21 Ways To Earn Extra Money

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You can find me on Twitter now @indebtedmom 🙂

Awhile back I asked if anybody had ideas – besides a garage sale – for making money. We have plenty to sell and we intend to hold a garage sale later on, but as a full-time working breastfeeding mom with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night (gasp), I’m fresh out of energy to organize a garage sale.

I’m not the only one looking for some ideas, so I consulted the expert. You know, Google. Because if I had original ideas about making money I wouldn’t be writing a blog about debt. I found a few ideas repeated over and over but what follows is a list of things I would possibly try (no direct sales – #notasalesperson) and things that have the potential to allow a mom to be with her kiddos (no call center jobs). Because I’m not afraid of a little controversy, I’ve even included a couple of rarely mentioned ideas that might not sit well with everyone. But let’s still be friends, k?

Baby steps – easy ideas, but generally low or limited return:

  1. Appraise Collectibles. Anything from jewelry to china to weird, old hand-me-down kitsch could bring in more money than you might expect. We just found a very old quarter in my daughter’s piggy bank that might be worth over $100. Look everywhere!
  2. Sell your old cell phone. This is one we’ve been discussing for awhile, as we’ve had several iPhone upgrades. Our old phones are just lying around, but there is a market for them!
  3. Sell plasma. I have a friend that sells plasma about once a week. It’s a 90 minute commitment that he does while his daughter is at dance class and he gets about $40.
  4. Use apps. Do a little research on apps that pay you for something you might already be doing or buying anyway. I used Ibota before – didn’t like it. Now I’m trying out ReceiptHog and hubby’s going to use Gigwalk during lunch breaks. The list of apps paying is seemingly endless. Here’s a starter list.
  5. Rewards programs. Rewards programs are not just for credit cards, although, if you have a credit card that’s an option. Upromise.com allows you to shop your favorite online and local merchants and save money for college. No, it doesn’t add up fast, but every little bit counts, especially when you were going to spend the money anyway.

Preschooler steps: ideas that require more effort, but earn a little more

  1. Flipping cast-off items. One lady in a forum told me she was on track to make $100 this month from scrap metal finds like grills, set out as trash. We drove by three sets of couches last Saturday and the thought did occur to me that I could take them and possibly sell them. Good friends of ours in Texas were notorious for finding their (cute!) furniture on the side of the road, so not everything being thrown away is really “trash”. Some people frequent garage sales and antique sales for the purpose of reselling the items at a mark-up. You can apparently become a millionaire!
  2. Surveys. Each survey takes a bit of time and the money made is not awesome, but the important thing is that money can be made! Check out sites like swagbucks.com or through Money Savings Mom (which I did to weekend).
  3. Clinical research. Note that you might have to make some adjustments to you life to comply with the terms of the research.
  4. Launch a craft business. I’ve seriously thought about taking up jewelry making and selling my items. I just don’t know if I’d even like it, so I hate to waste money on that unknown, but if you are already doing something and enjoying it – think about how you could market it. I know a knitter who has made quite the business for herself!

Teenage steps: takes quite a bit of time, but potential to make a living

  1. Monetize your blog. Hmmm. I might have to do this. I am already switching to WordPress.org soon because I want to post a widget with a debt ticker, so I’m moving the right direction. Even just $50 a month would make a difference in when our loans get paid off…
  2. Sell your photos. My husband is a decent photographer. It’s one of his hobbies and he posts his work to Facebook. From that alone, he’s sold prints of his work and been hired by folks to take engagement and family photos. So there’s that, but stock photo sites are always paying for photos if every day items, like forks or diapers.
  3. Babysitting. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have the patience or desire, then do not do this. Especially full time. When we first moved to this area, none of the daycares had openings, so we hired a sitter. She was young and wanted to stay home with her newborn, so it seemed like a win-win, but she was in over her head with our energetic toddler and quit in three weeks, leaving us in turmoil.
  4. Pet sitting. Again, gotta be a pet lover to do this, but also take precautions. One lady in Tennessee was dog sitting for a friend when the dog attacked the sitter’s toddler.
  5. Micro task. I recently heard about sites like fiverr.com and taskrabbitt.com, which is only available in a few larger US cities. Then then I ran across Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site which seems promising. One reviewer says you can possibly make minimum wage at it, but it’s really best for work to fill in some time. Elance.com also offers small time commitment opportunities.
  6. Teach a class. If you can play piano, teach piano lessons. If you are a photographer, offer basic photography lessons. I was so in love with the natural birth class I took, I got certified as an instructor (and have stupidly let that certification slip).

Adult steps: actual job ideas that offer flexibility

  1. Virtual jobs. I’ve registered for flexjobs.com – you have to pay for this service, but you can locate a flexible, work from home opportunity that aligns with your talents. Virtual assistants are becoming quite the “thing” lately; I keep seeing successful bloggers who employ one. Also: Leapforce hires folks to work from home and some Elance.com opportunities are long term.
  2. House cleaning business. I’ve read about women who take their children along when they clean houses with the approval of the client. Face it, your children have to be of a certain age to make this work out. And you have to clean.
  3. Franchises. I’m a runner and am totally gaga over the fitness / nutrition industry. I was pointed to a low startup franchise in that field and have really wanted to do it, but current franchise owners tell me it’s like a full-time gig and it doesn’t make money immediately. Ideas like this are best if you have the investment capital and are just looking for extra income – not working full time and not trying to survive.
  4. Paper route. I’ve seriously considered this one! Papers have to be delivered early, so, depending on your family’s schedule, it’s possible to get back before the kids are up and your spouse heads out the door.

Crazy Aunt: takes a special person and might offend some people

  1. Selling Breastmilk. Some moms pay up to $4 an ounce for breastmilk pumped by a mom on a special diet that jives with their child’s tummy. It’s more common to be paid about $1 an ounce, so the mark-up for a child that already has some problems seems like price gouging to me. Also know that some moms donate huge amounts of milk after weaning – not everyone would be on board with your decision to earn money this way.
  2. Surrogate mom. I really, truly liked being pregnant. I didn’t find it hard or uncomfortable and both my labors were unmedicated and still pain-free. I could be pregnant 30 times, but I’m no Michelle Duggar; I think I can only raise two kiddos. Surrogates are paid several thousand dollars during their pregnancy, but you’d have lots to consider before under taking something so life-altering and emotional. And not everyone would feel comfortable charging for this. This is altogether a very personal decision, and don’t forget how hubby and kiddos could be affected, too. This article addresses how much money can be made.

One note on selling plasma, breastmilk, and renting out your womb: the people on the other side are in need. A medical need, maybe very tragic. On top of that, these people are quite possibly fretting about money more than you are. At the same time, over and over I read blogs and forums advising – with contempt, in some cases – for people to sell clothes and furniture and toys to make headway on debt. So, as long as you are consistent in your outrage, comment away 🙂

I have no idea why you are reading this post today (you might be asking yourself that, too ;-)). Maybe it was just something to read. Maybe you are short a little cash each month or need a little extra to be able to do something fun. Or maybe you are like me – motivated to stay home with your kiddos and/or pay off some debt. Please examine your motivations and don’t deceive yourself that you needy ideas to provide when, deep down, you are working to seek wealth and comforts. (Prov 23:4). Because it’s much better to seek a God first, to make Him a priority. Allow Him to be your treasure and you just might be surprised at how that changes the view of your finances.

Have you tried any of these ideas with any success? What ideas are you most likely to try?

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Money Mismanagement Confessional: The Full Story of Our Debt

The purpose of this blog is to bring some accountability to our finances, but perhaps this blog can actually help someone else avoid the mistakes we’ve made. That can only happen if I lay them out there for everyone to see. So excuse this really long post – I just want to put this out there and then move on, not make some series of posts about our mistakes. Mistakes. Plural. Yes, it’s our student loan debt that keeps me from being a stay at home mom, but that’s actually only half the story. Long ago, God provided a way out of that. But I didn’t know I even wanted it…

Growing up, we were not poor, but we were not well-off people. We never took vacations. My clothes were, at best, from Wal-Mart, and at worst, ill-fitting hand-me-downs from my larger-sized sister. We rarely spent money on having fun. When I was in high school, my dad died. My high school educated mom took on a second job to make ends meet, working all day at her full-time job and being on-call for a second job at night. Mom died when I was in college. Perhaps fearing for the provision of her children after enduring the financial hardship that came with my father’s death, she had left us her 401(k) and a few life insurance policies. The sum total would not make us rich, but for a kid in college, it was a huge windfall.

This windfall would have paid off my student loans and those of my future husband. But I had allowed myself to get into a few thousand dollars of credit card debt and my car had ceased to run properly. It would cost a lot to fix it, but it was still fixable. Those were short term needs. Once I graduated and got a job, paying of my student loans seemed like it would be easy. So in all my wisdom, I paid off the credit card debt, bought a brand new SUV, and sat on the rest of the money for awhile.

We threw ourselves a cheap wedding just over a year after my mom passed. Seriously, we did good. The only thing that could have been cheaper would have been a courthouse ceremony. We were gifted most of the expenses for our short honeymoon, so we even rocked that.

cheap wedding

But I didn’t want to start our life together without a dresser. Seriously, who doesn’t have a dresser? And his vinyl futon had.to.go. And the entertainment center he’d fashioned himself was not working for me. So we bought a dining room table, leather couch (pre-vegan days), mahogany entertainment center and coffee table, and queen bedroom set (with a pricey Temperpedic mattress). All new.

Within four months, I got a job that moved us from Florida to Tennessee. I failed to negotiate for relocation expenses, believing they would have offered if that was an available benefit. So we paid out of pocket for professional movers to move all our nice, new, heavy furniture.

Once in Tennessee, we still had around half our windfall. We used almost all of that as a large downpayment on a house (that was probably too expensive for us). It was a huge house, so of course we needed more furniture. And the large yard required brand new lawn equipment. Whatever we held out from the downpayment got sucked into more stuff for our house.

large house

We sold the house in 18 months in order for me to take a dream job at NASA in Houston, TX. Of course, we didn’t make any money in the sell because we hadn’t paid much principle, given the timeframe and the fact that we had an ill-advised balloon mortgage. In Houston, we rented for awhile and eventually bought a smaller, less expensive home with only a 20% downpayment. We used most of our leftover money to purchase a slightly used vehicle to replace hubby’s aging bachelor sports car. At least we wouldn’t have a car payment, but we didn’t take action to start saving for our next vehicle.

medium home

After a little over four years in our home, we were preparing to move for my husband’s career and recognized the house might not sell as quickly given the state of our floors. So we used any money we had left (and borrowed quite a bit) to redo the flooring, which was a strategic move just to sell the house quickly – not to make money – because until the house sold, we’d have two housing payments. The two housing payments would kill us.

tile and fireplace redo

While hubby was in the north at his new job, I ran to the grocery store to buy my daughter’s speciality milk. My debit card was declined. I sobbed. My hubby arranged to wire me some money the next day. We weren’t even tracking our balances, even though we knew these two living expenses would get us!!! We made it, but it was a stressful, nerve-wracking, depressing time. The house sold, but we didn’t make money if you included the flooring upgrades, although we accepted an offer within three weeks. Maybe the new floors were worth it.

In our new location, no one rents houses to dog owners. And few rent apartments to dog owners. So rather than looking for the cheapest place, we looked for any place that would let us keep our aging pets. We felt as if they were too old to rehome compassionately.

We ended up in an expensive but rundown townhome, so when we bought a home, even with our meager 15% downpayment, the mortgage+taxes+insurance was less than our townhome rent.

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Looking back, the smartest thing to do would have been to pay off debt. Live like other newlyweds do – with mismatched furniture in a small house with vehicles that barely run. Because, had we done that, I’d be staying home now with my children.

Instead, my furniture is scratched up, coming apart, and in some cases, doesn’t even fit in my house anymore. That SUV I bought in Florida was rear wheel drive. When we bought our house here (in the very, very north), it couldn’t drive anywhere due to the icy hills. We couldn’t manage to get it parked in our driveway and got a ticket for parking on the road. We had to sell it and buy a vehicle with a payment. Our houses have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller.

Seven things I'd wish I'd known about money

We live a happy life. We are mostly healthy. We have two beautiful girls. We are incredibly blessed to have this life. I don’t want to live in the past. But here are takeaways from my story:

  1. Don’t use student loans. You may think you will make some huge salary, but even if you do, when it all goes to student loans, what does that matter? With your great salary, if you can’t take a vacation or afford a house, will you still think those loans were worth it? If you graduate and decide you hate your chosen career (I hear this too often), you might end up in a low-paying job you love, but doesn’t pay enough to cover those loans. Or perhaps worse yet, you are stuck in a job that you detest, just to make ends meet.
  2. Live on a budget that reflects your current salary but has room to save. You should be forecasting needs for the next 5+ years and making sure your budget supports that. Are you saving for a new vehicle if yours is older? Think your couch will give out or you’ll need a new roof on the house? Plan to have kids? You cannot plan for everything, but try to hit the high notes.
  3. Don’t buy a house until you know you want to stay in the area for a while. We knew this and every. single. time we go ahead and buy a house and lose money in the process. Three times now. Shame on us.
  4. If you are moving for a job, negotiate the best relocation package you can. Consider the cost of movers, closing on your home, house hunting trips, and all the set up costs you will have in your new area. Moving without a relocation package is probably a bad call, but I’m sure exceptions exist. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are one of them – seek wise counsel before taking the leap.
  5. Don’t buy new just to have it new. Other than a home, just about anything you buy new will decrease in value quickly, so if you try to sell it, you won’t make back what you paid in. A slightly used vehicle will have a substantial reduction in cost. One that is a few years old is an even better deal. Electronics, appliances, clothes all fall into this category, but especially furniture. Do not buy new furniture if you plan to move soon (every move will damage it a little and your furniture may not even fit in your new place). If you plan on having kids, know your kids will rip, tear, scratch, stain, vomit on, and pee and poop on your furniture. Might as well buy something that might be a little beat up already that doesn’t come with a hefty price tag.
  6. Do not spend any windfalls until you have a very clear plan for what to do. I recommend reading up on Dave Ramsey’s 7 baby steps to financial freedom or Steve Diggs’ 10 stones.  Had we followed either set of steps, we would have had our loans paid off years ago, with a small emergency fund on the side. It would have taken us no time to save a nice downpayment for a home without student loan payments.
  7. Understand that careers are not everything. You have to know that I was raised with the expectation to go to college and have a career. My mother worked (because she had to) and I had no understanding of the career woman vs. the stay-at-home mom. I assumed all women worked and had no counseling that I might want to prepare for a different life, so I never did. It wasn’t until I was about six months pregnant with our first child that it even occurred to me that I’d like to stay home – far too late for such a serious course correction. Teach your daughters to be independent and able to take care of themselves in case they have to (see the point about my high school educated mom working two jobs after her husband passed). But make sure they know there’s a very important career that they’d be wise to prepare for whether they have a “side” career or not. Tell them being a mom could possibly be the best thing the could ever aspire to be. But this isn’t just for mothers of girls. Oh no. My husband’s mother had to stay home for a time and was miserable. I think that’s why no thought was given to “what if Brian marries one day and his wife wants to stay home?” Nope, he was sent off to school and told to borrow everything he needed – to the tune of 100k for a career that starts of paying less than 20k a year. Mothers of boys: teach your sons to prepare for a wife who might want to stay home (even if she initially scoffs at the idea).

Know this: God provides. Despite all our failings with what He has blessed us, He has always seen us through. I’ve confessed my sins to Him (and you!) and I know that my loving, compassionate God has forgiven me. I kinda think that, as I learn to do better, that God will challenge me to do even better; I will grow and He will stretch me. My challenges are not over, which is probably all the more reason to continue this blog.

I say all this to say that it’s not that God hasn’t called me to be home with my children. I think He has. He has not blocked my path – I did. But can He still help me get to where I should be? Absolutely! But it may a long, winding, backroad that I have to take now. I’m not looking back.

Tackling Menu Planning


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I am no cook. My sister is a whiz in the kitchen, able to make up recipes on the fly or expertly modify existing ones to make them better. Give me a recipe and I’ll stick to it like glue and hopefully it will turn out OK. And that recipe you give me better not be complicated. I do not have the patience.

When I became vegan, I was totally lost on what to make for dinner. I really don’t like soy products – you’ll rarely find tofu in my fridge and vegan imitations of cheese taste like feet to me. I muddled along, trying to find enough recipes to keep things interesting and also find ones that my non-vegan husband would enjoy.

About a year ago I found getmealplans.com, a side business for Happy Herbivore’s Lindsay Nixon. For just a few bucks a week, you can purchase an individual or a family meal plan, complete with recipes and shopping list. The meal plans are 1200 calories (obviously you can add more to it if you like, but the serving sizes are totally generous. Sometimes I can’t finish all the food). Note: that paragraph totally sounds like an infomercial, but I’m not trying to sell you anything here; I’m just telling my story. I have no affiliation with Happy Herbivore, getmealplans.com, or Lindsay Nixon. I still sound like an infomercial. I’ll stop now.

Truth be told, I was trying the meal plan to lose the rest of my baby weight from daughter #1, but the meal plans rocked: totally normal ingredients, simple to make, and really good. I also loved that most of the recipes aren’t vegan knock-offs of standard food (like pizza, complete with that foot cheese stuff). These were brand-new, interesting meals to try. The recipes are a hit here, because hubby enjoys several of the recipes and even requests some of them!

For awhile, I tried to follow the plans exactly, but you know what? I don’t need seven different breakfasts during the week. I’ll just pick one or two. For lunch, I’d rather just have leftovers from the night before, so I need to play with serving sizes to perfect this. The family meal plan is set up for four people, when we really have 2.5 (the adults and a preschooler) to 3.5 (if hubby eats a double serving size, which is rare, but happens). Especially when trying a new recipe and not knowing how it will go over, it can be hard to know how much to make.

In an effort to stay on my new budget, I’m continuing to use these meal plans because they are just super easy for me, but this week I’m going to try to shop for all the shelf-stable goods needed for two weeks; I’m going to go backward in time for the second week’s menu. I’ll grocery shop next weekend, too, but it will only be for produce. I’m also instituting a leftover night on Fridays. We may each have to cobble together from a couple days of leftovers, but it want to stop wasting so much food. We have a full trash bag each week when I clean out the fridge!

Another thing I am doing is stocking up for five easy meals that my family enjoys. For example, spaghetti and marina are quick and easy things to make and I can keep the ingredients on hand in case I realize that I really can’t make a planned meal because somehow I forgot 5 ingredients. This will keep me from running back to the store and spending more money on impulse buys (see my post on this money saving tip here), and it will also help us resist the temptation to get fast food, which is neither healthy nor in our budget.

Because I’m going to be stocking up these extra meals, I fully expect this week’s grocery bill to be huge, but my goal is to start whittling it down to what I have in our budget. I’m even prepared to give up coffee to make this work… Y’all might want to steer clear.

What is your favorite menu planning tip?

Impulse Buyer

Just a note, because I’m paranoid: yesterday’s post was originally entitled “Soliciting for Money”. I was not soliciting for money, but writing about the phenomena of requesting money online. I updated the post title to be more clear 🙂

I would love to tell you that we are simply in debt because our student loans are soooo big. And our student loans are really, really big, but truthfully, they are only one piece of the puzzle. I have made so many mistakes with money, I could probably write a post a day for a long time.

Since my recent commitment to be a better steward of our money, I’ve been reading books, articles, and blog posts to keep me motivated and I’ve learned a ton. One thing I kinda knew but didn’t know was to limit your trips to the grocery store, which is a tip you can find in the Economides’ book: America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money. Easiest way, hands down, to cut costs on your grocery bill.

Every time you walk into a store, you are opening yourself up to impulse buys, so by limiting your trips to the store, you limit impulse buys and save $$$. Here’s what I have discovered about myself and impulse buying – I do it. A lot. And I didn’t really think I was. But oooooooh boy, do I. Hubby’s a big offender in this department, too, but neither one of us was really bad about this until we had children.

Once we had our daughter, trips to places like Wal-Mart and Target (oh, my heart) became traps for us to buy just one toy. Just one book. Just one movie. Just one cute dress and matching cardigan and coordinating hat and purse gasp. Even pure grocery stores do not make as immune because we’ll grab the kiddo’s favorite snack or something new for her to try. Hubby has bought her no less than three toy Corvettes there, too (which I never could figure out – did he just forget that he’s bought her the same, but different colored toy, or what? I digress).

These tendencies, combined with over zealous gift-giving from far away family leaves our house looking like this. Too much stuff, not enough space. Again, I digress.

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The Economides are rock stars, because they go grocery shopping just one time a month. They freeze things that go bad quickly (like milk, bread, and some produce). They meal plan to make sure they have what they need in that one trip, and they also stockpile good deals because of coupons, so then there is no “I’ll just run by Target for two things” and then walking out with something like this.

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She has a REAL dog just like this one

While we have a standalone freezer in our basement, it’s slowly being over taken by a supply of breast milk, and we don’t have a very big kitchen, so I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to just shop once a month. What I think I could do is shop once a month for shelf stable items and just do a weekly run for non-freezable produce (a huge part of my diet as a vegan), like leafy greens for salads. Less time in the store, fewer aisles, and no encounters with those tempting end-of-aisles displays that are proven to increase impulse buys.

How often do you plan to get groceries and how often do you actually find yourself at the store?