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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| November 22, 2016
As much as many of us look forward to the holidays, there’s that pang of dread: It’s an expensive time of year. And if you haven’t budgeted for it, those costs will eat into your usual monthly expenses or add to your credit card debt.
What to do? There are plenty of legitimate moneymaking opportunities for you to capitalize on at your convenience as 2016 winds down. Some are simply good for a fast buck, while others could turn into consistent streams of income after the holidays. Find out which cash-generating ideas will help you fatten your wallet this season.
Surely, you're planning to upgrade your tech gadgets and toys this holiday season. Don’t leave smart phones, tablets, computers or game consoles you’re no longer using in a desk drawer or the back of a closet. You can easily cash in on your unwanted electronics -- even damaged items -- by selling them online.
Sell used smart phones and Apple products at Gazelle.com and get paid by check, PayPal or an Amazon gift card. GameStop.com pays cash for smart phones, digital cameras, tablets, game consoles and more. You can sell smart phones, tablets, laptops and video games to NextWorth.com for cash or take items to one its partner stores, such as Target, and get store credit. At uSell, you can sell smart phones, tablets, game consoles, video games and textbooks. You get paid by check or through PayPal. Shipping with all of these sites is free.
Talk about stocking stuffers: Federal and state coffers hold billions of dollars’ worth of unclaimed property. Some of it could be yours, but it's up to you to track down the cash.
The feds hang on to tax refunds that are returned to the IRS because of mailing-address errors or that are never claimed by taxpayers because they didn’t file returns. The government also holds on to forgotten savings bonds, government-guaranteed mortgage-insurance refunds and government pensions that were never claimed. State governments hold onto uncashed dividend checks, returned utility deposits, unclaimed state-tax refunds and uncollected insurance benefits, among other things. (If a bank or other payer doesn’t have your last known address on file, it will turn over your money to the state in which the institution is incorporated.) It's like a gift you can give yourself!
Anyone can search a state’s unclaimed property database (go to www.naupa.org for links) or go to www.missingmoney.com to search 39 states’ databases at once.
If you got a big tax refund for 2015, you’re not alone: The average refund was about $3,000 this year. Why wait until spring to get the money you really need now? If you’re a refund-receiving taxpayer, you’ve already overpaid your taxes via your initial 2016 paychecks -- banking at least a small refund next spring. As the year winds down, fix your tax withholding now to stop that refund from growing by delivering more of your money to you as you earn it.
Simply ask your company’s payroll office for a W-4 form to claim extra allowances, and your take-home pay should rise on your next payday. To see how many allowances you should claim, try our easy-to-use withholding calculator.
If you have a special skill -- whether it’s the ability to play an instrument well, paint like Picasso or explain calculus in a way anyone can understand -- you may be able to make money sharing it with others. For example, you could earn about $15 to $30 an hour tutoring individual kids or college students if you speak a second language or have great math, science or writing skills.
Advertise your services on school, campus and community bulletin boards, or tutoring web sites such as Wyzant and Tutor.com. And take advantage of social media sites, such as Facebook, to let people know about the lessons you’re able to teach.
How about substitute teaching? Grade schools and high schools nationwide are looking for people to substitute teach – and some have outsourced the hiring process. Source4Teachers, a Cherry Hill, N.J.-based K-12 educational staffing firm, works with more than 220 school systems across the Northeast to fill substitute teacher and other staffing positions.
“We fill a lot of nonteaching roles that don’t require certification, filled by people who are maybe getting their feet wet, seeing if they want to pursue a teaching career,’’ says Owen Murphy of Source4Teachers. It varies by state and school district, but some don’t require substitutes to have teaching certification. Pennsylvania, for example, allows people with a bachelor’s degree to apply for one-year emergency certification to substitute.
And right now, during the holidays, many teachers look to take some days off to get themselves ready for the holidays, so there could be plenty of sub jobs out there for you to earn cash for your holidays.
Pay varies by district, but substitute teachers can make between $90 and $120 per day. Teaching-certified substitutes make about $20 more per day than non-certified subs, says Murphy.
If you know a lot about the city where you live, you may be able to profit from your knowledge by guiding tours -- especially during the holiday travel season. For example, travel guide site Vayable lets anyone list a tour or experience that tells a unique story about a destination – from its art to its history to its food -- and earn money from bookings through the site. U.S. tours that are promoted on Vayable -- such as a San Francisco street-art tour or a Washington, D.C., White House tour led by a member of the White House press corps -- range in price from about $25 per person to $200 per person, though more-upscale experiences are priced even higher. Vayable takes a 15% cut of whatever you choose to charge travelers and provides online tools to manage reservations, accept credit-card payments and securely communicate with customers.
If you live near an historic site overseen by the National Park Service, you could become a licensed guide. For example, the Licensed Battlefield Guides of Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania site of one of the greatest battles of the American Civil War, are licensed and regulated by the National Park Service and are the only individuals legally allowed to conduct visitors around the national park for a fee. Rates for a two-hour basic battlefield tour range from $55 to $120 depending on group size, with prorated fees of $27.50 to $60 per hour for additional time. Tips are not required but often given.
Are you a runner? Consider earning extra bucks as a running tour guide. City Running Tours – “sweat and sightsee simultaneously” – is one company offering “sightrunning” (it’s a thing) services in 13 (and counting) U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., and Honolulu. The company offers personalized or group tours. Tips aren’t required, but permitted.
“Our tour guides make on average about $20-$25 per tour plus incentives based on seniority, type of tour, distance, number of participants, referrals and positive reviews," Michael Gazaleh, president and CEO of City Running Tours, tells Kiplinger.
Hey, it's one thing to spout off your opinions around the holiday dinner table to family and friends. Why not get paid for it? Market-research firms are hired by big businesses to get inside the heads of consumers. Participation in an in-person focus group led by a moderator, such as those run by Focus Pointe Global, can earn you between $50 and $200.
In exchange for taking online and phone surveys, firms such as The Harris Poll and Inspired Opinions offer rewards points redeemable for gift cards and merchandise. Beware scams, though. Legitimate firms won’t charge a fee or ask you to cash a check and wire back part of the money.
Lawyers are getting in on the act, too. “Online jurors” can earn cash for giving their opinions on legal cases. EJury.com pays $5 to $10 per case. You’ll need a PayPal account. At OnlineVerdict.com, where fees start at $20, payment is made by check.
If you or your family members have brand-name clothing, accessories or shoes that are in good condition but no longer being used, turn them into quick cash by selling them on consignment. Research the consignment shops in your area to find the right match for the types and styles of clothing you have to sell. Most consignment stores will price items at one-third of their retail value, and you’ll likely get 50% of the price at which your items eventually sell. And, with people looking for discounted attire for holiday events, you may have a good chance of making a sale. To learn more, see How to Sell Clothes on Consignment.
You might be able to get more for your used clothes by selling them online. For example, you can earn up to 80% of the resale value of women’s and kids’ clothing, shoes and handbags at fashion resale site thredUP.com. If you have high-end men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, watches and accessories, try your luck with luxury consignment site The RealReal. You earn up to 70% of the resale value in cash.
Or skip the middle-man and sell your used clothing on eBay, which will require more effort on your part but could result in a bigger return.
The weather outside may be frightful, but street teams still need energetic, outgoing helpers to promote products, films, albums, events and more by handing out samples, interacting with people on the street, or dressing as mascots. To get a job earning $20 to $25 an hour, sign up with a company such as Street Team Promotion which handles promotions in big cities nationwide. Make sure you get a contract that specifies when you’ll get paid.
Babysitters are in high demand this time of year, what with all the holiday parties busy parents wish to attend. Babysitting can be a fun way to put money in your pocket if you like kids. In big cities such as New York and Washington, expect to earn up to $20 an hour as a babysitter or nanny. (In small and midsize cities, the going rate is closer to $7 to $10 an hour.) Advertise your services on community bulletin boards, the public library or houses of worship. You can also place a listing or search for jobs on sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.
If you have an attic, garage or storage unit filled with furniture you’re not using, unload those items for holiday cash by selling them on Craigslist. (You might even end up saving the monthly cost of your storage unit.) You can list large items (free) on your local Craigslist classifieds, and buyers will come to you. Just be sure to insist on cash to avoid bounced checks. Take good photos, share key details and provide a concise description of what you’re selling.
If you don’t want the hassle of selling items yourself, take furniture and home accessories you no longer want to an upscale consignment store that gets a lot of traffic so that you can get top dollar for your items. Expect to split the profit 50/50 with the store. For more information, see What to Sell -- And Not to Sell -- at Consignment Shops .
For online furniture consignment, try sites such as Chairish, which lets you sell your used or vintage furniture and home decor and earn up to 80% of the resale value, or AptDeco (only available in New York City and surrounding areas as well as the Washington, D.C. market), which helps you sell used home furnishings and earn up to 86% of the resale value.
You could be sitting on an untapped source of cash if you haven’t bothered to redeem your credit card rewards points lately. And during the gift-purchasing days ahead, now is a great time to cash them in. One-third of all rewards -- everything from airline miles to cash back -- worth a total of $16 billion go unredeemed each year, according to a study by marketing research firm Colloquy. Per household, that averages out to $205 worth of rewards a year that aren’t redeemed.
The next-best thing to getting cash-for-points is a general-purpose gift card. At American Express, for example, 5,000 Membership Rewards points earns you a $25 AmEx gift card that’s good in more than a million places. You can get more bang for your points by selecting a retailer-specific gift card -- often $50 for 5,000 points.
Why not get a little exercise while you earn anywhere from $15 to $30 an hour? Working folks will pay plenty for you to take Rover or Scruffy on a daily stroll while they’re at the office or busy getting ready for the holidays. Or consider pet-sitting for people while they’re away for the holidays for a daily fee of $50 or more. Advertise your services in veterinarians’ offices and on Craigslist.
You can also team up with an existing dog-walking operation that handles client recruitment and scheduling. To find one, ask other dog walkers you encounter whether they're part of a group or check Craigslist.
If you have a knack for creating anything from baked goods to intricate art designs, you can profit from your talent.
You can find clients for your baked goods by volunteering to provide treats for your children’s holiday school functions or for church or other religious gatherings, or by selling them at a farmer’s market, flea market or local festivals.
If art and design are more your speed, consider selling your creations at local weekend craft shows. My 86-year-old mother does this with her intricate German scissor-cutting art – or on Etsy, DeviantArt or Zazzle. Etsy and Zazzle feature products such as jewelry, quote posters, vintage clothing and even pet supplies. DeviantArt, which has a large following associated with its popular Tumblr, mainly sells art prints.
If you're willing to be a human guinea pig, you can pad your pockets by participating in clinical research trials. Compensation depends on the nature of the trial and the amount of time involved, but payment can range from $50 to more than $1,000, according to the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation.
Legitimate studies are sponsored by medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies. You’ll be required to undergo a health screening to determine if you’re eligible to participate. Come-ons for clinical trials litter the Internet. Many are scams. The safe play is to peruse studies that are actively recruiting participants at ClinicalTrials.gov, a database run by the National Institutes of Health. Search by location to identify local trials.
SEE ALSO: 10 Best Jobs Without a College Degree
I like (almost) nothing better than getting gift cards during the holidays (that's a hint). But did you know: About $44 billion worth of gift cards has gone unused over a six-year period, according to gift card resale site Gift Card Granny ($750 million in 2014 alone, according to advisory company CEB TowerGroup). So grab the unwanted cards you have lying around your house, and turn them into cash by selling them online at sites such as Gift Card Granny, Cardpool and Junkcard. You won't get the full value of your card (up to 92% at best). But if you have no intention of using the card, it's like getting free money. Cards for gas stations, grocery stores and retail chains (such as Exxon, Safeway and Wal-Mart) often bring the best offers.
At Fiverr, an online community of freelancers, you can advertise your proficiency in skills such as writing and translation, video and animation, and advertising. As Fiverr’s name indicates, your services sell starting at $5 a pop, and you have the option of adding ancillary services to make more money. Fiverr keeps 20% of customer payments, meaning you earn $4 from every $5 in services you sell.
For more intensive jobs try joining TaskRabbit. If you live in or near one of 19 cities currently served by the site, you can perform tasks such as waiting in line for someone, running errands or lifting heavy items. Or maybe even setting up a Christmas tree. Set your own fees with TaskRabbit, which will keep 15% to 30% of the transaction.
If you’ve ever found yourself in need of a quick ride, you may have turned to Uber, the anytime, anywhere ride service that has gained popularity over the last several years. But have you ever considered becoming an Uber driver? If you are at least 21 years old, own a car made after 2000 or 2005 (depending on the city), and pass background and driving checks, you could earn cash by driving people around in your free time. And, as this is holiday party season, it shouldn't be hard to find plenty of business chauffeuring those who have had a little too much eggnog. According to Uber, drivers’ average earnings per hour are about $19. But don’t forget to factor in the costs associated with using your own car, such as gas, maintenance, insurance and cleaning.
Uber’s competitor Lyft says its drivers earn up to $35 per hour. Like Uber, Lyft has age, vehicle and background-check requirements for drivers.