Now that the economy is improving a bit and more companies are hiring, many of us are allowing ourselves to dream about climbing out of debt, getting a job, and maybe even saving for retirement again -- instead of relying on savings to just get by.
This is where an expert like Liz Weston comes in, to help people get out of debt and stay out of debt. She discussed her most recent book, 'The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy,' with AOL Jobs writer Lisa Johnson Mandell on a recent episode of 'This Week in Careers,' and came up with all sorts of ways to make more and keep it, regardless of your age or employment situation.
The days when we could just charge everything and pay it off gradually are over. "Credit card debt is not normal," she says. "More than half of all U.S. households don't have any." Her advice for getting back on your financial feet is to get rid of credit card debt as soon as possible.
How to negotiate for more
A decent salary would help you with that, of course, and as more jobs open up, you may find yourself so grateful for an offer that you're willing to take anything they offer you, for fear of jinxing your chances. But that would be going against one of Weston's commandments.
"You need to remember that an opening offer is just that," she says, adding that most companies expect you to negotiate a little. She says that if you're skilled enough to get the offer, they want you and you're in demand, so you're in a position to negotiate.
"Of course, now, with the unemployment rate so high, this is not the time to play hardball like we did before," she admonishes, but she says to remember that if you have a college education, the unemployment rate is only about half what it is for those who just have a high school diploma. No matter what your education level, she continues, if they say they've gone as high as they can go with a salary, there are other things you can negotiate for, such as time off, personal leave, flexibility, telecommuting etc. "Time off is a relatively inexpensive benefit for a company to offer," she says.
How to earn more on the side
And what should you do with that time off? Weston has nothing against relaxing, but she also encourages everyone to have some sort of sideline -- some source of extra income that can fill in the gaps when the chips are down. "Who knows?" she asks. "Other sources of income that might start out as hobby or a passion project could turn into your full time job. You don't want to be dependent on one employer for everything that comes into your life. Having an income stream on the side can come in handy."
She asked some of her readers on MSN, where she writes a nationally syndicated personal finance column, what they do for a little extra cash on the side. They gave her hundreds of great suggestions, which she lists in her book. Among them are:
- Artwork: Make your passion pay -- paint murals, draw caricatures, design jewelry, websites, purses or hats.
- Online auction sales: "More than a million people make at least part-time income selling stuff online at auctions sites such as EBay," she says. The clothes and toys your children have grown out of, or the treasures you find at garage sales or in thrift stores could become a decent revenue source, as can the books you've finished reading.
- Bartending: You don't have to have a regular gig at a bar, but you could make it known that you're available for parties.
- Cleaning: This may not sound very glamorous, but many businesses need someone to come in and tidy up after hours and on weekends, which will probably be when you have spare time, and you're less likely to see someone who might give you a bad time.
- Convention center staffing: If you don't mind being on your feet, this can be weekend work that the congenial actually enjoy.
- Handyman (or woman): If you've got the skills and the tools, you can fix things for people and take care of the things they don't know how to do, and once again, set your own hours.
- Pet service provider: "Dog-walking, pet-sitting and even poop-scooping services are flexible jobs for animal lovers. Contact local vets and pet-supply stores to see if they'll let you put a flyer up."
- Referee: If you played a sport in high school and college and have exceptional skills and knowledge in a particular sport, your local parks and recreation district, soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball or football league might have after hours work for you.
- Seamstress: Whether your taking up hems letting out seams, doing simple mending or creating unique designer knockoffs, those skills you developed in your high school home-ec class can really pay.
Little by little, times are getting better and opportunities are opening up. Not only are companies hiring again, but consumers are spending again. With a little savvy negotiating and planning, you can come out on top.
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