Thursday, August 23, 2012

Earning Money while being a SAHM:

It's been 3 years since I quit my full-time professional career.  Sometimes I miss the challenge of my former job, sometimes I miss the people, and most of the time I miss the money.  But, I don't regret my decision to quit my job and stay at home with my 3 kids.

I will admit I've had a really hard time getting used to the idea that I no longer earn money.  When I first quit my job, I started doing mystery shopping on the side as a way to contribute, even if just in a small way, to our family finances.  At the time, I had one kid in school 4 days a week and 1 at home with me.  I liked the flexibility of mystery shopping because I could sign up for jobs when I had the time and when they were located conveniently to me. I could usually bring my kids along or do the jobs at night and on the weekend.  I earned about $100-$300 a month and actually found the jobs to be quite interesting.

When I became pregnant with our 3rd child, I was so sick that I had to quit doing the mystery shopping.  And I have never picked it up again because now I have kids with different school schedules and various activities and I just can't seem to fit it into my schedule.

I've never been interested in the multi-level marketing jobs that many SAHMs enjoy (Avon, Scentsy, etc.) and I am skeptical of a lot of internet jobs. But last year I started doing work on and have had some success earning money on it (it was one tool I used to earn money for our Christmas budget last year, see this post).

I just spent the last few weeks working on mturk and I earned enough money to buy this pink Radio Flyer tricycle for my daughter's upcoming birthday.  It cost $64.91 with tax and shipping and I worked for 13 days for around 1 hour a day to get the money.  It averaged out to be around $5.00 an hour, which I realize is very low, but I can choose my own hours, choose my own tasks, and choose how long I want to work.  I only worked when my youngest was napping or at night after all my kids had gone to bed. stands for Mechanical Turk and it's a website run by  It's basically an online place where people can post to have online work done, or you can search for online work to do.  Each job is called a HIT (Human Intelligence Task) and the pay per task can be as low as one cent up to $10 or $15 (that's about the highest I've seen).

From what I've seen there are 4 main types of tasks that people post:
*  Surveys (usually from university graduate students or political surveys from interest groups)
*  Writing articles (blog posts, articles, comments on a website, comments on a forum)
*  Generating webpage hits/traffic (i.e. get paid to create a dating profile at a new online site, get paid to hit "like" on a new Facebook business page, etc.)
*  Miscellaneous internet research (i.e. go search for these things and post back website addresses)

I now only do surveys on mturk.  This is because they are a sure thing, just complete the survey and it gives you a completion code and unless you didn't pay attention in the survey, your HIT is automatically accepted.  (Most surveys do have certain questions to see if you are actually paying attention).  I've written a few articles in the past but to me those take more time and they are more subjective and if they don't like your work you might not get paid.

I've tried other online survey companies but what I've found is that I could spend 30 minutes trying to fill out surveys only to learn after working on each one for 10 minutes that I don't qualify, and then that time was wasted.  Most of the surveys on mechanical turk just require you to be over age 18 and live in the U.S. (most, not all).

I've learned to maximize my efficiency on mechanical turk so that I spend the least amount of time searching for work and the most amount of time actually doing work.  I usually don't work on the site for 2 days in a row, I like to let the potential HITs build up for a few days and then sit down and do a bunch at once.  I also sort them by newest added first, so that I can first see the HITs that were added since I logged on the last time.  I also put in a minimum threshold of 35 cents in my search, because I don't want to be bothered by anything that pays less.  I also look at the maximum time allotted to complete each HIT because that gives a clue (usually) as to how long it will take you to do it.  Most of the surveys I find actually take less time than they allow or say it will take you.  There is definitely a learning curve to figure out how to most efficiently search for the tasks you want to do.

Once I complete a HIT, it is reviewed and either accepted or rejected.  If you start working on a HIT and don't like it or realize it will take more time than the pay is worth, you can return it and not be penalized.  But if you accept it and just don't finish it, it will count as a strike against you and you might not be eligible for certain future HITs.  It can take up to 21 days to actually get paid in your account, but usually it takes just a few days.  The money I earn from mechanical turk goes into an Amazon payments account which I can use right on to order stuff, or I can request it go into a bank account.

I realize that there are many other part-time jobs that pay more money than online work sites like this, but right now I don't want to commit myself to set hours and a set schedule that would take me away from my kids.  When my kids are all in elementary school, I would like to get a "real" job, but for now I like the flexibility of working when I can or when I want to.

Have you done any work on  Do you have any other sites you use?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

4 Weeks of Zumba

This entire year we've been plugging away at parts of our 2012 Goals.  But this summer I realized the year was halfway gone and I still hadn't gotten around to trying new types of exercise.  So earlier this month I  excitedly went forced myself to try out a Zumba class at my gym.

I've done group exercise classes at gyms before, but I hadn't ever done one at our gym here.  I guess I've always been intimidated by the long line of people waiting for the Zumba class to start.  And then they run out of space in the classroom so they hand out passes 15 minutes before class.  The class starts at 9:30 and during this past year, after I dropped one of my kids off at pre-school, I would get there too late to get a class pass anyway. So I kind of lost my motivation to try out a class.

But this summer....well, I really had no excuse.  The gym has childcare and we had many weeks when our schedule was wide open, so I really needed to get motivated and try out a new class.

So a few weeks ago I did it.  I got there about 9:10, got the kids in the daycare, got a pass for the class and waited.  There were only 2 of us that were new to Zumba in that class, and I've been 3 more times and so far there have been no other new people (the instructor asks every time).  There is definitely a loyal following to that class and teacher.

In case you are not familiar with Zumba, it's kind of a latin-themed dance aerobics class.  The class I go to has a lot of Indian music in it with belly dancing as well.  It's heavily branded and marketed.  Many of the people in the class I go to wear pants, hats and shirts that say Zumba on them.

During the first class, I was lost most of the time. Unlike a regular aerobics class where the instructor repeats a lot of moves over and over and calls out over the music, a Zumba class is more like fun choreography to latin songs.  So if you haven't done them before, chances are you're kinda lost.  And I was, even though I had some experience with Merengue and Salsa (which I guess helped a little but I was still pretty bad).  I didn't feel like I got a good workout at all that first class and I was really disappointed.  All that build-up, finally getting the nerve to take the class, and I wasn't even sweating. (However, the next day, I did notice that my arms were sore, which was weird).

But I decided to try it again.  I figured that once I became more familiar with the routines, my workout would improve.  So I went back the next Tuesday.  And the next two Tuesdays after that.  I started to learn the routines, I sweated more, and had fun.  I'm sure I still look ridiculous, but luckily there aren't cameras in the room and nobody is laughing.

The class is an hour, but it goes by quickly.  I definitely have an easier time doing that class for an hour than I would doing the treadmill or elliptical machine for an hour.

I think my upper body gets more of a workout in the class.  There is a lot more arm and hand movement than I typically get by running, walking, or doing the elliptical.

I plan to stick with this class through the fall.  I'd actually like to try a kick-boxing class next, but right now there isn't one that fits in with my kids' school schedules.

I think the key to exercise is finding something you like and sticking with it.  Or changing it up.  But just doing it consistently.

I was 37 years old when my youngest baby was born.  The reality is, I'm going to be one of the older
Grandmas when my kids have kids.  I wanted to have kids at a much younger age, but it just didn't happen that way.  That's ok.  I still want to be an energetic, spry Grandma so that I can enjoy and help take care of all my grandkids.  Therefore, I must keep exercising.

Have you tried Zumba?  Have you taken other classes?  What is your favorite form of exercise?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The cost of school lunches

As the countdown to the first day of school keeps ticking during these final days, I've come to realize that one of the things I like most about summer is not having to make school lunches.  For some reason, making lunches for the kids at home over the summer doesn't seem as hard.  But when I pack a lunch for school, I like to do it that morning so that the sandwich is fresh.  Put everything in a container, pre-freeze a yogurt tube to keep the lunch cold...all while getting up early and getting the kids ready.   Packing a lunch under time pressure is just not my favorite thing to do.

Only 1 of my 3 kids is in elementary school right now, so he could either bring a lunch from home or buy at school.  My other son is in a pre-school with no cafeteria, so we have to pack his lunch.  The price for a school lunch is $2.25, which includes the entree, fruit, a side and milk.  However, on the occasions when my son buys lunch at school (which is at most once a week, but usually only 1-2 times a month), he insists on getting an ice cream bar.  So that brings his total up to $3.10.

Today I read this article about the cost of making various types of sandwiches and it got me wondering about how much I spend on my kids' school lunches.  Am I really saving that much?

So I did my own spreadsheet.  Most of the stuff I get for their school lunches comes from Aldi, a discount grocery store.  They have all the basics for much cheaper than even most generics in a normal grocery store.  I've been going to Aldi for so long now, every week, that I have most of their prices memorized.

In my spreadsheet I put the cost of the item, divided it by the number of servings, and then added up all the ingredients that go into the sandwich (bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc).  I then figured out the cost of the side items I put in the lunch, (which vary from day to day), like a yogurt tube, chips, apple, fruit cup, granola bar, juice box, milk, etc. (I should add that I try to avoid buying things that are individually packaged like chips; I always buy a big bag and divide it up).

And by adding up all these items, I figured out that one of my brown bag school lunches costs between $1.30 and $1.46, depending on what sandwich I make and what side items I put in.  My costs for sandwiches were cheaper than in the article linked above, I guess the author didn't shop at Aldi's!

So how much am I saving?  Depending on if I use the $3.10 school lunch price (with ice cream) or the $2.25 school lunch price (without ice cream) and the cost of the lunches I make, it's a per-day savings of between 79 cents and  $1.80 per day. There are 177 days of school, so for the school year that's a savings between $139 - $319 for one kid.  Multiply that for 3 kids (in a few years when all 3 of my kids are in public school) and it's $418 - $957 of savings per school year.  That's easily a few days of Disney World tickets, folks! (Do you see how my mind works??? LOL)

So there you have it.  I will go back to making brown bag lunches in a few weeks, happier now that I know how much we're saving by doing it and staying motivated by thinking of what we could do with that money we are saving. Now I don't know if kids still bring their lunch in middle school and high school, so at some point my kids may protest to the brown bag lunches....but until then this is our strategy.

Do you pack your kid's lunch for school?  Do you have any time saving or cost saving tips?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Safety Town

Tonight we went to the Frisco Fire Department's Safety Town.  They have free open houses on Friday nights during the summer and I've been meaning to take the kids for a while, just never got around to it.  Nathan has been here twice on school field trips, but the rest of us have never been.

They started us out in a safety class to prepare the kids for driving the jeeps.

Joshua decided he was too scared to drive, so he rode in the same jeep with Nathan.

Safety Town has traffic lights, stop signs, stores, cross walks, etc.

Just like driving at Lego Land!

After the jeep ride, we went into some of the buildings to learn more about safety.  The volunteers taught the kids about bike safety, when to call 911, tornado safety, smoke safety, etc.

And of course the kids could play in a fire truck!

The kids were given a passport book when we entered and at each safety station they could get a stamp.  On the way out they could trade in their passport book for a small prize.

It was a fun night!  Did I mention it's free?  If you live in the area, it's definitely worth going to on a Friday night in the summer.  They also have a free trick-or-treat event on Friday, October 26.