Unlike many of my financial blogging peers, I got street cred (credentials) when it comes to having been poor. When we first arrived in San Jose, CA back in the early 1980’s, my family lived with another family until my parents were able to save to rent an apartment. The house we lived in was a typical three bedroom, two bath home, situated along McLaughlin Avenue. My parents were friends of the adults who rented this home. They knew each other back in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Things didn’t get any easier once my parents were able to rent an apartment. All they could afford despite both of them working full-time was a one-bedroom on Sunny Court. My sister and I slept in the living room. Food wasn’t always abundant. I recall many times there not being much to eat and school was where I had my only steady meals. Clothing was bought on an as needed basis at the thrift shop. Shoes came handed down from friends or if money had been saved, from Payless Shoes.
Living month to month back in those days was stressful, even for a kid. There’s nothing worse than your parents visibly trying to make ends meet and you not being able to help. Back in Mexico, I’d have gone out to the streets and sold gum or shined shoes to bring in cash. But in the United States, there are laws… child labor laws. You also need to be able to speak the language in most cases. At that time, I had just begun to learn English.
I am not embarrassed to admit that as a kid I dumpster dived, stole from supermarkets, and worked clean-up jobs for adults around the neighborhood. Anything to help my family out. I’m not proud of the acts that were illegal, seeing them as avoidable now with adult eyes, but as necessary to me back in those days. Life without regrets is no life at all.
From my experience, I am able to offer you today ways of raising money that may be widely known among poor folk, but not so much among middle class folk. Okay, perhaps my middle class brethren do know of the following ways they too can raise money, but may see it as “beneath” them.
Most people perform these actions because they are in need of money to pay bills, eat, and survive. I have done these simply because I wanted cash to invest and wasn’t willing to use leverage (debt).
1) Store aluminum cans and glass bottles instead of placing them in my recycling bin. After four months, I take these in to the recycling plant in Oceanside, CA and sell them, making anywhere from $15 to $25. It’s not a lot I know, but multiply it by 3, and you have anywhere from $45 to $75 extra per year. Poor people don’t recycle; they look for cans, plastic and glass bottles, and sell them!
2) Sell something of value at the pawn shop for quick cash. I have sold watches I didn’t wear (gifts given to me for birthdays/Christmas) and electronics. Saves lots of time.
3) Sell stuff on Craigslist. Not using your bicycle any longer? Do a Craigslist ad and sell it to a private party. Find stuff around the house you no longer need and is of value to sell on Craigslist. If you have plenty of things but not of great value then do #4.
4) Garage or yard sale. Jessica and I have a garage sale at least twice a year. We rake in from our sold junk about $100 each time.
5) Sell a gift card for cash. What!? Yea… ever get a gift card with cash value and knew you weren’t going to use it? Sell it to a friend or go to the spot and scalp it. Have the person take the card in and get a balance check if they don’t trust you.
6) Sell blood (I have never done this… too chicken). Find your local blood bank and sell that plasma!
7) Sell your hair on eBay. Yes, you can sell your hair online. I’ve never done it because nobody wants my hair, but if I had Fabio’s locks…
8) Got coins? Look under your couch cushions, your bed, dusty utility drawers, under your car mat, wherever. If you’ve been saving spare change, then it’s time to hit up the supermarket and find your nearest Coin Star machine. It’s easy to use. Just dump all your change and the machine will count every single penny, print you a receipt you can then take to the line and cash out, like a casino!
9) Start using coupons and take a break on organic. Poor people don’t get a choice when it comes to buying preservatives and crap free foods from the grocery store. For them, price is the selling point. But for us, we can opt for healthier foods from Trader Joe’s, for example. Not telling you to eat below your means, but if you want to save a little extra for a few months, this may be an option.
10) Take the bus or commute to work. This is an option we have that the poor may not have. A bus pass will run you about $30-$45, depending on the city you live in. You probably spend twice this amount, even with gas prices falling, driving yourself to work and back home each day. Like #8 above, this too would be a temporary strategy. Don’t want to sit among the poor? Convince a co-worker to get on your savings plan. Or if you didn’t sell your bike, ride it to work for a month.
11) Buy cheap wine. I used to buy $11-15 Cabernet Sauvignon. I’d drink about two bottles a month. Then I found Sutter Home Moscato and Cab’s selling for $3.99! Back in the hood I used to drink malt liquor and nasty beer. Now I’m all about cheap tasty wine and micro/craft beers. However, I have scaled back at times on the latter when on a savings for investing “program.” You could brew your own!
Being once poor has given me insight most people at my level of wealth do not have. I can get into doing several of the options above without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. I am secure enough with my circumstances that to me, the above scenarios are optional ways of raising money for investing purposes only. But what about the people who have to rely on these money raising strategies to survive? I can imagine it. If this is your life, I can tell you one huge piece of advice: Stop blaming others and feeling sorry for yourself! This won’t help you one bit. Instead, start by creating a list of ways you can improve. Improve what? Here are some of the lists you need to make and brainstorm on:
1) Free ways I can improve myself (what I know and am able to do).
2) Ways I can improve my decision-making.
3) Ways I can improve what I spend money on.
4) Free ways I can improve who I know (emphasis is on finding money smart, “better off,” people to have as part of your network). You can count me in as part of your network!