Alex J Coyne - The Penny Hoarder


After living with family who let us down in a bad way and left us with nothing, my wife and I were suddenly homeless.

Looking back from where we are now, two years later, it almost seems unbelievable that we were on the street for 48 hours. I’m thankful on a daily basis for things I used to take for granted, like a warm meal or a place to sleep.

The experience taught me to take life’s turbulence with a pinch of salt… but also how to ensure it never happens to us again, because it was one of the hardest trials I've faced.

How My Wife and I Became Homeless

How did this happen?

Our plan was to move from one state to the next within South Africa. We reluctantly agreed to live with my wife’s family for a couple of months until we got everything together… but things soured quickly.

Rent went from “pay your own way” to an increasing weekly payment that tapped into most of our savings. Which, it turned out, were not as safe with family as we thought.

We had our savings account card and some cash. But we left the cash with family members, who took little bits until nothing was left.

After about three months, things reached a nightmarish peak when we confronted them about these “loans.” The fight escalated, and we were told to get out.

We had nowhere to go.

Being Homeless for 48 Hours

Some of our friends were out of town, and others just couldn’t fit two more people into their already-cramped one-bedroom apartments.

Eventually, we were offered a night of shelter by a friend of a friend who had heard about our situation -- but not before our 48-hour countdown was over.

Until then, we were stuck.

We saw how the shelters in the area worked (and why people avoided them) as well as some of the realities of being homeless.

Here’s what we learned.

Homelessness Can Happen to Anyone

It's not always bad decisions, financial ruin or alcoholism that leads to people being homeless.

What if you went to work and faulty wiring caused your house to burn down? Never say never, and judgment doesn’t help anyone.

After our experience, I’ve become more involved with skills development to help people get off the streets -- and I’ve learned a facet of kindness by being on the other end.

Shelters Might Not Help You

While there are great, reputable shelters, at the time, none in our area fit the criteria.

According to past inhabitants we ran into, some homeless shelters imposed forced begging for lodgings (with a percentage going to the shelters). Others refused to help husbands and wives together: One man had been split up from his family 10 years ago and hadn’t seen them since.

After seeing we had no other option, we took shelter under a tree on the grounds of a nearby church. Though it was an incredible view of the stars in the freezing South African wintertime, we’d rather see it by choice next time.

Always Hustle

We were left with nothing but the clothes and computer in our laptop bag, but my wife and I combined forces and did what we could to get out of it.

Yes, we could have sold the laptop, gotten some money and stayed in a hotel -- but would our story have gone differently?

We were both established freelance writers, so we used that laptop instead, and plugged it in at every coffee shop we passed. We rewrote resumes, translated, pitched and wrote like crazy, and it got us to the point where we are now: freshly moved into a new house and looking ahead.

Have a Disaster Plan in Place

It's always better to be prepared. Now, we discuss even the worst-case scenario when we sit down to work out our budget.

Our disaster plan involves talking about our money, building an emergency fund, keeping our credit score clean and, as freelancers, preparing for quiet times. We’ve also discussed things like life insurance -- something that’s unlikely to enter most people’s heads until they’re forced to deal with the reality.

Savings Can Save You

My wife and I had some money in a savings account that got us through the worst of our experience. It was less than $100, but we could at least offer someone we hitched a ride from money for the effort, and pick up some food.

If you have more savings (which we always try to do now!), it's the difference between sleeping on the street or spending a week in a hotel.

Valuables are Valuable

Savings aren’t just cash. Getting evicted means selling a ring you've been keeping around, your guitar and your coin collection.

My wife and I managed to grab one of our guitars from the house -- though we had to carry it around, blues-style. We sold the guitar for $300 some time later, and it was enough to cover the deposit on a new place.

Even if you're not in a tight spot, there's money in re-selling valuables.

Avoid the Danger of Getting Stuck

We heard a lot of stories from others, some who had been living on the street for decades. They had gotten stuck.

How? Dead-end jobs, doing the same thing on the streets for too long and giving up.

I heard a lot of schemes and pipe dreams from people on the street. They were going to use the day's money to buy this, then that, then use THAT money to do something else...

It's dangerous to get stuck in any situation -- even if you're not homeless!

Apply this to your job and home life: Never stagnate. Keep moving forward.

Realizing What’s Important

If anything, this experience strengthened our relationship tenfold: We stuck together.

We learned it's not about how big your TV is. It's about 1. how smart you can be with what you have, both in terms of cash and talent; 2. how well you can plan; and 3. how well you can work together.

Ingenuity is what saves you.

After our 48-hour ordeal took us to the streets -- and under a tree! -- we were offered a night of shelter by someone in town. It was only one night, since the woman had to be out of town again the next day, but it gave us time to clear our heads. We found another place to stay, which became our home for about a year.

Work started to come in slowly, but surely, through old and new contacts. Shortly afterward, I sold one of my first features about endometriosis to an Afrikaans magazine. More publications followed, and the rest, so far, is making history.

We’re a tightly knit unit and we’ve learned how to tackle the challenges that life will inevitably throw our way. Life will always have ups and downs, but the future looks good.

Your Turn: Have you ever dealt with a sudden financial emergency or housing crisis? How did you get through it?

Alex J. Coyne is a freelance journalist, writer and language practitioner. He has had several appearances on radio (including Kaya FM and Radio Namakwaland) and his work has been published in publications like People magazine, The Dollar Stretcher and more. Sometimes he even likes to play guitar.

After being a professional blues and rock player for six years, I was living the blues.

My health forced me to retire from the live circuit after my band had taken on venues like Boston Rock Lounge, Crossroads and Sinkshack.

I didn’t want to stop playing, and my family couldn’t afford to lose the income.

So I switched to teaching.

I hadn’t formally taught before, but I’d shown people some chords after a show.

During peak times, especially vacations, I was giving six to eight hour-long lessons per week -- excluding the occasional twice-weekly extra lessons.

Want to do the same? Here’s how to make money giving guitar lessons.

How to Start Teaching Guitar

I started giving hour-long lessons twice a week at $25 per lesson.

Within two months of signing up my first student, I had three more.

I made $400 per month for the first couple of months! Some students returned for extra weekend lessons when they had gigs coming up or needed more help.

You don’t need thousand-dollar equipment to teach; it’s not about what you play. An acoustic or electric guitar with a small amp are more than enough to start giving lessons. If you don’t have gear, borrow some.

Or do what I did: Ask the student if you can use theirs and pass it around.

Showing a student a cool song or riff on their own guitar will make them think, “Wow, my guitar did that? Teach me how!”

If you’re like me and haven’t taught before, visit sites like YouTube and JustinGuitar.net. Study some lessons and take note of how and what they teach.

Offer a free lesson to a friend as practice. Ask them what they thought afterward -- you don’t want to disappoint a paying student.

It also helps to provide students with resources. You’ll need folders to file students’ progress, lesson plans for home practice, and pens and notebooks for their own notes.

Guitar and musical theory books, digital song files, guitar picks, extra strings and a tuner also are a great help.

Before sitting down for the first lesson, protect yourself and your students with a contract. This sample will get you started.

Decide What Difficulty to Teach

Which level can you teach at?

Consider both your experience and theirs.

Beginners can be kids who just got their first guitar, old-timers who want to play again or people who just want to learn one song.

Intermediate players have learned the fundamentals and want to go over them again, or have been playing for a while and want to pick up new tricks.

Advanced players usually want to improve their skills, learn new ones or sharpen up their musical theory. Be prepared for them to level up.

For beginners, I kept lessons at hour-long sessions twice a week, but lessons for intermediate and advanced students could run over two hours.

Remember to include short, five-minute breaks during your lessons -- even rock stars need a break!

Also, decide which niche or genre you cater to -- metal, blues, classic rock or country.

Sometimes students want to learn specifics. They’ll want to learn how to play a certain song or improve their solos.

Students might also need help and advice picking out gear.

How to Find Guitar Students

To get people to know you, advertising is key -- so start early.  

Eventually I got business from word-of-mouth, but I started out advertising everywhere.

I got my first three students from several online ads, and they started referring their friends.

Place flyers in music stores, post online ads, print business cards and build a solid web presence. Get on guitar forums, start a Facebook page and a website.

Upload a free lesson to YouTube or guest post for a guitar blog so people can see what you do.

All my advertising was virtually free. I used my existing blog, YouTube, forums and online classifieds.

A Lesson In Guitar Lessons

Decide if you’ll teach in person, via Skype or both.

Each option allows you to spend time with your students, just in different ways.

Skype removes the need for travel, opening up a world of new clients. In addition, Skype lessons let you plug a guitar and microphone directly into your computer for online “conference jams” with students.

You might also need to buy a quality webcam, microphone and a USB-to-guitar interface if you want to teach via Skype.

I always treat the first lesson as an introduction. Each student is different, so get to know them and their ability. Students want to learn, not be overwhelmed.

Tailor lessons for each student and plan ahead so you’re able to provide a progress report and they can see how they’re doing.

For my first lesson, I showed the student (an 11-year-old boy) basic chords (D, A and G) and made him connect them together to form Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.

When I saw him a week later, he had learned the song -- and come up with his own!

His parents were impressed enough to book and pay for six more lessons.

How Much Money Can You Make Teaching Guitar?

When pricing lessons, consider the various costs.

You’ll have costs for travel (distance and gas, if you’re the one traveling), gear (setting up, restringing and maintaining your guitar equipment), resources (notebooks, folders, tuners, microphones, webcams and strings) and time (lesson length, preparation and travel time).

Look at what other teachers are doing: What makes it work?

Having more experience also lets you charge more.

As a guitar teacher, you can write your own tests and get accredited with the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) or Rockschool. This allows you to send your students to take graded exams.

Decide how and when you expect payment: Per lesson or per week? Remember to create invoices for your payments.

Consider last-minute cancellations as you plan your budget and schedule: Cars break dow, and students (or teachers!) get the flu. Will you charge a cancellation fee, refund or reschedule?

To hook new clients, offer a discounted or free first lesson. Offer special discounted packages like “book 12 lessons and only pay for eight!”

Earn more by selling students guitars or guitar-related items like cables, strings, winders, tuners, guitar books, music stands and cases. Some stores will give you discounts for bulk purchases, and nothing beats a student’s smile when you help match them up with their perfect guitar!

Want to Give Mobile Guitar Lessons?

Use these apps to make virtual learning and teaching easier:

  • Song Chord Finder will help you find the chords to almost any song. Useful for when a student wants to learn a specific song
  • Skype for iOS and Android makes it easy to teach on the move
  • YouTube is an endless resource for music and lessons in a pinch

I still teach with Skype when I’m not writing, and I plan to offer a group class in songwriting and blues in the future, as well as start working on an album.

No more touring for me, for now, and that’s all right -- I’m passing it on.

Your Turn: Will you consider teaching guitar lessons?

Alex J. Coyne is a South African author, freelance journalist and language practitioner. His work has appeared on various blogs and in national and international publications.

I’m a freelance journalist, writer and language practitioner by trade.

Both my wife and I have come to expect the freelancer’s middle-of-the-month slump, but a couple of months ago we hit a really bad patch.  

We were stuck between deadlines with no work coming in and the fridge about empty. It was time to think outside of the box.

Reaching for a tarot deck I’d received from friends, I started doing tarot readings on the side to supplement the food budget.

Seriously.

Before I knew it, those readings became regular. I was making up to $20 per hour -- and I didn’t have to don a robe or change my name to “Madame Beverley the Magnificent” (or Miss Cleo, remember her?) to do it!

During the first few months, tarot readings brought in at least $200 of much-needed extra cash. And it didn’t taken much time (or effort) to pull out the cards and do a reading between deadlines.

Here’s how I started making $20 per hour reading tarot cards, and how you give it a try for yourself.

Getting Started in Tarot

I’d been doing tarot readings for friends and family members years before it occurred to me to turn it into a side gig. Sometimes, I consulted the cards to get some insight into a plot when writing.

This experience, along with a range of Tarot books (and my own card-meaning cheat sheet), gave me the confidence to start charging for my services.

Eventually, I ditched the cheat sheet, learned to interpret cards from memory and moved over to my first paid reading. Looking at how other readers interpret certain cards was also a big help!

What’s in a Tarot Deck?

Don’t have a tarot deck? There are thousands of available decks, each with its own nuances.

For beginners, pick a deck that sticks to “classic” imagery. Here are my top five favorites from Amazon:

Marketing Myself as a Tarot Card Reader

My first step was joining tarot groups on Facebook and networking with other readers.

Some of the groups didn’t allow advertising, while others required a test reading before they allowed ads. Many non-tarot groups have rules specifically against advertising tarot readings.  

Make sure you read the rules before advertising on any website or group. Otherwise, you could get banned from all of them!

Within a week, I noticed I had more success advertising in the groups and circles I regularly commented in, rather than where I just placed an ad.  

People want to connect with you as a reader before they book and pay for their readings.

I started by offering simple and free three-card readings, so people could get used to seeing me around. From there, I started building a reputation and word-of-mouth took over.

If you intend to do readings more than every once in a while, advertise at local venues, fairs and forums (again, read the rules!).

Also, start a blog or website. Set one up for free through WordPress and use it to showcase your work.

How Much is a Reading Worth?

Rates for tarot readings vary. Expect to charge anything from $5 per reading and up. There seem to be a lucky few who earn up to $250 per reading.

What people are willing to pay depends on your experience, reputation, what kind of reading you offer and how you do it. For example, email readings are often cheaper than those done live or through Skype.

I started out offering $5 three-card readings, and worked my way up to $20 readings within a month. These were much more complex and detailed -- and I had built up a good reputation.

People like special offers. Once I stopped the free readings, I offered things like “two-for-one readings” if people book and pay for a friend. I also offered “free three-card readings” to introduce myself to new clients.

With Cartomancy Comes Responsibility

Two hard questions from opposing clients made me realize it’s about more than just fortune-telling or interpreting messages from cards.

People come to you because they want answers and guidance.

Their questions can range from strange (“Should I get a cat this year?”) to serious and life-affecting (“Will my kids be OK if I die?”). It’s up to you to help them out.

I’ve seen cases of tarot readers convincing people to leave their families, sell their homes and go to Mexico -- don’t!  

You have a responsibility not to give bad advice when people come to you for guidance.

Tarot Tips

Thinking about giving it a shot? Here’s my best advice:

  • Get some good tarot books, study up and practice for free with friends, family or yourself before charging.
  • Don’t price yourself out of the market: Too low and you’re a newbie, too high and you’re a charlatan!
  • Religion shouldn’t be a factor. Clients will come from all walks of life and belief systems. Being a writer, I emphasised writing a beautifully intricate reading, rather than “fortune-telling”.
  • You’re not just “telling the future.” Don’t rely on tarot cards to give “yes” or “no” answers to questions you don’t want to interpret -- and don’t give bad advice!

How to Make More Money

Here’s how you can charge more for your readings:

  • Start small, and work your way up to a higher rate. As your experience grows, so will your rates.
  • Turn a $5 reading into a $10 reading by offering added extras or new spreads.
  • Change how you read: Can you afford to go to your clients, or will you do it via email or Skype? You can charge more for in-person readings, especially if you travel.

Reading the cards for money started out as an experiment and a way to get my wife and I through a rough time, but I’ve continued doing it on demand.

Every once in a while, a new client comes along or the regulars need some insight, and I’ve just kept on going.

Can it work for you?

Have a look: It’s right here, in the cards…

Your Turn: Have you ever read Tarot cards? Would you try it for extra income?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

Alex J. Coyne is a South African author, freelance journalist and language practitioner. His work has appeared on various blogs and in national and international publications.