If you’re reading this, you likely have ready access to a computer with an internet connection. Most people are aware of a few ways that a personal computer can save them money, but there really are a plethora of simple, ethical ways that anyone can use a computer to make a few dollars. Here is a list of 14 ways your computer can put money in your pocket that anyone can do without ripping anyone off. Many of these ideas may have occurred to you, but I’m sure there are at least a few here that are new to you. Hopefully, something on this list will spur you on to try something new and perhaps have a little bit of extra pocket money. Please note that I am only mentioning fully legal methods for such services in this article, and I’m usually directing people towards easy-to-use services if there are a multitude of options. For example, I am aware that there are a lot of programs for playing back audio on your computer and I am aware of the ease of obtaining pirated music and video.
1. Switch your phone to VoIP. VoIP refers to the use of your home computer’s broadband connection as a telephone service. There are different programs that have various features and benefits, but they are almost universally less expensive than traditional land lines and cellular phones. Two of the most popular options are Skype (free to other Skype users, but fees for calls to non-Skype phones) and Vonage (flat monthly rate for unlimited calls in the United States and very cheap per minute internationally).
2. Utilize online-only savings accounts. In the past few years, a number of branchless, online-only, FDIC insured banks have cropped up that provide astoundingly high interest rates on a normal no minimum balance savings account. These rates tend to be eight or nine times as high as typical banks (which offer a 0.5% rate of return on average). Two of the most popular include ING Direct (currently offering 4.4% APY and very easy to sign up) and HSBC Direct (currently offering 5.05% APY). This means that investing $100 in an ING Savings account would return $4.40 in a year, or $5.05 at HSBC Direct, versus $0.50 at your typical bank. Plus, you can fully manage your account on your computer, transferring money to and from your checking account as you wish.
3. Combine your entertainment needs. A modern personal computer can replace your stereo, your television, and your video game consoles. You can move all of your music on CD to your computer using programs such as iTunes, then use your computer speakers to play back music when you want it. If you have a large monitor and a TV tuner card, you can use your monitor as a television by playing your television feed through your computer. You can also sign up for services such as GameTap to utilize your home computer as a video game console.
4. Keep an eye on your finances. I use online banking and credit card accounts to keep a daily tab on what’s in my accounts and what I’m spending my money on. This way, I know what I can afford to spend and what I can’t. Many banks and virtually all major credit card providers allow online account access, which gives you very easy control over your money. Beyond that, there are a number of excellent packages out there that enable you to manage your finances as a whole and do your own taxes, though they can be complex to set up. I use Microsoft Money, which can be downloaded for a 90 day free trial.
5. Sell your hobby. Whatever your hobby is, you can probably find a place to sell the products of that hobby. eBay is a great place to get started, though there may be better places for your specific hobby. Here’s an example: a friend of mine likes to fold simple origami pieces while doing other things, such as watching television; it’s a nervous tic for her. So she started folding lots of paper cranes. She was aware that a thousand paper cranes are often given as a gift among the Japanese, so she decided to start selling thousand crane lots on eBay. Thanks to her computer, she can sit at her rural home, watch television in the evening, and sell the numerous cranes she makes with her own hands.
6. Write about your random thoughts and interests. It is incredibly easy to get a simple blog at Blogger and put a Google AdSense bar on the side of it; Blogger walks you through the process very gently. With this, you can write anonymous random thoughts on whatever you want: your personal life, your favorite television show, whatever. You can just channel some of your own thoughts into a written form and post them. Not only does it provide an outlet for you to express yourself, it also enables you to improve your writing skill over time as painlessly as possible and you can earn a few dollars from the AdSense bar.
7. Do some comparison shopping. There are a multitude of places to shop online, and there are often many places selling the same item. For example, just for books alone, I used to check amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a few others. It’s easy to find a better price for an item than you might find in your own town. Even better, people are beginning to create software tools to make comparison shopping even easier. My favorite is Book Burro: when you view a book on a site like amazon.com using FireFox, it will pop up a little window immediately informing you of the cost of that book at various other online sites, helping you to quickly find the lowest price.
8. Throw out your reference texts. With an internet-accessible computer, there’s little need for such reference texts as a dictionary or a thesaurus or an encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a suitable replacement for an encyclopedia for general usage. Dictionary.com provides the same usage as a dictionary, and thesaurus.com is a functional thesaurus. In the modern world, there’s little need to invest in such reference texts.
9. Find a better credit card. We’ve all signed up for some pretty terrible credit card deals in the past, but the internet enables you to find a credit card offer that matches your needs much better. You can easily return 2% of your spending to yourself if you can locate a strong credit card offer. Even better, you can easily find balance transfer offers that will eliminate the interest you’re paying on a card. Obviously, a credit card is a tool that you need to be careful with, but I use one for my primary spending (groceries, etc.), keep the balance paid each month, and they literally pay me to use it. I would have never found this offer without the internet.
10. Use a computer as your cooking aid. Many people eat out because of the hassle of preparing food at home. It might not be tasty, you think, or you might mess it up. Plus, many people don’t want to invest in cookbooks or other methods of teaching themselves how to cook. Wikipedia offers extensive explanations of culinary techniques, even if you’re scared of boiling water. Plus, there are countless recipes available on the internet for dishes of all levels of complexity: RecipeZaar, for example, has thousands of recipes for beginning cooks. Not only will you learn a new skill, but you’ll quickly see how much cheaper it is to cook at home, a process aided by your computer.
11. Make your own calendars and other documents. Many people buy wall calendars for their home when a few printed pages will suffice. “But I don’t have a program that will make a calendar!” you say. Open Office is a free software suite that includes a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, and much more; even more important, it includes templates for making calendars, newsletters, and so forth. We use an old wall calendar for its pretty pictures and just tape printed pages over each month.
12. Save money when you travel. I am consistently surprised at the number of people who still choose to pay high prices by booking flights directly from the airline or through a travel agent when there are numerous easy tools online that will save you tons of money on your travel costs. Priceline, Travelocity, and Expedia all are amazingly easy to search and find the cheapest prices from your location to your destination and back – and they can sometimes save hundreds of dollars on your travel over calling a travel agent or directly calling an airline.
13. Print coupons before you shop. The internet provides unbelievably good access to coupons that you can use at your local grocery store, and a little bit of effort can transform coupons directly into cash. I check sites such as coupons.com before each shopping trip, checking to see if there are any manufacturer coupons available for items I’m going to buy, then just take them to the store with me and convert them to cash at the register.
14. Learn marketable skills. Your computer can teach you a lot, too. When I first purchased my computer, I was an atrocious touch typer, but I utilized sites like Learn2Type and TyperShark to teach myself how to type 80 words per minute. Want to know the intricacies of Word and Excel to better market yourself for a job? Microsoft offers extensive training on how to perform those tasks. You can also learn how to create web pages from scratch. Each of these skills will give you a leg up in the workplace.
The computer can be a very valuable tool – you just have to know how to use it.