We write a lot in this blog about relatively painless way to save money. But what about relatively painless ways to make extra money? No, I’m not talking about some get rich quick scheme, nor do I mean spending the serious time it would take to work a part-time job or start a business on the side. I’m referring to free money that we often literally throw away.
The simplest example are rebates. Have you ever bought a product because it was such a good deal after the rebate but then never bothered to send the rebate form in? How long would it really take to do that? Not turning in that form can turn a good deal into a waste of money.
Sometimes you don’t even need to buy anything. For example, I used to routinely get checks in the mail along with my credit card statements (you’ll see why they probably stopped sending them to me). If you read the fine print, you typically discover the catch is that if you cash them in, you get signed up for some program with a monthly fee that’s charged to your credit card.
But if you keep reading that fine print, I’ve found that I’ve always been able to cancel the program in the first 30 days. That might sound like a hassle to keep track of but I simply make a habit of checking all the purchases on my credit card statements (a good idea in any case) and whenever I see one of those charges, I call to have the program canceled and the fee rebated back to me. While they try to offer you more goodies to stay on the program, I’ve yet to have problem canceling and getting my money back. Meanwhile, I get to keep the original check and sometimes a free copy of my credit score and report if it’s a credit monitoring service.
While those checks are pretty small (generally $5-20 each), I probably only spent like 2 min to sign the check and call to cancel the program. For just a $5 check, that’s $150 an hour. Of course, I’m not actually getting $150 checks but 1 or 2 of those little checks are enough for a free lunch and who doesn’t like free food?
There are ways to get bigger checks too. Just before the last Super Bowl, some of my coworkers were circulating an office pool to bet on various things happening during the game. Honestly, I don’t really know the details since I was too busy signing up for a new checking account with Chase to get an extra $150 (sure beats the old free toaster deals). It took me 5-10 minutes online (at 10 min, that’s like making $900 an hour) and I just needed to deposit $500 in the account and keep it there for 6 months. Call me boring but I guess I prefer to bet on sure things. (If you’re wondering where I got this offer, it was another one of those leaflets in my credit statement that people tend to throw away.)
More recently, I just switched two brokerage accounts to TD Ameritrade to get $300 deposited in my account as long as I leave a minimum amount there for 9 months. It only took me about 15-20 minutes online and I was planning to leave my current brokerage firm anyway (I found the offer while shopping online for a new brokerage company). The prices for the investments I buy are the same or less and the customer service has already been much better so I’m arguably better off even without the $300. Still, I wouldn’t turn it down.
When you calculate how much money you’d make in just a few minutes of your time, it can be worth much more per minute than what you’re earning at your job. Of course, none of this will ever make you rich or replace your job. But one of the things that financial planners tend to emphasize is how little savings here and there can really add up. I’m just pointing out that it works on the other side of the ledger too.