You've been here before—raiding your parents’ glove compartments, searching through pants pockets, feeling under couch cushions to find a few bucks... anything to put a little padding in your wallet. Loose coins are fair game anyway, right? Without behaving like a ravenous financial rat, here are 8 places where you get cold hard cash for (almost) nothing. One of the few “free lunches” that exist.
Every two weeks you hand your hard-earned paycheck over to the bank. Wouldn't it be amazing if they gave money to you for a change? To woo you as a customer, banks and credit unions offer incentives ranging from free gift cards to $200 in free cash just for opening a checking account.
Not shockingly, these deals come with catches. To get the account, banks frequently require that you maintain a monthly balance, use your debit card a certain number of times each month, deposit a minimum amount each month, use automatic bill-pay for that account or stay with that institution for a certain amount of time. (Banks have to pay their light bills too.)
Opening a new bank account could potentially lower your credit score too, which means that everything, from credit cards to student loans could cost you more. While opening a regular checking account won't impact your credit score, opening one with overdraft protection could put an inquiry on your credit report, which lowers your score anywhere from 2 to 5 points. What's the moral of this story? There's gold in them thar bills.
In the coupon world, these guys are like rock stars, on the same level as Jagger, Hendrix and Slash. Don't believe us? Watch this. What's that you've just witnessed? F'ing fiscal wizardry, that's what. You don't have to transform into an extreme couponer to save some cash. Sites like Coupons.com, CouponMom and SmartSource can knock a chunk off of your grocery bill while discount hubs like Groupon, Living Social and Restaurants.com will reduce the cost of eating out.
Ever pulled on a fresh pair of jeans in the morning and found a few bucks still in the pocket? That feeling of finding free money makes you want to high five the universe. The US government has a program that works a little like that.
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators estimates that the US has nearly $33 billion in "unclaimed property"—which can be anything from forgotten tax refunds to uncashed payroll checks to funds from defunct checking accounts—just sitting around waiting for an owner (that's you!) to come seize it. To find out if you have a surprise check, contact your state treasury's unclaimed property division and remember who sent you. You can mail our cut to P.O. Box 70186, Sunnyvale, California 94086.
Peer to Peer Lending Sites
Remember that time that you borrowed money from your parents to buy a—choose the one that applies here: car, class ring, cell phone, prom night, something else. Remember how they made you pay it back plus interest? You can be on the other side of that equation.
Sites like Prosper and Lending Club connect the needy with well-off strangers who are willing to lend money. You lend cash, they pay you back with interest and the site that facilitated the transaction gets a cut.
When your parents lent you dough, they took a risk that you would pay them back. If you lend money, you'll take the same risk. Lend to a shady borrower and you could come up short. Both Lending Club and Prosper provide credit ratings for their borrowers, letting lenders know how financially trustworthy their recipient will be, but there's still risk involved.
Surveys and Reviews
God forbid you get through an episode of Jersey Shore without yelling what you really think of Snooki's new hook-up at the TV. They can totally hear you. Wouldn't it be great if someone paid you for your opinion?
Enter Opinion Place and E-Rewards. In exchange for completing surveys on products ranging from frozen dinners to women's magazines, E-Rewards will give you gift cards to stores like Macy's and JCPenney while Opinion Place offers credit through Paypal and Amazon.com.
Matching 529 Grants
Oh geez...college...those huge bills...the thousands in debt...the hidden costs...the stress is enough to give you diarrhea. Lucky for you (and your bowels), certain states will pay you to save for college.
Stash cash in a 529 college savings plan in states like Arkansas, Louisiana and Kansas and they'll give you free money for doing so. Only a handful of states across the US offer matching grant programs and the ones that do have strict eligibility requirements. Many states reserve grants for low-income residents only and all states cap the amount of the grant, usually to $500 or less. Info on whether your state offers a 529 matching grant is available through your state's 529 plan or higher education office.
Employer Scholarships and Tuition Reimbursement
That neighbor kid who wears triple popped collars and refers to girlfriend as "sweet cheeks" in public landed a cushy gig as a golf caddie at your local country club. In addition a paycheck, he gets tips AND his boss is chipping in towards his college education. You're stuck flipping burgers for minimum wage and soaking in your own jealousy at the shake shack around the corner. There's something very wrong with this picture.
While some companies offer miserable pay and non-existent benefits, companies like UPS offer education awards for part-timers. In addition to tuition assistance and reimbursement programs, college student and teen-friendly companies including McDonalds and Burger King also offer scholarships reserved strictly for employees. Asking your manager about what's available could be the best thing you've ever done for your wallet. If all else fails, you can always suck up to Collar Pop and try to get a a job that provides some education benefits.
Tap Mom and Dad
Movies, meals out, birthday gifts for friends, Gears of War 3...the list of things you've begged your parents for is long. Like Dumbledore's beard long. This time you've got a way you can fill your pockets without emptying theirs. If you're clipping coupons, turning off lights to conserve energy, doing the lawn work instead of hiring an outside crew to do it, you're saving your parents money right? Maybe they'd be willing to put that cash back in your pocket.
Ask your parents if you can examine the family budget and try to find ways to cut back. If you can reduce household bills through strategies like finding sales on common family groceries, lowering utility bills by monitoring energy use or taking on a chore like cleaning the gutters that your family usually pays someone else to do, perhaps your 'rents would be willing to pay you the difference. Money stays in the family and goes directly to your pocket. Win-win.