Like most people, I used to factor groceries, toiletries, and household items into my regular budget. The cost of those items had to be deducted from my cash flow. That was before I discovered how to pay for most of my household needs without ever dipping into my regular income. Thanks to online surveys and Amazon.com, I haven’t paid for very many household items in several years.
I’ve been doing surveys and focus groups for many years. When I first started, I just did the sites that pay a few cents per survey. That was really a waste of my time, but every so often I would get invited to participate in a special focus group that paid more. Many of these focus groups pay in Amazon.com gift cards. I’m also fortunate that my main occupation makes me a good candidate for many other types of focus groups that pay very well. Some pay cash, but most pay in Amazon cards. After a while it got to the point where I was earning more Amazon cards than I could spend. I only need so many books or DVD’s, so I went looking for other things I could buy at Amazon.
In recent years Amazon has enlarged their selection of food, toiletries, pet items, and household items like cleansers and detergents. Since these are things I always need, I started using my gift cards to buy them. Within about a year, I had reduced the amount of money that was coming out of my “regular” income to buy household items by about half. Lately the amount coming out of my regular budget has been about a quarter of what it used to be. This leaves me a lot more cash to save and spend on other things.
Now, you can argue that it’s all income and it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, I’m still spending the same amount. That’s true. I’m still spending $X on groceries and household items. The total number spent hasn’t really changed. But because I’m able to spend gift cards, I’m able to keep my cash and put it in savings or direct it toward other bills. When the novelty of the gift cards wore off and I had bought about all the “fun” stuff I wanted to buy, the cards were piling up without getting used. That was money that I couldn’t use in any other way and, until I discovered that I could buy other things I needed from Amazon, it was going to waste. Now I can make full use of both the cards and my cash. I still save up gift cards sometimes for something fun like a new iPod or a video game, but buying things I need is a great use for this extra income.
(I use the same philosophy when paying for much of my travel. If a site or group doesn’t offer Amazon cards, I will redeem for gas or restaurant cards that I can set aside until I travel. Then I break them out and use them for my travel expenses, greatly reducing the amount of cash I need to use.)
It’s all income, but by directing the types of income to their best uses, I’m able to better manage my cash while still getting the things I need. It requires a little extra work for me to earn this money, but many of the things I’m asked to do don’t take longer than a half an hour and some pay as much as $100. Now that I can use gift cards to cover some of my basic needs, it frees up my cash to do other, more important things. It beats letting the gift cards sit in a drawer and gather dust, resulting in unusable income.
This is part of a new series of articles which look at strange, offbeat and unusual ways to save and make money. Anything that’s a little odd, uncommon, or contrarian is fair game – as long as it’s legal.