In this economy, making money online or part-time is an attractive proposition. It may seem intimidating at first, but don't worry -- you needn't be a design maven, crochet whiz or computer savant to earn a little extra on the side. Here are a few ways to turn what you currently have (stuff, skills, un-skills) into a little extra cash.
Plug your money leaks
Remember that while cutting back on expenses definitely helps your budget, the easiest way to save money is to make more. Still, we'll start off with some easy tips to stop bleeding money where it doesn't actually help much.
1. Refinance your mortgage
Interest rates are at an all time low, and many families are considering refinancing their home to save on monthly mortgage payments. Determine whether or not refinancing will save you money in the long term by following this guide.
2. Switch providers
Don't assume that your cable, phone and Internet bills are locked into a slow but inexorable climb. Taking the first provider that comes along is a great way to waste money that can be saved elsewhere. Once you reach the terms of your contract, get on the phone or in an office and negotiate your bill down – or at least get a few perks thrown in for free.
3. Get rid of cable
Cable can rack up a hefty bill over a year, especially when you keep pay-per-view, premium channel, and miscellaneous costs in mind. Opt for online providers like Netflix or Hulu Plus that let you stream shows directly onto your computer, mobile device, or TV.
Pro tip: Switch between 30-day trial periods of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime to get a full season of free watching.
4. Use credit cards with the best rewards
The best parts about credit cards are the perks and rewards that come with them. By using a card with shoddy rewards or cash back, you are doing yourself and your budget a disservice. Find a credit card that rewards wherever you spend the most, whether that's travel, gas, groceries, or (ohmigod) shoes -- the NerdWallet credit card tool makes personalized recommendations based on your own spending habits.
Pro tip: Use the calculator button to further customize your recommendation.
5. Invest wisely
You're never too young to start investing -- in fact, the time to have an aggressive (high risk, high reward) profile is when you're younger, and you don't plan to use the money for a couple decades. But there's no reason to pay top dollar for actively managed mutual funds. Despite the prestige and high fees, active funds outperform the market only 24% of the time. You're much better with an index fund, which has much lower fees and will probably get you a better return for your money. Stop paying to lose money!
6. Pay off your debt
You know how I just told you to invest? Paying off high-interest debt is the best investment you can make. It's virtually impossible to get a guaranteed 12% return on your investments -- unless you're getting rid of credit card debt. Get in the black first before you start looking for babies that talk about stocks. Check out our in-depth article on getting rid of debt for guidelines and ways to lower the interest on your debts.
7. Improve your credit score
This one is a no-brainer. There are multiple sites that let you check your credit score for free. After finding out where you stand, work on improving your score and contact your credit card, personal loan or other issuer to negotiate a lower interest rate.
8. Maximize your tax returns
A great way to boost your income part time happens during a particular part of the year. Take advantage of tax loopholes and exceptions to maximize your long-anticipated tax refund check.
9. Use rewards malls and cashback websites
Little-known fact: You can earn cash back for the money you spend online anyway, just by clicking through another website first. Your credit card probably has a rewards mall that offers 5% back or more on everything from Expedia to Macy's to Zales, and even if it doesn't, you can use straight-up cash-back sites like eBates or Upromise to get an automatic discount on online purchases.
10. Take advantage of rebates and coupons
Often, stores will advertise that they'll beat the lowest price offered by any other competitor. Many credit cards also give price match guarantees, paying the difference if the price drops below a certain amount after you've made the purchase. Check your card's fine print for details. Also, use coupon comparison tools to score quick deals without scouring the Internet or pawing through your neighbors' mail.
11. Consider a flexible savings account (FSA)
Your employer may offer an FSA, which allows you to cover medical expenses not paid by insurance tax-free. This can be anything from out-of-pocket costs to prescriptions to dependent coverage. Because it's tax-advantaged, you'll save up to 30% on medical expenses. Keep in mind, though, that you lose any funds you don't spend at the end of the year, so you need to know your budget well. If you have a high-deductible insurance plan, you can also contribute to a health savings account (HSA), which doesn't lose money at year-end.
Turn money into more money
You can set policies in place to grow your existing money further. Someone pretty smart once said that compounding is the greatest force in the universe. Keep in mind that both of the following techniques compound, meaning that taking action now will yield even larger benefits in the future.
12. Max out your IRA and 401(k)
Max out your 401(k) and IRA contributions every year -- not only will you receive a tax benefit, but given the low interest-rate environment, you're much better putting your money in the markets than sticking it into a savings account that doesn't beat inflation. A 22-year-old who invests $5,000 in an IRA and never invests again will enjoy $137,000 at retirement, compared to just $101,000 if she invested in a regular savings account. It doesn't matter how old you are -- unless you're paying off debt, the time to start saving for retirement is now.
13. Ask for a raise
Like we said, saving money is all well and good, but making more money is even better. Try negotiating for a raise -- even in a tough job economy, sitting down at the bargaining table with politeness, confidence and respect for yourself and the organization can have its benefits. Here's a great flow chart scripting a possible conversation -- preparation is key.
Pro tip: Catch your boss when she's in a good mood, but don't let her know you know she's in a good mood.
Mo' money, less clutter
Okay, let's be honest. Chances are, you have too much stuff. If you can identify high-value items and present them well, you can have a cleaner, more simple living space as well as money to spend on what you really want.
14. Have a garage sale
Wipe off the dust, clear out the storage closet, and set up a garage sale. Put some effort into presentation: Items lovingly arrayed on a plastic tablecloth will sell better than those chucked into a cardboard box. If you don't have enough clutter to warrant a garage sale on your own, rope a few other neighbors into a neighborhood-wide sale.
15. Value your antiques and collectibles
Dig into storage, sell off what is valuable and throw away the rest. Before you sell indiscriminately, get your collectibles, antiques, and heirlooms appraised. You may be selling rare valuable items at underpriced rates otherwise. After you've consulted with an expert, do a gut check by looking at eBay and similar websites to see if the price is reasonable.
16. Free and flea market flipping
Browse the "free" section on Craigslist or your local flea market for interesting items. Add your own special touches, restore the items, and resell for a profit. Buy interesting items both online and at your local flea market and restore them and resell for a profit. Flea Market Flips offers some great ideas for trash-to-treasure projects.
17. Sell your old mobile phone
Given the rate at which we churn through cell phones these days, you probably have an old cell phone lying around. Amazon offers gift cards for fully functional iPhones, while specialty sites like Gazelle and Swappa specialize in cash for cell phones.
18. Turn in printer cartridges
Many office supply stores, from Staples to Office Depot, will offer credits for empty printer cartridges. Not only is it good for your wallet, but it's good for the environment.
Take part in the share economy
If you have an extra anything, chances are there's someone who'd like to borrow it from you. As the so-called "share economy" grows, you have an increasing opportunity to get cash for your idling machines and empty space.
19. Rent out an underused parking spot
Parking spots can be a hot commodity, particularly in crowded cities. If you happen to be holding on to a coveted spot that you do not use all the time, put it up for rent on Craigslist. If your landlord or building offers you parking at a discount rate, consider seeing whether you can rent it out for a higher price -- assuming you're allowed to do so, of course.
20. Rent out a spare bedroom
If that extra guest bedroom in your midtown Manhattan walk-up is left unused, consider renting it out on Airbnb.com or other vacation rental sites. Make sure that everything is kosher with your rental agreement beforehand.
Pro tip: Even if you don't have a spare bedroom, chances are there's a college kid willing to pay for four walls, a door, an air mattress, a shower and more privacy than a hostel affords.
21. Rent out your car
Don't need your car on the weekend or during the day? Going on a trip? Services like Getaround and RelayRides let you rent out your car by the hour, while FlightCar arranges for an incoming traveler to rent your car rather than you having to pay for airport parking and letting it sit idle.
Turn talent into a paycheck
22. Crafty? Crochet away!
Have a penchant for crocheting, jewelry-making or embroidery? Sell your goods on Etsy.com. Etsy is the go-to site for artisans and simply impassioned folk selling home goods, paintings, and knickknacks.
Pro tip: Offer to make personalized products -- not only does it establish an emotional connection with the customer, but it often brings in more income.
23. Become a freelance writer
Sites like eHow and Livestrong will pay by the article for content on anything from business to tech to how to fart. While they say you'll need "professional experience" or a degree or certification, honestly, there's not much you'll be asked to write that a quick tour of Google can't make you an expert on.
24. Take up a skilled freelance gig
Websites like TaskRabbit, Odesk, and Craigslist offer opportunities to avid freelancers to pick up programming, design, and marketing jobs on the side. Working on a per-project basis lets your balance your side job with your current one. Sites like Freelancer.com can also offer a leg up.
25. Small-scale catering
Fancy yourself to be the next Iron Chef? Take those skills to the marketplace by setting up your own catering business that you can run out of your own kitchen on the weekend. Cook for dinners, birthday parties and friends' events; or just bake a bunch of cookies and stand outside the nearest bar at 2 a.m.
Heads up: Be careful to comply with food safety laws.
26. Become an online travel agent
Have a knack for finding the best deals on Expedia? Hawk your services as a low-cost alternative to full service travel agencies. You can earn a pretty commission by doing what you love.
The great thing about nightlife is that it doesn't conflict with day life. Pick up late-night or weekend shifts to earn some extra income without sacrificing hours at your current job or studies.
If you were an SAT whiz, there is a huge market for competitive parents and children looking for private tutors. Join a large company like Kaplan or Princeton Review, or tutor at your own schedule by going private.
29. Affiliate marketing
Do you write emails to your friends and family that actually get read? Are you blessed with a silver tongue, razor wit or keen eye for society? Write it up. Join an affiliate network (Amazon has a good one) to earn money whenever someone buys the product by going through your website or blog.
Turn lack of talent into a paycheck
You don't need to be a master craftsman, mixologist or Iron Chef to earn supplementary income. Here are some income boosters that don't require specialized skills.
30. Get paid to be a reviewer
Although you may fancy your Yelp Elite status, all those reviews really did not pay for much but a fancy badge and a few exclusive invites. Take your review skills to the marketplace and earn $1-$50 per review, depending on quality and technical knowledge required.
31. Sell your photos
Stock photo websites like iStockPhoto purchase images from everyday people. Even if you aren't Ansel Adams, the most commonly requested (and often overlooked) photos often include everyday images like stop signs, coffee cups and other everyday objects.
32. Resell food
True story: In college, Zappos founder Tony Hseih bought pizza from a parlor down the road and resold it at a profit in his college dorm room. His friend Alfred Lin would always buy two pizzas a night -- Hseih assumed he was just hungry. Turns out Lin was actually taking the pizzas upstairs and selling them at a slice for an even tidier profit. He later went on to become the Zappos COO.
Anyway, long story short, you can probably find lazy, hungry college kids and young adults outside of bars and in parks. They will happily buy pizza, beer and water by the unit and pay handsomely for the convenience.
Heads up: This is not exactly FDA-approved.
Services as diverse as your cable company to your orthodontist will pay a nice little gift for both referrer and referred. Small businesses and companies just getting off the ground are often the most likely to give referral bonuses.
Pro tip: Your employer might well give referral bonuses, too, so scour your personal networks to see if you know a good fit for open positions.
34. Survey websites
Although those posters on the side of the road may overshoot how much you can potentially make by simply answering surveys online, generating a side income from online surveys is still possible and profitable.
35. You must be good at babysitting
Get yourself registered on a reliable sitter search website and get to work. Babysitters can make great pay and get some benefits like free Wi-Fi thrown in as well.
36. You aren't? Are you good at petsitting?
Most pet owners actually cannot afford a luxury weekend for their pet at the kennel. Price your rates competitively during your stint as a pet sitter and make sure your place allows for multiple pets. Many sites, such as Care.com, offer job boards for pet sitters and those looking for animal care.
37. Really? Still? Okay, how about house-sitting?
Even if you hate kids and animals, you can look for house-sitting gigs through personal referrals, Craigslist, or websites like Mind My House.
Pro tip: Double up the income by renting our your own domicile while house-sitting.
38. Participate in clinical research
Hospitals and academic medical centers live, breathe, and thrive on clinical trials. Most participants are paid a good amount of money for their dedication to research and the trial. Do not overload on this option, as being enrolled in too many trials with conflicting pharmaceutical regiments may lead to skewed results and a medically unhappy you.
39. Engage in market research
Market research is the bread and butter of advertisement agencies. Many large ad agencies will conduct large focus groups to better tailor their strategies. Contact a local or large market research firm and secure your spot in a future group.
40. Become a tour guide
If you happen to know a bit more history concerning the old town square than the average citizen (or if you can just Wikipedia it), consider running your own personal tour guide business. Walking tours are en vogue, and you can advertise your services on TripAdvisor for tourists looking for an insider's perspective.
41. Find seasonal work
Snow shoveling, amusement park work, holiday staffing and lifeguarding are all seasonal work options that are low commitment and can be done sparingly according to your schedule. You want flexibility, employers want flexibility -- it works.
42. Become a part-time care taker
With the baby boomer generation retiring, many older folk in your community will require the services of a caretaker to help them around the house and with chores. Make a side income at a job that helps you contribute to your local community.
43. Host a foreign exchange student
Hosting an exchange student can be a source of cultural, as well as material, enrichment. Check out the number of hosting sites online, or contact your local high school or college for international student programs.
44. Data entry
Pick up administrative and data entry jobs that can be done by telecommuting, on Craigslist, or at your college campus's career center.
45. Become an on-site manager or landlord
Earn a spot to live rent-free while making a side income as an on-site manager for apartment building owners that live outside of town.
Turn your passion for all things green into a side business by offering landscaping and gardening tutorials to fellow flower aficionados.
47. Donate plasma, sperm or blood
These three precious bodily liquids are always in demand, and you can often get paid for the service. Be careful, though: Only go with reputable organizations that won't leave you in an ice-filled bathtub minus a kidney.
Heads up: The Red Cross recommends waiting 28 days between plasma donations and 56 between blood donations, and not exceeding 13 plasma donations a year.
48. Become a mystery shopper
Yes, they really do exist. Market research firms and companies doing internal audits often want to see how their stores perform from a customer's perspective, so sign up to become their eyes and ears.
Services such as Amazon Mechanical Turk connect businesses with a cohort of individuals looking to make a little cash on the side (i.e., you), in order to crowdsource small tasks. You can walk away with a nice check or gift card for a few hours of work.
50. Join a car service
The taxicab industry used to be limited to a handful of licensed professionals. Now, companies like Sidecar, Lyft and Flightcar allow anyone with a license to perform the same functions as a taxi driver, but with greater flexibility, and sometimes better pay.