Nowadays every extra dollar counts more than ever. Despite decent income from working a regular job, once taxes and other fixed expenses are accounted for, it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet. Since there are only twenty four hours in day, physically working more (provided you can even get a job) is not really possible. That’s why you must become more adept at saving smarter, or even better make your cash work for you by finding ways to increase your passive and investment income. Here then are ten ways that I have used effectively to make some extra cash every month. Hopefully one or more of these ideas will wok for you, and best of all you can start implementing them today!
1. High interest savings accounts. This is a no brainier way to make your money work for you. The difference between a high interest account and a regular checking account is the “higher” interest (APY) you get, 4 to 5 times in many cases. For example at current account rates, on $20,000 you can earn about $240 of interest over the year ($20 per month passive income), versus a miserly $5 to $10 for the entire year with a regular checking account. Further, with volatile and declining stock markets, having your money in cash that you can quickly get to is a huge asset. I use high yield savings accounts, because they generally have the most competitive offerings (from APY to user experience) and are amongst the most stable of the financial companies out there. Whichever high yield savings account you choose, make sure you go for one that has no fees, above average rates and is FDIC insured.
2. No annual fee credit card. This is my pet peeve – paying an annual fee for a credit card. This is on top of any interest you pay for carrying a balance. Ideally you should pay off your credit card every month, but in the current economy a number of families have to carry balances to make ends meet. However one thing you can do right now is get a no fee credit card, saving between $50 to $400 every year depending on your card. There are a number of cards you can get that have no annual fee and also very competitive interest rates. Many credit card sites can help you search across multiple offerings/vendors and provide you with cards that meet your criteria (like no annual fee or cash back rewards).
3. Refinance. If you have a home loan and have been a “responsible” owner, yet find it hard to refinance to a lower rate because of falling housing values or less than perfect credit, then thanks to various government refinance programs you may be in a for a break. If you have a conforming loan backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae (ask your lender if you are not sure) you can refinance to the lowest rates available in the market. For example, by refinancing from a 6.75% rate to 5% rate on a $200,000 mortgage, could reduce monthly repayments by up to 17%!
4. Start a blog. Do you know how much I make from running this blog; and can you make that much? To answer the first question, I started this blog from scratch and it cost me about $10 to purchase the domain name via popular registrar GoDaddy.com and setup using Google’s free blogger platform. Today, I am making more than $1500 month. I wouldn’t call this entirely passive income, because it takes a lot of work to develop an even moderately successful blog. However once you write an article and market it correctly, you can keep making money from the ads in and around it for as long as it is relevant and comes up in search engine results. I have detailed the required characteristics for successful blogging and estimated what other bloggers are earning, but the key attributes are – decent writing skills, basic technical skills and a lot of patience. There is no harm giving it a try, because at most it will cost you $10 and some time, but you will learn a lot and the active and passive monetary rewards could be substantial.
5. Take advantage of the stimulus tax credits by adjusting your paycheck withholding. In the recently announced mulch-billion stimulus packages, there are many goodies (or free money) being paid as tax credits or deductions. Rather than claim them when you file your tax returns next year like most people, adjust your pay check withholding and get the stimulus payments and tax breaks sooner, thereby increasing your monthly cash flow. Also if you have any major life changes – kids, new job or investment losses – review your paycheck and adjust your withholding to stop giving the IRS a free loan.
6. Sell on Craigslist. I was never a big believer of Craigslist despite what people said. I thought most people would use it to sell junk, mainly because it was cheaper than eBay. I also assumed that since it was local to the state or country you lived in, the number of buyers and sellers would be small. Boy was I wrong. I recently sold a crib (in good condition) for $150, which I had bought three years for about $180. So after three years and using the crib daily for my infant son, I only lost about $30. Not bad I think. What’s more I had about 10 people interested in it, amongst over 100 ads for other cribs. I got a fair price for it – in cash, so I was happy. I have since used it to sell over $1000 worth of “stuff” that I no longer needed. As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. So do a home inventory of “stuff” you are not using, and sell it for free on Craigslist for free. The extra cash is definitely something you can use. Just make sure you post good pictures of the things you list!
7. Cut your brokerage costs. Despite all the market and economic turbulence, many new investors are entering the market, because of the potentially great deals on offer. My post on how to buy stocks, is one of my most popular nowadays and I think many folks who have been sitting on the sidelines are now willing to risk a little bit of money on the many blue-chip stocks selling at bargain basement prices. If you are willing to take some risk now, the pay-offs could be huge in a few years. Then again, it is also equally likely you could end up with little more than the shirt on your back if the market keeps falling. Whatever your rationale, experience and investing focus, the one thing you can control is how much you pay for trading. You can see this list I complied on the best low cost online brokers.
8. Never buy retail and instead portal shop. Two reasons for this. Firstly, it reduces impulse buying. Secondly you are almost guaranteed to find a cheaper price if you shop online. However, like me, most people don’t have time to spend hours trolling the internet looking for a good deal. That’s where shopping portals or aggregation sites come in useful. They bring together the best prices from various small and well known merchants and you can see the lowest prices in one view. When I see something I like, I buy it from one of the well known merchants that come up in searches or use it to get the nearest retail store to match price – they all will in the current environment.
9. Reduce 401k contributions. Yes, you read it right. I am suggesting you reduce your retirement contributions (to $0 or just enough to get the company match) and use the extra cash to increase your monthly cash flow or for better alternative investments. This may seem like a myopic, short term view – but realistically the stock market is probably not going to do much in the year ahead apart from being very volatile. I have done the math of how reducing your retirement contributions can save you money when markets are falling in this post, so do/see the numbers for yourself if you don’t believe me. I am not suggesting that you stop 401K contributions permanently. Once the stock market shows signs of life and the markets stabilize, you should ratchet up those 401K investments to the maximum and enjoy the benefits of dollar cost averaging and compounding as prices recover from their lows. Until then, you can quickly improve your current cash flow by employing this strategy.
10. Cut down on your auto insurance bill(s). Don’t believe all those ads you see that Geico, or any particular insurance company, is the cheapest option. You must always shop around with financial and insurance companies because every policy is negotiable and subject to personal factors. For example I switched my auto insurance to AllState and saved over $200 by just saying, “Geico gave me $X rate, so what can you do for me to keep me as a customer. And oh by the way, I want to also look at changing my home insurance.” Shopping for insurance is boring and it is easy to keep going with the automatic renewals, but in current market conditions where companies are ferociously competing for customers you can easily save $100 to $500 on your insurance policies by making a few calls to get the best price.
Whew! What a list. All told if you implement even half of the above ideas I bet you could increase your available cash by 5-20% a month and even build a passive income source or two. Good luck saving and investing your money.