Economy

5 Tips to Stretch Your Holiday Dollars

With a little creativity and effort you might find that you’ve started a new holiday tradition that helps you avoid holiday debt year after year.

Many people find themselves strapped for cash around the holidays. With dinner parties, gift giving and travel expenses, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years can be the most expensive time of the year. If you plan now, you can help cover your holiday costs without going into debt. Here are some tried and true tips to earn a few extra bucks.

1. Become a secret shopper

Several businesses including restaurants, retailers, and banks use market research companies that employ secret shoppers or mystery shoppers to measure the quality of service of their employees. A secret shopper is usually paid $10 to $25 per shopping trip to provide feedback on their shopping experience. If you have an email address and internet access, becoming a secret shopper is easy. After completing an application, you can usually get started within a few days. You won’t necessarily make a steady stream of income since the shopping assignments can be sporadic, but you will pick up some extra cash.

Two of the companies that I’ve work with are Athpower.com and Service Intelligence. Market Force is another company I’ve read about recently. You can find other companies by doing an internet search. Beware of companies that ask you for money -- they could be scams. You are not required to pay any upfront fees, but you may pay for your transportation expenses once you become a secret shopper. The company will usually reimburse you for these expenses after the shopping assignment is complete.

2. Sell Gold

If you’ve got useless jewelry that’s just sitting around the house, why not cash it in? In most major cities you can take your scrap gold to a gold buyer. I took my jewelry box of broken gold charms and unmatched earrings to a buyer in New York’s Diamond District and came out with a nice chunk of cash. For the best deals go to a jewelry store rather than a pawn shop.

If meeting face to face with a buyer is too intimidating, there are plenty of reputable companies that will arrange for you to mail your gold to them. Be sure that the company offers insured shipping so you can track your shipment. It’s also a good idea to photograph the items or write a description of what you’re mailing. Keep this as evidence until you receive payment. After doing an appraisal, the company will contact you and send a payment. In any case don’t expect to get what you originally paid for the jewelry. Scrap gold often loses 75 percent or more of its retail value.

3. Find seasonal work

Retailers aren’t the only employers hiring seasonal employees.

Restaurants, hotels, and shipping companies typically ramp up their holiday hiring too. The time to apply for these jobs is now! Try stopping into major hotels and restaurants to inquire about work. Shipping companies UPS and FedEx usually hire seasonal drivers and package handlers to handle the increase in holiday shipping. Retailer Macy's says it plans to hire approximately 65,000 seasonal workers in its stores, distribution centers, and call centers nationwide this holiday season.

Explore websites such as monster.com and snagajob.com as a starting point. But don’t stop there. I’ve been most successful with getting hired for seasonal work by showing up and asking to speak with a manager about a job that I saw online. The key to getting hired on the spot is having a positive attitude and presenting yourself professionally. Make sure you are well groomed. This includes clean and conservative nails, hair and jewelry. For seasonal job hunting, business casual or business attire is best. When you speak with the manager, inform them that you are interested in the job you saw online. Be prepared to tell the manager what skills and experience you have that make you the best fit for the job.

4. Get crafty

Many of us have heard of Mary Kay parties, well how about a rubber stamping party? Rather than peruse the local convenience store for the perfect holiday card, wouldn’t it be a nice touch for friends and neighbors to buy handmade cards directly from you? You can create your own line of cards with rubber stamps.

Once you make and package the cards with a decorative bow or box, invite guest over to shop your handmade cards or take orders for custom made cards. Alternatively, you can host a party where guest can create their own cards. You can supply the necessary materials and charge guests per card or a flat fee. There are plenty of other crafts that can be turned into profitable holiday gifts as well.

5. Have an online garage sell

Websites like Ebay and Craigslist make it easy to have a garage sell without dragging all your stuff onto your front lawn. Find items in your home that you don’t use anymore but are still in good condition. Shoppers on these sites are typically looking for a bargain, so for unpopular items you’ll likely need to offer a deep discount to entice buyers. Even at a deep discount, a few bucks is better than unwanted items collecting dust in your home.

These are just a few ideas to make the holiday season more profitable. With a little creativity and effort you might find that you’ve started a new holiday tradition that helps you avoid holiday debt year after year.

Makaiya Brown is business journalist. She has worked as a reporter in Detroit and New York covering stories on business, finance, and education.
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