Side Gigs: Make A Little Extra Fun Money With Swagbucks

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One of the ways I helped us stay entertained after cutting the cable cord was to sign up for Hulu. We started with a gift card that covered about 11 months of membership, and got another 3 months when my work allowed me to choose a 3 month Hulu gift card as part of my work anniversary gift.

We like it enough that we would like to keep it, but we don’t really want to pay another $8/month for it.

My solution is to try and earn Swagbucks to earn a gift card every month to pay for it.  I have been using Swagbucks for at least five years to earn Amazon gift cards. This year, I’ve used them to help buy the new Thug Kitchen Vegan cookbook (lots of recipes for healthy and frugal meals) and Bean By Bean, a cookbook with lots of bean recipes.

The process is easy; you earn Swagbucks by searching the web, taking surveys, watching videos, playing games, voting in a poll, finding random Swagcodes, or shopping at retailers through their portal, similar to Ebates. Unlike Ebates, instead of cash back, you earn Swagbucks, which are then traded for gift cards.

An Amazon $5 gift card is about 500 Swagbucks. A 1 month Hulu gift card is 800 Swagbucks. There are many more gift cards you can earn- these are just my favorites. You can also earn $25 in Paypal cash, but you will have to save up 2500 Swagbucks. You can decide what you  like and then do the math to figure out how many Swagbucks to earn each day to meet your goal.

What do I do? I try to earn enough for four $25 Hulu gift cards a year to cover our Hulu membership, plus $25 Domino’s Pizza gift cards to cover our monthly pizza treat.

They sometimes discount the gift cards, so that a $25 Amazon gift card only costs 2200 Swagbucks, less than you need to get five $5 Amazon gift cards. It pays to keep an eye out to see if there is a discount.

Swagbucks

I use Swagbucks as a search engine, and you can randomly earn Swagbucks for searching, but it doesn’t happen with every search. I might win 10-25 Swagbucks per day by searching. Many tasks will only earn 1-3 Swagbucks at a time. Again, you’ll just need to do some simple math to see how many videos to watch or games to play to get the number of Swagbucks you want.

It is not unusual for me to be doing homework, writing, or reading on my laptop with a Swagbucks video running in the background, while my computer volume is muted. In fact, that is exactly what I am doing as I write this! Multitasking at its finest.

What about you? Do you have a favorite website or app that helps you to earn a little bit on the side?

5 Strategies To Stay Entertained and Still Save Money By Cutting Cable

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Our oldest daughter is turning 5 soon, and along with her birthday comes the anniversary of the last time we had cable in this house.

We were expecting to pay for two kids worth of day care back then, and were cutting every expense we could. Along with the cable, we got rid of the landline. I can say after five years that we have not missed either of those. We had been paying nearly $160/month for cable, internet, and phone. We dropped to internet only for $40/month and used our cell phones for calls. That $40/month lasted until just last month, when my work required us to pay for our own business internet. I now pay $100/month for that business line.

I estimate that over 5 years we saved $7200 by cutting the cable cord. That’s $7200 that could go into retirement accounts, buy a used car with cash, or be a nice nest egg for an emergency.

In that time, we never had cause to complain that we had nothing to watch. We were still able to watch some of our favorite shows that appear on cable only.

How can you do the same? As long as you have an internet connection, your entertainment opportunities are endless.

  1. Try a streaming device like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV,  or Apple TV.  These devices connect your TV to the internet, and you  watch shows, movies, and videos or listen to music through one of their many channels. Some channels, like Netflix and Hulu,  require a subscription to their service to use, and some, like YouTube, are free or play with ads. Think of it as paying for channels and services you know you would use, instead of paying a larger price for everything on cable, including the things you would never watch. We opted for a Roku five years ago since Amazon Fire TV was not available then.
  2. Subscribe to services you would use a lot, and try to use gift cards to pay for them.  There are channels for everything now: sports, wrestling, HBO, network TV, movies, fitness, kids; you name it, it’s there. What do we choose? We have a  Netflix basic streaming subscription for $8/month and we have an Amazon Prime membership for $99/year that gives us access to Prime videos and music. We have Kindle Fire tablets and subscribe to Kindle Free Time for our kids for $8/month. It allows them a locked profile that gives access to age appropriate content only, and keeps them from surfing the web without a parental password. It also allows us to set time limits, and the tablets automatically shut off when that time is expired.  We got a gift card for Hulu this year, plus I have been able to extend our Hulu subscription through Swagbucks and a gift card earned at work. I’m not sure we would pay out of pocket for Hulu, but I am easily able to extend it for a month at a time by earning 800 Swagbucks, and earning $5 Amazon gift cards by accruing 500 Swagbucks. I typically can get one Hulu gift card ($8 value) and 2-3 Amazon gift cards ($10-15) each month. I am liking Hulu because I can watch a TV show without seeing it as it airs (usually at the kids’ bedtime) or recording a show. I watch Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Modern Family, The Middle, and Spongebob this way. They also have a huge selection of classic TV shows.

3. Use free channels as much as you can. I’m a big fan of the PBS shows Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Call The Midwife, Vicious, and Last Tango In Halifax. I have watched them all for free via the PBS Roku app. You have to be careful, though, because they are generally available for only the first few weeks after air date. We watch YouTube via the Roku app as well, and my most frequent use of it is to do exercise videos or try cake decorating videos.

4. Don’t forget other free resources. Our local libraries often have new release movies available on DVD. They are also linked to a free digital streaming service called Hoopla. It’s worth checking to see whether your local or state library offers such services.

5. Make selective purchases of special shows. I loved the TV show Mad Men and I admit I was hesitant to cut cable because I didn’t want to miss watching it. One thing I did as we contemplated cutting cable was to list the shows on cable that we actually watched regularly and that tempted us the most not to cut the cable cord. For us it was Dr Who, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. As it turns out, I could purchase a season of each on Amazon Video, and with the exception of Game of Thrones, each episode would be available to me the morning after the episode aired on TV*.  I could buy a season pass with a small discount for between $20 and $30 per season. Buying a season of each of these would be cheaper than even paying for one month of cable. I could use gift cards to help pay for them as well. Doing this helped make cutting the cord a viable choice.

What about you- do you have cable? What keeps you from cutting the cord?*

*Sorry HBO lovers, you’ll have to pay for HBO-NOW, the HBO streaming service, if you want to watch HBO shows as they air. It’s $14.99/month. No thanks! I have opted to read recaps online as they air, and wait a year to buy the season on Amazon.


Emergency Funds- Are You Emergency Ready?

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 Even though I worked full-time since I was 16, I rarely had enough saved to scrape two nickels together until I was about 23. A couple times during those years I had a big goal- travel to Japan in 1995 and 1997, and buying my first car at 17, when I was able to sock away most that I made to meet those goals.

Once I moved out at 19, and had to pay the rent, I typically had just enough to get through until the next paycheck. I would have told you I didn’t earn enough to save, but that was before the internet (and couponing blogs), and before that fateful day I was pulling an extra shift at the library and discovered the Tightwad Gazette. My emergency fund was a pretty bad one- a credit card.

I would have an emergency, like a big car repair, put it on my credit card, then scramble to pay it off. I’d get the number down to zero, and then inevitably another emergency would happen, and the cycle would begin again.

After reading an article in the Tightwad Gazette,  about a couple with limited means  only able to save $100  over the course of the year and skillfully parlaying it into $12000 after 5 years, I started to follow the same methods. I saved a tiny bit, and used it to build a stockpile using a price book. I charted every penny, and even though I was back in school for degree #2 again, I was able to save $1000 in an emergency fund.

There is a lot if disagreement about how much money should be in an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey suggests starting at $1000 and eventually getting to $3-6 months worth of expenses. Suze Orman suggests 8 months worth of expenses.  In my opinion, having had very small means myself in the past, I think starting at $1000 is reasonable if your own means are small. There once was a time $1000 was a huge sum for me.

For us, with my husband the main breadwinner, and three small children, we feel most comfortable with at least 6 months expenses in our emergency fund. You never know when an illness, job loss, major home issues, or surprise triplets can strike. (Please no surprise triplets.)

This week was a good case in point. I went to the dentist for the first time in two and a half years. When I was pregnant with our now almost-two year old, I had severe hyperemesis the entire pregnancy. I expected I might need some dental work because of that, since a tooth with an old crown was starting to cause me problems. I also have been putting oral surgery for my wisdom teeth on the backburner, and they are starting to cause pain. On top of that, I was born without a permanent tooth in the back of my mouth, and have been needing an implant, something that we would have to pay 100% out of pocket.

I actually fared well despite the hyperemesis, but I do have to have my crown replaced completely. That will cost us at least $400 as our copay. The special X-ray for my implant (so they can make sure I have enough bone there) is $350 out of pocket. The implant and oral surgery copay may be $1800-2000. That is not chump change, considering we have our next tuition payment due in January.

We learned this on Monday, and the same day we noticed our 2008 Ford Escape was making a funny sound. Of course, it ended up needing a $650 repair!

The good news is, it was all OK. We hate to spend the money, but it is there, and these emergencies are not disasters. We don’t have to choose between the mortgage and teeth.

How do you build an emergency fund? We make savings automatic, so we never see that money, and make our budget with what is left.Start with whatever you can.

Right now, about 12% of my tiny part-time income goes into savings automatically every month. I plan for it to fund a Roth IRA since I no longer have 401K benefits at work.

Together,  we save about 30% of our income. We hope for this to increase when we are no longer paying graduate school tuition, and as my income increases. Not quite at 60-80% savings rate, but we will get there!

In The Beginning…

My husband and I met over a decade ago on an internet dating site. Despite the dire predictions of my mother that anyone I met through a computer must be a maniac or a criminal, he turned out to be a very decent man. The first time I went to his apartment I was taken aback, however, by the sheer amount of cardboard in use in his apartment. His TV stand was a cardboard box, as was his end table. Cardboard covered his bedroom window instead of curtains or blinds. “It’s free and it works better at insulating and blocking out light than any curtains you can buy,” he said.

Now, I was not unused to alternative decorating schemes. I had grown up in a financially stretched household that contained an assortment of rickety furniture, mattresses that sagged deeply, and a heinous 70s decor scheme that we could never afford to update.  I myself only owned a tiny 13 inch TV that had been given as a gift, and a papasan chair and folding patio chair served as my living room furniture.

Of course, I was a broke nursing student, working one full time job and 2 part-time jobs to support myself, and my future husband, Mr. Thrifty, was an engineer who made three times my salary. He could afford to buy new if he wanted. Instead, he quickly paid off all student loans and his truck, and saved the rest. Coming from a frugal family, these habits were already ingrained.

Fast forward a dozen years, and we have now been married almost a decade, with three children seven and under, a house in the suburbs, and essentially the same furniture we had all those years ago.

We consider ourselves pretty thrifty. We haven’t had cable in years, our only debt is our mortgage, and I was able to drop to part-time status recently to be home with our children more. I telecommute from home as a nurse on the days I work, and thanks to a host of allergies, I make most of our food from scratch.

We have some lofty goals, however, and that means we are constantly striving to find new ways to reduce expenses, save more, and tweak our frugality skills.

Our goals:

Build our dream home. A round-shaped home with some renewable energy options (geothermal?) that we can age into (think wheelchair bump-out, first floor master, kitchen, and laundry), on a little bit of acreage in our same school district.  We are still debating whether it will be a NetZero home or not. We want to save for a down payment of at least 20-25% while we are still living in this home. This is also to be over and above our 4-6 month emergency fund.

Updated 01/2016: We are reevaluating building a bigger new home. We now plan to pay off our mortgage within 10 years or less, finish our basement, and stay put until the kids graduate school. This will help us meet our early retirement goal by being mortgage free. We have decided that less is more. We want the flexibility to downsize by building a smaller permanent home once we are empty-nesters, moving elsewhere (let’s face it, if I have grandchildren, that’s where I want to be), going south for the winter, or even renting (if we move to a high cost of living area) . When we move, we will of course find/build a place without endless stairs. A small NetZero home is still an option.

Max retirement savings. Mr Thrifty is late 40s and I am in my late 30s. He will be retirement age when our younglings are college age. It would be nice if he got to retire before he is 80. Our youngest is due to graduate high school in 2032. We have 15 years to get ready.

Avoid student loans. I just finished my master’s in nursing education DEBT FREE. When I dropped to part-time before I started my degree, I lost my workplace tuition reimbursement benefit. We paid off my previous student loans right before starting my master’s and never wanted to take out another loan again. We paid cash the entire way through thanks to frugal living and a scholarship. I hope to get a doctorate in the future and my plan is to stay the course and never take out another loan again.

Invest enough to work because we want to work, not because we have to.  Well, this is more for me than Mr Thrifty. He will probably work until retirement age. I, on the other hand, would like to retire at the same time as my husband, if I can. We are just starting with this, but hope to use this method to get there. Now, I enjoy working, and hope to write and teach, but eventually on my own time, on my own terms, and even in my own home if possible.

Bonus Bucket List Goal:

My first degree (a BA in Anthropology) was funded by a full academic scholarship. Ever since I was awarded that scholarship, I have hoped to fund a full tuition scholarship some day in the future myself. I need my family to be taken care of first, but my pie-in-the-sky dream is to at least fund this as part of my estate planning. And who knows, maybe I can make this happen while I am still alive?