosed to investors about mortgage-backed securities, not about how it treated homeowners. Nonetheless, a large portion of the settlement—$7 billion—will be used for consumer relief.

So who will actually see some of that money? Bank of America can pay off its new obligation in four ways:

Reducing the principal or modifying payments on some mortgages. Mortgage modification isn’t anything new—the government has had programs to encourage banks to do this for years, though they’ve been criticized as too little or too late. However, compared to past settlements, the BoA deal does break some ground by targeting the relief. For the first time, 50% of principal reductions will go to borrowers in the areas hardest hit by the housing crisis. The Office of Housing and Urban Development has published an interactive map of these areas here. The settlement also gives the bank incentives to prioritize FHA and VA loans.

Bank of America’s agreement with the government also provides more substantial aid than previous settlements in certain cases. For example, BoA is required to provide $2.15 billion in principal forgiveness, which consists of lowering underwater mortgages to 75% of the property’s long term value, and reducing the mortgage’s interest rate to 2%.

“Those borrowers who do get assistance through the settlement are getting pretty substantial assistance,” says Paul Leonard, founder of the Center for Responsible Lending.

In addition to principal reduction, BoA will receive credit toward the settlement amount by forgiving mortgage payments, allowing for delayed payments, or extinguishing some second liens and other debts.

Who actually gets this help, though, is up to BoA. “Bank of America still gets to make all the final calls,” Leonard explains. “Even if I’m a borrower in default in a hardest hit area, who would seem like natural candidate for assistance, there is no entitlement to me.” As for the timetable, the bank has until 2018 to provide this aid, although the agreement includes incentive to finish early. BoA suggests anyone in serious hardship call 877-488-7814 to see if they qualify for an existing program.

More low and moderate income lending. For low-income Americans, first time homebuyers, or those who lost their home in a short sale or foreclosure, it can be extremely difficult to get a loan—even with a good credit. This settlement offers BoA credit for giving mortgages to these groups, or those in hardest hit areas, as long as they have respectable FICO score.

Building affordable rental housing. It’s also hard to find cheap rental housing, and financing for such development is scarce. As part of BoA’s agreement with the Justice Department, the bank will provide $100 million in financing for construction, rehabilitation or preservation of affordable rental multi-family housing. Half of these units must be built in Critical Family Need Housing developments.

Getting rid of blight and preventing future foreclosures. One side effect of the housing crisis was the large number of abandoned or foreclosed homes plaguing neighborhoods across the nation. BoA will earn credit for demolishing abandoned homes, donating properties to land banks, non-profits, or local governments, and providing funds for legal aid organizations and housing counseling agencies. The bank will also receive credit for forgiving the principal of loans where foreclosure isn’t being pursued.

Housing advocates say they’ll be keeping an eye on how quickly BoA and other banks that have agreed to consumer relief act on these programs. One worry is that by going slowly they could end up paying off the settlements with modifications and lending they would have done anyway. “If the promised relief arrives, as written, then it will bring a measure of relief that is badly needed by a lot of communities out there,” acknowledges Kevin Whelan, national campaign director of Home Defenders League. “But compared to the damage these institutions caused, it’s not really a large amount of money.”

Related:
What Bank of America Did to Warrant a $17 Billion Penalty
How to Get a Mortgage When Your Credit is Bad
Behind on Your Mortgage? You May Be Eligible for Some Help

MONEY Shopping

WATCH: Why Abercrombie & Fitch Will Ditch Its Logo

Responding to years of declining sales, the youth-oriented clothing retailer has decided to pull its logo from most U.S. clothes.

MONEY Shopping

The 6 Best Apps for Labor Day Shopping

The Level Money app can help you make sure you don't blow your budget.

Sales abound this holiday weekend. You'll improve your chances of nailing the best deal if you download these free apps and tools before you hit the stores.

Summer is about over, but don’t despair. Labor Day weekend means some of the best shopping deals of the year. And the right mobile apps and tools can show you shortcuts to the best sales and countless ways to streamline your shopping experience, making a good thing even better. Here are a few of our favorites.

PriceBlink

Think you’ve found the perfect Labor Day sale online? There may be a lower price out there, and PriceBlink can find it for you. Available as a free browser add-on for your iPad, PriceBlink scans more than 4,000 merchants to let you know if you’ve missed a better discount. To sweeten the deal, you’ll also automatically be alerted to any current coupons.

Smoopa

When you’re looking to compare prices from your iPhone or Android, Smoopa lets you know where to find the best sales. Browse or scan products, and if you’ve found the lowest price on an item, a green button will appear. If you see a yellow button you’re cautioned not to buy yet, and you’ll be directed to a better deal.

RedLaser

Before heading to the register, scan an item’s barcode from your smartphone with RedLaser to make sure the price isn’t lower elsewhere. This app knows which retailers are close by and compares prices at thousands of local and online stores. It also stores all your loyalty card information, so you won’t miss out on points. RedLaser is available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones.

Aisle411

Tired of wasting time trying to find what you’re looking for in large, confusing stores? Download the Asle411 app to your iPhone or Android phone and get maps of more than 12,000 U.S. stores. This app pinpoints your location in the store, directs you to the merchandise you want, and sends you alerts about special sales and offers.

Coupons.com

Once you’ve located the best deal, use the Coupons.com app to search for and “clip” thousands of coupons that could slash the price even further. It’s compatible with iPhone and Android, and you can redeem coupons from major retailers such as Sears and Nordstrom in stores or online.

Level Money

In all the excitement of Labor Day shopping, it’s easy to overspend. Having a budget app handy can help keep you in line. This secure app is one of the simplest budgeting tools around, letting you know how much cash you have available for today, the rest of the week, and the entire month. Simply link the app (available on iPhone or Android) to your bank and credit card accounts, and enter your goals.

Technology takes most of the work out of researching the best Labor Day discounts, and can help keep you on budget. By downloading just a few useful apps, you’ll be left with more time to enjoy your purchases. And you’ll have some extra cash to spend—remember, Black Friday is less than three months away.

Matthew Ong is the senior retail analyst at NerdWallet, a website that compares everything from shopping deals to credit cards to save consumers cash.

MONEY Smart Shopping

9 Ways to Score Big at a Yard Sale

Binoculars at a yard sale
Kevin Van Aelst

Use these strategies to help you find the treasures among the castoffs.

Between summer renters unloading stuff, parents clearing out space for back-to-school gear, and teens leaving behind their childhood rooms for college dorms, Labor Day weekend can be a bonanza for yard-sale shoppers. To get the best deals, though, you have to know what to look for. Here are 9 ways to shop a yard sale like a pro.

1. Know your sizes. You don’t want to discover after you get it home that your terrific new end table is three inches too wide for the spot you had in mind. Assess your spaces beforehand and carry a small tape measure in your bag to use while browsing.

2. Think frames, not art. The chances you’ll spot an original Whistler in your neighbor’s yard? Not so good. Frames, on the other hand, can often be worth more than sellers think. “I have found some that were 150 years old selling for chump change,” says artist, designer, and garage sale enthusiast Pablo Solomon. Look for intricate frames made from solid material. For more on what makes frames, art, and other antiques valuable, see the guides at eBay.com.

3. Scout out old china. Yard sales are great for nabbing just-out-of-the-box kitchenware. But vintage bowls and cups may be a better deal—and better quality—than newer items. If you’re interested in a lot of pieces, ask for a bulk discount; sellers are often willing to cut a deal to clear out a bunch of wares at once.

4. For resale, try retro. Yard-hopping for profit? Many traditional antiques are selling for half what they used to because downsizing baby boomers are flooding the market and younger buyers have a different aesthetic, says Patrick van der Vorst, a Sotheby’s veteran and co-founder of ValueMyStuff.com. Today’s hot items are appliances, functional objects, and novelties—such as movie posters or advertisements—from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Use your smartphone to check how much similar items have recently sold for on eBay before you negotiate.

5. Get goods appraised. Think you’ve found a garage sale gem? ValueMyStuff.com will give you a virtual appraisal for $10. Just submit a photo, and within 48 hours you’ll have an estimate as well as details about the item’s provenance and insight about why something is or isn’t valuable. That’s knowledge you can use to score even bigger on your next scavenger hunt.

6. Test the electronics. Those new-looking portable iPod speakers are a great deal—or are they? Pack an assortment of batteries to test electronic goods, along with a high-powered flashlight or black light to check for cracks or chips on housewares or furniture that may not be visible to the naked eye.

7. Look carefully at costume jewelry. Sellers often think that old costume jewelry made with fake stones and plated with silver or gold isn’t worth anything. Yet “vintage costume jewelry can sell for big bucks,” says Reyne Hirsch, an expert in 20th-century decorative arts and former appraiser for Antiques Roadshow. Look for sturdy settings and clasps; avoid pieces that have chipped or worn enamel.

8. Go for heavy items. Gardening tools, kids’ bikes, fitness equipment, and furniture all may be cheaper at a yard sale than online, since many sellers don’t want to go through the trouble or expense of shipping awkward or heavy pieces. To snag the best price on something mentioned in a listing, try calling the seller the day before; aficionados often circle the block hours before the official sale starts.

9. Know when to steer clear. Mattresses, upholstered furniture—forget ‘em. The risk of bedbugs is too high. Also be careful with baby gear such as car seats and cribs, since safety standards often change. Check the latest safety info on baby items at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website, cpsc.gov.

Adapted from “How to Spot a Yard Sale Deal” in the July 2012 issue of MONEY magazine.

Related:
How to Host a Money-Making Yard Sale
Inside the ‘Pay What You Want’ Marketplace

MONEY Odd Spending

WATCH: We Try Out NYC’s First Bitcoin ATM

The Bitcoin crypto-currency may be the wave of the future, but MONEY's Jacob Davidson finds that using it to buy lunch can be a hassle right now.

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