Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pin money

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day -  "Recessionomics 101: How to Make Extra Money." You may need a WSJ subscription to access this article but, let me tell you, it just ain't worth it.

In fact, as I glanced through the article, I kept checking the URL to assure myself that I was, indeed, looking at the Journal, and had not stumbled across Stay at Home Mom Today, or Golden Years. Forget that catchy "Recessionomics" in the title. This one could just as easily have been called "How to bring in a few extra bucks while the kids are in school," or "How to pay for your Medicare add-on".

In fact, if one of the suggestions hadn't been 'sell stuff on eBay and Craig's List,' the article could have been from Ladies Home Companion:  "Fill the Sugar Bowl: How to keep yourself in pin money when the mister's hours are cut and the hens ain't laying."

Here were the Journal's suggestions for income augmentation in a world of high unemployment, no raises and rampant insecurity.

First off, you can sell stuff.

Great idea, that.

And fortunately the folks at eBay and Craig's List have come up with a forum for it, so you don't have to put up signs around the neighborhood and hold a tacky yard sale. (My mother always wanted to stop at yard sales. Unfortunately, if I were the one in the driver's seat, I'd generally refuse to stop, citing my rule of thumb: never stop at a yard sale in a house that's not as nice as your own, unless it's over 100 years old so there's the possibility of an antique. My mother would sigh, and look wistfully out the window as we sped by folding tables full of crummy lamps with the bases made in ceramics class, racks full of clothing that looked like it was bought at Zayre's in 1968, and grubby looking Barbie bikes with rust spots and missing streamers. Sorry, Ma.....)

Seriously, advising people to sell stuff they don't need on eBay is considered fresh advice?

Sheesh.  Outside of the Amazon rain forest and the wilds of Borneo, there can't be 15 people on the face of the earth who aren't aware that you can sell stuff you own for actual money.

The section on selling stuff did mention Linda Lightman, who has built up a $7M, 50 employee business selling on eBay. Call me crazy, but wouldn't a full article on Linda Lightman have been a bit more worthy. (By the way, Linda, if you're reading this, I'm thinking of parting with a gently-used annual subscription to the WSJ.)

If you have nothing to sell, you can take in boarders.

One thing for twenty-somethings to take on a roommate, but I can think of few things more depressing than having a stranger in your home. (Strange enough living with the people you're related and/or married to, isn't it?)

I'm sure if it comes down to losing your home or taking in a roommate, having a roommate wouldn't be so bad. Especially if it's a friend. Or someone who's never there.

But - yuck - the idea that you could wander into your kitchen and find someone you barely knew making a cup of tea. Or get woken up in the night by strange (as opposed to familiar - which is bad enough) snoring.

I can think of few circumstances in which having a boarder wouldn't make you feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in the one place on the face of the earth where you can hope for comfort and at ease.

(Back to my mother.  At one point, when she was an empty nester and the dog had died, my mother decided to take in a boarder. This wasn't for the money, but rather to have another living breathing soul in the house.  My mother was a secretary at Clark University, and the universe of possible boarders was Clark grad students. The first one - a lovely young Iranian woman - worked out very well. The second - a less lovely young South African man - worked out less so. He was kind of an odd duck to begin with, and I also think it creeped my mother out to have a man in the house, even if he did have his own bathroom. So, although she'd agreed to have him live with her for a full semester, half way through she lied and told him that one of my brothers was moving back home and she needed the room back. This from my mother who never lied! The boarder moved out, but he did leave behind a pretty nice oak chest.)

A third WSJ recommendation was taking part in paid (cash or other compensation) opinion polls, focus groups, product testing, or 'secret shopper' work.

Here it might have been interesting to see more detail on Mystery Shopping, which is something I will be looking into as a blog topic. As far as I know, you can't just set yourself up as a mystery shopper. You have to go through an agency, and the work is pretty darned demanding and pretty darned competitive, not to mention pretty darned unlucrative for most. (Still, it would beat taking in a boarder.)

Actually, I could have sworn that I'd blogged about mystery shoppers at some point, but all I could unearth was a post about "secret worshippers" who evaluate churches.

The final hot idea was take something your love to do and are good at and turn it into a business.

Wow!  Better get a patent on that idea before someone else starts using it.

Bakers, go forth and bake for money. Photographers, go forth and take pictures for money. Gardeners, go forth and garden for money.

Again, there was a missed opportunity here. The article talked about a woman in Maine who's built "a thriving baker business."

Wouldn't it have been interesting to learn how?

Seriously, folks, if the WSJ plans to keep on as the last great bastion of capitalism, they've got to do better than this.

How could they have put this article out there without including taking in laundry?

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