With an abundance of job losses, salary cuts, eliminated bonuses and diminished 401(k) matching contributions, your income may be shrinking -- but the bills aren't.
If your regular job isn't earning you enough cash or you've lost your job altogether, these simple side gigs can help put some padding in your pockets until -- maybe even after -- you get back on your feet.
Here are 10 ways real people are creatively taking home some extra dough:
1. Do freelance work
Felice Premeau Devine left her lucrative, full-time job two years ago to raise her son. In the interim, she's picked up writing and editing freelance work and started a blog, where she is able to earn a little cash from advertising.
Nowadays, almost any job can be done on a contract or freelance basis. Check out sites like Sologig, which lead job seekers to contract, consulting, freelance, temp-to-hire and part-time project opportunities in their field.
2. Sell your books
If you're a college student or you hung on to your college textbooks thinking you might want to read them again somewhere down the line, some retailers like Barnes & Noble allow you to sell your textbooks for quick cash. Or, take some classics from your personal library and sell them at a local secondhand bookstore.
3. Search circulating coinage
Susan Headley, the "guide to coins" on About.com, is a lifetime coin collector who has been boosting her income by searching through circulating coinage for the past six years. In 2008, she made about $2,500 and so far in 2009, she has earned approximately $500 from coins she's found.
People who search circulating coinage successfully for a side income do so in very large numbers, she says. They buy rolls of coins from banks, typically in whole boxes, and sort through it to find stuff that just doesn't belong, Headley says. Half dollars, for example, were no longer made from 90 percent silver after 1965, but they still had 40 percent silver in them until 1970; either of these turn a nice profit. Presidential dollar errors can be worth $50 to $5,000 each; uncirculated state quarters can sell from $10 to $50 per roll; and rare error coins can value up to $35,000.
4. Start a "business"
Turn your hobby, skills or expertise into a part-time business. Sites like Jobvana.com can help you do so by providing you with free tools to market your services and offer specialized skills to those looking for help.
Peter Olson says he built a profile in September 2008 offering to teach guitar lessons. He has since gained two students, earning about $240 extra dollars per month and grossing around $1,000 since he started teaching.
5. Enter local and online sweepstakes
Wendy Limauge has been entering sweepstakes since 1993 and teaching others to win through her Web site, Sweeties Sweeps, since 2002. Though winning sweepstakes rarely provides actual cash, her winnings have consistently provided her and her family with 200 to 300 prizes a year, many of them large items she and her husband couldn't afford on their incomes alone.
Prizes she has won include three TVs, two of which are flat-screens; a home theater system; three dishwashers, each won on separate occasions; at least $1,500 in grocery gift certificates; an $18,000 voucher for the vehicle of her choice; a trip to France valued at $25,000; and, in March 2009, she won $5,000 in an instant-win game.
"The Internet has so many options for saving money, getting something for free, winning a prize or earning money from home," Limauge says. "You just need to find those resources that offer helpful information and point you in the right direction to get you started and keep you motivated."
6. Give your opinion -- and get paid
Linda Childers, a California-based freelance writer, says many of her friends participate in focus groups. Contributing an hour of your time can earn you up to $100, sometimes more. Online surveys, phone surveys and product trials can also earn you anywhere from $5 to $150. Check out http://freepaidsurveys.net or http://findfocusgroups.com.
7. Sell your junk
Terri Jay earns $2,000 to $3,000 per month just by selling junk. On eBay, Jay not only sells stuff she isn't using; she hits up local thrift stores on 99-cent days, garage sales and tack sales, looking for things of which she knows the value. She says her best sale was for a drink tray from the 70s; she paid 25 cents for it and it sold for $87.
"The trick is to [sell] what you know," she advises. "Therefore you can list them [at correct prices] so they will get picked up in searches [on eBay]."
8. Join a direct selling company
Direct selling is one of the easiest ways to earn some extra cash, especially if you sell products you love. Avon, for example, allows you start your own business for $10 -- what you earn depends on your efforts. Some full-time representatives earn six-figure salaries, others own licensed Avon Beauty Centers and many just sell Avon part time around their family's schedules.
Haizel MacIntyre started her Avon business in June 2008 to earn supplemental income to her full-time job when her husband was laid off. Since joining Avon, MacIntyre averages $1,800 a month in sales and her husband is helping her run the business. Her Avon earnings help pay the bills and provide extras for her three kids, and she is hoping to earn enough to put towards her college tuition when she goes back to school to get her master's degree in social work.
9. Be a secret shopper
A keen eye for detail and a good memory are really all that it takes to succeed as a secret shopper, says Zippy Sandler, who has been mystery shopping for about 13 years. After registering with a secret shopping company, you are paid to basically go undercover and report on a company's operation from the customer point of view.
Sandler decided to start secret shopping not only to earn money eating, traveling and shopping, but also to learn customer service skills to pass along to the employees she managed at a retail store. Depending on the clients she is shopping for, Sandler says she has earned anywhere from $100 to $2,000 per month.
10. Sell your photos to stock agencies
It doesn't matter if you're a hobbyist, an amateur or a seasoned-photographer -- anyone can submit their photos to stock photo agencies like Shutterstock.com. If your images are accepted, they will be available for download by subscribers. Each time someone downloads your photos, you get 25 cents.
Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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