Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Got Paid!: January 2015

Online surveys and mystery shopping get a bad rap. Many people think that they are just scams but there are really some great (and legitimate) companies out there that will pay you for your time and effort. And to prove it, here's what I earned from online surveys and mystery shopping last month, among other endeavors. I completed these mystery shops and surveys in the previous month (or earlier) and received the payment this month. Some of these mystery shops required me to pay something out of pocket to purchase a good or service (which I get to keep) but I was reimbursed for my purchase and was usually paid an additional fee. The amount I earned from mystery shops includes the reimbursement for my purchases.

Mystery shopping usually requires that you purchase something specific from the store you are evaluating for which you are then reimbursed. I usually charge those purchases onto my credit card so that I get rewards points and so that it does not use up my grocery budget for that month. When I am paid for mystery shopping I pay myself back and transfer the amount of money I spent on those mystery shopping purchases back to the credit card. The remainder is my profit.

January 2015
Freelance Writing- $50.00
Blogging/ Ad Revenue- $15.00
Intellishop- $32.15
Sinclair Customer Metrics- $26.28
About Face- $13.00
Rebates- $20.00
Pact- $15.08
Ibotta- $10.00
Shopmium- $.45 (use referral code HGCCMKWQ for a free Lindt chocolate bar when you sign up!)
Gigwalk- $6.00
Field Agent- $23.50
EasyShift- $21.00

Total: $232.46

What did I do with this extra income?

I used this extra cash to make the last payments to my Mom and sister for the rental houses we stayed in while we were in England over the summer for my other sister's wedding! YAY! I was so excited to write those checks. I have never been so happy to give someone money I owed them. I feels great to know that all this hard work has been paying off and two more debts have been scratched off of my list. On to the next one!

Did you make any extra income last month? What are you using your side hustle money for?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Springboard America Review

If you are looking for a survey site that won't ask you the same old questions about your favorite soda or air freshener, check out Springboard America. Springboard America is a legitimate survey site that offers surveys on topics like politics and current events so its not the same repetitive surveys on advertising and commercial products.

They have a high payout threshold of $50, but each survey pays you between $.50- $5.00 so they can certainly add up. And to prove how much they add up to, in April 2014 alone Springboard America paid out $40,000 to survey takers! Wow! Those survey dollars can be cashed out as Amazon e-gift cards, Paypal payments, a check, or a charitable donation. And if you attempt a survey and don't qualify for it you will get sweepstakes entries into their $750 sweepstakes.

I have taken their surveys before and they are not long or complicated. Their interface is easy to use and understand. Surveys are a great way to make some easy extra cash. Not a ton extra and it won't make you rich, but if you steadily take surveys you can make an extra $25-$50 a month if you qualify for enough surveys. That's no slouch for just answering some questions and that's easy extra cash for debt repayment.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Catching Up

Well then, happy Halloween, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

It's been a long time hasn't it?

Where the hell have I been?

Traveling for work, busy as hell, sick, working on buying a house (yay!). SO much going on.

The real deal is that I was traveling for three months for work. Its all good stuff, just kept me really busy. Factor in visiting with family and friends over the holidays, coming home in January and promptly getting laid up with a nasty cough and sinus infection, and now my husband and I found a house we love and are under contract to buy it! Phew!

I promise I will be back to this blogging business now that I am home and normal-ish life is returning. I've still been plugging away at debt, saving money, making money, and loads of mystery shops. I'll be doing some upcoming posts on the progress I've made in 2014 on our debt and mystery shopping companies that I have working a lot for so keep an eye out for that.

If there is anything that you really want me to cover about personal finance, mystery shopping, making money online, or other blogging topics please shoot me an email at earningmytwocents@gmail.com. I want this blog to offer helpful information to help you live your best frugal life and if you need something, let me know!

Monday, December 8, 2014

3 Early Christmas Shopping Budget Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Image Source
Black Friday has some great deals! And Cyber Monday’s sales are stupendous! By late November, the deals are all around you and life is awash in blinking “sale” signs. We all love a good deal and have a budget we have to plan around, so shopping these sales seems like the logical choice right? Get a good deal and get the shopping done so we can focus on other things like spending time with family, mailing out greeting cards, and baking delicious holiday treats. But watch out! There are still ways that shopping early can derail your plans for an easy, frugal holiday.

The Sales Keep On Coming
Everywhere you look there are more sales, all December long. Every time you set foot in any store, turn on the television, log into your email, browse online, or even walk down the street in a commercial district, the sales are begging you to shop them. And since retailers really want your cash they are offering some legitimate bargains. “Oh look, little Johnny has been wanting that train set and it’s 50% off now! Mom would love that sweater!” Being constantly bombarded with sales may make you want to buy another gift that the recipient may legitimately really like, but alas, you have already bought them a gift. If you want to keep your budget in check, return the item you already bought or pass up the new sale.

Pre-Purchase Leads to the Illusion of More Available Money
You planned and budgeted your Christmas shopping money, carefully saving all year to be able to afford those special gifts for those special people. Once those gifts have been bought and the savings depleted, we bask in the momentary glory of our budget victory. Our November and December regular monthly budget hasn’t been touched! Then come the remaining weeks before Christmas when we begin to shop again, using our regular monthly budget to add supplemental gifts because we think we can afford it since we weren’t feeling the pinch. Remember, you set a gift budget and saved for a reason. If that reason was to make sure to not overspend so that you can keep paying off debts or save for a family vacation, don’t put those plans in jeopardy just because you’re feeling jolly.

One for You, One for Me
When everyone else has been taken care of, it is quite customary for our minds to drift back to ourselves. That list has everyone and everything checked off, you feel a sense of accomplishment, and when walking out of the mall you spy those shoes that would be a perfect gift for yourself. Self-gifting is a concept that retailers love and are doing a heavy marketing push for this year. After everyone’s gift is bought, don’t fall into the trap that now is the time to buy yourself something shiny and new too.

Just how do you avoid these early shopping budget pitfalls?

Take your Christmas Gift Shopping List with You.
Whenever I see a brilliant gift idea for someone, I look at my list. If that person is crossed out and their gifts have been purchased, then I jot down the idea on the back of the list for next year. Sales are cyclical and that item will be on sale again next year.

Watch Out for the Greed Trap
When shopping for others we can often get greedy and desire new gifts as well and so we go out and buy them for ourselves. But that can lead to budget busting and guilt, especially when we realize we were cheap about a gift we gave someone else and look down at our more expensive new shoes. Remember to enjoy the concept of gift giving for what it is, giving a gift to someone because it will bring them joy or fill a need they have. Side stepping a feeling of entitlement and focusing on the gift giving can allow you to walk out of the store without extra gifts for yourself. Besides, most of us will also be receiving gifts this year and not filling our homes with gifts we bought ourselves will allow us to appreciate the gifts others bought us, and allow us to keep from having to make a lot of returns because they gave us just what we wanted and which we had already bought ourselves. And if that thing we really wanted isn’t under the tree this year? Well, that’s what after Christmas sales are for.

Track Your Spending

On my Christmas shopping gift list I put next to each person’s name what I intend to buy them and how much I intend to spend to stay on budget. When I buy them an item, I jot down what I bought (because sometimes I change my mind and get them something else entirely) and the amount I actually spent (because hopefully it was on sale and under budget!). Then I keep tallying up that total so I can see how much I have spent on each person and as a whole. Seeing the numbers right in front of me helps to curb excess spending.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why Rent to Own is a Trap

In my entire adult life, college included, I have never paid more than $50 for a sofa. Seriously, that's what Craigslist is for. That and friends that are moving and need to sell all their posessions right out of their storage unit. I am absolutely willing to pay $50 for that blue sofa (for some reason I keep buying blue sofas over and over again). My friend needed the cash and I needed a new place to sit my bum.

I bought my first couch when I was 22, freshly graduated from college, and was moving into my first place that I had to furnish since I was no longer just renting a room. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were moving in together, along with a few other friends, and my boyfriend's recliner and television console were all the furnishings we had for the living room. My parent's gave me their old dining room table and chairs, antiques actually, that they had kept for just such an occasion since they knew one of their daughters would want it when they got their own place. That left us with a gaping hole in the living room that only a couch would fill.

I knew exactly what to do to get a couch. No, I didn't drive down to Ikea or Marlo. I went online and checked out Craigslist. Being in DC, there was always a multitude of people moving in and out of the city and there was always loads of furniture to be gotten at a good price. A few emails and calls later, I had secured a haggled deal for a blue pull out couch, living room rug, and side table all for $50. My friend offered to drive me to pick them up with his pickup truck and an hour later we had it all moved into the house. Done and done. I knew I couldn't afford fancy furniture and Craigslist is what was expected from someone my age and in my financial situation.

Over the years I have acquired a few loveseats and sofas from friends that were looking to give them away or needed a few bucks for them and I was glad to make the deal. Yes, nothing matched. But that's what slipcovers are for.

Fast forward a few years and now I am thirty, married, have two dogs, and want matching furniture. Why is it that just because I am older I think that I am entitled to something fancy like matching furniture? Keeping up with the Jones just causes envy. I have friends now that have bought their own houses (want), have nice, new, and matching furniture (want), cars less than 8 years old (want), and babies (want). I feel that these are my peers, my equals. Shouldn't we be able to have the same things? No. That's the trap. Just because I want something doesn't mean I am entitled to it. Sure, my peers have that thing, but it doesn't mean that I can afford it. Hell, it doesn't even mean that they can afford it even though they own it.

Being an adult means thinking through the choices I make and making responsible decisions. It does not mean that I am entitled to anything. That's childish. But this concept of getting what you want no matter what you can or can't afford, is just how rent to own companies make their (many) dollars.

So you want that matching furniture set or even just a new couch that someone else hasn't sat/slept/drooled/gotten dog hair on. Say you also want a new washer dryer set because yours is grimy/old/yellow/or just broke. Maybe football season is in mid-swing and your television just broke and you are having friends over to watch the game this weekend. Nevermind that you have bad credit and no money saved. If you want it, someone is willing to sell it to you for a (big) price. It's ok. You're entited to it. You're an adult. Go ahead and throw your money out the window. You'll end up paying much more for that couch than it's worth and still not own it. Have fun with that matching loveseat and couch. I'm sure it's worth it. Me? I'll just be here on my old blue couch, trying to live like an actual adult and within my means.

Check out this article from the Washington Post for more on this. Take heed people. Warn your friends. Rent to own is a trap, just like entitlement.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Cut Textbook Costs

College tuition costs are rising, room and board costs are going up, and you need $190 for your Biology textbook. Seriously? How can a single book cost that much?! Staring down the barrel of textbook costs may have you facing $500-$700 just for bound paper and words, just for one semester, depending on what you are studying. Sciences students will have a higher number of pricey textbooks that they need but Humanities students may be able to purchase less expensive paperback novels for their classes. Regardless of what you study, textbook costs add up and they are often not covered by grants and scholarships. But there are many simple ways to save on textbook costs and keep focused on learning what’s in the books rather than worrying about what they cost.

Buy Early
Usually book lists are posted by professors online a few weeks before the semester begins. Keep an eye on your school’s online bookstore, the professor’s Blackboard page, and other communications from school. As soon as the book list is posted, nab your books. If the start date for classes is approaching and the list has not been posted, email the professor to get the book list. The sooner you get the list, the more time you have to allow for the book to arrive when you order online and the more likely that you can get a used copy before they all get bought up and you are left scouring the school bookstore for the sole remaining $190 new biology textbook two days before classes begin.

Buy Used
How can you get that $190 Biology textbook for $57? Buy it used. Used books are the best value in textbooks and you can often find books that are almost-new in quality. When buying used, whether in person at the school bookstore or online, remember to check out the book’s condition. Does it have a lot of highlighting or writing? Are sections of pages falling out? Is the spine broken or intact? Getting a book with some writing, underlining, or highlighting is not going to detract from studying but too much can be hard to read. Pass on books that have broken spines that can cause pages to fall out. And if there’s writing in the margins you’d better hope that the guy who had this copy of Hamlet last semester understood Shakespeare's prose and complex character relationships, but maybe he didn’t so don’t count on them as free crib notes. A used book can often cost more than half of the cost of the new book, depending on how many years the book has been out and the volume of used books available. A used version of a book that was just released last semester may only save you $20 but hey, that’s still $20 in your pocket that can cover burritos for a few days.

Buy Online
The best prices for books are online and I use Textbooks.com because they have stellar prices on new and used books, they offer free shipping for orders over $25, and offer even cheaper books through their marketplace sellers. You can also sell back your textbooks to Textbooks.com after the semester ends and they can even guarantee a buyback price if you originally bought the book from them, which leaves you with a little beach money for the summer. The upside to buying online is that you can get better prices on books and there are more used books to choose from than just the school bookstore. The downside of ordering online is that you have to allow time for items to arrive before classes start. Ordering direct from Textbooks.com will get you your books faster but ordering from a marketplace seller can take 7-10 days, so make sure you order early and have time to get your books before class begins so you’re not that confused guy in the back of the class with no textbook. They also offer ebooks for some books if you prefer to read on your computer or Kindle. Compare prices with other online textbook stores such as Chegg.com, Amazon.com, and Half.com to get the best deal you can.

Rent It
Depending on how well you take care of your books, renting a textbook may be a smart option. The school bookstore may offer rental options, as do online bookstores. You pay a low rental charge, usually less than the cost of buying it used but not always, and you agree to return the book by a date at the end of the semester in a good condition. Usually you can make a few highlights or marks in the book, but if you are a rabid highlighter or have a dog that thinks that books are chew toys, this is not the option for you as you are responsible for the full cost of the book if it is not returned on time and in good condition. If you never even crack the spine of the book except to do a couple reading assignments and otherwise leave the book alone, renting it may be your best bet.

Check It Out
Another reason for getting that book list early is that you may be able to snag a copy of the textbook you need at the local library or from the school library. This works best for humanities classes which require a large number of novels or non-fiction books that you do not need to keep all semester, just during the time that you have to complete the reading and assignments. When I was in graduate school I checked out about half of my books from the local or school library each semester and saved hundreds of dollars. Of course, you have to make sure to renew the book and your library may limit the number of renewals you can get, so be prepared to have to return the book and then check it out again the next day. As long as it is not a very popular title you shouldn’t have a problem getting renewals. If you really need the book an extra two weeks to finish out the semester or an assignment you can always just pay the late fees after you return it, which is still cheaper than buying the book.Textbooks may be in higher demand to check at the school library because other students will need the same books, so go to your local library or use inter-library loan to get the book. Again, if you have to request the book via inter-library loan make sure that you have time for the book to arrive before you need it for class. Then bask in the glory of your free textbook and snub your nose at the other students and their empty wallets. Sure, you can’t highlight in this book and you’d better not lose it, but free is free. Use sticky notes to make notes in the book and mark pages instead of highlighting and it won’t mar the book.

Use the Previous Edition
Textbooks are often edited and re-released with a new edition every couple of years. Sometimes these new editions are drastically different than the previous one, sometimes they just have a shiny new cover and a higher price tag. If a new edition for the textbook you need just came out, chances are that the professor says you need it. But check the syllabus for a note from the professor about which edition is required or email them to ask if you can use the previous edition that is half the price. If the professor says that the previous edition works just fine for the class, remember that the assignments on the syllabus will list page numbers and chapters from the current edition so you may have to take a few extra minutes to find out that chapter 2 in the new edition is the same as chapter 4 in the old edition. When in doubt, ask the professor and they will help you find the right pages for your assignment.

Buying used books can save a ton of money and take a bite out of those textbook costs. To get the best prices and to find the best deals on textbooks, think outside the box and the school bookstore. You may even get them for free from the library! Taking the time to plan ahead and checking multiple resources for textbooks can really pay off.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Avoiding Debt Collector Scams

Today we have a guest post from Frank McCourt on avoiding debt collection scams. My friend just got a call from one of these con-men so this is very timely. Keep on guard!

There you are, sitting at home minding your own business when your phone rings. It seems to be a debt collector. The collector tells you that you are in debt and you need to pay fast or face some serious legal action. But wait, you don’t remember taking out any loans, what is this person even talking about?

You have just fallen victim to a debt collection scam. Each year thousands of people fall victim to fraudulent debt collectors. This scam comes in a number of different ways, but the most common aspect is that the consumer is in debt and needs to pay it right then or there will be repercussion.

These crooks will use any means necessary to get into your wallet, using manipulation and fear tactics to set you into a state of panic, where you are more prone to giving in. They don’t stop there either, it has been noted that they even use phishing scams in order to gain your personal information. For instance, they will call your house, leave a voice mail telling you to call them back, and then when you do, there will be an automated system asking for you to enter your social security number, leaving you to be a victim of identity theft.

How do you go about avoiding these situations? First off, always ask the debt collector to provide official legal documents that prove you have this debt as well as their name, company, street address, and phone number. Never provide them with any information regarding the debt, including credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or any other personal information until you know for sure the person you are talking to is a legitimate representative of a debt collection agency. If you did accidently let something slip, contact your bank immediately. Remember that there are Federal telemarketing laws set in place, and a rude collector would be in violation of these laws if they were to be abusive. If it turns out to be a legitimate debt collector and they are abusive, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. If you’re concerned that the debt may actually be legitimate, contact your creditor, they will be able to tell you who the creditor authorized to collect the debt. If they keep badgering you, try to get their address and send them a letter demanding that they stop calling you.

Real debt collectors have to stop calling you if ask them to do so in writing, if you do end up doing this, keep a copy of the letter for your own records. Last but not least, report the call to your Attorney General’s office, they can help determine your rights under your states law. Fraud.org and the FTC are also good places to report fraudulent activity.

Remember that even if you are in debt, you shouldn’t let debt collectors walk all over you. Collectors have strict guidelines must follow and will be imposed penalties for any violations. If you do need help with debt, there are several organizations out there that can help you.

About the Author: After almost getting caught in a Wellsfargo bank scam a few years back, Frank McCourt made it his mission to familiarize himself all of the scams that con-men might ambush him with. He's happy to say that the only organization stealing his money is the company that holds his student loans. And that is entirely legal.