Family Finance: 3 ways to get cash before holidays

Worried about whether you can afford the holidays this year?

Time may be running out, but it’s still possible to take advantage of a number of options to boost your end-of-the-year income. From temporary jobs to getting paid for your opinion, there are ways to bring in extra cash in time to fund a few gifts.

You may even find what could become a regular source of income after the tinsel is taken down.

Take part in market research.

A number of firms will pay for your opinion when you participate in focus groups, product tests or opinion surveys.

Spend a few days testing a product for Delve, for instance, and you could bring in $125 to $200. The St. Louis-based data collection firm, which has locations in 11 cities, also does online surveys and polls, where pay starts at about $25. In its focus groups you could earn $80 to $100.

Delve starts new studies every day, screening its database of about 400,000 consumers for individuals with the demographics needed for the client. It takes about 10 minutes to fill out the sign-up form on Delve.com. It asks questions about the members of your household and some of the products your family uses. Delve spokeswoman Kay Savio said new applicants usually get a response within a week. Some surveys are aimed at children, so parents can also sign their kids up to take part and earn a few bucks.

Savio said participants can get paid for in-person research that same day.

Some other market researchers, including Harris Interactive, pay participants in rewards points, which can be redeemed for merchandise or gift cards.

There are plenty of opportunities to take part in market research, but be wary of scams. Legitimate firms will not charge a sign-up fee or require you to pay for shipping the products to be tested or rewards you earn.

Get some seasonal work.

Even with the unemployment rate stuck at 9 percent and many who are working looking for more hours or higher pay, it’s still possible to get temporary work.

The usual suspects are retailers and the hospitality industry. With extra-long store hours and fierce competition for holiday dollars, retailers are still advertising for staffers.

The market is mixed right now, according to John Challenger, CEO of the outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. He said November is typically the biggest month for hiring seasonal workers. However, hiring will extend into December because many stores are waiting to gauge their needs based on their sales and traffic over Thanksgiving weekend. At the same time, Challenger added, retailers want to make sure they have adequate customer service during this crucial period.

Restaurants, catering companies, event planners and hotels also frequently add staff to handle holiday parties and events. Challenger said the travel industry also often adds workers. And both United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx are hiring thousands to handle the holiday shipping crunch.

It’s not just holiday-related jobs that open up at year end. Keith Fairchild, owner of a TRC Staffing Services franchise in Jacksonville, Fla., noted that companies with December or January deadlines for filing annual reports, or completing other year-end projects often need professional help like accountants and data processors.

“That’s kind of a hidden seasonal thing,” he said. “People don’t think about that as much as they think about the ramp up in retail.”

Positions may be found advertised on job boards like Monster.com and Indeed.com — use the keyword “seasonal” in your search — or try the hourly job site Snagajob.com. And don’t overlook local newspaper ads or news websites, Craigslist.com or specific company sites.

Sell your stuff.

Tristen and Amy O’Brien started earning money on eBay by selling an old television set and other household items. They’ve since ramped up their selling into a business that brings in about $3,000 per month.

That effort requires nearly 40 hours of work per week between them. But it enables Amy to be a stay-at-home mom. And Tristen writes a blog at Theebayentrepreneur.com that highlights hot-selling items, and offers tips and tricks.

His blog and others like it can help new users quickly learn what eBay customers are looking for — and what they’re not. It may seem counterintuitive, for example, but vintage items aren’t always going to bring in money. And while everyone hopes for the garage sale purchase that sells for 10 times its purchase price, O’Brien said he’s found more success with more run-of-the-mill products like good quality used clothing.

EBay sellers can list up to 50 items per month for free on its auctions, and takes 9 percent of the final sale price, including shipping, as its fee, up to $100. There’s a different price structure for larger-scale sellers, who can sign up for a store subscription.

Amy O’Brien also sells some items on Etsy.com, a site where users can advertise vintage and handmade items and supplies. Spokesman Adam Brown said the site, which has more than 11 million vendors and customers worldwide, also provides resources for sellers, including a seller handbook. Etsy charges 20 cents to post an item for sale, and takes 3.5 percent of the sale price as its fee.

Another option is selling through a consignment shop. Vintage clothing, antiques and unique games and toys are often among the best sellers at independent consignment shops. Typically, these stores will keep 40 to 50 percent of the sale price, and pay you after the item is sold.

There are also resale chains like Play It Again Sports, which specializes in sporting goods and fitness equipment, Once Upon a Child, which focuses on children and infant’s items, and Music Go Round, which buys and sells musical instruments and equipment.

Operated by Winmark Corp., these chains make an offer for your items based on their current sales trends and inventories, and pay at the time of drop off. Sellers can also use the offer to cover purchases at these stores, which may mean picking up some gifts without laying out any cash at all.

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