Jen’s 3 favorite money-making schemes

Are tricks to earning a little bit of extra cash crunchy?  I debated on writing this post, but decided that little inflows to our budget resulting from the schemes I describe below are exactly what helps this one-income family stay afloat all while increasing our food budget to get higher quality, ethical, safer food and paying down debt.  If an extra $10 a month is worth a few minutes of your time, then please read on to learn how I help defray the costs associated with our crunchy lifestyle.

A good money-making scheme should be quick and easy with a high enough rate of return to justify your time.  And I love a good money-making scheme!  I’ve tried so many things over the years to make a little extra cash on the side.  One of the weirdest ways I made money in college was “selling” my blood plasma, although it’s not for those who don’t like needles.  I’ll never forget, it was the summer I quit smoking and the anticoagulant they mixed with my red blood cells and pumped back into me put a metallic taste in my mouth and a slight buzz ever so reminiscent of nicotine.  Awww . . . the memories!

The worst money-making scheme I ever tried was delivering phone books   My friend, Christin, saw an ad in the paper for this gig and enrolled me in her crazy plan because I needed the money as badly as she did.  We showed up at a local hotel where we picked out some routes and loaded up Christin’s car.  It was winter in Ithaca, NY, and, although delivering a phone book via the Burger King drive-through was fun, fending off scary barking dogs, suffering falls down icy stairways (Christin) and driving over a curb resulting in serious damage to Christin’s car, was not.  After hours and hours of hard work over several days, I don’t think we made $100 a piece, and Christin spent more money on car repairs than she had netted.  Moral of the story: don’t deliver phone books.

As a stay-at-home mom, I now confine my “money” making to saving money by savvy shopping and selling the odd thing online.  But I have found a few easy ways to earn money or valuable gift cards that I think are worth my time.  You certainly won’t get rich with these schemes, but they help us stretch our budget a bit farther each month.


Swagbucks is a website where you are awarded points for doing certain activities.  Once you earn enough points, you can redeem them for (among other things) gift cards to MANY retailers and restaurants, including, Starbucks, and more.  Mainly, I earn points by searching with the Swagbucks search engine (instead of Google) and by going through links on Swagbucks to buy things at online retailers, like Amazon, Target, and  You can also earn points by watching videos, signing up for free or paid subscriptions, printing coupons, playing games, answering surveys, and the list goes on and on.

I’ve been experimenting with Swagbucks since last fall and I find that it is better for me to just earn a few points every day by searching with Swagbucks instead of Google.  With my minimal efforts, I earn a $5 Amazon gift card about every 4-6 weeks.  Since I would be searching online anyway, it takes only a few extra minutes of my time per month.  As of this writing, I have no “referrals” which are people who you helped to sign up with Swagbucks.  Once you get referrals, you earn the points that your referrals get through searching on Swagbucks, but not points earned any other way.  By getting referrals, you can really up your earning potential.  But for me, it has been worth it even with no referrals.

Bing Rewards

Bing Rewards is another search engine that rewards you with points for doing online searches and the points can be redeemed for gift cards.  Every day, I can earn 1 credit for every 2 searches on Bing.  The best part is that I can do all those searched in about 2 minutes by searching for something general, like “corn recipes” and then quickly clicking the links under Related Searches on the right side of the screen.  Matt and I both use Bing Rewards to earn a $5 gift card every other month so we “make” $60/year in gift cards with this scheme between the two of us. Matt calculated we are “getting paid” about $9/hour to run these searches, which is a good rate for me right now since I just do it when I feel like it.  You make 10 points for every referral you get, which doesn’t make a huge difference,  but every little bit counts.

Earning Cash Back on Credit Card Purchases

This scheme is not for everyone.  If you aren’t accustomed to the discipline of paying off your credit cards each month, do not try to earn cash back on your purchases.  Cash back on purchases is never worth it if you are paying interest or late fees!  Also, do not try this if you know that paying with credit cards makes you spend more money.  Matt and I budget down to the cent every month and the majority of our credit card purchases are necessities, so we’ve found that this is an excellent way to earn a couple hundred dollars a year.

We’ve maximized our earnings by using a couple of cards that provide “bonus” points for spending money in special categories.  One of our cards gives us triple points (3% cash back) on purchases and double points (2% cash back) for gasoline and grocery store purchases.  The other card gives us 5% cash back on special categories each month like gas stations, drug stores, or hotels.  By shifting as much of our purchases as possible to these cards and paying off the balances every month without fail, we make significant extra cash every year.  For example, just by putting our heating oil, monthly Internet bill, cell phone bill, and trash pick up service on our credit card, we earn $22 a year for doing next-to-nothing.

So these are my favorites, but are there any other easy, legit, money-making schemes out there?


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