Monday, February 8

Desperation frugality: 30 ways to make or save money

Frugal Dad had a reader plea for help recently. Short story: After two years of her husband's unemployment, she's used every cent of her $80,000 credit line. Now, they're paying the mortgage company $500 a week to catch up on that. (Doesn't say for how long.) And she can only put $40 a month on each of her 10 credit cards.

A lot of advice was forthcoming -- from Frugal Dad and from readers. I threw my own two cents in, of course. But it got me thinking about various desperation moves she could do to make money.

There are the obvious ones -- have a yard sale, take up pizza/newspaper delivery, etc -- but I was trying to think a little more outside the box. (Though I'm sure none of these are completely new ideas.) Here's what I came up with:



This isn't something that gets mentioned a lot on PF blogs. I think one reason is obvious: It's considered the domain of teenage girls. But most parents are thrilled to get a "mature" babysitter. My mom was in her late 40s and getting $9-10 an hour. The kids generally were in bed 1-2 hours after she arrived, but the gigs generally last 4-5 hours.

Of course, this is more of a problem if you have children yourself. That doesn't mean it can't be done, though. If you can't leave them on their own, you could bring them along -- for a reduced rate. Everyone loves a good deal. You'd still be making some money, and there's a chance the kids will play together and take some of the responsibility off you.

Try putting up fliers at the grocery store, any community centers, church, and gyms. Make sure to emphasize your age, it'll set you apart from the rest of the ads. If you distribute fliers around the neighborhood, you could make money without using any gas to get there.


You want to go out, but a babysitter is too expensive. So consider coordinating with another couple. Going in on a babysitter is a lot cheaper. Of course, the more kids, the higher the hourly rate. But if you're looking at 3 or 4 kids, it won't be too much more expensive than 2 would be.

I was once hired to help out at a holiday party. Three teenagers watching about 15 kids for a couple of hours. We had crafts to keep them busy, and it was hectic but fun. I think I walked away with $30, which was HUGE compared to the $5-6 an hour I normally got. Still, that means the hosts only paid about $6 per kid watched. Everyone got a good deal that day.

Another time, a bowling team went in on childcare for a specific game. So I spent 2 hours wrangling 8 or 9 kids, but for $20 an hour I was thrilled. Each parent had brought a toy or two, so the kids mainly played. I was just there to keep them from wandering off and to distract them if they got weepy.

Another alternative? Find a parent with kids in the same age range as yours. Ask if you could pay them to host a playdate at their house. They might offer to do it for free. If not, you'll still pay less than a regular babysitter.



We all know that I'm not a big fan of cooking. I'm coming around to it. (Friday night, I made some very tasty Chicken Enchilada Quesadillas.) But some people are darned good at it. And some even enjoy it.

So why not make some money off it?

There are plenty of people who would pay to have meals made for them. You can also be as simple or elaborate as you like. You can bring them a list of meals you are willing to cook and let them choose some; or you can bring them a list of what you're going to cook, and they can choose which dishes they want some of.

The latter way is easier, since you won't have to make different meals for different clients. You just have to be sure you make enough for everyone. Also, as you cook, set aside some containers for yourself. That way, your meal plan is taken care of, too.

The main investment here will be in ingredients, which you should be stockpiling already, as sales come around, and disposable containers. (Consider offering a discount if they wash the containers and have them ready for you when you drop off the next set of meals.)

Bonus: Since these people probably don't do a lot of couponing, you can probably get their Sunday ads and increase your grocery-shopping power.


Meal-exchange groups. I'm sure there's a more technical name. But that's what I call them. Everyone makes a big batch of one meal. You divvy it up into containers and then all get together. Each person gets one container of each meal. Voila, you have a varied diet for a set period of time!

Mainly, this is seen as a time-saver; but really it's very frugal, too. Making seven different meals is almost guaranteed to cost you more than one meal big enough to fill seven containers.

I would imagine these can be a little stressful to organize, at first. You have to make sure everyone cooks for everyone else. That means being aware of food allergies and other people's tastes. You don't want to make a seafood gumbo, only to find out that two of the six people in the group can't stand fish.

The key is to find some reasonable people, who agree to try a variety of foods. Then, you just need to make a "banned ingredients" list.



I really cannot imagine doing this over and above my own needs. But some people find cleaning to be relatively bearable. In that case, it's a great way to make money. Just as an employee of a maid service, you can easily make $12-15 an hour in many areas. So either get hired by a service or put out fliers advertising yourself as a maid service.

It doesn't just have to be cleaning, though. People need help in a variety of ways. I read an article once about a woman who was somewhat obsessive about her kitchen organization. A friend asked if her kitchen could get a similar makeover. Soon, people were paying her hundreds of dollars to organize their cupboards, and a business was born.

In other words, you should consider selling any and all services you can think of. Chances are, someone will need it:

  • Offer hands-on help to maximizing coupons.
  • Teach people sales cycles and how to shop them.
  • Help people create coupon organization systems.
  • Help people create regular organization systems. (There is a huge market for this from people with ADD.)
  • Teach people how to shop in thrift stores.
  • Become a mother's helper.
  • Run errands for other people.
  • Do their grocery shopping.
  • Do their laundry.
  • Offer hemming and other minor alterations.
  • Make food trays for events and parties.
  • Make cookies and other sweets for holiday/birthday parties.
  • Lend yourself out as a small-scale party/event planner.
  • Organize parties/events on your own, with per-person attendance fees to pay for your services.
  • Offer to help people pack for trips.
  • Offer to help people pack for moves. (Bonus: After the first move, you'll have boxes to offer.)
  • Rent yourself (and your car) out for moves.
  • Help organize yard/garage/estate sales.
  • Know what is worth selling on eBay (and maybe have an account to sell it from).
  • Assist in attic- and garage-cleaning efforts, and make trips to Goodwill.
  • Practice job interviews with people, give feedback about their dress and mannerisms, as well as answers.
  • Help write/revise resumes. (There are some really awful ones out there, even ones that the job center has OKed.)
  • Help people create budgets.

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list. So what other activities could help net a few extra bucks?


Blogger Meg said...

Just a word of warning, in the U.S. at least and as far as I know (it may vary in certain states and I am not a lawyer), it's generally *illegal* to cook at home for money. If you want to start a legal food business you'll need to have access to a kitchen that is licensed for such things (and chances are very, very slim your own kitchen will qualify). You may be able to find one locally that you can use part-time. For example, where I live there's a co-op planned locally that would have one available to members.

You can, of course, take the risk and operate illegally. If that is the case, one would need to be very careful how one advertised such a service and keep only very trustworthy clients, knowing that they could blackmail you or outright sue you -- especially if anything happened like food poisoning (or if they just get ticked at you for some stupid little thing). People *do* run into trouble with this sort of thing. And, like any business, there's also the tax man to worry about if you're not good about that sort of thing.

So, I'm not sure that I would feel comfortable with that or some other at-home businesses. And no matter what you choose, read up on the law because when you're in debt you don't want to risk being sued.

And yes, I think it's a sad, sad state of affairs where a neighbor can't sell home-baked bread to their neighbors. Regulations seem to help the big corporations remove competition from the little guy who is less likely to cause massive damage and is more likely to be responsible because he/she has neighbors with pitchforks and torches to worry about should they be found to be doing something sleazy.

Read The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved for more info on the topic. But warning, it may make you cry when you realize how little "freedom" we have when it comes to our food in the U.S.

February 8, 2010 at 8:39 AM

Blogger Abigail said...


Thanks for the info. I was not aware. I guess I was thinking of a very small operation, so it probably wouldn't come to anyone's attention. Still, it's good to read up on the law around you, and there's very little point in skirting the law. Usually, it's more trouble than it's worth.

February 8, 2010 at 10:35 AM

Blogger Stephanie - My Frugal Lifestyle said...

What a great post! Thanks! I love reading your blog! You should come swing by mine and we can share some very helpful tips with one another :)

February 8, 2010 at 4:12 PM


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