In 2014, I was hit with a completely unexpected salary cut at my full-time job.
A technological advance had made one of my duties obsolete, which was the reason my salary was lowered. I loved my job and wanted to keep it, and my boss promised to find new duties to bump my income back up at some point.
Meanwhile, I'd just purchased a new furnace on credit, adding a $200 payment to my monthly expenses. Now my wages were sliced by $1,000 per month, or nearly a fourth of my income.
I'd learned from past experience that catching up on past-due bills takes a lot longer than falling behind. Besides, I needed to protect my good credit.
So I set a goal. I would raise $1,000 cash over a month to stay afloat until I found a part-time job to supplement my income. It wasn't easy, but here's how I did it.
1. I put the word out.
I told everyone -- neighbors, Facebook friends and even baristas at my coffee shop -- that I'd taken a salary hit and wanted to earn extra money.
One woman needed her home cleaned for an upcoming family visit and offered $15 per hour. I don't even like to clean my own house, but to my surprise, I enjoyed transforming a mess into monetary gain. What I expected to be a four-hour stint for $60 turned into a three-day endeavor pulling in $200 cash. My client paid me $50 more when I picked up a futon she bought on Craigslist and $40 more for dropping off donations at a thrift store.
Total earned: $290
Pros: I used the money to make my student loan payment, so I didn't need to catch up later.
Cons: Housecleaning is tough work and was very hard on my body and hands.
2. I didn't mind getting my hands dirty.
A friend offered me $20 a week to mow her lawn. The job was worth more, but that $80 a month allowed me to continue my daily coffee shop fix.
Then a neighbor complained about a pink bedroom in her rental house. As I needed money right away, I told her I would paint it for $150, even though a professional might charge up to $450 for the same job.
I labored for two nights, fueled by caffeine and classic rock. I found painting to be meditative, and singing along with music lifted my spirits.
Total earned: $230
Pros: I quickly raised enough money to cover my furnace payment. I didn't have to give up my coffee indulgence, which preserved a sense of normalcy during a financial crisis.
Cons: I had no free time. My days were still spent at my full-time job, and I painted until midnight.
3. I started a side hustle.
Dozens of people walked dogs past my home every day. So I printed pet-sitting business cards from basic publishing software on my laptop and introduced myself to any neighbor walking a pooch.
People loved knowing there was a pet-sitter right next door. I fed a neighbor's cat for two weeks for $270 and snagged another $150 for walking a vacationing neighbor's Jack Russell terrier.
Total earned: $420
Pros: This was easy, fun work. I was able to pay my cell phone and internet bills plus that month's lights, water and gas.
Cons: The early morning and late night hours were tiring.
4. I sold items I wasn't using.
Nearly everyone owns something they rarely use but someone else would enjoy. During this time, I sold a bike for $120 and an ottoman for $40 on Craigslist.
Total earned: $160
Pros: I earned gas money for four weeks.
Cons: It's easy to sell something and regret it later, so be selective.
By the end of 30 days, I'd earned $1,100 cash. Every time I got paid, I immediately tackled a monthly bill so I wouldn't squander the money. I had lined up a part-time writing job to plug the funding gap, and I didn't have to catch up on a single past-due bill.
One important thing to note for all side jobs is that you could still owe taxes on that income, so you might end up having to fork over some of that money at tax time.
More Tips on How to Cope With a Sudden Salary Cut
- Don't waste time fretting. Get scrappy and find a way to earn some cash. Look for a need that's relevant to your area, and then fill it. For example, city dwellers may need dog walkers. Senior citizens might want someone to drive them or run errands.
- Shop at discount grocers like Save-A-Lot, Aldi and Grocery Outlet. Prepare meals at home instead of dining out.
- Create a budget and assign cash for groceries, utilities and other expenses to individual envelopes. Consider setting your debit card and credit card aside for now. It's too easy to blow through money when you're not actually touching currency.
- Sign up with market research firms to get paid for your opinion. I once earned $125 participating in a 90-minute focus group on body wash.
- Check out the "gigs" category on Craigslist. You might earn fast cash by handing out fliers, gathering petition signatures, organizing a closet or participating in a focus group.
An unexpected salary cut could have knocked my finances into a tailspin. However, I found that putting in a month of hard work was well worth the lack of free time to avoid months of sacrifice catching up.
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