8 Ways to Boost Your Income
With credit drying up and the economy taking a dive, more Americans are leaning on their savings to make ends meet -- even after slashing their spending -- according to a survey by Country Financial. And the group that is relying the most heavily on its savings is young adults, with 58% of us tapping our reserves.
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This news is disconcerting because, let's face it, most Americans -- especially those of us just starting out -- don't have much savings in the first place. And tapping accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs can have expensive consequences, from early-withdrawal penalties to diminished compounding returns (see Don't Borrow Trouble).
So what's a cash-strapped person to do? First, if you haven't yet looked at ways to cut your spending, check out our bevy of ideas in Save Money on Practically Everything. Then, if you're still coming up short, before you raid your safety net of savings, consider adding to your income with these eight ideas:
1. Sell your junk. One man's trash is another man's treasure. And the Web makes it a cinch to hold a virtual garage sale. For instance, my husband made a few hundred bucks by selling his old textbooks on Amazon. Craigslist and eBay are other great sources for hawking your wares online, from old furniture and fitness equipment to collectibles and clothing. (See The Art of the E-Deal and Sell With Success to learn more.) And with gold prices hovering near record highs, you could even sell your old jewelry.
You can also find buyers for your old tech gear to reuse or recycle. For instance, CellforCash.com pays up to $100 for used cell phones, depending on the model. And Hewlett-Packard offers a trade-in program that lets you swap your old computer and other tech gear for money -- even if they're not made by HP. Before selling a computer or another gadget with sensitive personal information on it, wipe the memory clean. See What to Do With Your High-Tech Has-Beens for more info.
2. Get a job. This may mean getting a second job, or it may mean getting a first job to hold you over until the job market recovers and you can land your dream position.
Retail, restaurant and customer-service jobs are prime targets. You can also search for part-time or short-term gigs on Craigslist for a smaller income boost. For instance, we found odd jobs such as stuffing envelopes for two days and helping out part-time at a kennel during the holidays. And if you're unemployed because you're waiting for the right opportunity, you can bide your time and still bring home a paycheck with a full- or part-time "stepping stone" job with an employer that offers good benefits, such as Starbucks, Wegmans or UPS.
3. Sell your skills. You may have a skill that someone else is willing to pay for. For instance, can you teach music, art or sewing? How about arranging a regular dog-walking or babysitting gig with a neighbor or family member? If you're academically minded, you could tutor students. You could also tutor if you know another language, or you could find a flexible translator position. Ask yourself what you do well and get creative.
4. Rethink your rent. If you're living alone, getting a roommate could boost your income (and cut your rent payment). Or clean out your family's guest room and take in a boarder. You might consider renting out other spaces, too, such as your garage for storage or your parking space for commuters, if you live close to public transportation.
Another option to consider is apartment management. In exchange for maintaining an apartment building and dealing with residents, you could get discounted or free rent. You can usually find apartment-management opportunities among job listings.
5. Claim unclaimed assets. States are sitting on billions of dollars in unclaimed assets, including lost bank accounts, misplaced bonds and securities, uncashed dividend checks, uncollected utility deposits, and unclaimed life-insurance benefits, according to the National Association of Property Administrators. Check the free site MissingMoney.com to see if any of the money belongs to you.
To cast a wider net, go to Unclaimedassets.com to learn where to look for billions of dollars' worth of unclaimed assets held by the federal government, including uncashed Social Security checks, unclaimed tax refunds and lost pensions (see Found Money for more info).
6. Adjust your tax withholding. If you received a tax refund last year and your financial situation hasn't changed much, too much tax is being withheld from your paycheck. Try our easy-to-use calculator to figure the correct number of allowances you can claim to boost your take-home pay. All you need to do is file a new Form W-4 with your employer. You may also want to readjust your withholding allowances if you got married, had a child or bought a home this year.
7. Get paid for stuff you do anyway. You have to buy things -- groceries, gas, medicine and the like -- so why not buy them with your rebate credit card to get cash back in your pocket? (Shop for the best reward card.) Just make sure you pay off your balance each month so you don't accrue interest charges.
You should also make sure you're getting as much out of your savings as you can. Don't park your cash in a traditional bank account earning pennies in interest. Instead, go with a high-yield online bank account. Most are paying in the 3% range nowadays.
Plus, if you travel often for work, consider using your own credit card to purchase flights and submitting the expenses for reimbursement (if your employer can pay you back within 30 days so you won't have to pay interest). That way you can get more credit-card rebate points on top of free frequent-flier miles for your own use.
8. Hit up Mom and Dad. Moving back home (if your parents are willing to take you in) for a short period of time is another way to put more money in your pocket to get through a tight spot. But what about asking Mom and Dad or a close friend to spot you some cash outright?
You can boost your odds of getting the assistance you seek if you approach it like a business transaction. When you ask for the money, the next thing out of your mouth should be, "and here's how I'm going to pay it back." You could even offer to pay interest and set it up as a publicly administered loan though CircleLending.com.
It also helps if this pitch is a rare instance -- say, to get you through a job loss, divorce, health crisis or other short-term money crunch. If you're constantly hitting up friends and family for money, you need to address the underlying cash-flow problem and fix it, or you may find yourself broke and friendless.
If your friends or family say no, respect their decision. Lending money may simply be outside their comfort level. It doesn't mean they love you any less; it may just mean they don't want to risk straining your relationship.
(For a list of last-resort ideas to find cash to weather a storm, see Need Cash? Where to Find it Fast.)