ScoreCard Research Paula Fitzsimmons - The Penny Hoarder

Want to start a business, but don’t have a lot of cash to invest? That’s OK. You’ve likely got a hidden talent or two that could help you make extra money by running a service business -- one where you get paid to play a certain role or conduct a certain task.

Do you have a special passion, interest or skill? It could be a head for finances, a flair for communicating, a special way with animals or vast knowledge of American history. You might not even realize that your skill or talent is in demand, but it could be your ticket to a profitable business.

If you’re not sure where to start, make a list of things you enjoy doing and excel at, then brainstorm possible businesses. For a little inspiration, take a look at these eight low-cost business ideas.

1. Specialty Tour Guide

Where do you live? If it’s in an area rich with culture, history or natural beauty, and you enjoy imparting knowledge, you may be sitting on an opportunity to provide specialty tours.

For instance, with a degree in geology you could launch a business leading tours of the Canadian Rockies and pointing out dinosaur fossils. Maybe you’re a history or culture buff with extensive knowledge of little-known spots in Chicago or New York City. Or you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright expert like March Schweitzer, who guides tours of Madison, Wisconsin with a focus on the architect’s life. If you love nature and want to do good for your community, check out The International Ecotourism Society to learn more about sustainable ecotourism.

If you don’t want to launch your own business, consider partnering with a tour guide company such as ToursByLocals or Shiroube. You’ll need to pass a thorough application process, but if accepted, you will become part of a network that offers its guides support, including marketing tools and payment processing.

Earning potential: ToursByLocals rates vary, but four-hour, U.S.-based tours are often listed in the $200 to $300 range. Remember to take your expenses into account, such as bicycle rentals.

What you need: An in-depth knowledge of your niche, a computer and a phone.

2. Educational Supplement Writer

If you excel as a writer and are interested in higher education, consider becoming a college textbook supplement writer.You could write instructor guides, lecture outlines, study guides and test questions for educational publishers like Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Higher Learning and Prentice Hall.

Earning potential: John Soares, owner of Productive Writers and author of Writing College Textbook Supplements, earns an average of more than $50.00 an hour -- though he has a lot of experience, so you may want to plan to start at a lower rate.

What you need: Surprisingly, you don’t necessarily need teaching credentials to do this work. But you will need at least an undergraduate degree, knowledge of your niche subject and excellent writing skills.

3. Personal or Business Concierge

You may equate concierges with hotels, but these providers also offer services to an assortment of organizations, including hospitals, businesses and even families.

Your job as a concierge is to make your client’s life easier. Depending on your chosen niche, you’ll perform any number of tasks, from planning events and making hard-to-get dinner reservations, to shopping for groceries.

Earning potential: You can charge anywhere from $25 to $125 per hour, according to personal concierges interviewed by Entrepreneur.

What you need: You don’t generally need any specialized training to become a concierge. You’ll definitely need a cell phone and a computer to communicate with your clients and carry out your tasks. For more information as well as mentoring for beginners and educational conferences, check out the National Concierge Association.

More Low-Cost Business Ideas

4. Animal Daycare Provider

You’ve likely heard of doggie daycare, but birds, cats, reptiles and other types of animals need loving care, too. This is a potential business to consider if you’re a responsible, caring person with specialized knowledge of certain types of animals.

Most resources about starting an animal daycare tend to be dog-centric, including ASPCA’s, but they may help you investigate this potential business.

5. Senior Moving Manager

If you love chatting with seniors and want to help them through the transition of downsizing and relocating to new homes, this may be a good fit. Look into information from the National Association of Senior Move Managers.

6. Private Bartender

This is a good business to consider if you’re skilled at dealing with a wide range of personalities. Clients may include hotels, caterers or private companies. Check with your state about any required certifications or training. To find jobs, try following companies like Bartenders411 on Facebook.

7. Medical Claims Assistant

Understanding the intricacies of the healthcare system can be a challenge. In this role, you’ll advocate for clients and act as an intermediary in conversations with insurance providers. Check out Alliance of  Claims Assistance Professionals for additional information about this industry.

8. Coupon Book Organizer

This business requires more of an initial investment for printing and graphic design, but it’s still less than you’d spend on a traditional product-focused business. The idea is to create a collection of coupons from local vendors, including restaurants, salons and other businesses, that you can sell to your community. City Tins is a great example of this innovative business.

One way to gain more visibility and give back to your community is by partnering with a local nonprofit organization and donating a portion of the proceeds.

Will You Start One of These Businesses?

Some of these businesses may require small up-front investments like training, licenses, membership dues or a website, but their costs will generally be lower than a business that requires you to manufacture products, stock inventory or rent office space.

It takes time to develop a new business, and before you dive in, make sure to do your research into any local rules and regulations. Free and low-cost resources that can help you plan your venture include the US Small Business Administration, SCORE and Small Business Development Centers.

Your Turn: Have you run or are you considering a service-based business like one of these options?

Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer, passionate about animals and sustainable living.


In a perfect world, I’d eat only organic foods.

Why? Organic farming methods have a lower impact on the environment, and I think organic food simply tastes better than conventional. In addition, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rigid organic farming guidelines ensure organic foods won’t have been treated with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or “sewage sludge” -- none of which I want in my food.

But this isn’t a perfect world.

Organic food is pricier than conventional. If you purchase solely organics, especially for a family, your grocery bill can resemble a car payment.

That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy organic food; you just have to smart about how you add it to your shopping list. Here are my favorite strategies for buying organic foods while sticking to my budget.

1. Pick and Choose Your Organic Foods

In my house, we compromise. Certain conventionally grown foods, such as bananas and avocados, get a pass. Others, such as soy products, grains and apples, typically have to be organic.

Not sure which organics to choose? A couple of resources can help you decide:

It’s important to note that the term “natural” is not the same thing as organic. It’s not regulated, and can be broadly interpreted by marketers, according to ABC News. Don’t be fooled: a “natural” on the label doesn’t necessarily make something a good purchase.

2. Know Where to Scavenge for Deals

Organic product coupons are not as widespread as conventional ones, but they are out there. Here’s where to find them:

On Manufacturer Websites

Many of us have favorite organic food companies, such as Organic Valley, Amy’s Kitchen, Eden Foods, Newman’s Own Organics, Bob’s Red Mill and Simply Organic. Find deals and coupons by checking their websites and social media pages, and opting in for free email newsletters.

At Your Grocery Store

Get coupons when you’re at the store? You might not think it, but grocery stores are great places to locate coupons.

I find store-specific coupons in flyers at the front of the store, such as Whole Foods’ Whole Deal. I also look for manufacturers’ coupons in store aisles, on product packages and taped to displays. It’s mostly a matter of being observant -- the deals are there if you look.

Combine these offers with manufacturer’s coupons for the biggest savings. By combining an in-store sale with a manufacturer’s coupon, I recently scored a $8.99 bottle of Avalon Organics Shampoo for $1. This was an unadvertised promotion, one I found because I was paying attention while in the store.

Coupon Websites

Try standard coupon sites like ShopAtHome.com or RetailMeNot, but you’ll likely have more luck on health-related sites, such as Organicdeals.com or Mambo Sprouts.

Health-Focused Magazines

You may be able to find manufacturer’s coupons in these magazines from time to time, but they’re not my top sources. Some publications where you may be able find a limited number of coupons include Taste for Life and Natural Health.

3. Get Paid to Eat Well

Does your health insurance provider offer preventive health programs? Group Health Cooperative, a local insurer, reimburses members for purchasing produce through Community Supported Agriculture programs, which connect the public with small-scale farmers. Check with your insurance provider or your company’s HR department to see whether this option could work.

One caveat is that CSA food comes in bulk -- a membership is ideal for families or those willing to share the cost with others, but less so for those living on their own. You also don’t always get to pick your bounty; you get whatever’s in season and ready that week.

Still, considering the quality and savings from your insurance provider, it’s worth researching. For a list of CSAs in your area, try localharvest.org.

4. Grow Your Own Food

Food doesn’t get any cheaper -- or tastier -- than home-grown.

You can even grow produce indoors during the winter. Here’s a great article from the Organic Consumers Association to help you get started. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, the substantial savings might make you want to give it a try.

For example, a bag of 25 organic cherry tomato seeds might cost $2.99. Each seed represents a plant, so you’ll have 25 plants at 12 cents each. If each plant yields just 30 tomatoes (a conservative estimate), you’ll have about 750 tomatoes -- all for a $2.99 investment!

Don’t want to propagate seeds? A plant will only set you back by about $6. If you bought organic cherry tomatoes at your grocery store, you’d likely pay about $4.99 per pint.

5. Shop Around and Compare Prices

Be mindful of where you shop because prices for organic food can vary quite a bit. These are some of my favorite stores.

SuperTarget

SuperTarget carries an impressive selection of organics, including produce, snacks and frozen foods at remarkable savings. I typically save at least 30% by shopping here and using a few Target savings hacks.

For example, let’s compare prices for an Amy’s Kitchen Pasta and Veggies frozen meal.

Regular price at other stores in our area (average): $5.50

Regular price at SuperTarget (my area): $3.49

Using my REDcard for an additional 5% off, the total is: $3.31

If I add a manufacturer’s coupon, I can get the price even lower!

Costco

The warehouse club has introduced more organics, though the membership fee, bulk-size portions and smaller selection are potential caveats.

Decide if the price of membership is worth it for you and your family. For us it is, because of the money we save on both organic and conventional foods. Plus, Executive members qualify for a yearly 2% cash-back reward based on their purchases -- up to $750 per year per household or business. The Penny Hoarder has written before about how to make the most of a warehouse club membership.

Trader Joe’s

I’m consistently amazed by Trader Joe’s prices, especially on their organic offerings. Don’t let the generic part throw you off; if the product is certified organic, you’re getting the real deal. Why pay more than you have to?

Whole Foods

Whole Foods Market doesn’t have to eat up your whole paycheck, as some say, especially when you come armed with coupons from Whole Deal and opt for their store brand.

Check their impressive loss leaders in the flyer each week. For example, they recently advertised $1.50 per pint of blueberries.

6. Work for Perks

One of the benefits of working for a food retailer is the employee discounts. This is a way to earn a paycheck while taking advantage of discounts on groceries and other products you use on a regular basis.

Employee discounts are often addition to other benefits some stores may offer -- and these could be as valuable as pay. For instance, Whole Foods, Target and Trader Joe’s all offer their employees extras such as paid time-off and retirement plans.

Here are the discounts you could enjoy as a store employee (may vary by store):

  • Whole Foods: At least 20% off for employees who work at least 20 hours per week and who have passed probation.
  • Trader Joe’s: 10% off all Trader Joe’s products.
  • SuperTarget: 10% off all products.

7. Buy local

I’ve had mixed success with prices at farmers markets and stands. Check localharvest.org for lists of farms, farmers markets, food co-ops and fruit stands in your area. Be sure to compare the prices with your other options, but also consider the advantages of eating fruits and veggies that were likely picked within the previous 24 hours.

Hopefully this article has shown that organics can be affordable. By using these strategies, you can enjoy the best nature has to offer -- while maintaining your budget. Here’s to eating well.

Your Turn: Do you choose organic foods? What are your best savings strategies?

Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer, passionate about animals and sustainable living.