How I “made” $485 in two days

by Sarah Luna

The really long prelude

When I was little, my dad’s side of the family would go camping at a lake during the summer. All the aunts and uncles and a horde of cousins to play with. Even though it was hot and humid and buggy, it was wonderful just to be around my family. On one of these trips when I was about ten, I remember sitting on a log listening to a conversation between my uncle and my cousin who was maybe 15 or 16 at the time. He had just gotten a job and was very excited about getting paid.  Our uncle congratulated him and then said something that has left its impression on me for thirteen years:

“That’s great, but let’s think about how much it costs to live.”

He and my cousin then discussed monthly costs of rent, food, clothes, shoes, medicines, and entertainment until they had estimated what it would take to live. It was eye-opening for my little ten-year-old mind. [By the way, little kids listen to what older kids and adults talk about.].

That’s right, a conversation I wasn’t even a part of has been the cornerstone of my financial education. I think to myself “how much does it cost me to live right now, and can I make that lower?”. Now that I’m older, I realize that this is called “reducing your life overhead” and “living within your means”

The actual point of this post

Living on a graduate student budget has “encouraged” me to find creative ways to save money.

Like automating my finances and finding a online bank that refunds ATM fees from anywhere in the world.

Since moving into a furnished house with no closet space, I’ve really had to whittle down my stuff. Enter Craigslist. I’ve bought and sold furniture on Craigslist for the past two years. Today I sold my wonderful dining room table for $50, my desk for $30 (to an Aggie!), and my stethoscope for $20. Awesome. Hundred bucks right there.

The real gem find, however, is the wonderful community of Freecycle. How this works is you find a freecycle community in your area and join the Yahoo group. Then you receive messages from people who have things to give away. That’s the rule. Everything offered through the site has to be free.

As I was going through my old apartment, I would say to myself: “Do I have space for this?”  I listed a rug, some knitting needles, some books, a wooden plank, and old blankets.  The needles went to two women running a church summer knitting class, the blankets went to a man building a sweat lodge, and the book went to a grandmother trying to learn sign language to communicate with her autistic grandson.

Things that were sentimental for me were useful for others.

Then yesterday I realized that I needed a digital camera for India. Yes, I have my DSLR, but there is no way I could carry that with me. I needed something compact to take pictures of the site and the subjects. I posted a wanted ad on Freecycle. I wasn’t very hopeful since a digital camera is an expensive item, but I thought it was worth a try. That very night, I got a response from a lady who had just gotten a new camera and didn’t need her old one. She warned me that she had taken it to Africa and India and that it was a little worn. How perfect! I drove out to meet her and retrieved a Canon A520 that would have cost me $385 new.

My point? There are creative ways to find what you need. I just made/saved/earned/got $485 in two days.