In May of 1995, Patrick Combs was sitting there minding his own business when out pops this junk-mail check for $95,000, one of those tired promotional teasers from a tired promotional firm that promises the tired old world in cash and gifts.
On a lark, the San Francisco author — to whom the check was issued — decided to deposit the item at his tired old bank despite the “Not Negotiable” caution at the top. What followed was a series of errors that resulted in a $95,000 credit to his account, with the bank holding the bag.
So commenced a real-life fantasy, with Combs performing a monologue on the gaffe around the world and novelizing it in 2010 under the title “Man 1, Bank 0.’’
There’s gold in them-thar hills, even if at first they look more like crater-riddled moonsacapes. And you don’t have to be Patrick Combs to profit from their bounty. Extra cash for crap — maybe in startling amounts — is only a gallon of cooking oil away, especially in an economy that depends on the public’s creativity for survival.
A look at a spring issue of the blog Work At Home Woman proves as much. Publisher Holly Reisem Hanna tells a story about how she and a friend scooped up thousands of soda can tabs one summer to make enough for a one-night stay at a hotel. She adds that it takes about 34 cans to equal a pound — but while the average yield is only 50 cents per pound, Americans make about $1 billion a year in this effort.
And the cooking oil thing is no joke. A company called EnviroTek USA, Hanna says, is happy to pay $1 per gallon of your old material, which it turns into biodiesel fuel. Refer a restaurant, and EnviroTek will pay you $25. Hanna says the Marblehead, Mass. company offers this service only in the Northeast. But a little research might yield a similar trade elsewhere.
These recycling efforts aren’t limited to the United States or constrained to the same money-making formula.
Donna Fenn, a North Yorkshire, England resident and founder of the website Remade in Britain, told the Financial Mail in a June 2015 article that ‘‘Recycling is about breaking something down, such as cardboard packaging being mashed and pulped. It involves destruction.
‘‘In contrast, upcycling is about using old pieces to make something new (and salable) – either bringing together different items to make one brand-new object or simply breathing fresh life into a single piece. It is a more imaginative challenge.’’
Gateshead resident Bev Martin makes clocks, wallets and jewelry from old bicycle parts. Londoner Zoe Robinson has upcycled an entire wardrobe with old fabric and darning lessons from her grandmother; she figures she’s saved $260 a year in the effort.
The benefits don’t have to end with one transaction. Become a business, and the Internal Revenue Service will often give you a recycling deduction. The IRS also offers energy investment credits for solar panels and fuel cells.
If you take your ‘‘anything rubbish’’ mentality to this extreme, beware the unseen effects from repurposed electronics. Caroline Thompson writes in the blog Brad’s Deals that ‘‘There are tons of toxins inside these items that can seriously hurt the environment if they end up in a landfill, and … throwing away even a broken device is basically throwing away money. If you know what you’re doing, you can either sell your old devices for cash or donate them to a good cause.’’
Sites like eBay, Penny Hoarder and Hoobly have their qualities when it comes to cash from clutter — but an August story by Lifehack‘s Betsy Talbot outlines a few ways to celebrate the transactions for their own sakes.
Talbot was 39 and close to selling her possessions as a fundraiser for a trip around the world. Problem is, she’d grown attached to some of those things even as they’d outlived their usefulness. The solution: a reverse birthday party, wherein she asked several guests to shop 39 hard-to-part-with items rather than buy her a gift.
The result: a perfectly practical way to fund part of the excursion (the wine and food probably didn’t hurt).
Mention ‘‘yard sale’’ and you’ve mastered a magic trick — you’ve just made your friends disappear. Talbot’s remedy was to hold hers indoors, with no particular planning involved and no physical removal of necessities until the day she left her home. Each person got a sheet of colored sticky dots, placing them on items they wanted. When it was over, everybody gathered over dinner and negotiated prices and moving days, eliminating the formalities and rampant untidiness that follows yard sales like glaze on ham.
Full disclosure: Combs, 52, eventually did the right thing with his windfall, returning it to the bank six months later. The motivational speaker and life coach had logged some success before the incident as the bestselling author of 1992’s “Major in Success,’’ so it wasn’t as if his world was headed the way of the Golden Gate Bridge.
But his example illustrates the many unlikely ways that cash is as abundant as the ideas that produce it. We won’t all be as lucky as Combs, any more than we’re the guy who bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a flea market or the girl who unknowingly stored a Renoir original in her attic in favor of the gold frame.
But neither will we suffer the fate of the woman who dropped off an old Apple 1 computer at a Goodwill outlet, never discovering that it was worth $400,000, or that of the homeless man who died before he learned he was heir to $19 million. As often as not, such windfall prospects turn out for the better, and you only need look in your back pocket for proof. Ingenuity may be its own reward, but what’s in your wallet is another matter.
August 28, 2018