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!)
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)
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 :)