Saturday, June 19, 2010

Making Money In Hard Times

When times are tough, it's time to think out of the box. I've had a lot of experience with financial creativity over the years, so I thought I'd share a few good ideas from my experience in case any of you might be tired of filling out applications, or just need an additional boost to your income. If traditional job hunting isn't working, a little creativity might.

National unemployment for May, was 9.7%. On the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics site, you can see what the current unemployment rate is in your state. Last month, Nevada was the highest at 14% and North Dakota had only 3.6% unemployed.  Even though Montana is at 7.2% statewide, the county I live in has ranged from 12% to 13.8% in the last few months. Yikes! My husband is employed - sort of. He's self-employed, which means that income is unreliable and we're often struggling to make ends meet. We're getting creative. Here are a few ideas:

If you are a fast, efficient and thorough cleaner, cleaning jobs usually pay well. Between myself, my mother, sisters, and nieces, we've had various jobs over the years cleaning for private homes, vacation rental homes, new construction, and business offices. The pay in our valley ranges from about $12 to $25 an hour. I currently have two homes that I clean every few weeks, and am paid $20/hour. It's not a lot of hours each month, but gives me enough spending cash to help out with a little gas or groceries or buy one of the boys a package of socks now and then. I swear, boys seem to go through socks like babies go through diapers!

To find a cleaning job, put an ad in the local paper, put the word out among friends, stop into offices and ask if they have someone to clean for them - and if not, would they like to? If you have a Temporary job service, those kinds of jobs are often listed there. Office cleaning jobs are very often paid at a flat rate, rather than hourly. You need to look at the size of the office, what kinds of cleaning is needed and estimate how long it will take you. If you really aren't sure, see if they would be willing to let you clean once to see how much time you need, before you give them a price. You should be able to make between $20 and $25 an hour, but must be fast a do a thorough job. To be reasonable, prices might be higher or lower in your area. I'd ask at some job services or the Chamber of Commerce to be sure you are getting what your efforts are worth, but not over-charging.

My sister told me of a woman in her area who made $60,000 last year (2009) just by selling used golf clubs that she bought at pawn shops and thrift stores. There are a lot of things you can re-sell. This is something you have to have an eye for. You'll need to get a feel for the value of items, how easily they'll sell and what a good price is to pay for them. Many people watch the classifieds and when they spot a great deal, they buy it up, fix it up, and resell it. Whether it's a rocking chair or a car, there are lots of good deals to be had, because people often just want to get rid of something they don't need. Other places to watch are Craig's List, E-bay auctions, and other personal selling sources. Yard sales are also full of treasures. You just have to know what to look for. Check to see if your area has a "Freecycle" group. It's an on-line listing of things that people are willing to give away rather than have to haul it to the local landfill. You can also list things there that you are looking for. Then if someone has the item sitting in their garage or attic, they call you up and it's yours.

Do you have a pickup? A couple of summers ago, my nephew's friend put an ad in the paper that he had a pickup and would pick up and haul whatever people needed moved. He was busier that summer than a jar of red ants! He hauled construction scraps, furniture, dirt, appliances, plants, garbage - you name it. In a smaller area like I live in (and every other person owns a pickup - this IS Montana!) this wouldn't work so well. But this boy lived in a larger area, where population spreads for miles and miles. Most people in large towns and cities don't have pickup trucks. When people needed things hauled to the dump, he charged enough to pay for his gas, labor and time, and they'd include the landfill fee.  If someone has a landscaping or remodeling project at their home, they often don't have any way to haul the materials. I was told he had more work available than he could do.

Construction has slowed down, but it hasn't stopped. If you stop by a construction site when it's first started, your chances of getting work are better. Smaller projects, like homes, often don't have any clean-up planned for yet. It's a different kind of cleaning than what you would do in a home or office that is already in use. Since the walls are painted, light fixtures are hung, and the flooring - except carpet - is completed before the finish carpentry is done, everything is dusted with a  fine sawdust and needs to be wiped down. New carpet needs to be vacuumed. Cupboards and drawers need to be wiped out, mirrors cleaned off, tubs and showers wiped out, etc. It's just a lot of dust and scraps from Sheetrock, wood and putty. If you let them know you are interested, you may get some hours cleaning up construction scraps during the building process also.

Do you have a skill or hobby? Why not make money with it! My brother has a friend here in Montana that makes birdhouses. He makes them all shapes and sizes and his wife paints some little flowers on the side. He sold them in the summer at two different Farmer's Markets and made over $90,000 in one summer. During the winter months, he makes more birdhouses. Unique things sell at Farmer's Markets, Flea Markets, and craft fairs. Wind chimes, creative wood craft items, metal work, pottery, etc.

Almost all offices have plants - some silk, some real. Plants get dusty and need a little trimming now and then. If you like working with plants, this is a great job. The investment is minimal. All you need is a couple of different kinds of plant sprays and polishers. There are products for cleaning silk plants, and products for cleaning real plants. You can probably get a little education at a plant nursery of what products to use on what plants. If you know how, you can include trimming and pruning in your service.

One summer, when I was about 14, my sister and I put an ad in our local paper. We sat down and made a list of all our skills, and then wrote an ad that went something like this:

Two ambitious, talented, hard-working, teenage girls looking for work. We will milk your cow, paint your fence, cut your hair, bake your bread, tend your animals, watch your house, mow your grass, weed your flowers, wash your car, sew or mend your clothes, tend your kids, water your lawn or just about anything else you need done. Please call Karen or Susan at...

The phone started ringing and the jobs poured in. There was a movie crew in town at the time and they ordered home made bread and hair cuts. My sister was older than me and she could cut hair and can sew like nobody's business. I was the bread baker. We both pretty much did the rest together. We milked cows and goats and took care of farms and houses while people went on vacation.  She got mending and sewing jobs and I babysat. We stayed very busy and made a lot of money that summer.

These are only a few ideas. Take inventory of your skills, interests, and resources, and capitalize on them. With a little creativity, you could bring in some nice extra cash, or maybe even a healthy income. Just think out of the box!


  1. Very well written, helpful post!

  2. Susan, You have some great ideas for making money here!

  3. Those are all pretty good idea, but would rather plant one of those trees you have pictured at the top of the blog.

  4. Good ideas but I have a hard time believing anybody made $90,000.00 in one summer selling birdhouses anywhere! My God, how much were these birdhouses!?

  5. He's been doing it for years, so maybe people know to watch for him. They are not small Farmer's Markets either. Some of them are a pretty big affair in the summers here in Montana. But heck, if I made 1/4 that much at a 3-month Farmer's Market, I'd be thrilled!

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