5 ways to put a little holiday money in your pocket

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Need a little extra money for the holidays this year? Most people do, so here’s an early gift — five ways to put a bit more green in your pocket:

1. Start a cottage business

Whether your talent is calligraphy, quilting or woodworking, consider selling the fruits of your hobby.

Look around for local shops to carry your work, advises Norman Scarborough, assistant professor of economics and business administration at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.

“Maybe even work out a consignment deal so they don’t have a lot of money tied up,” says Scarborough, the author of The Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management.

“Flea markets and craft fairs are also good places to market handiwork, especially if you like talking about your hobby.

“People just need to look at what their skills are,” Scarborough says. “That’s how many small businesses get started.”

2. Try an online auction

It’s quick, it’s painless and the cost is minimal. While there are a number of online auction sites, eBay is probably the most well-known. Sellers can list an item from three to 10 days. Depending on the asking price, it costs from 30 cents to $3.30 to list an item on eBay, according to Charlie Carter, a corporate communication specialist for the site. The company charges an additional fee of 1.25 percent to 5 percent of the final price once the item is sold.

Clark Grinde, a financial planner and counselor for the Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic, sells old records and collectible Wheaties boxes on eBay. Boxes, which he buys at the local supermarket and keeps until they become timely, fetch an average of $4 to $10 each. Sixties and ’70s jazz and rock albums from his collection can bring up to $40 or $50 each. The money, he says, “is supplemental. I use it for things like taking my wife to a show, doing something for my family or buying something I wouldn’t have bought with the current income.”

Want to try your hand at online auctions? Here’s how to get a quick sale at a good price:

Make sure it’s legal to sell the item in your area. Here’s a list of questionable and prohibited items on eBay.

Be fair. “Be honest with yourself and the people you sell to,” says Grinde. Also be realistic when you evaluate the worth of an item and it’s condition.

Post a picture of the item. “Pictures really help,” says Grinde.

Describe the item completely. Also try to anticipate questions buyers might have, says Carter. Decide up front who will pay the shipping, and include that information in your posting.

Give the buyer a chance to make a fast purchase at a fixed price. On eBay, this is the “Buy It Now” feature. Grinde says that he often uses this option to move an item. “If it goes quickly, maybe I could have gotten more,” he says. “But I’d rather ship it and have it be gone.”

Check out your buyer. Some auction sites will apprise you of a buyer’s track record. On eBay, buyers are given a number rating, based on feedback from sellers.

The advantage over flea markets and garage sales? A much larger pool of potential customers.

“You get the whole world,” says Grinde, who has sold jazz albums to buyers as far away as Italy, Switzerland and Japan. “It’s a huge marketplace.”

Check out Bankrate’s Turn your stash into cash in an online auction.

3. Give up smoking

What’s the real cost of a cigarette here or there in dollars and cents?

If you puff away a pack a day at a cost of about $4 a pack, breaking the habit could net you an extra $120 a month. Not to mention that you’ll also be around for a few extra holidays.

4. Unload old CDs and books

Got a stack of tunes that are just collecting dust, or a pile of books you know you’ll never touch again? Don’t throw them out — sell them.

Used CDs sell for an average of $3 to $5. Vintage, rare or double-sized disks can sell for more. Used hardcover books will bring a couple of dollars each. Again, vintage, rare or first editions are worth more.

If you’re selling music that’s fairly recent, mainstream outfits such as CD Warehouse will trade your stash for cash. If the music is older or exotic, you may have to visit a used music store.

Sales tip: Don’t walk in blind. If the music is anything other than run-of-the-mill recent rock or the book is more than a few years old, do a little research and find out what it’s worth ahead of time so you can make a smart sale.

To find a buyer: check the phone book for used book or music stores in your area, and ask on the phone what the payment range is. Keep convenience in mind, too. It may be worth it to sell to a store nearby rather than having to drive across town for an extra couple of bucks.

5. Plan your meals

How many times have you shelled out $15 for pizza because the fridge was empty, or paid enough for a few pre-packaged meals to buy your family several days’ worth of real food?

Cherise and Mark Oleson discovered that eating on the run was costing them financially. So the Iowa couple started planning family meals and found they save $50 to $100 a month on food. Cherise uses a recipe database on the Better Homes and Gardens Web site. Once she selects what the family of four wants to eat that week, the database compiles a shopping list.

“We’re only buying what we need,” said Mark Oleson, who is also the director of the Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic. “There’s no waste and no impulse buying, and we only go to the store once a week.” End result: for the same money they were spending on last-minute purchases and convenience foods, the Olesons can afford to eat out fairly frequently — without busting their budget.

Written by
Dana Dratch
Personal Finance Writer
Dana Dratch is a personal finance and lifestyle writer who enjoys talking all things money and credit. With a degree in English and writing, she likes asking the questions everyone would ask if they could and sharing the answers — along with smart money management tips from the experts.