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Category: Earning & Managing Money

Five Simple Ways to Earn a Little Extra Cash

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Wanting to have a cash-only Christmas this year but struggling to come up with the cash?

Here are just a few ideas you might try:

1) CoinStar–Gather up all your loose change and take it to the nearest CoinStar machine to be converted into gift cards or cash. If you can come up with $40 worth in change, you can get an additional $10 bonus. Read more .

2) –Look around your home and find used books you no longer need or use and sell them to . They pay promptly through Paypal so you can quickly have your money in hand after shipping off the books.

3) Turn your "trash" into cash–Sam's Club, Amazon, and Costco all offer programs of rewarding you gift cards for old electronics, cell phones, and so on. Read more details , , and .

4) Etsy–If you're skilled in the area of arts and crafts, consider setting up a simple shop on Etsy and selling some of your handmade goods. Read this article here for ideas on getting started.

5) YouData–You won't make a lot of money off of this, but if you have some extra time to view some commercials online, you can earn a few dollars each week through YouData. Best of all, they pay via Paypal at the end of every week so it's a very quick turnaround. More details on this are here.

Those are just a few simple ideas I had for quick ways to generate some cash. I'd love to hear ideas from the rest of you–especially if it's something you are personally doing this year to help shore up your Christmas budget.

Guest Post: Using Your Freezer and Cooking from Scratch to Save Money

I recently shared about our regular Baking Days (see posts here, here, here, and here if you missed those posts) and many of you were interested in doing something similar. Michelle's guest post below is packed with tips to help you get started using your freezer and cooking from scratch to save money. Enjoy!

Guest Post by Michelle from

I have always enjoyed cooking and baking from scratch. In my quest to be more frugal, I have been able to utilize my kitchen
enthusiasm to prepare wholesome food for my family; adding convenience by
making mixes ahead of time or freezing foods to use later. This helps me
to save money by not buying reducing the need for prepackaged convenience foods
or needing to rely on fast food or take-out meals during our often busy
weekdays and weekends.

Recently, many manufacturers have been putting
less product in the same package and still charging the same. The stakes
on the game of feeding your family for less just got higher. The
following are my tips for using your kitchen to save you money.

Tip #1: Work ahead. I love to cook. But I do not love to cook when I am under the gun to prepare dinner in a
hurry. Taking time to plan out meals and prepare the foods we will be
eating during the week ahead saves me a lot of time, headache, and money. 

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For
example: I recently committed to making all of our bread at home. The bread machine is a convenient way for me to mix the dough (which I prefer
to bake in the oven), but sometimes even measuring all the ingredients feels
like too much to fit into my busy day. 

I now mix together the dry ingredients to up ahead of time and store it in the
cupboard. When I need a loaf, I just put in the wet ingredients and yeast
and press a button. That makes it more manageable for me.

In addition, it saves me time because it is easier to measure the ingredients out five times, put
them in individual containers and be done that to drag the ingredients out five
different times. I also do this for our ,
cookies, quick breads, pizza dough, etc.

Tip #2:  Make Extra. When I make a dish
for my family that can be frozen, I always make two. I have all the
ingredients out, so why not? In the end, you save time, mess and
money.

Simply make two of the same dish and wrap one for the
freezer. You can put the dish into a freezer bag, work the excess air
out, zip the bag, and put it into another bag and do the same. You can
also use disposable baking pans, cover the top of the dish in plastic
wrap, and then cover the top again in foil. 

This works well for
casseroles, meat with sauces, and marinades. For a marinade, I make two
batches at once, use the first, and store the second in a freezer bag (double
wrap as described above). When you are ready to use the marinade, simply
put the frozen meat in with the frozen sauce (in the bag) and store in your
refrigerator for a few days. As the meat thaws, it will absorb the
marinade. Turn the bag once or twice a day to evenly distribute the
marinade. Be cautious when freezing casseroles, as dishes with uncooked
potatoes, sour cream or mayonnaise do not freeze well.

Another wonderful thing to make extra of is cookie
dough. I usually make a double batch, bake one batch, and then freeze the
other.

There are two ways to freeze the dough. First, you can make
the remaining dough into logs (about 12 cookies per log, so if your batch makes
3 dozen, make 3 logs), wrap the log in plastic wrap, wrap again in foil and
freeze. When you are ready to bake, you can slice the log into disks and
bake the cookies that way.

The other way is to use a scoop to make balls
of dough. Place the balls of dough close together on a baking sheet and store
in the freezer (uncovered) for about 1-2 hours, or until hard. Once the
dough is hard, place the dough balls into a freezer bag and double wrap the bag
into another freezer bag (being sure to remove excess air). 

Freezing the cookies individually first prevents the dough
from freezing to itself and being one big clump.  That way, you can take
out just as many as you need at one time. 

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I do this with hamburger
patties, freezing them individually, then store them in a bag until we need
them.  Read the details . 

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I also do this with waffles, making a double batch and freezing the extras to
be popped into the toaster on busy mornings. Read about that .

Making extra muffins (our favorites are Banana Chocolate Chip and Zucchini),
packaging them individual, and freezing them makes mornings much easier. Simply toss a bag of muffins into your bag, and by the time you get to work or
school, the muffins will thawed and ready to eat.

When freezing, but sure
to label and date each item, so that you can find what you need, see what you
have and use what you have before it goes bad.

Tip #3:  Preserve Nature’s Bounty. Have
you ever seen those convenience bags of pre-chopped frozen onions or
peppers? You can easily do this
for yourself during the peak of the season.

When you find a great sale on
onions, stock up, and freeze some for later. I like to prepare mine a
couple of different ways: I like to chop some to be used in casseroles or
sauces and I like to slice some to be used in stir-frys or on hamburgers and
pizzas. 

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Follow the same directions above for freezing cookie dough balls:
lay out the onions in a single layer on a baking sheet (you may want to cover
onions to prevent the smell from taking over your freezer!), freeze until
frozen, and then pour into bags and double wrap. That way, you can take
what you need and not have to fight a big clump of frozen mess. Read more
about freezing onions .

This tip works beautifully for red, yellow, and green peppers
(ones destined for cooked dishes); woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and
fruits such as blueberries and strawberries (for baking or smoothies). Again,
you will want to label and date your bounty, so you can find and use the
food before it expires, generally about 3–6 months for fresh produce,
assuming a zero grade freezer and well packaged foods.

Tip #4: Prepare In Advance. Sometimes it is
just not physically possible to get home and get a meal ready all at the same
time. On those days, I rely on my crock pot to have a hot, nutritious
meal waiting for me at the end of a long day. I prepare what I can the
night before, chopping vegetables, opening cans of tomatoes or beans, and
assembling the dish in the crock pot bowl before storing it in our refrigerator
overnight.

In the morning, I finish any last minute details and set the
bowl into the cooking unit and let it go to work. Often, I prepare rice
in the rice cooker using the delayed function to accompany the crock pot
meal. It is such a relief to know that dinner is already done on those
busy days! For more crock pot tips and links to hundreds of recipes for
the crock pot, read this post .

Even on days when I am home, I notice that my stress level
is much lower when I have menus planned out for the week in advance. Not
having to scramble to figure out what is for dinner makes all the difference in
my day.

It also enables me to look in my freezer and pantry and see what
needs to be used. I can then plan my meals around those items, to be sure
I am wisely and efficiently using the foods that I have taken the time and
money to prepare ahead of time. When I know I am using chicken in two
days, I can take it out to thaw in the refrigerator so that I am ready to go
once the dinner hour strikes.

Finally, I would like to share that preparing foods in
advance and using the freezer may be heading into the unknown for you, but it
is not hard to do. If you have specific questions, feel free to leave a
comment on my blog, here on this post, or do a search online with the ingredient
you want to freeze or store in the search title. Just put one foot in
front of the other and enjoy the journey!

Michelle is a CPA, turned stay at home mom to four,
turned somewhere in between.  She challenges the excesses that society
tells us we need and experiments with living a simple, uncluttered life on her
daily blog, . 

Financial Shape in 2008: End-of-the-year report

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It's nearing the end of 2008! Can you believe that? It's been a full year for us with many struggles and triumphs. My husband and I sat down this week and talked about our goals and ran the numbers to see where we were at. And we were very thrilled to find out that we were able, by the grace of God, to accomplish all of our goals for 2008!

Here's the list:

Short Term Financial Goals for 2008

1) Have our fully-funded emergency fund in place (6 months' worth of living expenses) by the end of April. As of March 11, 2008–DONE!

2) Switch health insurance plans and open an HSA. We
were approved for our new health insurance plans in April and have also
set up our HSA. Done!

3) Start up an IRA and invest at least 5-10% of Jesse's income in this. Started in March. (We plan to increase this to 12-15% of Jesse's income as soon as we purchase our home.)

4) Open up a mutual fund for each of our children and invest $50 per child per month in it. Started in March.

5) Save up and invest $30,000 this year towards paying cash (100% down) for a house in 3-5 years. As of the beginning of November, this is also DONE!!

When we listed off these goals at the beginning of the year, they felt very audacious. In fact, we both thought we were being overly ambitious. But, as we've found in the past, it's better to aim high than to be content with mediocrity! And so we did!

Amazingly, through a number of unexpected events and the blessing of God, we were able to accomplish these goals. Yes, it meant some rigid budgeting. Yes, we've made some significant sacrifices. Yes, we done a lot of "living like no one else". But the perseverance is paying off and we're very excited about that.

We haven't sat down and formerly written out goals for 2009, but we do have one already-agreed-upon extremely-ambitious goal that my husband gave me permission to share publicly: We are aiming to have saved up enough money by this time next year to pay 100% down on a home!

This goal looks a little daunting but we've run the numbers and determined that with lots of hard work and scrimping, it might just be possible. One of the biggest reasons we are hoping this goal might become a reality in the next year is because of our recent move.

Not only did moving back home allow us to now be close to our families and back in our home church, it was a substantial career move for Jesse and it put us in a less expensive housing market. These things, coupled with the fact that we'll likely be living here long-term, have given us huge motivation to scrimp and save in order to buy a home sooner than we'd anticipated.

I'll keep you posted on our progress and we'll see what happens!

———————————–
How did you do in 2008? Whether
or not you posted financial goals for 2008, please take a moment to
post about your financial successes this past year. Then, come back here and leave your link
below. If you don't have a blog or would rather share anonymously, feel
free to leave your update in a comment. Let's all keep each other
accountable to be better stewards of
our resources!

Guest Post: Teaching on a Budget

Guest Post by Misty from

I'm a homeschool mom to five kids, ages 8 and
under. In some minds, that makes me either crazy or heroic, but I do
have an interesting household most days. See:

Buying school supplies for a large family means I'm always on the
lookout for a good deal. And there are plenty to be had if you know
where to look. Here are some of my favorites:

Educational Software

Did you know you qualify to purchase the education version of most
mainstream software packages if you are a college student, a teacher, a
homeschool parent, or on behalf of your child grade K through 12?  Yes, all you have to do is have a child in school to qualify! 

And these are full working versions of the software for a fraction
of the cost. You do need to read the education qualifications for the
specific software to verify before purchasing, but usually it just
requires an education ID of some sort. A report card or one of
the free IDS many children get now from the portrait companies at the
beginning of the year works fine. (Homeschoolers, you can get a from .)

For example, you can get the latest Microsoft Office Pro for $119.95 on , a discount of 70% off the same program sold for $395.99 on . (If you decide to buy from The Academic Superstore, join first and get an extra 1.5% rebate. See  for more information.)

The only downside is when an upgrade comes along you can't get the
discounted upgrade price since you don't own a 'Full Version'. In the
past, however, I've found that buying the educational version each time
is still cheaper than a full version followed by the discounted
upgrades.

Educational Internet Deals

  1. –This is a great with a free homeschooling resource you can download each weekday.
  2. –They sell lots of high quality electronic curriculum for decent prices, and if you sign up for their you'll get a free downloadable product each week. We really enjoyed a recent free lapbook download about bees.
  3. –For the homeschool parents out there: Did you ever wish you could
    get the great discounts that schools get by buying bulk? Well, that's
    what the Walter family wanted, too. So they started an awesome co-op
    that now has thousands of members. They go out to suppliers and
    organize great discounted deals for all of us. Best of all, it's free
    to . Feel free to explore their site; they also have lists of many . 

Where to Find


  1. is a goldmine of curriculum listed by homeschool parents for very
    reasonable costs. And unlike EBay, it's free to list up to 7 items,
    with only a $5 charge per year to list more. 
  2. is always a good place to look for hard-to-find items. Try using a couple newer features to help get what you want: can send you an email any time an item you're looking for is posted.
    will help you grab a bunch of 'like items', specify how much you're
    willing to pay, and it will do the bidding, item by item until you
    either win an item or run out of items. A true time saver.
  3. Local Homeschool Co-ops usually have a
    curriculum sale once or twice a year with great prices and best of all,
    no shipping!  Find a local group .

Teacher Discount Cards (for public school and homeschool teachers)

  1. –get a 15% off Teacher Rewards card from Joanns . If you are a homeschooler, you need to get a PEAH number first  before registering with Joanns. 
  2. –Get a Staples Teacher Rewards card , print a copy online to use right away, or ask for a card to be sent in the mail. (The are found the last month or two of the summer.)
  3. And check out this for more homeschool discounts including Borders, Barnes and Noble, Kinkos, and more.

All-in-all the internet has not just revolutionized teaching with
more resources than you have time to get to, but it has done the same
with finding bargains to make teaching supplies much more affordable. I'd love to hear your favorite places to find teaching and educational bargains, too!

Misty is a homeschool mom of 5 in Michigan who, among other
things, keeps bees in her backyard, had 2 kids while she was in medical school, loves
being a stay-at-home mom, and shows everyone her Kroger receipt proudly
displayed on the fridge that reads "Total $0.39, Savings $104.53!" 
Thank you, December212012!  She currently blogs about homeschooling at and alternative health at .

Guest Post: Earning Money With a Bag of Balloons and a Balloon Pump

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Guest Post by Irina Patterson from

I know way too well myself how to live on a limited budget. Raised in Russia, I grew up with a few possessions. And when I came to America in 1992, I had a hard time to find my first job.

Looking back, I wish I knew what I know today. If my story inspires at least one person to create a job for herself, I will be very happy.

For the last four years I have made my living as a balloon artist and event entertainer. I work mostly weekends and I set my own schedule and my pricing. Depending on the area and experience, a balloon artist can make from $50-300 per hour. (I wish someone told me about this opportunity when I was working at $5 per hour at a copy shop, night shift in 1993!)

Granted, being an event entertainer is not for everyone. You can't be shy and you have to be somewhat good with your hands and enjoy interacting with people. Still, it is a good opportunity to know about. If you are in great need of some cash quickly, you'd be surprise what you can overcome.

Believe it or not, I had never even seen a balloon animal until about four years ago. I don't have children and I don't go to the malls so I saw balloon animals for the first time at a private party and totally fell in love with the process and found the bright colors of the balloons not only cheer me up, but cheer many others up as well!

I studied art in my teens and those balloons just awoke a sleeping artist in me and showed me a way how to be a practicing artist and make a living at it. I couldn't believe how easy it was to earn by twisting balloon art. If I didn't experience it myself, I would not believe it!

When I first started doing balloon art on the side, I was working in a good-paying job at a public relations firm. I found balloon art was so much more exciting that after six month of doing balloon art as a side gig, I left my day job for good.

My ballon art business was profitable from day one. I think I spent $100 on supplies and administrative fees. When I started, I practiced at home for about a week. Then I went to a mall and paid a $75 monthly fee in order to do balloon art there for tips. I ended up making that $75 in tips right back on the first day!

I only paid that $75 fee for two months because I quickly learned you can find places where you can make balloon animals without rental fees. In fact, many restaurants will pay you to entertain their customers. Where I live, in Miami, restaurants usually pay $50-100 per 3-4 hours on a weekend most customers will give a tip. So you can easily expect to make about $150 for about 4 hours as a restaurant balloon artist.

However, the best part is this: while you are entertaining at a restaurant, you are also marketing your private party entertainment. Private parties will always give you better return on your time. In Miami,
on average, a balloon artist can earn $100-200 per hour at a private event. And you are usually booked for more than one hour.

If you are just starting out as a balloon artist, you'll want to invest a little money in balloons and a small balloon pump. I recommend you take a class, if there is one in your area. If not, make friends with someone who is already an established entertainer. They are usually very friendly. You can find an
entertainer in your area by searching for your zip code .

Start out by volunteering to do balloon art at community events. Get some practice under your belt and get comfortable with working with people and creating balloon art and then start calling local restaurants and offering your services as a balloon artist for tips. Have business cards handy and make it known that you're available to do private events. Pretty soon, you'll likely have plenty of good-paying business!

Many people think that to be an event entertainer you need to go to a circus school or have some other special training. But all you really have to do is want to do it. The cost of minimum supplies is $10 and you can learn the basics in about two hours.

If you want to learn advanced balloon art, all the power to you. But if you have bills to pay and need money now, grab a bag of balloons and a pump and get busy!

Irina Patterson, aka The Russian Queen of Balloons, is based in Miami. She twists balloon art at events worldwide. She finds her job enjoyable and financially rewarding. To learn more, visit her blog,

A “credit card crisis”?

Earlier today, my husband and I were listening to a local radio station and a bit of news caught my attention. The broadcaster was stating how America is facing a "credit card crisis" because credit card companies will no longer be sending out loads of credit card offers. Instead these offers will be "slowing to a trickle", according to the report.

Excuse me? We call that a "credit card crisis"? I think that I would instead refer to that as a "welcome change of pace". Call me old-fashioned, but I think anytime we can discourage people from buying stuff they can't afford with money they don't have, it's a good thing, not a national crisis.

Of course, I happen to be one of those weird people who pays with cash almost 100% of the time, doesn't own a credit card, hasn't ever had any debt, and isn't living paycheck-to-paycheck.*

*Note: All of this is only by the grace of God, the wise example of my parents, inspiration, and a commitment to "live like no one else"! By the way, if you are struggling financially and feeling in a helpless situation, do not despair. Read more about our own personal financial journey and lessons we've learned along the way here, here, and here. And then check out my Top Four Tips for Those in Financial Despair.