How to Boost Your Income

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I’ve written a lot — at TIME Moneyland and other sites — about the importance of taking charge of your own financial life. Nobody cares more about your money than you do. If you’re not willing to be smart with your money, you can’t expect others to do it for you.

One of the best ways to improve your personal economy is to increase your income. Yes, frugality is an important part of personal finance; cutting costs will help your dollars last longer. But there’s only so much you can trim from your budget. Eventually you’ll have to look for other ways to make ends meet.

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But while there’s a limit to how much you can lower your expenses, your earning power is unlimited — at least in theory. I’ve heard stories from folks who’ve managed to retire early by supercharging their income for just a few years. They’re the exception and not the rule, of course, but almost anyone can increase income by a few hundred dollars per month. It just takes a bit of creativity and a willingness to work. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Take a second job. This is the most obvious way to earn more, and often the easiest. The current job market might make it tough to moonlight in some parts of the U.S., but generally, working a second job is a safe, secure way to boost your income.
  • Make money from your hobbies. Many people have some talent or skill that others might be willing to pay for. I’ve met people who make spare cash by binding books and printing buttons. Or by mystery shopping and belly dancing. I’m not a great photographer, but I’m good enough to have earned a few hundred bucks with my work. That’s not a lot, but it was enough to start my emergency fund.
  • Sell stuff. When I was getting out of debt, I generated quick cash by selling the junk stuff I’d bought with my credit cards. I didn’t make back everything I’d spent, but that wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to get a fair price quickly so I could get out of debt. I sold my things on eBay and Craigslist and at garage sales, and the money I earned helped me meet my goals.

Here’s a real-life example: Last weekend, I met a fellow who buys and sells things on Craigslist, the online classified site. He quickly snatches up free or cheap items and then resells them at the market rate. For instance, he might pick up a free washing machine or a $10 rototiller and then sell each for $50 or $100. This started as a hobby for him, a way to earn extra cash, but now it’s how he makes his living.

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There are some subtle things you can do to boost your income over the long-term. If you ask for (and receive) a raise, that increase will have a positive impact on your income for years. Also, it often helps to improve your education, if only through classes at the community college. Studies show that in general, the better your education, the better your income.

Really, though, there are tons of ways to make more money: online surveys, medical research and marketing studies, and the afore-mentioned mystery shopping. Frugality is great, but increasing your income is probably the best way to take charge of your financial situation, and there are many ways to do it.