Leah Thayer - The Penny Hoarder

It seems like you can’t open Facebook or Pinterest these days without seeing a “pallet project.” What’s all the fuss about?

A pallet is a horizontal wooden platform used for storing and transporting goods. You’ve probably seen pallets holding stacks of cereal boxes or laundry detergent at your local warehouse club, home improvement store or even grocery store.

With very little skill, you can turn the reclaimed wood from these pallets into inexpensive, attractive, functional items for your home. All those pallet upcycling projects are helping people save tons of money on furniture, wall art, organizational structures, and even home renovations.

Ready to explore DIY ideas that can save you hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars? Grab a tool box, paintbrush and a few wooden pallets, and let’s get started.

What Can You Make With Pallets?

Choose from all sorts of creative pallet projects. Your only limit is your imagination! Many of these projects cost as little as $20 for materials, whereas store-bought versions can run you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Here are a few options to get you started:

Furniture

Think DIY coffee tables, headboards, shelves and outdoor furniture in the style of Restoration Hardware.

Since furnishings can account for a large portion of a new homeowner’s budget (over $5,000 on average), these projects can definitely help you save money. Chris Ronzio estimates that making his own furniture has helped him save $5,000!

Wall Art

All set for furniture? Consider creating your own wall art from pallets. This trendy option incorporates distressed wood into many different decorating styles. For inspiration, check out Architecture Art and Design’s 30 Fantastic DIY Pallets Wall Art Ideas.

Storage Solutions

Pallets are also great for making organizational items. You’ll find hundreds of ideas for using pallets to store your clothing, toys, toiletries, spices and more.

Floors, Walls and Other Renovation Projects

If you own your home, you can even use the wood to create accent walls, wood flooring and dramatic ceilings! These can be inexpensive ways to update your home and add character and value to any room.

How to Choose a Pallet

Not sure how to pick the perfect pallet? Donna Williams at Funky Junk Interiors offers advice for working with pallets.

When choosing a pallet, consider what it carried -- you’ll want to avoid pallets that carried pesticides or contaminants. Williams also says to “give it a pass if it it smells, looks oily, is stained, is extra heavy, has too many twisted nails, or if it looks suspect period.”

If you choose a project that requires dismantling the pallet, Williams suggests using a jig saw or reciprocating saw as well as a hammer and crowbar. And since you can never completely ensure a pallet’s safety, Williams says that it’s a good idea to scrub the wood with bleach and soapy water and to never use pallet wood for anything food-related (including vegetable gardens).

For additional information and advice, read Apartment Therapy’s guide to choosing and dismantling pallets. They recommend avoiding pallets from your local grocery store, as they are more prone to food spillage and therefore bacteria. Also, check the markings on your pallet to see whether it was treated with chemicals.

While you can often find pallets for free, do not assume that pallets sitting out behind a store are up for grabs. Many businesses reuse their pallets, and taking them without permission is considered stealing. Make sure to check with a store’s management to get the green light before you start loading pallets into your car.

“Distress” Your Pallet Project

Once you’ve chosen and cleaned up your pallet, you’re ready to tackle one of those DIY projects, most of which involve distressing the wood.

To learn how to give brand-new wood that trendy “distressed” look, I spoke with artist Sarah Detweiler from Church Street Designs about her process. She uses a hammer, chisel and round drive punch to distress the wood she uses for her custom hand-painted signs and artwork.

Here’s how Detweiler recommends distressing your pallet wood:

  1. Begin by using the chisel to create gouges and cracks in the wood.
  2. Then take a hammer and tap down most of the harsh corners and edges around the board. Make small "ding" marks on the face of the board using the hammer.
  3. Finally, use the round drive punch to create faux nail head holes throughout the board.
  4. Once you have reached the amount of distressing you want on the board, paint a dark base coat (like black or dark brown) over the entire piece .
  5. Once this is dry, run a wax block over the corners, edges and any other place that you think it would have naturally accumulated wear.
  6. Using a foam brush, paint a light-colored top coat over the wood. Make sure not to fill in too many of the "punch holes" and gouges with the lighter paint.
  7. Once the top coat is dry, take a sanding block and lightly sand off any paint that covers the wax layer. Run the block over the entire face of the wood to ensure a dull finish on the entire piece.

Can You Make Money With Pallet Projects?

Absolutely. As noted above, Detweiler turns pallets into artwork and signs, which she sells on Etsy. A quick search of the site shows many pallet projects for sale for as much as $250 for a coffee table, or $600 for a headboard.

I’ve also seen many of these projects for sale at local farmers markets, flea markets and craft fairs. So if you’re looking for a fun and creative side business, pallet upcycling could be a good fit!

What are you waiting for? Grab a pallet and get to work on a money-saving DIY project you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Your Turn: Have you upcycled a pallet into furniture or home decor? What did you create?

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. An avid pinner on Pinterest, she enjoys DIY projects and decorating.

Aa-choo! Gesundheit -- this cold and flu season just keeps on giving. If you’re like me, you’ve spent more time in pharmacies lately than you’d like to admit. My dad, brother and nieces have all been passing around one bug or another for the last few weeks. So trips to the drug store have become a weekly ordeal (at the very least).

Sound familiar? Don’t worry; there’s good news. Equipped with a few helpful hints, you can turn these tedious trips into money-saving opportunities -- or if you run this errand for others, even a way to make money.

The Big Three Pharmacies

The three most common retail pharmacies are Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid, according to Drug Store News. These companies compete want you to fill your prescriptions at their pharmacy counters, but they have more to offer than just cough medicine and Kleenex.

These drug stores also try to cash in on their convenience. The major advantages they advertise are easy parking and shorter lines than your local superstore -- a major plus if you just need to pick up a few quick items. However, it’s those quick in-and-out trips that can often affect your budget in a big way. The prices of non-pharmacy items at these drug stores are rarely budget-friendly -- at least, if you pay the sticker price.

However, the secret to shopping at the pharmacy is tapping into each store’s "savings scheme." At Walgreens, it's Balance Rewards; at CVS, it's Extra Care Bucks; at Rite-Aid, it's wellness+. Here’s how to make the most of these programs to save money at all three stores.

How to Save Money at Walgreens

First, sign up for a free Balance Rewards card at the checkout counter. The process is fairly quick, and this simple loyalty card will help you start saving immediately.

If you look at the price stickers and circulars, you’ll notice that many great deals and special prices include the note “with card”. You’ll also earn points based on your purchases, which add up to in-store credit (5,000 points = $5 in Register Rewards).

Next, sign up for an online Walgreens account and connect your favorite fitness tracker, whether it’s a Fitbit or an app like RunKeeper. With just a few clicks of the mouse, I earned 250 points for connecting my Fitbit to my Walgreens account. Now, my daily steps also help save me money: Members earn 20 points per mile (and 20 points per daily log), which makes earning 5,000 points a walk in the park.

Make sure to pick up Walgreens’ monthly coupon book. This little gem has hundreds of dollars worth of coupons each month -- February’s booklet includes more than $370 in coupons. The best part is you don’t have to buy the Sunday paper or clip coupons -- just pick up a booklet at the front of the store.

On a recent visit to my local store, I saved $10 on a $40 item by reading the “in-store coupon” information on the tag and asking about the discount at the front of the store (since they had run out of coupon books). The cashier simply looked up the coupon in the copy of the booklet she kept at the register, scanned the barcode, and that was it -- I saved $10 without clipping a single coupon!

Lastly, Walgreens also offers paperless coupons you can “clip to your card” instead of worrying about carrying around a little stack of paper coupons with you (or worse, forgetting your coupons at home). Simply choose the deals that match your shopping list and click “Clip to card,” and you’ll have instant access to even more savings without getting out a pair of scissors.

How to Save Money at CVS

After years of couponing and being a budget-shopper, my favorite pharmacy is CVS because they have an Extra Care in-store "coupon center" right when you walk through the door. Cardholders simply walk up to the machine, scan their free loyalty card and the machine prints out valuable coupons on the spot -- no clipping necessary!

Many times, the coupons are similar to the ones you might find in the Sunday paper, but the weekly coupons are often BOGOs (buy-one-get-one-free) or even free items ($0.79 off a $0.79 candy bar, for example). You might not find these deals anywhere else, so this is a great advantage.

As an ExtraCare member, you’ll collect 2% of your spending back in ExtraBucks, which you can apply to future purchases. You can also collect additional ExtraBucks by taking advantage of deals like “fill 10 prescriptions, earn $5” or “Spend $50 on beauty products, earn $5” to get extra points for purchases you’d be making anyway.

In addition, cardholders earn quarterly rewards based on spending over the previous three months. The same “magic red box” that prints your weekly coupons also prints out vouchers that can be used like cash toward your purchases.

How to Save Money at Rite-Aid

Rite-Aid weighed in at number three in the Drug Store News report because it trails behind Walgreens and CVS in terms of prescription sales. However, Rite-Aid boasts similar savings/rewards programs, so if you happen to be a loyal customer, you’ll find great deals here -- some of them even better than those at the top two.

Rite-Aid’s loyalty card program is called wellness+. However, its benefits ("+Up Rewards") are a little different than those of Walgreens and CVS. Members earn one point for every dollar spent on non-prescription purchases and 25 points for every prescription filled, with some exclusions.

Here’s one big advantage: “members who reach 1,000 points can save 20% off storewide for a year!” Twenty percent off storewide for a year?! Awesome! While that’s the “gold level” (1,000 points), Rite-Aid also offers silver (500 points; 10% off storewide for a year) and bronze status (250 points; 10% off Rite-Aid brand for a year and a 10% one-time savings pass).

Once you’ve unlocked a discount level, you can save on everything you buy in the store: household goods, cleaning supplies, toys, batteries, cosmetics and even greeting cards. You might even find yourself making some of your regular superstore purchases here instead!

The wellness+ program also offers additional services like 24/7 access to live advice from a pharmacist, emails with more money-saving offers and the ability to load eCoupons to your card (in addition to the in-store cardholder savings).

Insider Tips to Make the Most of Your Savings

Rather than replacing your coupon-clipping habit entirely with these strategies, combine them for the biggest savings. Stack the in-store coupons with your clipped manufacturer's coupons and walk away with deeply discounted or even free items! If you have any coupons left over, you can always sell them online.

Does that sound like too much trouble? Sites like Couponing 101 take the guesswork out of couponing by posting weekly "coupon match ups" for these pharmacies (as well as other stores).

In addition, Blogger Amy of Amy Loves It hosts a $5 challenge for CVS and one for Walgreens, where shoppers see how much they can buy at a pharmacy armed with only $5, their loyalty cards and printable coupons from links Amy provides. The printable plans for each week outline how to handle the multiple transactions and are a fantastic resource.

Finally, here’s a tip to help you stay organized -- there’s no point in trying to save money this way if it’s going to add more stress! The rewards programs are great, but all the different loyalty cards can start to take over your keychain or wallet. That's where apps like Key Ring come in. These digital loyalty card holders store the scannable information for multiple cards, eliminating the need to carry around the plastic versions.

Turn Your Pharmacy Visits Into Savings Opportunities

With very little extra effort, you’ll be on your way to getting great deals on bathroom essentials, cleaning products, cosmetics and snacks, all while waiting for your prescriptions to be filled. Combining errands and saving money? Sounds like a win to me.

Your Turn: Do you shop at your local drug store to save money? Did I miss one of your favorite strategies?

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. She enjoys shopping, organizing, couponing and writing about her money-saving adventures.

Raise your hand if you also have “champagne tastes on a beer budget” when it comes to shopping for clothes.

As a teacher who loves to shop, I am quite familiar with that particular predicament. And I’m not alone: American families spend around $1,700 a year on “apparel and services,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s around $140 per month on clothes! What’s a budget-minded fashionista to do?

When the budget gets tight, we fashion-forward penny pinchers learn to get creative, tweaking and mending items to give them new life. And thanks to eco-fashion revolutionaries like Jillian Owens, better known as the ReFashionista, upcycling clothes has become a trendy new way to save money.

Even if you’re not handy with a needle, you can still manage to refashion your wardrobe. Feel good about your sewing skills? I’ve got you covered with all sorts of fun projects. What’s in your closet?

No-Sew Projects

Don’t worry if you aren’t a savvy seamstress, because sites like Pinterest are full of links to no-sew project ideas like scarves, cardigans and skirts out of men’s dress shirts (my best friend’s personal favorite).

My favorite no-sew project is a wrap that takes only minutes to make with about a yard and a half of fabric, a pair of scissors and a measuring tape. Add some layers, tall boots and these super simple no-sew boot cuffs, and you’ve got a great outfit for fall and winter.

Looking for something for warmer weather? Grab your hot glue gun and try your hand at making a swimsuit coverup for less than $10.

Once you start digging in your closet for buried treasures, you’ll likely find all sorts of potential options. Found a few old accessories? Try upcycling shoes with mod podge, lace, glitter, fabric scraps, markers and more. Another trendy upcyling project involves refashioning neckties.

You could also try making your own accessories, like these sweater bracelets. But what will you do with all the leftover sweater material? Decorate your house, of course! The Internet is full of ideas for using sweaters to make wreaths, chair covers and even cute fall pumpkins. You can also use strips of old shirts to make no-sew fabric flowers for decorating.

Ways to Upcycle Your T-Shirts

If you’re anything like me, you can tell your life story through a mile-high stack of T-shirts collected from trips, concerts, games and organizations. While I have recently tamed the urge to buy a shirt to commemorate almost every place I visit, I'm still not ready to part with my collection of pre-shrunk cotton memories.

That’s one reason why T-shirt upcycles are my favorite refashioning projects. What better way to get a little more life out of a trusty, super-soft tee?

If you’re still looking for no-sew projects, try some of these 299 No-Sew Ways to Alter a T-Shirt or try making this great no-sew tote.

If you’re willing to try your hand at a little sewing, one quick option is to turn your tee into a more gym-friendly workout shirt. Check out the  30 Days of DIY Workout Wear series at Grosgrain Fabulous for ideas.

Do you have kids who play sports? Then you've probably got an even bigger stack of T-shirts, uniforms and jerseys. A quick and easy way to upcycle a favorite team jersey is to cover a canvas with the shirt and hang it as wall art -- on the wall, you’ll be able to enjoy it more often than you would if it was sitting in a drawer.

If you already have the decorations handled, or you simply have more shirts than you need for workout wear, consider other ways to hang on to your memories.

One “wearable” way to hang on to all those shirts is to make a memory  scarf. Or consider creating a T-shirt quilt: use the printed fronts of the shirts as the quilt blocks, and turn unused clothing items into a timeless functional blanket. Learn how to DIY a T-shirt quilt for $30 to $40 instead of paying $300 to $800 to have one made.

Feeling entrepreneurial and have a knack with needles? You might even consider making T-shirt quilts or memory scarves as a new crafty side business.

If these ideas aren’t enough to get you motivated to tackle your tees, there’s even a tutorial on how to make a cat tent out of a T-shirt! If you’ve got a shirt, some cardboard, two wire hangers and about five minutes, you can make Fluffy her very own “T-pee.” (Maybe she could use it on the catio?)

Ready for More Advanced Refashioning Projects?

Once you’ve cleaned out your T-shirt drawer and sharpened your skills (and your needles), you might be ready to move on to a few more complicated projects. Applique projects are one budget-friendly way to upcycle an otherwise boring clothing item into a more eye-catching piece.

Refashioning can also help you get more life out of clothes that are now too big or too small. Easily add a size to a shirt or dress by adding lace panels to its sides or back. If one of your favorite tanks looks more like a crop top every time you pull it out of the dryer, think about adding a lace ruffle to the bottom to give it a little more length. If you find yourself with a wardrobe of too-big items, consider creating trendy skinny jeans from your old pair.

Check out your extra linens as well: You can even upcycle pillowcases into dresses, skirts, shopping bags and more. Then, take your upcycling adventure full circle by turning a sweater into a cozy pillowcase.

For more upcycling ideas, check out the projects on Refashionista. What will you create with your old clothing?

Your Turn: Have you tried a refashioning project? How did it go?

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. An avid pinner, she enjoys crafting, shopping and fashion.

I love my roommate, even though she spends the whole day eating and sleeping. She never helps out with the rent, washes dishes or picks up after herself, and she expects me to take her out and entertain her every day.

My guess is that you, fellow pet parent, think this sounds all too familiar. If your pooch is a mooch, keep reading to find out how to your playful companion could help earn her keep.

The average household spends just over $500 on their pets during the year, reports U.S. News and World Report. “That's more than the average household spent on alcohol, men's clothing, or landline telephones.”

While necessities like vet bills, food and boarding likely make up the bulk of these costs, the average dog owner spends $45 per year on toys. You might not be able to offset the cost of food or medical treatments, but you can help Fido become a more fiscally responsible family member by targeting his entertainment budget: sign your dog up to become a pet toy tester.

What is Pet Toy Testing?

Whether your dog is a chewer, tugger, chaser or cuddler, you’ve likely spent your fair share of time in the toy section of your favorite pet store trying to decide what to take home to your furry friend. But who decides which toys pets are sure to fall in love with? Well, the answer may be you!

Like any product-based company, pet stores are concerned with market research as well as the safety and durability of the new toys they’re trying to introduce. Though pet parents can help out by taste-testing pet food, the work of toy testing lies in the paws of the pets themselves. Just as companies need children to test toys like LEGO and strider bikes, pet businesses need animals to let them know which toys are good options, and which are duds.

How to Get Started as a Pet Toy Tester

Finding a toy testing job for your dog can be a challenge. Here are some great resources to keep you from barking up the wrong tree:

VIP Products has a new Dog Toy Tester Program that works like a “toy of the month club.” “Our toy testers are able to purchase any of our over 400 products for up to 50% off the retail price,” explains administrative assistant Dawn Heller. “They set up an account on our website, choose how frequently they would like to receive new toys, and add the toys they would like to receive to their wish list. The toys automatically ship to them at the interval of their choosing. Once received, the testers have the opportunity to provide feedback on the toys.”

GoDogger works much the same way, offering a 25-35% discount and a bonus coupon for uploading a picture or video of your dog playing with the toy.

Bionic Pet Products and Tough Dog Tested are two other companies that offer the chance for your dog to be selected as part of their toy testing pack. Kyjen, in addition to its toy testing program, also has regular prizes and giveaways.

A more indirect approach to having your dog work as a product tester is to sign up with market research companies such as 20|20 Panel, Focuscope, Inc., MindSwarms, Mediabarn Research and Shugoll Research. Many include questions about pet ownership in their questionnaires to see which studies you qualify for. I spoke with one such research group here in Nashville, but the specifics of which pet-related products are tested are part of the client’s privacy policy.

How Much Money Can You Make or Save?

This depends entirely on the compensation offered by the company. As is the case with other market research or test subject jobs, some will let you keep the product as your “payment.” Others, whether or not they allow you to keep the product, may offer separate financial compensation, while some companies simply offer a discount on the toys you test.

However, if your dog eventually becomes bored with the toy, why not refurbish and resell it? That’s what Janet Huey has been doing for more than 17 years! She finds used pet toys at thrift stores and garage sales and cleans them up, then sells them directly to pet owners.

Are There Any Safety Concerns?

While the idea of scoring free or discounted toys for your furry companion sounds like a great gig, you might have some concerns about testing products that have not yet been approved.

The Humane Society has a special article that explains how to how to pick safe dog toys. The great advice on how to keep your dog safe during playtime includes the following:

  • Discard toys that start to break into pieces or are torn.
  • Take note of any toy that contains a “squeaker” buried in its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy the source of the squeaking, and he could ingest it. Supervise your dog's play with squeaky toys.
  • Toys should be appropriate for your dog's size. Balls and other toys that are too small can easily be swallowed or become lodged in your dog's throat.

As a pet parent myself, I would suggest monitoring your dog’s playtime with any new toy, especially those that are being tested for safety and durability. And keep an eye out for broken or worn-out parts that may present a choking hazard.

Your Turn: Would you put your dog to work as a pet toy tester?

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. Her pint-sized writing buddy is a white and brown chihuahua named Chiquis.

We all remember those days when we would have loved to stay home from school. But what happens when staying home still means you have to go to school?

For many families who choose to home-school, once the breakfast dishes are cleared, the kitchen table turns into a giant desk. Brothers and sisters pull up a chair and wait for the lesson to start. While a parent often handles the teaching, that’s not always the case.

With more than four years of experience teaching in various homes, I’m here to give you the insider’s scoop on how you can get paid to teach home-schooled students in a number of settings -- even without a teaching certificate.

What is Home Schooling?

Home schooling often gets a bad rap as a substandard alternative to public school. But the reasons parents choose to home-school are quite varied. Some, frustrated with public schools, decide that they want more control over what and how their children learn. Others, regardless of their opinions of traditional schools, choose to home-school due to travel schedules -- think missionaries and military families.

Some parents choose to home-school to allow gifted students more time to focus on endeavors such as art, music or athletics, while others want their children to explore topics at their own pace. Parents of children with special needs are often drawn to home schooling because some feel that they can better meet their child’s needs at home.

Is Home Schooling Legal?

“Yes! In all 50 states, parents can legally teach their children at home without a teaching degree or certification,” says The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an advocacy group for home-schooling families. But keep in mind that every state is different in regard to how they handle the specifics of home education. The HSLDA State Laws page has information for each state.

Another great resource is HomeschoolCPA, where CPA Carol Topp offers a number of resources including articles, ebooks, free webinars and a podcast. She outlined some of the state-by-state law variations in a guest blog post:

  • For example, in my state of Ohio we must record the name of anyone, outside of parents, that educate our children. So it is legal, but recorded.
  • In some states, I learned, it is not legal to homeschool other people’s children. For example, homeschooling laws in Wyoming say, “An instructional program provided to more than one family unit does not constitute a home-based educational program.”
  • Some states allow a limited amount of non-parent led instruction. In New York the bulk of the teaching must come from the parents. For instance, if someone else homeschools your children for two days, then you must for homeschool at least three days.
  • Georgia and several other states allow parents to hire a tutor for extra assistance. Pennsylvania law states the parent is the homeschool supervisor, which does not necessarily mean the teacher, but the parent is responsible.

Before you get too excited about this new opportunity, make sure to check the regulations for your state to make sure you’re on the right side of the law.

Private Tutoring vs. Tutorial Programs

You need to make one more decision before you get started: Will you tutor privately or teach for a tutorial program (sometimes called “enrichment” programs)? Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Private tutoring means fewer students, which translates into less administrative work (i.e., grading and record-keeping). However, you are usually hired to teach a variety of subjects. For example, in one year, I might teach algebra, Latin, anatomy and physiology, American literature and geography to the same student. Private tutoring typically pays hourly ($13 to $20 an hour on average, according to one source).

Teaching at a tutorial program, however, can often be more profitable if your program pays per student -- more students equals more money per hour (sometimes up to five times more than private tutoring). Unlike tutoring for a family, tutorial programs usually hire you to teach a particular subject to a specific grade level. For example, I teach five high school English classes for one such program.

However, not all tutorial programs pay their teachers. Some programs run as co-ops, where each parent teaches a class in exchange for the program waiving or discounting their child’s tuition. (If you’re a parent home-schooling your kids, this could be a great way to keep your own costs down.)

How to Market Your Services

Whether you choose private tutoring or tutorial work, you’ll want to start advertising the subject areas or grades you feel most qualified to teach.

I found my longest-running home-school client on Craigslist. I ran into a lot of scammers along the way, but after over three years with this particular family, I can honestly say it was worth the trouble. I’ve also found gigs by simply leaving my name and number at a local home-school tutorial office. Find tutorial programs in your area by searching for the name of your city and “home school tutorial programs” on Google (or Bing).

Another option is to research home-schooling associations in your area. Getting in touch with leaders of these home-school groups can often help you connect with members who may be looking for a tutor.

If you aren’t having any luck striking out on your own, consider signing up with an online tutoring agency such as Tutor.com, Care.com or WyzAnt. Most of these companies will take a cut for themselves, but it’s still a great way to get started and gain valuable experience to help you land your next gig.

My Insider Advice

And now for those insider tips I promised you. Here’s what I’ve learned in four years of teaching and tutoring home-schoolers.

Focus on High School Subjects

In my experience, it’s much easier to land high school tutoring gigs. Why? Home-school parents feel more comfortable teaching elementary school concepts such as the alphabet, addition and subtraction. But those same families often choose to call in reinforcements when it comes to upper-level math, science and English courses; foreign language classes; and electives or enrichment courses. (Click to tweet this idea.)

If you’re able to teach these subjects, you’ll likely have an easier time finding clients:

  • Math: pre-algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, calculus, geometry
  • Science: physical science, biology, chemistry, physics
  • Foreign Languages: Spanish, French, German, Latin, etc.
  • Enrichment: visual art, performing art, music, drama

Be Creative

As with any entrepreneur-style business, two keys to success are promotion and creativity. In terms of marketing, I try to offer discounts (like one free hour of class) for referrals. I also try to extend a multi-student discount if a family has more than one child they want me to work with.

It also helps to be creative about where you hold your classes. Many families will want you to teach in their homes, especially if they have younger kids in addition to your students. I also teach from my home, at libraries, in coffee shops and even over Skype (my personal favorite).

Provide Great References

Trusting you with their children is a big deal for parents. Be prepared to provide references and possibly complete a background check. I’ve always provided a list of references, both previous clients and others who can vouch for my skills and trustworthiness.

Show Your Ability and Experience

Demonstrate your tutoring abilities and related experience to your potential employers. Even if this is your first tutoring gig, think about what you bring to the table. You may not hold a Ph.D. in education, but you likely have valuable real-world experience in the subject areas you would like to teach.

For example, if you used to be a nurse, you may be the perfect fit as a science teacher for a high schooler who wants to be a doctor. And my high school English students love the fact that I’m also a writer! Your credibility is often based more on your practical experience than on the degrees you hold, and this is especially true in the home-school arena.

So, if solving for “x” or fixing comma splices is your idea of fun, grab a pack of red pens and think about becoming a home-school teacher or tutor.

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. She spends her weekdays sharing her love of the written word with her students and her weekends meeting with local authors who share her passion for writing.

We likely all know one or two teachers and have heard about the challenges of the job. From staying up late marking essays to getting kids to care about events from hundreds of years ago, teachers face a number of difficulties.

And as entrepreneurs know, these issues and obstacles -- known as pain points -- are often business opportunities.

As a teacher, I earn a living in the classroom. But even those without a teaching certificate can find paying gigs in education. Here are some of the ways enterprising people have earned extra cash -- and helped teachers at the same time.

1. Get Paid to Set Up a Classroom

One of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive times of the school year is setting up a classroom in September. That’s why East Tennessee teacher Emma Conley chose to hire someone else to set up her room this year.

Since she was making the transition from third grade to fourth grade, changing classrooms and familiarizing herself with a new curriculum, she had the idea to pay two college students to set up her classroom. Conley paid the students $140 to arrange furniture, sort and organize materials, stock her bookshelves and do a little decorating over the course of five hours, which gave her time to focus on her new curriculum. She also paid the school janitor $40 to paint the walls of her new classroom!

How did Conley feel about her first year hiring someone to set up her classroom? When asked if she would do it again next year, she replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” And based on the number of fellow teachers that stopped by admiring her room, she won’t be the only one.

Want to give this opportunity a shot for yourself? Offer to move and arrange furniture, especially if the teacher is changing classrooms; organize supplies, books and other materials; or decorate -- look for ideas and supplies on Pinterest, Scholastic or Office Depot.

The best time to offer your services is likely during the late summer, when teachers usually know their classroom and grade assignments. Start by asking teachers you know, and be sure to take a few photos of your work to share with other potential clients. You may even want to print up some simple business cards.

When you finish a job, ask if the teacher would like you to come back at the end of the year to help him pack up. He may even be interested in having you return mid-year if he’s changing themes -- so make sure to check in after the winter break.

2. Make and Sell Classroom Materials

If just thinking about stepping back into a classroom makes your palms sweaty, why not try making and selling classroom materials instead? Paper goods like posters, nameplates, labels, signs, anchor charts and bulletin board materials are fairly simple to put together. Or, if you’re nimble with a needle, you could make chair covers to hold books, floor cushions for circle time or even curtains. Handy with a hammer? Offer to build custom bookshelves, tables or even themed props!

You may want to get started by working with local teachers, but the big market is online. Etsy is a great place to sell your classroom decorations, organizational items, theme packs and printables. I also recommend checking out Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). One teacher, Kristine Nannini, “spent her summer creating wall charts and student data sheets for her fifth grade class -- and making $24,000 online by selling those same materials to other teachers,” according to The Huffington Post. In fact, TPT’s top sellers are breaking the million dollar mark!

3. Put Your Tech Skills to Work

Tech-savvy people have several options when it comes to education gigs. One option is to make document viewers out of webcams (video). Running around $100, these devices let teachers project documents and three-dimensional objects onto a screen so students can follow along without crowding around a single desk. These homemade projectors were a big hit with fellow teachers at my old school.

Another option is to help teachers with social media. For example, some teachers may want to learn how to communicate with students using social media and set up technology-based projects. You could:

  • Help a teacher set up a Facebook account for her classroom
  • Teach her to Tweet about class news, assignments and upcoming projects
  • Walk her through using Instagram to share photos of class projects, field trips resources, etc.

Blogging is also quite popular among teachers looking to share their ideas, experiences and resources. You could offer to help set up or even maintain a blog for a busy teacher. Megan at A Bird in Hand Designs, for example, charges $100 to $140 (or more) to design blogs for teachers.

Your Turn: Have you ever earned money helping teachers? What’s your favorite gig?

Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer with over 10 years teaching experience. She has also trained other teachers to incorporate innovative ideas in order to work smarter not harder.

What do your brains, your body, and your child’s toy box have in common? They can all score you extra cash!

From medical tests to market research, being a test subject offers an opportunity for people young and old to fatten up their wallets with cash, checks and gift cards. If you’re willing to try a new product or experience and share your thoughts with its creators, you could give your bank account a boost in time for the holidays.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to make money as a test subject:

1. Sign Up for Medical Tests and Trials

If you don't mind being poked and prodded, this may be a great gig for you. Be prepared to fill out lots of paperwork on your medical history, and in many cases, show proof to support what you’ve listed. This may include providing copies of your charts or having a physical or other tests done to determine if you qualify. Since criteria vary from test to test, your participation in one research study doesn’t guarantee you a slot in another study -- in fact, it may even disqualify you!

But don’t get discouraged if your symptoms don’t match the clinical trials being held in your area. “You could still qualify for the study as a control (healthy) subject,” points out experienced research participant Halina Zakowicz, who lists seven great resources for finding local clinical trials. The Program for Healthy Volunteers through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) boasts nearly 3,500 healthy volunteer participants each year!

How much money can you make? Compensation has decreased considerably in the past few years, according to Linda B., a nurse with experience on both sides of medical trials. “Research has not been exempt from recent cuts in healthcare, and those cutbacks,” Linda says, “mean less money for researchers and, in turn, less money for research participants.” However, she states that participants can make anywhere from $25 for trying out next year’s flu vaccine to over $5,000 for tests that involve overnight stays and additional follow up visits.

2. Participate in Psychological Research Studies

Looking for something less invasive? Consider participating in a psychological research study, where you can make $10 to $60 per hour paid out in checks or gift cards.

It’s not as scary as you might think. Many studies look for insights into human thought and behavior -- memory, decision making, learning and perception. But there are many others that study the overlap between psychology and market research. Yale’s eLab, for example, explores a “wide range of academic studies on topics in individual decision making, including consumer goals and behavior, influences of marketing, interactions with culture and politics, health and public policies, and even moral and ethical issues.”

It’s no surprise that the best place to find opportunities like this is at a large university. Harvard, NYU, and the University of Maryland all boast outstanding research programs in the field of psychology. Don’t live near one of these schools? No worries. Some universities, like Stanford, Yale, and Vanderbilt allow online participation, and many use the same Sona system to register volunteers for their study pool.

Make sure to read the fine print before signing up. While many research studies pay via bank check, PayPal or gift cards, some simply enter you in a draw where you could potentially win money. Also, many universities offer class credit for participation, so you must select your “payment” carefully if you are looking to earn cash.

3. Share Your Thoughts Through Market Research

You know what they say about opinions, don’t you? Well, since “everybody’s got one,” why not start getting paid for yours?

Since companies run off the basic principles of supply and demand, they want to hear from people like you to see what the market is demanding, so they can supply it.

How does it work? Participants in focus groups earn anywhere from $50 to $300+ for giving their honest feedback, often in the form of a survey or group discussion.

Participation in these focus groups is based largely on your demographics. When you sign up for a research group’s database, you’ll answer a number of questions to determine which studies you qualify for.

Ready to try a focus group? Some companies to contact include 20|20 Panel; Focuscope, Inc.; MindSwarms (online participation), Mediabarn Research, and Shugoll Research.

4. Get Your Kids Involved as Toy Testers

If you’re toying around with the idea of market research, why not get your kids in on the action?

If you live near El Segundo, California, the Mattel Imagination Center is a great option for kids (typically ages 5-9) to test out toys in exchange for a toy and/or a gift card. Hasbro also has a toy-testing program listed on their FAQ page, or you can see if their Fun Lab in Pawtucket, Rhode Island is recruiting.

The best way to get your family involved in one of these opportunities is by following the toy company’s social media feeds. As you might imagine, people don’t “play around” when it comes to toy testing; the competition can be tough. Often, the companies hold contests and select new testers from the pool of entrants.

And don’t let your kids have all the fun. Some companies, like KidsII, want to hear from parents as well. However, there is not a direct payout; instead you are entered for a chance to win products and other items, such as gift cards.

5. Get Paid for Jury Duty as Part of a Mock Trial

Another way your opinion can earn you some extra money is by being a surrogate juror. If you meet the requirements for regular jury duty, attorneys in your county or federal district may pay you to review a case and give feedback.

Check out opportunities to participate in mock trials in person through companies such as Sign Up Direct, as well as online through sites like Online Verdict.

And the best news? According to Steve Gillman, who made $150 by spending a day participating in a mock trial, they tend to pay you (and feed you) better than actual jury duty. How much better? Depending on how complicated the case is, you can expect to make $20 to $60 per hour.

Your Turn: Have you earned money as a test subject? What kind of testing did you do?

Leah Thayer has worked in both the medical field as well as the community college setting. A Nashville-based writer, she enjoys reading and finding interesting ways to make and save money.