Tuesday, 10 January 2012

How to make and save extra money while freelancing or studying

Not a very snappy title there, but I've been thinking about doing a post about this for a while and wasn't sure whether to. At the risk of seeming like a bit of a penny-pincher, lots of these methods do really work over time, and although it may seem silly doing things for a matter of pence it does all add up. If you're thinking I'm slightly mad or are reluctant to use these methods because they only give you small returns each time, just think about how you approach other shopping. Do you buy things from the sale section of a shop? Do you take up buy one get one free offers, or reduced items in supermarkets because it saves you a few extra pence? This is a bit similar to that. The savings seem insignificant initially, but once they start adding up you do really notice them.

One of the toughest things about freelancing is that you're not really sure where your next cheque is coming from, or when. Unfortunately I don't have a fantastic secret method for earning you loads of money, but there's various things I make sure to do regularly and make time for in most of my days. Some or all of these may be completely obvious to you already, but I thought it was worth posting for those who maybe aren't aware of these options or would be too dubious to bother with them otherwise. I'm always surprised when I talk to people about it how many of them either scoff, have never heard of the methods, or don't do it themselves as they think they have nothing to gain from it. If used in the right way, they can potentially be a great supplement to freelancers, part-time workers, students, people on maternity leave etc.

1. Cashback Websites.

If you do a lot of buying online, even second-hand or cheaply from eBay, or you're planning on making some big purchases (appliances, phone contracts, technology, furniture etc) then think about utilising cashback websites. The idea is that you get money essentially for free by shopping with a retailer through their links on a cashback website. (People are more likely to choose to buy with retailers offering cashback, so retailers pay the cashback sites commission on each sale made through them, which you then get a certain proportion of back). Different ones work in different ways, but usually you will get a payment to your bank account, paypal, or vouchers. Personally I use Quidco who pay directly to your bank account each month that you have accumulated earnings, but there are other good ones out there, and different websites have different cashback rates or retailers. Another of the best cashback sites is topcashback (thanks Harriet Gray!) who will of course have different retailers and rates from quidco - it's probably a good idea to check both before making a purchase.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that cashback sites should generally be used as an additional bonus -i.e. shop around for the best deal first, and then check to see if the retailer offers cashback before you make your purchase. This way you get the cheapest price, and a little extra money back. Shopping by just choosing the top-paying affilate retailer on a cashback site may mean that you get a few pence cashback but not the best deal on the market. Cashback is not guaranteed. Sometimes purchases don't track properly, or get declined by retailers for various reasons, so it is imporant not to get too bothered; only think of the money as an added bonus. As well as making purchases, there are often deals to get large cashback amounts upon signing up with certain providers for services or free trials etc through the cashback site links. Over a year or two it's possible to literally make hundreds while buying things you normally would online, or taking up offers (although this obviously depends on how much you shop online). Last year was a particularly good time for me to utilise cashback offers to make savings as, due to moving house, we had a lot of big items to buy and utility providers to sign up with etc.

(You may notice that my links to Quidco and topcashback are personalised ones - this is another usual benefit of these kind of sites that I'm sure you're familiar with - you earn extra incentives or money when you recommend friends who then start using the service. Not my motivator for the post, honest!)

2. Competitions.

Competitions are very high on the list of things that makes others glaze over with patronising smiles, presumably because (like me a few years ago) most people have never or only rarely won a competition in their life, and think it's a waste of time as the odds of winning are seemingly almost non-existant. I'm by no means a serial competition enterer, I don't particularly seek them out, but I do make sure to enter them when I see them (which only takes up a couple of minutes of my day at the most). Before the internet, it used to be that you had to specifically spend out on a stamp or phone call to enter a competition, so I can see that the effort of entering doesn't seem worth the low odds of winning. However, although a lot of competitions still work like this, there's usually the option to enter online for free, and when you're freelancing and spend a lot of your time on the computer anyway, it doesn't take extra expense or a great deal of time to do. To give you an idea, last year I won in the region of 20-30 competitions, ranging from free mascara or face cream, to a set of paints, lovely illustrated childrens books for my collection and [my best win ever!] a digital camera and lenses. People who I tell this to tend to tell me that I must be really lucky, but the fact is that I enter several competitions a week, so it really is just the luck of the draw. The more you enter, the more likely you are to win something. 

I usually make use of everything that I win, but there is of course the options to give prizes away as gifts or sell them in another effort to save money. One place where I draw the line is small-time/personal competitions. I've had what you might call 'pro competition enterers' enter my giveaways in the past, and what I would not advocate is entering small-time competitions such as these if you don't actually want to win the prize. It sounds like a bit of a grey area or perhaps hypocritical, but if I don't like the prize in a competition (especially one by a small business owner or artist) I would not enter the competition as I feel that someone else would treasure the prize and the person running the competition wants to see their prize appreciated, not sold on or thrown away. Does that make sense? Probably not.

3. Shop Around & Use Coupons (and be aware of false offers)

Possibly the most obvious, but before you make purchases, do shop around! Google shopper and barcode scanner apps make this even easier, so it really doesn't take too long. There's price comparison sites all over the place - Google Shopping, Find DVD / CD / Book , My Supermarket etc. The prices aren't always accurate, but it's usually a good guide and sometimes you can make enormous savings by checking other retailers before you buy. There's also HotUKdeals where special offers and deals are regularly posted on all kinds of products... you usually have to sift through things that won't apply to you, but occasionally there's the odd gem that makes it worth it.

In supermarkets, be wary of 'special offers' that aren't always what they seem. There was a Panorama program on television about this recently which was really interesting. The gist is that often supermarkets and other retailers raise prices for a couple of weeks, before dropping them again so that they appear to be 'on offer'. Whilst this is difficult to spot unless you're constantly keeping track of prices, you can be aware of similar visual 'offer' tricks that they use. When you're comparing similar products, check the price per kg of the products. If fruit and veg don't have these details on, use the provided scales to weigh them and compare. Sometimes the products that are on offer or that appear to be better value actually aren't. i.e. A 500g product marked with 'extra large family value pack' to look as if it is a special cheaper bonus size may actually be more expensive than buying two 250g packs of the same product. There's also a surprising number of products that I've noticed recently that are on, for example, '2 for £1.50' offers, but are only 60p to buy singley. Again, it seems a bit inconsequential and like too much hassle to be checking prices, but ignoring big yellow offer signage and looking straight at the price/weight quickly becomes second nature and can save you a lot over a whole shop.

Coupons! Some people seem a bit embarrassed about using these, but I don't really see a problem with it. I frequently come across coupons online, this year particularly there's been a huge surge in companies offering coupons as incentives for 'liking' their Facebook fan pages etc, and sometimes it's possible to use these in conjunction with supermarket offers. Last year I had quite a few cartons of smoothies, and various other items either free or for about a quarter of their usual price using coupons carefully. However, like with the cashback, try to use coupons and offers sensibly. Try not to be tempted to spend out on something you don't need just because you have a small discount coupon for it.

4. Online Surveys

 There's hundreds of these places floating around online, many of which I've tried, and many of which I have found don't offer decent rewards for the effort involved. My absolute favourites, after a lot of trial and error, are Onepoll and Valued Opinions. This is mostly because they pay out in cash or vouchers rather than points or 'rewards', and because they offer clear/obvious and comparitively sizeable rewards for the size/length of survey you do. For example, other websites may make you do a survey for half an hour to earn a number of points that take months to accumulate into real money. Although you only get a matter of pence on Onepoll (usually 5p, 10p, 15p & 20p) the small poll-style surveys usually take between a few seconds to a couple of minutes to complete (some only consist of one question!), and it is quite easy to get to the £40 payout limit if you do them regularly enough. Valued opinions works in a similar vein, but with longer surveys (5 minutes to half an hour) and larger reward incentives (usually 50p-£5 per survey). Their payout limit is lower at £10, but you can only claim in vouchers, not cash, for retailers such as Amazon, Boots, Argos, Topshop etc. I quite like the voucher method as there's a nice sense of them being a reward when you receive them, and I use them to buy treats for myself such as illustration books from Amazon, that otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford. Doing it this way can also curb your spending, if you only let yourself buy online treats for yourself with 'survey rewards'. Some of these sites even have their own phone apps, so you can make little dribs and drabs of money while you're bored on the bus or tube!

So... I think that's about it! Apologies for the marathon post, I've tried to pepper it with some old [slightly irrelevant] illustrations to ease the sea of text. Obviously all of these methods might not work for you as well as they do for me, but if you're curious then do check them out and have a go, you might be surprised! Although it's not a viable way of making a lot of money for most people, an extra £30 in your bank account every month or two, or a surprise competition win through the post isn't to be sniffed at and at the least is a great little treat every now and again for a small amount of effort. One little tip though - once you get going on these things they can suck up your time, so whether you're a freelancer, student or anything else, set aside a little time in your morning before work or at a time when you feel you're bored to do these things, then get back to work!

What do you think - will you be trying out any of these things? Do you use them already, or have anything else to suggest? All comments much appreciated :)


  1. great post! i too am a cheapskate :)
    i use topcashback when shopping online to get back some pennies on purchases - like you said it is best to see it as a bonus and not guaranteed money as sometimes (although rarely) it doesn't get tracked etc...
    you also get money on that site for referring friends, at the moment you earn £10 for each referred friend! provided they sign up and claim cash back at least once > cheeky link > http://www.topcashback.co.uk/ref/harrietgray

    and for doing free trials (i'm actually about to sign up to lovefilm as you can get £15 back for using theire free 14day trial! amazing!)

    if i'm shopping online i will spend a good half hour hunting down whatever voucher codes/discounts i can find before paying!
    i've always wondered about those online surveys but have never known which to try out/where to find good ones so thanks for those links i'll be sure to check them out.
    i think anyone who turns their nose up at penny saving ideas like this are just plain silly! x

  2. Thanks for the comment Harriet! I've heard topcashback was the other best one, but I haven't checked it out since I signed up with quidco ages ago :) Think I'll sign up (through your link) and add it to the post.

    I've made use of the Lovefilm one too! I think it really is a great deal, especially if you were intending to try it out anyway. Lovefilm can be a bit of a pain to cancel (not terribly, but phoning up the call centre etc), but I've heard that if you click the cancel option at night it directs you straight to a page where you can cancel online. Not sure if that's true or not, but worth trying when it comes to the end of your trial (if you're not continuing with the subscription) x

  3. Wow, thanks for the post Bryony! :)
    What sort of sites do you enter competitions on?- or is it just when they pop up on the net?!

    I try to be careful with my money too! A friend of mine signed up to an online survey site when we were at Uni and that seemed to work really well! So what with your recommendation too I've signed up too :)

    Another random money saving thing I do is that I have a Pay as You Go phone so I top up at Boots and use my Boots card. Gradually as you top up you accumulate boots points too. Sometimes I buy a pot of nail varnish as a treat for myself and my points pay for it so it's free.. great!
    :D x

  4. oh yes, i totally agree with Catherine - Boots cards are magical! i always seem to build up more points that I've realised, and then get super excited when i can get stuff in Boots for free! Same with some other cards, like for Costa etc - build up points each time you go, and you end up with a free coffee. it all adds up. and Tesco cards (if you shop in Tesco, obvs) - I checked my points at the end of last year and had enough saved up to pay for my whole Christmas food shop - bargain!

    This is a really useful post - thank you for writing it and sharing your tips. The links to the online surveys are great - I've never tried any cos I didn't know which were best, but I'll definitely be looking at the ones you suggested.

    Where do you find out about the competitions you enter?


  5. Thanks Catherine! With the competitions, just when they pop up in the net, or in magazines etc really. Most of them I just come across via email newsletters from sites/companies. I don't tend to use specific competition websites as I've found that some direct you through loads of spammy links and get you to sign up to other things. A lot of the magazine have websites with new competitions every week or month to enter, and you often find competitions on product websites (cosmetics, food) as well as coupons and freebies.

    That's a great idea - I didn't realise you could top up at Boots. Loyalty cards are great, again I think it's one of those things that some people don't bother to use, but if you're buying there anyway it'd be a shame not to take advantage of.

    Great, I hope the surveys work out well for you!

  6. Cheers for the comment Madi :)
    I agree about the loyalty cards - I didn't realise my Costa card was accumulating many points at all last year, but I'd saved up enough for a couple of free drinks, and we bought a shoe rack for our new house with the Tesco points we had gathered together.
    If you're then also buying online you can gather points on your loyalty card, earn cashback (and if you have a cashback credit card, presumably more on top of that). Topcashback are currently offering between 1-8% cashback on purchases at Boots for example.

    My comment to Catherine should answer your question about the competitions (I missed your comment coming through while I was typing that reply!)

  7. Hello Bryony. Thanks for the post and the lovely illustrations. I am a big fan of using loyalty cards and last month I learned that if you use the nectar website to then shop on amazon and loads of other sites that you can collect extra nectar points. i also find the boots card very good. I have heard of survey sites befpre and think I will be signing up to one soon. x

  8. Yes, I totally forgot about mentioning that. Collecting nectar points online is a great idea too, especially with Amazon as you can't get cashback on purchases with them. Good luck with the survey sites, and thanks very much for commenting!

  9. ... also i forgot to add, i'm also signed up to the money saving experts email, i think it's ran by a guy who's been on tv or something. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/ it comes every week and has lots of tips for saving money/freebies.
    for example, in the email today it says from sat 14th you can take any old/empty mascara to the clinique counter in boots to be given a FREE half size clinique mascara!
    that's my plans for saturday sorted then :)