Regifting the right way: 8 rules for upcycling gifts with style

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 3:08 PM

Last year I obtained a $25 gift card at a conference – and promptly designated it as a Christmas gift for a relative.

Was this person any the wiser? Nope. She had a nice time treating herself with the card, and I had a nice time paying for one less present.

Part of the fun of the holidays is giving the kinds of presents that will delight your family and friends. Does it matter where you get these gifts? Maybe. Maybe not.

Many frugalists love regifting. A couple of years ago the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey noted that 76% of people believe the practice is acceptable. That number had inched up in the previous few years.

The Emily Post Institute, on the other hand, isn’t wild about the practice. An article on the Institute’s website, All About Regifting, says that at best it’s “lazy” and at worst it’s actually dishonest. They say that to wrap and give a gift you already have is “inherently deceitful…an attempt to pretend you went out and shopped for this item with the recipient in mind.”

Done poorly, regifting can be low-rent: “Hey, I can de-clutter AND not have to spend any money on holiday gifts – I’ll just give away all my junk!”

Done smartly, though, the practice is a budget-booster and a clutter-buster – and eco-friendly to boot.

Obviously you wouldn’t re-give a bad present. But how many of us have received things that were great – just not great for us?

The etiquette of regifting

That article from the Post website suggests a couple of situations in which regifting might be okay. One is when you’ve been given the same gift twice. It’s acceptable to give one to a friend – but unwrapped, and specifying that you got two and want him to have one.

(No gift wrapping, no element of suspense as it sits under your friend’s tree – where’s the fun in that?)

The second scenario: “Your sister’s coffeemaker just stopped working and her birthday is days away. You, who are on a budget, have been given an extra coffeemaker. Instead of stashing the extra coffeemaker in your closet, you wrap it in its original box and present it to her. She’s delighted.”

Wait: Re-gifting is permissible if you’re broke, but unacceptable otherwise?

O, earnest heirs of Emily Post, I respectfully disagree. Not all regifters are living paycheck to paycheck. Plenty of them are smart consumers who want to stay under budget, prevent waste and, yes, clear out some gifts that just didn’t click but that might make someone else very happy.

Use the following tips to be savvy, not tacky.

Rule #1: Don’t regift junk

Your sister – such a joker! – gave you a DVD of some of the worst made-for-TV romance movies in existence. A co-worker presented his self-published science fiction novel to everyone in the office. Great-Aunt Edna wrapped up a set of lotions and bath salts that smell like insecticide.

If you can’t get far enough away from gifts like these, why would you even consider passing them along?

Maybe the charity thrift shop will take them. But if not, don’t feel too much guilt about disposing of such items instead of re-homing them.

Rule #2: Don’t regift fruitcake

Do I really have to explain this? It’s been suggested that there’s really only one fruitcake in existence – it just gets passed around from household to household, year after year. Essayist Calvin Trillin claimed that “nobody in the United States has ever bought a fruitcake for himself.”

Or not. Some people love those fruity doorstops.

If that’s not you and you receive a fruitcake from the boss, don’t think about pawning it off on a friend. Or on an enemy, for that matter, even if he’s really asking for it. Christmas is a time of good will toward men, remember?

However, feel free to regift wine or spirits, as long as they’re unopened. Fancy chocolates or coffees are often handed out during the holidays, and are generally welcome regifts. And if vanilla-wafer-tongued you were to receive a gift basket of hot sauces in the office gift exchange the week before Christmas? Go ahead and wrap it up for your brother, he of the asbestos palate.

However, make sure that you observe…

Rule #3: Remove initial-gift traces

When I was an impoverished midlife college student, the school newspaper editor gave me a book about the history of the movies. (I was the oldest living cub reporter, and one of my jobs was to write about films.) A-ha! I thought. I can give this to my BFF, a former movie reviewer – what a great boost to my nonexistent budget.

Except that I neglected to note the inscription he’d left on an inside page. You know, one that mentioned me by name and also noted the date of the gift. Awkward.

Scrutinize that unwanted present before you pass it along. Maybe you never took that lime-green wallet all the way out of the package, and thus didn’t see notice that the giver had it monogrammed for you. Or perhaps inside that seashell-decorated jewelry box was a note from Uncle Bob, fondly recalling all those summer beachcombing sessions at the Jersey Shore.

Trust me: “Awkward” isn’t an emotion you want connected to your gift-giving.

Rule #4: Don’t regift old-looking stuff

That is, unless it’s a fabulous antique whose age is part of its charm.

But what we’re talking here is non-gently-used stuff. If some of the pages in those “Outlander” novels are tear-stained, the books will not make good gifts even if the covers are new-looking. That burgundy pashmina shawl is pretty, but suppose the recipient remembers you wearing it last New Year’s Eve?

Don’t give a gift card with a weird partial balance, either. Imagine unwrapping $19.33 worth of Walgreens scrip. Can’t exactly feel the love, can you?

Rule #5: Sometimes it’s OK to wrap old-looking stuff (but only sometimes)

Suppose you and your sis are both wild about vintage Pez dispensers. These things are old by definition. Giving her your super-rare “Creature From The Black Lagoon” dispenser will make this the merriest Christmas ever.

See also: rare books, sports memorabilia, coins, stamps and just about any other collectible.

Rule #6: Make sure the recipient isn’t the original giver!

I once heard about a woman whose wedding gift to a nephew and his bride was a cookbook with a $100 bill hidden inside. Two years later, guess what she got for Christmas?

And yes, it was the same book – the Benjamin was still tucked within.

The solution: Label each item with the giver’s name and the date you got it, so you don’t mess up. In fact, it’s a good idea to have an ongoing list of what’s available in the gift stash. Should your own nephew surprise everyone with a fiancée, you’ll know at a glance whether you have a picture frame or a journal (or a pashmina) you can quickly wrap for the new family member.

(Also: If someone gives you a book, flip through the pages before regifting it.)

Rule #7: Don’t give away handmade stuff (unless you made it)

If someone gives you a hand-painted ceramic snowman or a crocheted toilet paper cover, you don’t have to display it — but you shouldn’t give it away, either.

Really can’t stand that mud-colored pottery bowl or super-amateur seascape? Try to remember that such things are the result of hours of dedication. It’s the thought that counts, etc. Bonus good-guy points for bringing the item out whenever the giver is visiting.

Rule #8: Match the gift to the recipient

If your cousin is all about geocaching, don’t irritate her by wrapping up a scented candle from your regift closet. However, maybe that small backpack would be perfect for carrying her flashlight and other geocaching tools.

Uncle Joe has gone vegan. Do not give him that barbecue cookbook. But he might like the decorative bowl you got in the Secret Santa exchange. Tell him it’s perfect for quinoa or tofu (or both).

Grandma has moved into assisted living and her place is small. Instead of giving her yet another framed picture of her grandkids, check your closet for something experience-related: a movie gift card (paired with a promise of rides at least once a month), or a blank book so she can write down the story of her life.

Just as you wouldn’t buy presents on autopilot, you shouldn’t regift that way, either. Look over your stash and think about what might surprise and engage the recipient. (Hint: You probably won’t be able to meet all your gift-giving needs this way. Be prepared to go shopping as needed.)

In closing….

Does regifting feel wrong? Then don’t do it. Frugal hacks should make you feel happy, not queasy.

If you do this the wrong way, you’re putting people’s emotions at risk. As the Emily Post Institute notes, any savings you realize wouldn’t be worth “the cost of hurt feelings or a damaged friendship.”

And, seriously: Don’t regift fruitcake. It just isn’t done.

Donna Freedman created the Smart Spending and Frugal Nation blogs for MSN Money and has written for dozens of other blogs, newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Your Playbook For Tough Times: Living Large On Small Change, For The Short Term Or The Long Haul and its sequel, Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition. Donna blogs about money and midlife at, and is at work on her third book.

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Downtown Dayton office building/Table 33 home sells for $2.8M

Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2018 @ 2:08 PM

Dayton city garage maintenance worker Kevin Price points upward at the 130 W Second St./ 1st National Plaza in downtown Dayton in this 2001 photo. FILE
Dayton city garage maintenance worker Kevin Price points upward at the 130 W Second St./ 1st National Plaza in downtown Dayton in this 2001 photo. FILE

A downtown Dayton office building near the federal building sold for just over $2.8 million today, according to local property records.

Titan Loan Investment Fund L.P. is identified as both the buyer and the seller for the May 1 transaction at 130 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton, according to Montgomery County property records.

The transaction is a sale to an investor named Brian Lash, a new owner coming into the market for this building, said Katie Doup, a Columbus-area spokeswoman with  real estate firm CBRE. She said a fuller press release was being prepared now on Lash’s investment in Dayton and his plans. 

 MOREMaker of Gibson guitars declares bankruptcy

Doup also said a second announcement on the sale of another Dayton building may be forthcoming in the near future. 

The 22-story building at 130 W. Second was on sale with an asking price of $4.25 million, according to a LoopNet real estate listing. It offered a rentable building area of just over 326,000 square feet and was built in 1972.

Acadia, the Table 33 restaurant, IT firm DataYard and County Corp. are some of the building’s most notable tenants. 

Acadia moved to the building last year from Kettering. The company moved to 4,800-square-feet of offices in that building.

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6 tax mistakes procrastinators make and how to avoid them

Published: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:46 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:46 PM

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Taxes

We get it. Doing your taxes is no fun, especially if you know you’re going to owe money. But as with any project on which you procrastinate, leaving everything to the last minute can lead to errors, both large and small, and some of those errors could cost you serious money.

If you’ve gone and done it, though, and are still looking at that pile of tax forms over there in the corner, we’ve compiled a list of six quick-and-dirty tips that could keep you from making some obvious, and not-so-obvious, mistakes when you finally sit down and tackle the task. They could also help you maximize your tax refund.

1. You Forgot to Sign It

You might wonder how anyone could forget to sign their tax form, but this simple process is one of the most common tax mistakes, according to the IRS. Just like forgetting to sign a check or a contract, it means your return isn’t valid. Usually, there isn’t a penalty or interest associated with this error (since you’ve already included a check or electronic payment if you owed), so the IRS will just send a notice asking for a valid signature, but it will delay the processing of your return. If you’re getting a refund, that too will be delayed.

So check, double-check — heck, triple-check — that you signed or completed the e-signature process before filing your return. Also, check out these last-minute filing tips from the IRS.

2. You Miscarried the 9

Math errors are also a very common mistake made by folks in a hurry. Fortunately for most people, the IRS corrects any miscalculations, so there’s no need for filing an amended return. But these mistakes can mean the difference between you thinking you’re getting a refund and the reality that you actually owe taxes, so be sure to check your calculations carefully.

One way to help you avoid math errors is to file electronically so the calculations are done for you. Bye-bye, No. 2 pencil! So long, calculator!

3. You Didn’t Account for All Your Income

Did you have a side hustle early last year? A freelance design gig for a friend’s business? If so, you’re going to need to account for it, regardless of whether you received a W-2 or 1099 from whomever paid you. That’s because, while there’s an IRS threshold for filing these documents by employers, there’s no similar threshold for claiming the income. Income is income is income. If you made money and don’t report it — and the IRS catches it — it’s going to cost you penalties and interest at best, and open you to a possible audit at worst.

4. You Forgot Deductions or Tax Credit

It’s easy to forget these things when you’re in a hurry, but they can end up saving you some serious money and are well worth the extra time to figure out if you qualify. So if you’re just claiming the standard deductions because you’re under the gun, you might want to take a deep breath and check out TurboTax’s list of 10 commonly overlooked tax deductions that can keep you from overpaying the tax man.

5. You Filed for an Extension but Didn’t Understand the Rules

Filing for an extension is a great idea if you’re down to the wire and don’t really understand your tax situation. But remember that an extension gives you an extra six months to file your paperwork, but not an extra six months to pay any taxes due. So, if you’re confused, tax pros recommend doing a quick calculation of your taxes, filing for your extension and making any required payment of taxes you think you owe. This will help you avoid penalties and interest once you get your final calculations together.

6. You Didn’t Bother to Request an Extension

You gave up. You shoved, slammed and jammed your return through and now it’s full of mistakes that are going to cost you money by way of penalties or because you’ve left money on the table. It’s a much better idea to file the extension, then get the help you need from a tax professional to ensure you’re not overpaying your taxes.

Whatever you do, make sure you file your taxes. Unpaid taxes can have serious consequences on your personal finances, including your credit scores if they go unpaid long enough.

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11 ways to reduce next year’s tax bill

Published: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:55 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 05, 2018 @ 11:55 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 14:  Liberty Tax Service tax preparer Ronn Seely works on tax returns on April 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 14: Liberty Tax Service tax preparer Ronn Seely works on tax returns on April 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

If you claimed the right number of dependents and standard deductions on your 2017 federal income tax return and you still ended up owing the IRS, you’re probably looking to avoid a repeat performance next year. Luckily, there are several ways to increase your chance for a refund (or at least reduce the amount you’ll owe) and you don’t have to be a tax whiz or accountant to take advantage.

Here are 11 ways you can pay less in federal taxes for your income return next year.

1. Contribute to a 401K or IRA

Contributing to a retirement fund is an important way to ensure financial independence in your golden years, but it can also convey short-term tax benefits. In most cases, the contributions you make to your 401K and IRA plans are tax-deductible and are not included in your taxable income at the end of the year. (Note: If you didn’t contribute to an IRA in 2017, you still have time. You have until April 17 to contribute up to the maximum amount and shave off a good chunk of your tax bill. Filed your taxes already? That’s OK. You can file an amended return to reflect the contribution.)

2. Buy a Home

There’s a distinct tax benefit to home ownership. The interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible, and the interest is front-loaded. For the first several years, most of your mortgage payment goes toward interest, which will drastically reduce your adjusted gross income at tax time. Want an extra boost for your taxes next year? Consider paying January 2019’s mortgage payment in December to get a tax benefit before the end of the year.

3. Donate to Charity or Volunteer

You probably know charitable donations can be itemized and deducted from your income, so you’ll want to save receipts anytime you donate cash or items to charity. You can even deduct miles you travel for volunteering or other charity work.

“Miles you travel on behalf of a charity are deductible at 14 cents per mile for 2018,” said Gail Rosen, CPA.

4. Start a Home Business

Starting a home business can provide you with a new source of income and allow you to take deductions off any income the business generates.

These deductions include business costs you incur throughout the year, a portion of your mortgage and utilities if you use a home office and the cost of goods needed to keep your business running. You can even deduct startup costs.

“Any expenses that are incurred before the first sale are ‘start-up costs,’” Rosen said. “These costs cannot be deducted until the first sale. Then they are deducted over 15 years and you can deduct the first $5,000 in the first year.”

5. Search for a New Job

If you hunt for a new job in your field this year, you can write off some qualifying expenses as you search. There are exceptions, but potential write-offs include things like clothes or travel.

“If you looked for a new job in 2018, you should be aware of the income tax deduction that may be available with respect to job-search costs,” Rosen said. “Qualifying expenses are deductible even if they do not result in a new job being offered or accepted.”

6. Open a Flexible Spending Plan

Many employers offer flexible spending plans that let you contribute toward yearly medical expenses pre-tax. These contributions typically don’t count toward your taxable income.

7. Deduct Medical or Dental Expenses

Many medical and dental expenses are tax-deductible. According to Rosen, the cost of getting to and from medical treatment is deductible at 17 cents per mile, plus the cost of tolls and parking, and dependent expenses are also deductible.

“If you cover the medical cost of dependents, these can be deducted. Additionally, if you are covering the costs of an individual who would qualify as your dependent except that they have too much gross income — for example, an elderly parent — you may be able to deduct these costs as well,” said Rosen.

8. Education-Related Expenses

Current and former students have many eligible deductions and credits related to their education expenses. Paid student loan interest and tuition and fees can be claimed as deductions. Eligible current students can also access the American Opportunity Credit, which can cover up to $2,500 annually for four years, and the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cover up to $2,000 per tax return.

9. Install Solar Energy

Homeowners who install solar energy systems in their home can get back tax credits at up to 30% of the cost of installation. This credit will begin to decrease after 2019 so you may want to act soon if you’re planning on installing solar panels.

As an added bonus, solar energy can significantly reduce your energy bills.

10. Hunt Down Every Available Tax Credit

We’ve named several tax credits above, but there are more, including credits for adopting children, the cost of child care and low-income households. Tax credits are more valuable than deductions, as they reduce your taxable income on a dollar-for-dollar basis, so make sure you’re taking advantage of every option.

11. Get a Pro to Do Your Taxes

No matter how much research you do, a professional may be able to identify tax deductions and credits that hadn’t occurred to you. Paying a reputable professional you trust can help you stay organized and minimize your tax liability. Here’s a handy guide to finding the right tax professional for your needs.

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5 surefire ways to retire earlier than you thought

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 11:27 AM

The following are five surefire ways to get to retirement quicker Set clear goals for yourself and track your progress Working hard and being disciplined is the most reliable ways to retire early Streamline your spending and scale back on luxuries Cut your housing expenses Put your money to work - wisely

Retirement can seem like a difficult goal to reach, so the thought of achieving it early may seem downright impossible.

But getting to retirement quicker doesn't require genius-level investing knowledge or extreme deprivation. With a plan, hard work and discipline, you may be able to get there sooner rather than later.

RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loans

The following are five surefire ways to get to retirement quicker:

Set clear goals for yourself

Consumer adviser Clark Howard recently shared advice from Chris Reining, who decided in his late 20s that he wanted to retire early. By the time he turned 37, he was able to reach this goal.

Howard said he thought setting clear goals was one of the most important things that Reining did. He labeled his investment account "Retire early" so he could see the words every day. In addition, Reining tracked his progress by using a spreadsheet you can get on his website. He wanted to save up 25 times his annual expenses before retiring.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Work hard

The Forbes Finance Council recommends working hard and being disciplined as the most reliable ways to retire early.

This can be achieved through a high-paying job combined with saving as much of your income as possible. Another path is starting your own business.

Reduce spending

Forbes quotes a blogger who retired early and says that streamlining your spending is an important step toward achieving this goal. It's not glamorous or complicated, but it works.

He suggests scaling back on luxuries and investing your savings in a low-cost index fund. When you accumulate 25 to 30 times your annual spending in this type of account, you can quit working for the rest of your life.

This Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, photo shows a new home for sale in a housing development in Raeford, N.C. On Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, Freddie Mac reports on the week’s average U.S. mortgage rates.

Cut your housing expenses

If you're like most people, your home is your biggest expense, so it's also your biggest opportunity to save, according to Money.

Housing costs take up about a third of the average budget, so Money recommends not taking out the biggest mortgage you can get. Live in a more modest-sized home when possible, and in some cases, homeowners can purchase a two-family home, living in one side and renting out the other.

Put your money to work - wisely

CNBC talked to Scott Alan Turner, who had more than $70,000 in debt at age 25, yet managed to turn things around and retire by age 44.

He put his money to work and although he made some mistakes in the beginning, he evolved into what he calls a boring investor. His savings are automatically funneled into low-cost index funds, which Warren Buffet calls a surefire way to build wealth.


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