This guest post from Julie Mayfield is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. In 2006, Julie hired herself to save her family money, make extra money, and pay down debt, all while creating a life she loves. She blogs about her experiences at The Family CEO.

I have great respect for small amounts of money.

Maybe it’s because I’m a part-time, work-from-home mom and my income comes in as many, small payments. Or maybe it’s because I’ve acted as the bookkeeper for several small businesses and I’ve had to record and account for each dollar.

But when it comes to household finances, it’s easy for small amounts of money to slip through your fingers. They tend to get deposited in your checking account or crammed into your wallet and eaten up by everyday expenses.

That doesn’t have to be the case, however. I’ve seen small amounts of money do big things. Like help put my daughter through college without student loans. Or buy a used car for my son. Even pay off debt.

Here’s what you need to know about making small amounts of money add up to something big: You have to first see it as a stream of income and then give it a job.

Giving an income stream a job
Like a lot of people, we were unprepared when our oldest went to college. We had only a small amount of money saved up and the stock market crash had essentially cut that in half.

But a couple of years before our daughter left for college, I started doing some writing online, which resulted in a small stream of income. I decided to devote that stream of income to her college savings and started religiously transferring any amount of money I received from my writing — no matter how small — into an online savings account set up just for that purpose.

In other words, I gave my freelance writing and blogging income the job of paying for my daughter’s college education.

By the time she left for college, I had just enough money to cover room and board, the amount of tuition not covered by scholarships, books, and a new laptop.

And as she worked at her studies, I continued writing and putting away income as it came in.

My daughter has just started her second year of college and the money for this year is already set aside. My plan is to stay ahead of her college expenses by saving — and growing — this stream of income.

Putting another income stream to work
I have another, regular source of income: I do the bookkeeping for two (very) small family businesses.

Again, the amount of money I get from these jobs isn’t large. It’s the kind of money that can easily be swallowed up by our family’s monthly spending.

But earlier this year, I gave that bookkeeping income stream the job of buying a used car for my son. Each month I transfer the amounts I receive for the bookkeeping jobs to another, dedicated online savings account.

Currently that account has over $3600 in it and it’s growing monthly. Once we buy a car for him, that money will continue to be set aside for future car replacements.

The income stream you didn’t know you had
But what if you or your family only has one or two main sources of income? And what if every dollar is spoken for? It may seem like managing your finances with multiple streams of income is for other people.

The good news is that there’s one stream of income you probably didn’t know you had: found money.

Found money is any money you receive that isn’t part of your regular income stream(s). It might include rebates, insurance reimbursements, garage sale money, or even the birthday checks from Grandma.

Found money usually shows up in small amounts, and you probably weren’t expecting it — or at least not counting on it. When those amounts are combined, they create a stream of income that can be given a job.

In our household, found money is given the job of making extra payments on debt. In the last eleven months I’ve been able to throw over $1300 in found money toward our debt, in addition to our regular, scheduled payments and other money we’ve earmarked for our debt snowball.

Here’s the breakdown of where the found money came from:

  • Amazon, Craigslist and eBay sales = $344
  • Medical insurance and other reimbursements = $313
  • Debit card cash back rewards = $250
  • Rebates (cell phones, fertilizer, contact lenses) = $218
  • Gifts = $75
  • Jury duty pay = $62
  • Unclaimed money = $56

Once our non-mortgage debt is paid off, we can use this money to fund a vacation, save for Christmas presents, or even prepay our mortgage. The exciting part will be deciding what to do with it.

“Multiple streams of income” may seem like marketing speak for hucksters on TV. But even small income streams can do big things when they’re given specific jobs. How do you use small income streams to do big things?

Are you using small income streams to do big things?

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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