Personal Finance, Small Businesses, and Spouses with Disabilities

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

On Facebook, Patsy asked about “Spouses with disabilities… how can you help your spouse by earning extra income? Also, when you have funds for bills only, should you invest in starting a home business by not paying on a bill that month?”

Patsy is asking a number of interrelated questions here. However, the situation she describes is not an uncommon one. Many households involve one disabled spouse while the other spouse works outside the home. Their finances are often challenging, and the disabled spouse often has a big desire to do something to contribute to the income level of the household.

This brings us to the first question implied here.

How can a disabled person earn extra income?
There are several key factors to consider when thinking about this question.

First, is the disabled person able to earn an income? Some disabilities enable a wide variety of activities, while other activities may be completely out of the realm of the disabled person. A realistic assessment of what work can be done is a vital first step.

Second, how much additional income can be earned? Many disabled households have deep restrictions on additional income lest their disability benefits be cut. Before you start engaging in an income-earning activity, know exactly what your limits are on additional earning.

Often, disabled individuals have a hard time finding suitable employment because of their disability, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t produce useful work. A great option for individuals in this situation is piecework at home, where they can produce up to their physical or income limits with great control.

One option for this is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. This is piecework broken down to a very simple level, with quick tasks to perform, but you don’t tend to earn a strong hourly rate (you’ll earn less than minimum wage). However, you can do it whenever you want at whatever rate you’re comfortable with.

Another option, particularly if you have writing skills, is freelance writing jobs. Usually, you’ll be asked to write an article (or a number of articles) for a website and are paid a small amount per article. Many such services exist, including freelancewritinggigs.com. Again, you won’t earn a mint from this, but it has incredible flexibility with time and energy restraints, which are often chief concerns with disabled individuals. If you are successful with this, you may eventually reach a point where you will want to launch your own website.

Of course, some of these options inherently have startup costs. For starters, many of these options require a home computer and internet access. For many households with a disabled person, finances are tight. How can you make that transition? That really hits on the second part of Patsy’s question.

Should you skip bills to fund a microbusiness?
No. Do not skip bills in order to fund a microbusiness. If you do this, you are putting yourself and the rest of your family in a very precarious financial position because, if you’re in this situation, you don’t have enough resources to keep the bills paid.

You shouldn’t start a microbusiness on credit, either. Don’t use a credit card to buy a newer computer because you dream of using it to make money. Again, you’re putting yourself in a more precarious financial position than you were before because of the dream of making money, not the reality of it.

The solution, as always, is frugality. Shave your spending in every way you can. If you need money for a basic piece of equipment to make this happen, start by cutting back spending every chance you can. Each time you do that, put away some of what you saved for that purchase. Even if it just means putting a dollar in a jar, that’s still a positive move.

Also, don’t invest in high-end equipment unless you’re upgrading low-end equipment that you’ve used to death. For starters, never overinvest in starting a business in an area where you don’t have a proven track record. If you’re trying to start an online business, don’t buy a top-end piece of equipment. Buy a low-end piece of equipment, as it can do most of the things you’ll need to do. Always minimize your startup expenses in every way you can.

Similarly, this is a perfect situation to ask for help with. If your financial reality is this tight, consider asking your church for help or look for help with other community groups. Many people would be happy to donate older equipment to you for just this type of use.

Very rarely will you improve your situation by buying something, particularly when you can’t really afford it. If you’re in a state where you’re deciding between a purchase and paying your monthly bills, you can’t really afford it.

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