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Free Swaps and Taxes: What You Need to Know

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When times get tough, the first thing that most people cut from their budgets is discretionary spending. No more buying clothes, books, or any other non-essential items. 

But you don’t have to sacrifice all your hobbies when you’re on a budget if you can find a nearby swap. Swaps have been around for decades to help people get rid of unwanted items without throwing them away – and to help other people find just what they’re looking for.

Keep reading to learn more about how to find free swap meets and even how to set up your own. 

What Is a Swap?

A swap meet is a gathering where people bring items to trade with like-minded individuals. For example, a swap for fans of board games will have free board games and gaming accessories. Some swaps require that you bring several items in order to take items, whereas others don’t have any rules.

A swap meet is not only a chance to get free items, but it’s also a great way to reduce the environmental impact of consumerism. It helps individuals find items they want without having to buy new goods.

How to Find Swaps 

If you’ve never gone to a swap before, it can be daunting to figure out where they are. Here are the best places to look for swap opportunities:

Organize a Swap Meet Yourself

If you have a solid group of friends, you can organize a swap meet for you and your besties. Start by talking to a few people to gauge their interest. If enough people are interested in the idea, send out a poll to pick the best day and time. 

Make sure to write down exactly what people should and shouldn’t bring. In my experience, making swaps as open as possible is better than adding too many rules. When I’ve hosted swaps, I’ve told people to bring anything they want. One year, the most coveted item wasn’t a leather jacket or a brand-new dress – it was a stud finder.

I try to host a swap annually, often right after Christmas. Winter is a popular time to purge and declutter your house, especially for any unwanted gifts you’ve just received. After my swap was over, we donated all the leftover items to a local women’s shelter.

Visit Your Local Library 

If you haven’t checked out your local library lately, you might be missing out. My local library offers a puzzle swap, where you can get a free puzzle if you donate a puzzle. 

New puzzles can cost between $10 and $20 each, and there’s not much you can do with them after you’ve completed them. Instead of buying new puzzles all the time, I try to get most of mine from the library.

My library branch also has a bulletin board full of neighborhood events so you can find more potential swap meets or other interesting free events.

Follow Local Stores on Social Media

Many local stores will host swaps for customers, but you usually don’t have to buy anything to attend. My local plant store offers a free plant swap, where plant lovers can bring in a plant to swap. An art store near me also has a monthly art supply swap, while my neighborhood vintage clothing and furniture store hosts a free clothing and accessories swap. All these events are free and open to the public. I’ve gotten free clothes, art supplies, and plants just by showing up.

If you don’t see your favorite places post about swaps, you can visit them and ask if they know of any local swap meets. Sometimes stores may charge a small admission fee for the swap, so factor that in when deciding to attend.

Join a Local Buy Nothing Group

The Buy Nothing Project is a website that brings together various hyper-local groups where users can post when they need something or when they have something to donate.

“They’re sorted by zip code, and you can give or take freely, without needing to justify or explain yourself,” said financial educator Kara Perez of Bravely Go.

You can find your local Buy Nothing group here and create a post either listing what you have or describing what you want. Some Buy Nothing groups are more active than others. If no one responds to your request, you can always repost later. 

Freecycle.org is another site where users can register and list items that they’re donating or looking for. I’ve gotten free outdoor plants and given away used furniture. Freecycle.org is not divided by neighborhood so you can search for items outside your zip code.

Utilize Social Media

Facebook is full of different groups where people post items that they’re giving away. You can also check the free section on Facebook Marketplace, which usually has a cornucopia of free items in good condition.

Make sure to join your neighborhood’s Facebook group, where people often post about items that they’re getting rid of. Try to check in daily to see what is listed. If you need something specific, you can post to ask if anyone has what you’re looking for. 

Also, go to Facebook and search for your city and the word “swap” – you might be surprised by what you find. 

Go Online

While most swap meets are held in person, there are lots of free swap communities online, especially on Reddit.

Here are some of the most popular ones: 

  • r/apple_swap
  • r/gameswap/
  • r/makeupexchange/
  • r/pen_swap

Some of the online swaps may require that you cover shipping and handling fees, so it’s not entirely free.

Join Other Groups

Sometimes joining groups for specific hobbies will help you find swap meets. For example, people in a local plant group may post when they are giving away free starts. If you’re part of a book club, you can host a book swap where everyone brings five books they don’t want anymore.

If you work in an office, you can talk to coworkers about having some kind of after-hours swap meet.

Swaps and Your Taxes

If you decide to sell your swaps online (think eBay or Amazon) or in-person at a flea market you could find the cash you earned from these treasures will cost you come tax time. It can boil down to a few things around if you operate it as a business or hobby and if you are earning a profit. 

The IRS considers if you operate in a business manner, the time you spend selling, and if you depend on the profits for your livelihood. If you operate as a business, you can claim a deduction for losses incurred, but you can not take a deduction for losses from hobby activity. While there are many considerations that may apply when determining if you have a business or hobby in the eyes of the IRS – generally, you should report all income you earn on your taxes. 

Selling at swaps can result in a taxable event. If you earned more than $600 during 2023 from a third-party settlement organization (like PayPal and Amazon), you could receive a 1099-K for transactions they processed. You are also required to report self-employment income if your net earnings are $400 or more.  

So trade wisely because when it comes to swaps and taxes, your swap meet could result in a tax feat.

Don’t worry about knowing all these rules. Meet with a TurboTax Full Service expert who can prepare, sign and file your taxes, so you can be 100% confident your taxes are done right. Start TurboTax Live Full Service today, in English or Spanish, and get your taxes done and off your mind.

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