Can’t get a job? Get a microjob!

Looking for work? Somebody out there wants you to design websites, board dogs, run errands, write blot posts, do laundry, deliver packages, be a virtual assistant.

Sites like eLance, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, 99designs and are virtual employment offices offering gigs you can pick up and put down as needed. Sometimes you bid on jobs and sometimes you post your own ad, whether serious or offbeat. (“I will create a lacrosse trick and name it after you.”)

Whether you call this consulting, freelance or “microjobs,” more of us are headed that way, according to Kristin Cardinale. The author of The 9-to-5 Cure, Cardinale cites U.S. Department of Labor projections that “millions of short-term workers” are needed.


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More about...Career, Side Hustles

Straying Off the Path or Changing Direction?

The delightful Rita Rudner once said that she never gets lost — she just changes where it is she wants to go. I'd like to stand that joke on its head: If life takes a sudden, unpleasant turn, you might have to turn along with it — at least for a while.

So you'd planned to go straight to the top. Who doesn't? Sometimes you have to accept plateaus, lateral moves, or even downward spirals:

  • High student loans, low-paying job (or no job at all)
  • Sudden illness or injury
  • Layoff
  • Divorce and its attendant emotional and financial dramas

If you think that any one of these things could ruin your life, you're right. You're also wrong. Such things don't happen to your life. They are your life, or, rather, just one part of your life. Never mind that it's a part you wish you could skip over. It's yours, at least for a time. That's not to say you'll stay in one place forever. You're not accepting defeat. You're temporarily changing direction.

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More about...Planning

Can’t Afford to Socialize? Compromise!

A friend invites you for an evening out or a weekend away that you just can't afford. Which of the following responses sounds the most like yours?

  • “I'd love to, but…” (Too many late nights already that week/feel guilty leaving Junior with a sitter after being away from him all day/mandatory check-in with your probation officer.)
  • “That sounds like fun, but it's not in my budget right now.”
  • “Um…” (Waffles, hates to seem like a killjoy.) “Yes, let's.” (Whips out plastic, mentally scribbles “self-recrimination, 30 minutes” on to-do list.)

All three strategies are problematical:

  • Excuses start to sound like, well, excuses. Friends think you just don't want to hang out with them.
  • Using the B-word puts some people on the defensive, as though your financial goals are some kind of judgment on their choices.
  • Caving in and charging your fun creates debt/adds to existing arrears.

That's why I'd like to suggest a fourth strategy: Compromise. Specifically, to propose less-spendy (but still fun) ways to socialize.

You shouldn't ha

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More about...Frugality

The statute of limitations on regret

Recently I read a blog post so glum I wondered how I might do a well-being check on its anonymous author. “The vacation high wears off” at The Quest for $85,000 describes the aftermath of a trip to visit aging family members. Now the writer's own life feels “shorter” and the three years until her husband's retirement seem unbearably long.

She writes:

It's three more years of watching our precious time on this planet circle the drain. This is what one gets when one spends every single f*cking cent with no regard for the future…I am regretful beyond belief.


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More about...Psychology

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox: Brown-Bagging Without Boredom

A few years ago I challenged MSN Money readers to carry their lunches two to three times a week for a month, and then figure out what they'd saved. The most common reaction? Shock. The most common refrain? “I just never added it up before.” When they did, they found they'd been spending $25 to $80 a week on lunches out — even when sticking to the daily special or using BOGO (buy-one, get-one) coupons. Yikes.

20060731_0173Understand: This column isn't a screed against restaurants. It's a reminder that some old frugal tricks still get results. Lunch away from the workplace can be fun and restorative. Sometimes it's even a networking/team-building issue. Five days a week, though, can mean some serious coin. Even if you could get away with $5 lunches every day (and can you?), that's up to $1,300 a year.

Surely you could do it cheaper than that, even if you spring for the wasabi mustard and Boar's Head turkey breast. Why not carry your own lunch three times a week and see what you can save?

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More about...Food

How to Do a Wallet Audit

On my way to the 2011 Financial Blogger Conference last year I encountered three young men who'd made a non-traditional career choice: mugging tired-looking, middle-aged women pulling suitcases.

They got me as I headed for the train to the airport, taking a little over $80 and other wallet contents. (Also my peace of mind.)

Afterward I did a mental inventory of what I'd lost. It wasn't easy, given that I hyperventilating on adrenaline and rage. For days I had  “Oh, crap” moments as I realized what else had been taken: debit and credit cards, bank deposit slip, loyalty cards, library card, Mensa card and a check from my brand-new business account. (I'd planned to reimburse my roommate, who'd already paid for the hotel.)

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More about...Planning

Why It’s Okay to Buy a Mega Millions Ticket (Even After You’ve Done the Math)

Recently I outed myself as an occasional lottery player and as a person who thinks that lotteries in and of themselves aren't so bad.

I don't think they're good. Rather, I think they're not-too-terrible in the way that potato chips are not-too-terrible. Enjoy a few every so often and you'll likely be okay. Eat nothing but chips? Problem.

A number of readers admitted they sometimes buy in, too. But one responded in this way: “I wish the people who spend more than a dollar or two a year would put their money to a better use, such as donating to a soup kitchen or to the Salvation Army. Continue reading...

More about...Uncategorized

27 frugal uses for a dead phone book

While consulting a professional about writing-related aches and pains, I was asked to describe my work station. When he heard that I used a laptop flat on the desk he told me that changes must be made. Among other things, he wanted me to get the screen up at eye level by purchasing a computer monitor stand from an office-supply store.

My frugal hackles went up. What, PAY for something that I could likely cobble together myself?

And that's why my computer monitor stand is made of 16 phone books.

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More about...Frugality

Prepare to get sick

On Valentine's Day, when other people were exchanging chocolates, flowers and maybe even body fluids, I was undergoing the Attack of the Choleliths.

That's “gallstones,” for those lucky enough never to have had them. “Cholelith” makes a swell Scrabble word in the future but it's not much fun in the moment. It really did feel like an attack — a series of body blows from a concrete boxing glove.

During a February 28 surgical consultation, I was given the option for a March 1 laparascopic procedure. I accepted instantly, then whirled and howled for the next day and a half (more on that below). Check-in was at 6 a.m., surgery at 7:30, and at high noon I headed home to recuperate — frugally.

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More about...Health & Fitness

Stepping off the Foodie-Go-Round

The marvelous Elayne Boosler once joked that she planned to open a restaurant designed for single folks. Rather than have tables and chairs, she'd set up a series of kitchen sinks over which her customers would stand and eat.

Nine nights out of 10, I eat regular meals at my dining table, from a plate or bowl rather than right out of the pan. I use cloth napkins, too; at six for a quarter from a rummage sale, they're both cheap and eco-friendly.

But check out my meal the next night and it will look familiar. That's because I'm a devotee of the one-pot-glop theory of cooking: chili, stew, soup, casseroles, pasta, curry.

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More about...Food