My oldest son, Matthew, called me a loser the other day. He’s 16. OK, he didn’t call me a “loser” specifically, but he was talking to a nurse in the emergency room about how he was thinking of going into politics when he gets older. He wants to be the president, he said.
“Hey,” I said to him after the nurse had gone, “I was going to be president when I grew up.”
I really was going to be president. I had every intention of going into politics when I was between the ages of 14 and 18. My intention was to complete college, maybe go to law school and then run for office – with the White House in full-view. To make a long story short, I went to college in DC and in essence found that I enjoyed writing about politics and being an activist more than I wanted to run for an office – and as I pointed out to my son, who was looking at me with much pity – I still have time to run for an office if I so choose. At 34, I am not even yet eligible to run for president…although the clock is ticking louder now than it once did.
“I know, Mom,” he said. “But I’m actually going to do it.” The way he said it, stung a little. He said it with such disdain, as if I had thrown away my dream. Did he just see me as a wife and mother – with no other accomplishments under my belt? Did he think I somehow failed because my dreams at 14 or 15 were not the dreams I achieved?
That made me sad. He didn’t say it to be mean, I knew, he just stated it as a matter of fact. I had chosen a life he viewed as “normal,” but if he really looked, he’d see that my life has been anything but.
My path down the “road less taken” has forced me to think creatively about income from time to time – alright, most of the time. After trying life in the suburbs as a two-income family – each with a steady “regular” job, I quickly learned that a regular job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Aside from the added burdens on your time and income, steady jobs aren’t so steady anymore. Although I left my newspaper six months before it folded – it did fold. And I would have been laid off. My husband, a computer guru and expert in his field, has seen jobs come and go as the “Internet bubble” shrinks and expands. He’s worked for small companies and large corporations who all succumb to some sort of merge, consolidate or downsize pressure.
Tired of living from paycheck to paycheck, we sought out a simpler lifestyle – and found it on my childhood farm in Vermont. Vermont is plentiful in beauty, solitude and quiet. What it is not plentiful in is job opportunities. In order to make up for the lean times when my writing hasn’t paid very well, or my husband’s consulting is going through a slump, I have learned that there are many ways one can make cash right away. And some of these things can become businesses if you like them enough. Each one that I am suggesting can be done with minimal cash outlay – because if you need cash, you usually can’t invest in a business opportunity…they can also be done with kids in tow. I am a stay-at-home mom and happy to be one – but I am also smart and creative and don’t think that one has to supercede the other. You can do something enjoyable and stay home with your kids (which is also enjoyable). Further, I have made at least a week’s worth of groceries with each of these suggestions at some point in my life…and some of them were my income for that year.
1. Used books. Do you have a vast collection of books? Even a small collection? People are always looking for books. And used book stores, eBay, and your local classifieds paper are a great way to make some cash and clean off a shelf or two too. I know of several country families who support their cash needs by selling their used books. I wouldn’t invest in a storefront, but if you have a great collection of books, particularly in a specific area or two, you shouldn’t have any trouble starting on eBay or with a regular website. If you don’t have your own books to sell now, you can usually get great books at yard sales, local thrift stores, or at libraries (their discards, don’t walk off with them). Many times, people are willing to practically give books away, if only you’ll take them out of their house.
2. Extra garden veggies or fruits? Why not set up a roadside stand or get a booth at a local farmers’ market? You don’t have to be an official farmer to sell your veggies. If you have tomatoes coming out of your ears, but no cash for the canning supplies, set up “shop.” You’ll be amazed at how many people will stop and be grateful for your homegrown efforts.
3. Bake bread or other pastries. Are you a good cook? You don’t have to be, yet. But with some effort and a desire to bake you could keep your town in cookies, brownies, whoopie pies and homemade breads. I did this when I was down to my last $5 one month! I had a ton of flour, but very little else. I baked up all kinds of breads – cinnamon, sandwich, round herb loaves – and asked the local farmers’ market if I could sell what I baked. I sold out before the market closed that day – and made enough to put gas in my car, buy food for the week and more flour and other ingredients so I could go back again the following weekend. I supported myself and my three children for quite a while with my baking business – business I enjoyed immensely.
4. Type. Can you type? I don’t mean fast. You don’t have to type 100 words per minute to make a few dollars typing. You just have to be willing to spend the time typing when someone else isn’t. I had no idea how to type when I put a notice in the paper saying I’d be willing to type resumes, term papers, business proposals and what have you. But I did know another girl who was charging $2 a page. I charged $1.50 a page and even though I’m sure my hourly rate was terrible, I made a lot of extra cash, typing away…and able to stay home with my new baby and listen to NPR all at the same time!
5. Tutor. Were you brilliant in Algebra as a kid? Well, I wasn’t, but I was the local grammarian. I was a whiz at English Grammar, spelling and history and made $10 an hour helping local high school and college kids study for their SATs, edit papers, you name it. This is a great way to feel useful and make money at the same time! And again, all you need is a flyer and your phone number. Offer tutoring at the local public library or at the local YMCA.
6. Give lessons. Play the piano? Know how to use a spinning wheel, knit or decorate a cake? Secure a location (a church basement, community center room or library are great places to start) and place a few ads and flyers around town. You will be surprised how happy some folks will be to pay $25 or $30 to learn what you know! You could hold one class or a series of classes. Make sure you investigate how much others charge for similar classes in your area, don’t undercut yourself, but unless you have a lot of teaching experience, don’t overcharge – particularly on your first go round.
7. Write and publish a booklet. This could easily complement your class or lessons, or work well on its own. While most people are in favor of getting initial information off the web – myself included – writing a booklet on your topic of expertise and then marketing it in appropriate publications could net you – no not millions, but a nice steady income. Remember, in this type of writing, being more specific is better. Don’t write a booklet on “how to fix your car.” Write the authoritative guide to “fixing the 1970’s Volvo station wagon.” Or whatever. An alternative – or extension of publishing the booklet is to write it up and then publish it as a .PDF – that interested folks can download off your website. Of course, they would have to pay $5 or whatever you deem your booklet worth, in order to get the download. Offering these kinds of services is a lot easier than I initially thought. PayPal is a great source for this type of transaction.
8. Run errands for people. This is so simple, I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it years before – particularly when I was in high school and had gotten my first car. This service would be wonderful no matter where you live – rural, urban or suburban. Put up flyers, place announcements in the local paper. Run all kinds of errands – pick up dry cleaning, buy groceries, pick up prescriptions, drop off film, take a dog to the groomer. You would be shocked at the kinds of things people will pay you to do. I was once paid to walk two kids to school every morning! This is also the kind of service you could offer to a local nursing home or senior center. Seniors may need someone to travel for them – or they might want to go along for the ride. Obviously you will need to make up a fee schedule – if you are just picking up a prescription, you might charge $5 or $10, but a full grocery list is going to be a bit more. Work out an “hourly” rate (how much it’s worth to you to do the errand, taking into account time spent, gas, etc.) – and make sure that you can combine errands. And keep your cell phone handy (if you have one, I didn’t and did just fine).
9. Walk dogs, pet sit, house sit, babysit. Do all four – or just one or two. These are self-explanatory – but there is always a market for them. Now, I’m not saying open a home daycare. If you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for a career – then don’t. But how many of us babysat as teens just for extra money? You can do that too. Put your name out there and babysit for an evening or for a day or two. Housesitting can almost be like a paying vacation and my kids loved the jobs I took on as a petsitter – cleaning out cages, feeding dogs and cats – it was like having pets without having pets!
10. Make something. Before polar fleece home accessories were readily available at Wal-Mart, I made quite a good living sewing baby blankets, booties, pillows and other items out of polar fleece fabric. Right now, if I had to, I would knit a bunch of wristies (fingerless mittens) and take them to my local craft fair, gift shop or consignment store. Are you good at making something? Maybe you make the world’s best tartar sauce. Or you make beautiful baby hats. Or wooden spoons. Whatever it is – I guarantee that if you do it well and offer it at a fair price, someone will like it and buy it. Be creative. I got started with baby blankets because I made a few for my first two babies and my friends started asking me to make one for them. Wristies happened the same way and although I don’t sell them now, I do make them as Christmas presents and save myself the shopping!
There you go: 10 things you could start on right now to make yourself money. Would Matthew be proud that I’ve done all of these things to make money – instead, as he would say – accomplishing my original dream to be president? Probably not. But he’s 16 and very little about his parents impress him right now! But you know what? I’m proud of myself. I’m proud that I used my creative skills to make money when I needed it – or when I wanted a little extra, or when I just wanted to try something new. Matt might be disdainful, but he’s also never been hungry – and considering some of the hard times we’ve been through, that’s something else of which to be proud. I also never had to work for someone else if I didn’t so choose, which not a lot of people can say in this day and age.
But am I President? Well, no…not yet, anyway.