Reviewing My Monthly Income Challenge (September 2016 Edition)

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Several months ago, I challenged you to Take the Monthly Income Challenge with me. The idea was simple: come up with some way to make more money in a month. It really doesn't matter how much, the important thing was to start it and track it. From there you can look how to grow it each month.

No one took the challenge. At least a few said it was an interesting idea. I'll focus on that silver-lining.

I've been making income through websites, freelance work, and gig economy stuff (dog sitting mostly) for years now, so it is a little easier for me to make extra money on the side. If you were working a long day as a salaried employee to come home to a family it would be difficult to say, "Oh just drive an Uber for a few hours." Nonetheless, maybe that person can focus their hobbies or interests into things that make a few dollars here and there.

(Honestly, I don't know if anyone has it that easy. While I'm not salaried, I've got a 2 and a 4 year old, our real estate “empire”, and frivilous lawsuits to work on... all before I consider working on Lazy Man and Money or dog sitting.

Each month, I try to come out with some kind of plan for what I'm going to do to push forward for the next month. However, before we get that let's review last month's results:

Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge

The Month's Good

September was a busy month for dog sitting due to one thing: Labor Day.

(Usually this section is much bigger as there are more good things.)

The Month's Bad

Good months of dog sitting often seem to lead to poor months of income at Lazy Man and Money. I spend more of my time with the dogs (awesome!), but less of my time writing (boo!) and moving forward on business development deals (meh). The blog income took a big hit, but it wasn't just due to dog. The annual personal finance convention, FinCon, was at the end of the month. It stretched to 5 days long with 3000 miles of travel and time zones each way. There were a few days before that to get ready and a few days afterward to debrief and get back into the swing of things.

Add it all up, and it's 10 days of non-income producing "work." It's definitely worth it and I learned dozens of things that will pay off in the long run. It's a matter of implementing them and waiting for it all to work. I wrote a little more about this before: The Future of Lazy Man and Money.

Additionally, September saw the start of pre-school for my oldest. I lose about 2.5 hours of productivity because school ends much earlier than day care. I could pay more to extend the school day, but I'm not sure if that's a financial win. More importantly, it is a spending-time-with-my-son loss.

When you lose 70% of your time, it's normal to have an adjustment period, right?

The Month's Results

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the "bad" was much, much longer than the "good." In monetary terms that translated to a loss of just about exactly 10% for the month. That means I gave up all the gains I had in the last few months which is certainly a downer. (I didn't give up that money, I just didn't build on it.)

I need to put this into a graph. I'll push that until next month, because otherwise, I'll never get this published.

This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan

I came back from FinCon with a to-do list a mile long. If I can get the new design and new advertisers on board, I'll have a good foundation to move forward. I am going to be focused on putting my efforts there while keeping the plates spinning.

In the months after that I'll look to finally work on that short book. I'd like to do some consulting on blogging and money coaching, but I'm not sure where I will find those hours right now.

What's Working for You?

Let me know in the comments. I'm particularly interested in people who have some kind of side gig such as Fiverr, Uber, or anything like that to grow their income.

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About / Admin, Alternative Income

Posted on October 12, 2016.

Reviewing My Monthly Income Challenge (August 2016 Edition)

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A couple of months ago, I challenged you to Take the Monthly Income Challenge with me. The idea was simple: come up with some way to make more money in a month. It really doesn't matter how much, the important thing was to start it and track it. From there you can look how to grow it each month.

I've been making income through websites, freelance work, and gig economy stuff (dog sitting mostly) for years now, so it is a little easier for me. I need to focus on growth. That's quite a challenge with a 2 and a 3 year old, our real estate “empire”, and frivilous lawsuits.

Each month, I come out with some kind of plan for what I'm going to do to push forward for the next month. However, before we get that let's review last month's results:

Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge

The Month's Good

July's dog sitting was off-the-charts successful with people paying holiday rates for their July 4th vacation. There was a drop-off in August, which was expected as the summer starts to taper off. While July had a big drop-off in blog income, August picked up a little bit. The "ying" of dog sitting and the "yang" of the blog ended up almost a complete wash... almost. Let's let the suspense build for another couple of paragraphs...

The Month's Bad

There wasn't anything particularly bad this month. The drop-off in dog sitting was expected as it is a cyclical business. The worst thing is that I didn't have the catch-up on any of the business opportunities that I received. That seems to be the story every month, but given the volume of requests I get, I should be used to it by now.

Additionally, we were trying to squeeze every last bit out of summer that we could. Before we blink, I'll be spending my day shoveling a ton of snow (perhaps literally).

The Month's Results

Okay, that's enough suspense. I was able to eke out a 1% gain in income. That's not every exciting, but 1% a month compounding is a huge for a whole year (around 12.5%). I know a lot of people who would love a 12.5% raise this year. The lesson isn't a new one: small wins can snowball into big things.

This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan

In the first couple of months of this challenge, I didn't have much a plan to grow income. If I can carve out the time to explore all the business opportunities in my email inbox, I should be able to grow income. Unfortunately, a vast majority of those business opportunities are dead-ends. It feels like there might be enough to make 10% growth. As you can tell, I'm a little frustrated about not being able to capitalize on it.

It's already September 19th, the curse benefit of being late to post this is that I have a unique view into how this month is going to go... no DeLorean necessary.

Labor Day brought a lot of dog sitting business. I almost matched August's month total in the first 10 days. Unfortunately, from there it's started to fall off.

At the same time, my oldest son had his first day of school ever. (Parenting tip: School and daycare are very different.) We had to learn a whole new routine and I had to coordinate driving two kids to two places in the morning and in the afternoon. It's a win to adjust to the new routine.

Lastly, I'm heading to the annual personal finance conference, FinCon, in San Diego this week. Since I'm in Rhode Island, the travel is significant. The conference is 4 days long, but with time zones/jet lag, I anticipate it will be a week of sacrificing immediate income. I've had to shut down the dog-sitting business for a week while I'm gone. The long-term relationships that I build at the conference help fuel the success of this blog, so I'll gladly sacrifice short-term income.

My wife is currently on a similar trip, so we're both single parents for a little bit of this month. Like any family, there's a lot of "life stuff" that gets put aside (laundry comes to mind) during these times. We'll sort through all this like everyone does, but it isn't insignificant.

I am looking forward to the month where I can put together significant progress on the self-published book I've always wanted to write. It's looking like that might be more of a October project.

What's Working for You?

Let me know in the comments. I'm particularly interested in people who have some kind of side gig such as Fiverr, Uber, or anything like that to grow their income.

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About / Admin, Alternative Income

Posted on September 19, 2016.

Reviewing My Monthly Income Challenge (July 2016 Edition)

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Last month, I challenged you to Take the Monthly Income Challenge with me. The idea was pretty simple, come up with some way to make more money in a month. It really doesn't matter how much, the important thing was just to start and track it.

Because I've been making unusual income through websites, freelance work, and gig economy stuff (dog sitting mostly), it is a little easier for me. It's a matter of just trying to get more work done.

Each month, I come out with some kind of plan for what I'm going to do to push forward for the next month. Last month wasn't much of a plan, because the previous month of June was pretty slow with a lot of family stuff. I essentially went with "no plan" to add anything new and instead went with doing the work that I already had on my plate.

It turned out to be a good plan, but not for the reason I expected.

Last Month's Monthly Income Challenge

I'm not sure how to report July's earnings, but I'll go with this format for now.

The Month's Good

Dog sitting was off-the-charts successful. The July 4th holiday brought a lot of travel and a lot of dogs paying holiday rates. I actually made more from dog sitting than I did from my blog... which is hard for me to imagine.

The Month's Bad

The blog income went down. This happens every year with he summer slowdown in Internet traffic as everyone takes vacations. Worse, we took a week vacation for a road-trip ourselves. This puts me in the position of trying to make a month's income on 24 days. We got back to a big rush of dog sitting requests, so the blog took a back seat.

As you may be able to tell, I'm still trying to catch up as I'm writing this article on Friday afternoon... just in time for everyone to leave for the weekend to avoid reading it.

The Month's Results

Let's hear it for the dogs! The month's income was up almost 10% from the previous month. It is still down from earlier in the year, but diversifying with dog sitting is really starting to pay off.

This Month's Monthly Income Challenge Plan

I can feel myself already lining up the excuses.

It's the fifth day of the month and I'm struggling to get a second article written this week for lack of time. The world seems out to get me. Today it was Cox' cable outage. Yesterday it was spending hours on customer support chasing down a banking error. Earlier in the week, my wife was out of town for work and I was a single dad. Next week, I lose daycare for the Victory Day holiday that is probably noted by a few hundred thousand people in the United States. Oh and my wife is traveling again for work.

As a friend likes to say, "No one cares about your excuses!" He's right, but there's a Four Burners Theory at work as well. That says you have to divide your time up among family, friends, health, and work. Family seems to require a bulk of my gas. The gas I have left for work is limited, and it is divided across several different types of work whether it blog or dog sitting.

For this month, I'm going to stick with the same boring plan as last month. If looks like there's enough work out there for me to grow my income again, I just need to get the time to put it all together.

I had hoped that this month would be the month would be where I could put together significant progress on the book I've always wanted to write. It's looking like that might be more of a September project.

Your Turn

Let me know what's working for you in the comments. I'm particularly interested in people who have some kind of side gig such as Fiverr, Uber, or anything like that to grow their income.

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Posted on August 5, 2016.

Take the Monthly Income Challenge

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When I first started this blog in 2006, I had a little area at the top that I called my alternative income. I purposely created the vague term because I didn't know how to define this income. Some people would call it passive, but blogging is anything, but passive. At the time, I was lending money at Prosper, which was much more passive.

People LOVED this feature, but I took it away.

Why?

I can think of at least four reasons:

  1. It's hard to keep surpassing the previous month's totals. I felt like a failure if I didn't improve.
  2. Prosper had a big hiccup and it came out that almost everyone was losing money on the loans. It's since been fixed.
  3. When I started it, the money was additive to my software engineer salary. When I transitioned out of my 9-to-5 role, it wasn't alternative income... just income.
  4. I started following MLM Scams and I felt like I could contribute more to society by helping people understand why they should avoid them. I'm still interested in it, but it takes a ton of time and doesn't deliver much money. I compare to helping a friend move into a new apartment and he buys you beer and pizza. You don't do it for the beer and pizza, but at the same time you aren't going to reject it.

I'm bringing alternative income back. You can have your Justin Timberlake version of "sexy", but this is mine. (Yes, I'm a dork.)

Why am I bringing it back? I have a few reasons.

I've had great success with my dog sitting business in the last year. (I feel like less of a failure.)

For the past several months, I've been busy being the full-time day care for my son, but he's finally at camp and I can start moving forward with so many ideas that had to be placed on the back-burner. It's hard to increase your income when you have to put 80% of your focus on family care. Now I'm down to a healthier 50% of family care...

I think the idea of having something very specific to motivate me. For too many months, I've been thinking, let's just get by this month. A lot of that is the aforementioned life situation, but this gives me a goal/target to hit. If I'm not hitting it, I need to do something different like find the next dog-sitting home run.

So how is this going to work?

Take the Monthly Income Challenge (MIC)

Since I've been earning outside of a standard salary for a long time, I'm going to focus on increasing my income 5% each month. I'll be using June as my base and when July is over, I'll report back on how it grew (or didn't grow) as well as what worked and what didn't work. I know that at some point, I'm going to have to adjust this percentage. Growing your income at 5% each month would be equivalent to giving yourself an 80% raise. While I like a challenge that doesn't seem realistic.

I think I'm going to let things play out for a few months before I figure out the balance between a reasonable challenge and an impossibility.

I don't want to do this alone. I want you to create alternative income with me. If you don't have any alternative income, it doesn't make sense to try to earn 5% more. Instead try to start with a number that makes sense to you, maybe $100. Each month work on increasing it a little. I recommend aiming to grow it at least $100 a month.

If you need an idea on how to get started, I find that most businesses need a website. Yep, even my dog sitting business needs one.

What do you say? Are you going to step to the MIC (Monthly Income Challenge)?

My July 2016 MIC Plan

It's great to say that you are going to try to increase income. It's another thing to do it. Because June was focused on kid-care and vacation, the initial bar is low.

I'm going to simply focus on catching up on the opportunities in my inbox that were left behind. The July 4th holiday had a ton of travel which translated to a ton of dog sitting business. It's almost as if July should be a good bounce back month on its own. In short, I don't need to launch a new business and make money with it right away.

If there's extra time, I've got a couple of blog-related initiatives to start. These may not pay off for a few months, but longer-term goals are important too.

Bonus: Take the 1% Saving Challenge

While I was looking to see if anyone else came up with this idea, I came across Paula Pant's 1% Savings Challenge. It's the same concept except with the idea of saving 1% each month.

I'm not going to take this as I already cut expenses pretty close to the bone. For example, here are some of the hundreds of ways I save money. We're all different though and maybe that kind of challenge is more your speed.

Don't Stop at Income

I just tried to show with the savings example that increasing your income isn't everything. Here are two easy things you can do to put yourself in a much better financial position. The first will only take you about 5 minutes. The second may take an hour, but it may be the most important hour you spend in your life.

  1. Create an Emergency Fund - Digit.co squirrels small amounts of money from your checking checking account to its account. That automatically builds an emergency fund. You don't have to think about it and you'll never notice the small amount of money being moved. In five months, I've squirreled away $500. Digit is entirely free.
  2. Track Your Money - Over the years, I've gathered many financial accounts. Banks, brokerages, loans... I got multiple of them all. The best software for tracking everything is this FREE web application from Personal Capital. You can't get to your destination if you don't know where you are to start and how to measure progress along the way.

    I'd grab this before the Personal Capital get wise and start charging for it.

This time in July feels like the unofficial start of the second half of the year. Let's make it a great one!

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Posted on July 5, 2016.

Making Extra Money with SwagBucks?

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I hope everyone had a good Labor Day weekend. I was doing some major dog sitting. I probably should have realized that everyone was going to be on vacation and want to leave their dogs with me, but for some reason it didn't click. We had a full house going. It was crazy, but also nice to make $350 in a weekend.

While on the topic of making money, I couldn't help but notice that many of my blogging friends have been recommending SwagBucks. You sign up for Swagbucks and do various tasks to make money. Typically it involves using their search, watching a video, or buying a product through their promotional link.

I should clarify that you don't really make money, but earn Swagbucks which can be exchanged for money or gift cards. So it's really the same thing.

If you sign up through this link, they'll even give you $5 worth of Swagbucks to start, if you meet some kind of activity criteria.

I want to be clear, you aren't going to get rich with SwagBucks... though they claim to have given out nearly a $100 million in gift cards. Typically, you'll get a few cents here and there. It does add up and I've seen some bloggers average more than $20 a month.

Of course, $20 a month may not seem like much. However, it's like getting Netflix and Amazon Prime for free. Who wouldn't take that?

True story, yesterday I signed my sons up for ABC Mouse which is $60 for the year... or $5 a month. I hemmed and hawed about the expense for a good half hour. It was completely silly to pause for even 30 seconds on spending $2.50 a month each on their education. So when I look at Swagbucks, I think, "By doing this, I don't have to think about the other small stuff."

So what do you think? Worth it or no? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted on September 8, 2015.

My New Gig: Dog Sitting…

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When I started this blog many years ago, my goal was to pursue ways that I can better use my resources to secure my financial future. By resources, I mean "time" and "money."

After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I was focused on trying to create an income aside from my software engineering career that would allow me to retire early. The hope was that I could retire around the time my wife's military service pension kicked in. Time flies and that is just a few short years away.

The reality is that passive income is hard to find. I was really excited about peer-to-peer lending via Prosper. I thought I'd earn 13% lending money to others with bad credit. It turns out that those people with bad credit default a lot and over a 5-6 years now I've earned around 7.5%. That's not bad, but money compounds much, much slowly at 7.5% than it does at 13%.

I started earning income from an unexpected source, my blog where I was writing about my efforts. Years later, I'm still a little uncomfortable about how that works.

For the most part, that was all I found.

Yes there are things like growing a dividend snowball. I have mostly stayed with index funds. I don't really need dividend income in my retirement accounts at this stage. There's also traditional real estate investing. These areas aren't exactly innovative ways of making an alternative income. I have some investment real estate, which has been breakeven at best. (The hope is that when the mortgages are paid off in 13 years, they'll be much more profitable.)

Last week, I started a new venture, dog sitting. I had been writing about doing it for a while now. I kept thinking I'd dip my toes in the water, but I found it easier to cannonball myself in the pool.

I'm using a service called DogVacay. It's like Uber or AirBNB for dogs. When people go on vacation. they go to the website, read reviews and information about hosts and book someone to watch their dog. There's a competing site called Rover, but I heard about DogVacay first so I'm working with them first.

DogVacay takes 15% of the money for matching up the people, providing insurance, and customer support. Hosts typically charge around $40 or $45 a night in my area. Watching a dog for week would gross $300 and net $250 after DogVacay fees. That's the financial side.

It's a lot of responsibility to watch someone else's dog. It's not passive income by any stretch. However, it's a good fit for me for several reasons:

  1. Because Dogs! - Dogs are so much better than people. There seems to be good and bad people out there. Maybe it's because I've got some Cesar Millan in me, but I've never come across a bad dog. I'm sure if a dog is trained to harm, I'd change my story, but I've never come across that. I could spend hours at the local dog park playing with dogs.
  2. Company for My Dog - I bring my dog to the dog park for socialization. Throwing him a slumber party is even better. On my first dog hosting experience, they ran each other into the ground.
  3. I Have the Time - Working from home gives me the opportunity to do a job better than most people.
  4. I Have the facilities - I have a big, fenced-in yard. Being just outside the city many locals don't have that luxury. Dog owners know that their dog is going to get a lot of fresh air and room to run.

You add it all up and it's a win for everyone.

That all sounds great in writing, but how does it work in practice?

I've only been a host for a short time and I've had only dog stay overnight. (I have another dog scheduled for later this week.) This dog had so much energy. It was non-stop motor for 8 hours after they dropped him off before he collapsed to rest. He woke me up at 3AM to go to the bathroom. After I let him back in, he raced into my bed and made himself at home.

Sounds terrible right? I'm used to waking up at 3AM. I often get some writing done for an hour or two and than go back to sleep. This wasn't a big deal to me. Reclaiming my bed was a little more difficult, but I was able to relocate him to one side and give him a little hug as we drifted off to sleep (again, "Because Dogs!"). The owners had warned me he often sleeps with them. If that was behavior they wanted me to correct, I would have, but if everyone is okay with it, I was happy to let it be. The energy level got to be a little much, but if having a happy, energetic dog overnight is my biggest problem, I'm doing very well in life.

There were a couple of hiccups with DogVacay itself. They sent email notification of a vacation request from a different email account that they typically use and Gmail put it in the promotions tab where it got buried. So for 8 days, I didn't respond to this request, simply because I never saw it. DogVacay finally sent me a text with the equivalent of, "Hey what's up, why aren't you responding to your request?" Within minutes I found the problem.

I was fortune in that the owner was still looking to book with me. I think they'd typically go to someone else, but for some reason they hadn't yet. The only issue is that dog owners are given an average response time of hosts. It looks like it takes me an average of days to get back to people now. It's probably costing me business. I explained this to DogVacay customer support and they blew it off. Sure, over time the average will come down, but it's always going to be a poor representation of my actual response time once I'm made aware of the request.

DogVacay essentially said that they won't fix it. As a software engineer, I understand that going into the database and editing data is a pain and a last resort. Instead, I suggested that they throw out the fastest 5% and the slowest 5% of response times, to eliminate the outliers. That request went no where as well. It was met with a Roger Goodell-like response something to the effect of, "We are looking to improve everyday. Thanks for the suggestion."

Yesterday, I got an email from DogVacay about hiring a dog sitter for my dog over Labor Day. As a customer, I'm used to getting these emails over time. There were two obvious problems with the email:

1) DogVacay knows that I'm booked to host a dog over Labor Day weekend.
2) Their top suggestion was a host that lived 3000 miles away from me. They had hosted my dog in the past, but they've moved well over a year ago.

I shot them an email about the second point, because it was obvious that they should add a location check to their host suggesting algorithm. Yes, it's an edge case, but it's one that is easily caught and fixed. Hopefully, DogVacay will this article and consider adding logic to fix the first problem.

These are really small potatoes and not worth bringing up... unless DogVacay wants to hire me as a consultant (hint, hint).

I'm really optimistic that this is going to work out well. I don't expect to have 100% occupancy, but I've seen some dog sitters with multiple dogs at a time. If it did even out to having 1 dog all the time, it could be an extra grand a month. That's some good alternative income!

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Posted on August 12, 2015.

Alternative Income – January and February 2011

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At one point in this blog's history, I used to post my alternative income. (I even made some really ugly alternative income tables.)

A Brief Explanation of Alternative Income

I think I may have invented the term "alternative income" in the personal finance space, but I can't be sure. I wanted to come up with a name to describe income that wasn't from my full-time job, and that wasn't necessary tied to working a set number of hours. I wanted to be careful about not calling it passive income, because truly passive income is extremely difficult to come by. Some argue that it doesn't exist.

Why I track Alternative Income

So I started tracking money that I make outside my full-time employment. That could include investing income from equities (which can be quite passive, once you have the investments in place), income from real estate, and yes, income from making money online (this blog and other websites I manage). The most controversial of these three is the making money online since in a lot of ways, I do trade hours for income. However, I've been able to say Aww Phuket, I'm Outta Here and visit Thailand and Australia for a month with little drop-off in income.

My goal was two-fold:1) Create a safety net in the event that software engineer jobs get outsourced 2) Create an early retirement plan, so that when my wife is eligible to retire from the military at 43, I can retire with her. Though in a lot of ways, I've already reached my definition of retirement.

The Roller Coaster of My Alternative Income Quest

My ride of alternative income took quite a twists and turns. It ramped up quickly and then hit a plateau... for years. The reason for the plateau is that I got another full-time job and I lost my focus. At the time, I still had 10 years to get where my wife was going to be with her pension and I was almost there. I didn't have the eye of the tiger, and there wasn't a drop of tiger blood in my veins. I lived up to my name, Lazy Man. Late last year, I switched back to full-time self-employment and I started to really take my side businesses a lot more seriously. For the first time in awhile I broke through that plateau. Because of that I thought I'd bring back my articles about alternative income, though I'd focus it exclusively on the online sources as that's what tends to change from month to month.

January 2011

In January, the month got off kind of slow. It was a new year and I was focusing a lot more on the project that will probably never mentioned here. (Not that there's anything sneaky with it, just that I didn't want to be Lazy Man for this gig.) However, it picked up when Kimberly Palmer's article from U.S. News and World Report got picked up by Yahoo. I was mentioned at the beginning at the article and the flood of traffic was outstanding.

This traffic resulted in a 73% increase from my best AdSense month ever. Without the mention, I still would have topped my best by around 10%, but this really pushed it into a new stratosphere. In addition to that, I started writing a little bit about products and services that I truly believe in such as SodaStream. When people buy products, I get a little commission. Some bloggers, get tempted into writing about everything, but it is important to me to only recommend what I can fully stand behind.

When I totaled everything up, income from my online resources (not other investments) I was able to net $3,622 in income. The gross income was within $5000 of what I was paid in 2004 as a software engineer. The was my rebound job after the technology crash around 2001. I was making more before the crash, but this is still a an important milestone for me... even if it was only for a month.

February 2011

Without the traffic of a post on the front page of Yahoo, I knew it would be difficult to match January's numbers. I caught some luck with some direct advertisers, but it wasn't going to make up for the drop in AdSense and some other seasonal traffic. I wrote most of my affiliate posts in January, so income there was down as well. The exception was my post on How to Get a Free Credit Score, which outlined some services that I use when we were looking to buy a vacation home (look for more on that story tomorrow). One thing that was worth mentioning is that I didn't get hit by the Google Content Farm Update like some bloggers I know. In fact, I came out of it with increased traffic. Oddly the traffic didn't bring in a noticeable income increase as the traffic from Yahoo did.

In the end, the online income rose to a net of $2745, which is of course, after taxes and expenses. I think this number is going be closer to my yearly average unless, I start working double or triple time. I can't count on getting the boost that I got in January every month.

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Posted on March 7, 2011.

The Silver Lining of Hitting Rock Bottom

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I was talking with a friend a little over a month ago. There have been rumors of potential job cuts at the company I work at. He knows that I have a side gig (this blog as well as other websites), so he correctly assumed that I wasn't too worried. I know he doesn't have a side income, so I asked him how he felt about the doom and gloom rumors. He said that he was a little nervous, but he's been very, very actively networking in the his career field... it is just his nature. There's a good chance he'd have a pick of several other job offers before too long if he needs them.

However, in our discussion he made a point that I would like to share with you today: "people like us wouldn't have the big problems that others might". What he meant by that is that we were both software engineers during tough economic times... times where software engineers simply weren't being hired anywhere. While this was a depressing, low-point in my life (and possibly his), its effects are profound in our lives today. We had to adapt and learn a couple of survival skills.

The most important one was how to save money. When you have limited income, you learn to adapt your lifestyle to match it. I wasn't going out to prime rib dinners every night. I judiciously added cheaper foods to my diet like rice, beans, and even Ramen noodles. I don't recommend the Ramen noodle path for the long term, but supplementing it with increased exercise (jogging is cheap and helps build endorphins to make you feel better) made it manageable for me. It is very, very easy for me to turn on the frugal switch. I imagine that if my job has cuts others will have to learn that skill.

The other important survival skill I learned was not to put all my eggs in one basket. By having one income, that was essentially what I was doing. So I created this website with the idea of exploring other kinds of income. I've looked into things like peer-to-peer lending (which has been mostly a bust in hindsight) and real estate (also a bust with the drop over the last 4+ years). Ironically, the thing that wasn't a bust was this website (and others), which have provided me the parachute of a second income. The lesson I learned is that if you provide value to other people, you will get value back for yourself. Some of that value is delivered in money from advertisers, more of it is delivered in comments they leave and kind emails that people send me.

Maybe that's why there's a recurring theme in a couple of my favorite songs about how you have to lose so that you can win. Click on the videos below and sing along with me!

(Before anyone comments wisely I am keenly aware that the above song is the only good thing to come out of Rocky V.)

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Alternative Income, Psychology

Posted on September 30, 2010.

What Color is your Inflatable Slide?

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If you've been following the news the last couple of days, you probably have heard of Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant. I've heard various versions of the story, but almost all agree that he was dealing with a rude customer and got to the point where he just literally bailed on his job - grab some beer and went down the inflatable slide to exit the plane. (Side Note: I've always thought that would be fun to use the inflatable slide... just never wanted to be in a situation where it was the best option.) Many are hailing him as a hero of the common man.

Shortly after, news started to spread about Whiteboard Jenny, a young lady who had enough of her boss'... well just about everything. It turns out that stunt involving Jenny (real name Elyse Porterfield) was a complete hoax. Before it was revealed to be a hoax, a lot of people took notice and sympathized with this office assistant.

The timing of both these stories has made for a lot of talk in the media. The bad economy is making companies try to do more with less money. This means fewer people doing things they might not be accustomed to doing. This means more situations where people are not happy with their jobs. It sounds a little bit like a generalization to me, but perhaps it is accurate.

One thing that struck me is that Steven Slater might have difficulty finding another job. (Elyse Porterfield, as she was just a hired actress in a hoax, does not face the same problem.) His next employer could say, "We don't need this person flying off the handle and creating another media circus." Of course the opposite could be true too. In any event, it is easier to "pull a Slater" if you have another source of income outside of your main job. There are times that, as part of my job, I have to be nice to customers who are rude to me. I don't know if I could ever just a pull a Slater and show up a customer, but it's nice to have freedom to walk away from the job. The alternative income that I make from websites makes this possible.

However, alternative income doesn't have to come from websites. For some it is real estate or stock dividends. For others, it may be eBooks and/or iPhone apps. Or it could be teaching people how to start their own business.

If alternative income was your inflatable slide, what color would it be?

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Alternative Income

Posted on August 12, 2010.

Earning More vs. Saving Money

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Last week, Ramit from penned nearly 4000 words on 5 surprising insights on earning more money. When I saw that it had A) surprising insights and B) earning more money, I rushed to read the article. In fact, I don't know anyone who isn't interested in those two things.

Before you can get to the 5 surprising insights on earning more money, there is a lengthy introduction. Included in that is over 900 words on why one would want to earn more rather than cutting back. If you read Ramit's site, that shouldn't surprise anyone. He's never been one to parade around about how frugal he is. While I appreciate the attitude of earning more, I'm often confused when it's pitted against saving money (hint: click that link for about 1,000 ways to save money). The two concepts are not at war... they are not mutually exclusive. You can do both.

Ramit makes some good points for earning more verses saving money. Here are the ones he points out...

  1. For instance, he correctly points out that saving money gets harder and harder. For example, once you cut something out (let's say your daily latte), you can't cut it out again. Ramit then points out that as you make more money it gets easier to earn more money. His example is a 10% tweak in pricing negotiations can lead to hundreds of dollars per month. His main point here is "There's a limit to how much you can cut back, but no limit to how much you can earn."

    My take here is that the later isn't necessary true. Some of the ways he suggests earning more include dog walking, organizing, utilizing your high school math skills (I'm going to assume tutoring on that one). Each of these do have limits on how much you can earn. Are you going to walk dogs 24 hours a day 7 days a week? Are you going to be able to convince someone to pay you much more than the going rate for someone who walks dogs? How much is your time worth at your chosen career? Is it better than what dog walkers typically make? If not, could it be better if you put more time into it?

    (Side Note: As a dog owner, I've spent a lot of time thinking about dog walking business. It seems to me that if you get a bunch of small dogs who don't pull too hard, you can do well. If you get a few dogs like my 70-pound Husky-Labrador mix, you are likely to have a long day.)

  2. The other point he makes is that "cutting back on everything [is not fun]". His language was a little more creative than what I like to use on this blog. His example was that to save an extra $1000 a month you'd have to go through and make major cuts including "No eating out, cancel gym, cancel cable, no going out, reduce cellphone minutes - etc." But to earn an extra $1000 you spend a little more time tweaking your business in minor ways to get 50 more leads and one good client that will give you $1,000/month. He suggests that tweaking will be 5 hours a week. I have no problems with that idea, but unless your businesses are high-earning, the couple of dog-walking clients aren't really going to add up to $1000/mo.

    The flip-side of the saving money argument is that it often doesn't take any more time to save money. I reach for generic aspirin instead of brand name and that's saved money in my pocket. Did one reach of my arm take any more time than another reach? I may have had to scan a couple of prices, but that takes mere seconds. I've written about cutting cable television in the past, but that's largely because I don't watch a lot of cable. I dislike paying for things that I don't use.

The biggest argument that I have against the earning more philosophy (and I've been a huge proponent of it since the start of this blog), is that it typically does take time. Dogs don't walk themselves. Garages don't organize themselves. Kids don't tutor themselves in math. At the end of the day, earning more in these ways require trading your time for money. That, in my opinion, isn't exactly earning more, but earning differently. It may not be much fun to save money, but coming home from work and walking a dog or organizing a garage, doesn't sound like my idea of fun either. If your grand plan is to quit your job and just do these side jobs, I fear that you won't be earning more for a little while.

I understand Ramit's perspective though. To some degree I live in that world. We both have blogs. We can spend a little time tweak our blogs and producing more earnings. He has a best-selling book. He can spend time promoting it and see earnings multiply. That's just leveraging the existing hours of work we've put forward in more efficient ways. However, even those avenues of growth are limited. If I make $40 a day from Google AdSense, I may be able to increase that, but chances are that I'm going to be limited by the amount of traffic I have. At some point, I need to reach bigger audiences or look into other forms of monetization.

In the end, I'm not 100% sure what the answer is. I think it lies in the 80/20 rule. If you can cut out the expensive things that have little impact on your life, you should do it. If you can build a business in your spare time without making it feel like you are working 100 hours a week, perhaps that's worth looking into as well. Where the two concepts collide is probably the sweet spot of having more money and having the time to enjoy it.

[Note: I realize I didn't even get to the 5 surprising insights... perhaps another day... for now I'll celebrate that I wrote around 1000 words, even if that leaves me 3000 shy of Ramit's article.]

[Note 2: Check out some tips from Reader's Digest on how to save money.]

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Alternative Income, Frugal

Last updated on November 28, 2011.

 
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