By Andrew Housser
If you feel like your income is getting smaller, but the bills are not, you are not alone. These days, wages do not always keep step with inflation. In addition, many companies have reduced bonuses or cut them altogether. Those working on commission are finding it can be even more challenging in difficult economic times. If your income falls short, consider some creative ways to bring in some extra cash without adding too many hours to the work week. Following are some examples to get your creative juices -- and income -- flowing.
1. Get paid for your opinion
Market research companies will pay $50 or more for an hour or two of your time. In return, you agree to participate in a focus group where you are asked to share your opinions on a certain product, service or concept. You can email or call market research companies and advertising agencies in your area and ask them to add you to their list of potential focus group candidates. You also can find focus group opportunities on sites such as Craigslist. 2. Become a mystery shopper
If you like to shop, but need to watch your budget, consider signing up to be a mystery shopper. These shoppers get paid to evaluate a business on everything from cleanliness to customer service to store displays. The pay is modest, usually from $10 to $30. But you can take on several assignments every week. Some companies will reimburse you (up to a certain amount) for merchandise that you purchase. And if you are evaluating a restaurant, your meal is covered. You can find out more about legitimate shopping opportunities at the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. 3. Sign up to sell
For the right people, there is still plenty of money to be made by selling quality products they believe in -- such as jewelry, kitchen items, purses and totes, and scrapbook materials -- at home parties. Expect to pay an upfront fee of about $100 for your startup kit. Most sales consultants say they easily recoup this cost at their first party. The Direct Sellers Association reports that the median income for sellers like this is about $2,400 a year. Depending on your sales skills, you could make much more. 4. Get creative
If you have ever made a gift for someone and been told that it was so well done that you should go into business, look into your options. Online marketplaces like Etsy, eBay and Craigslist provide avenues for crafters and artists to sell their wares. Depending on the venue, you will be charged a fee for posting photos, as well as a small commission charge. 5. Put your talents to use
Make a list of your strengths and talents, as well as your educational background (much like a resume). What services can you offer that others need? Consider tutoring, teaching a foreign language, offering guitar lessons, refereeing sporting events, or baking cakes. Don't overlook simple services including housesitting for neighbors, dog walking and babysitting. Handyman and house cleaning services are always in demand, too. In certain cities, the online business TaskRabbit can connect you with people who are looking to pay for certain services in your area, like assembling furniture and office work. 6. Take a survey
Complete a membership enrollment form (for free) at survey sites. Once enrolled, you will receive emails from different companies asking you to take a survey. Most surveys take about 20 minutes to complete. The sponsoring companies will compensate you for your time with cash (anywhere from $1 to $50 per survey), points to redeem for goods, or sweepstake entries. Occasionally, companies may send you new products to try. Avoid any survey site that charges a membership fee. You can find out more about legitimate paid survey opportunities at SurveyPolice. Making money on the side does significant amounts of extra time and effort. Once you have made the effort and earned the extra income, it also is important to remember the reason you wanted it in the first place. Make sure you spend the money to further your financial position -- such as to pay off debt, shore up savings, or achieve other goals you have outlined in your budgeting process -- and not on impulse purchases.
Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.