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The Smart Way To Give Stuff Away

A few Saturdays ago, my boyfriend and I did what a lot of people do at the end of the year: pulled a bunch of dusty stuff out of his basement and drove it to Goodwill.

Not only would this keep stuff out of a landfill, but he would take the tax deduction for his 2010 taxes.

Except we didn’t anticipate something: Goodwill won’t take everything, which is how we ended up driving around with an exercise bike and weight bench in the back of my mom’s truck for three hours.

Here’s how to be a little smarter than we were when giving stuff away:

Match your donation with an appropriate charity. Church thrift shops are often a good place to take used clothing. But save furniture or large appliances for charities that make regular swings through your neighborhood with trucks.

Check the organization’s website for its donation policies. Goodwill, for example, lists exactly what it will and will not take. Rules are typically very strict on donating cars and computers. Most charities will not take old baby gear, either, because of recalls or because old gear doesn’t meet current safety standards.

Call ahead. Different stores, even in the same organization, have different policies. Goodwill’s site makes no mention of not allowing exercise equipment. The first Goodwill we stopped at said they would have taken it if they had room. Another Goodwill outlet that the first store sent us to said they would never take exercise equipment. Calling ahead makes sure you don’t waste your time and gas — like we did.

Make sure it’s a charity. This isn’t something you need to worry about with Goodwill or the Salvation Army. But if you’re going to a smaller outfit, ask to see the paperwork that shows it’s been certified as a charitable, nonprofit organization by the IRS. Not only do you want to give your items for the right cause, but you want to be able to claim the deduction on your taxes, too.

Get a receipt. If tax deduction is your goal, you need the proof. So get it.

We ended up offering my boyfriend’s stuff on Freecycle, a Web site that allows you to give unneeded items away..

It got the stuff out of his basement, but without any tax benefits.

We’ll plan better next time.

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