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Even if you’ve trimmed your budget, it’s important to still have “mad money” to spend on things you enjoy. If your fun money account is dwindling, here are a few simple ways to earn some extra money or goods for a little of your time:

1. Bottle caps – Do you drink Coke products? If so, please tell me you’re not throwing away your bottle caps without entering the codes! I did so for many months before I decided to to go MyCokeRewards.com and start entering my codes. Since then I’ve earned several Blockbuster rentals (including some “movie night” deals that included popcorn and drinks), a t-shirt for a friend, and two magazine subscriptions. Now, admittedly, you’re better off drinking water or something cheaper than Coke products, but if you do buy them, you might as well put those caps to use.

2. Gazelle – In my latest decluttering binge, I ran across an old cell phone. It was a Samsung and definitely not the latest model. I checked eBay to see what my chances were of selling the phone (nil), and then went to Gazelle and input the details of my phone. Gazelle gave me an estimate of what they’d pay for the phone provided it was in the condition in which I had described it, then sent me a prepaid envelope for my phone and charger. A short while later I received an email stating that they’d checked out my phone, and that it was just fine. They provided a code for $15 off Amazon products. I could have received the payout in the form of a check, but had the choice of Amazon or many other vendors. Now $15 isn’t much, but it’s more than I would have gotten had I just dropped my phone in a charity bin. Gazelle also takes your Amazon Kindle (generation 1 or 2), laptops, MP3 players, digital cameras, LCD monitors, satellite radios, external drives, GPS devices, gaming consoles, video games, PDAs, camcorders, movies, and more. They claim to wipe your electronics clean of personal information before reselling them. If you have some old electronics just sitting around, Gazelle is a painless way to make some money. They’ll even show you a graph of when’s the best time to sell to make the most money.

3. Surveys – Welcome to scam-land! Only trust those survey sites that you’ve heard about from word-of-mouth from someone you know and trust or a respected company or blog. This is how I discovered ERewards. It’s a legitimate site that I’ve used to earn rewards like a $15 certificate to Borders. I’m averaging about $10-15 a month in goodies. ERewards lets you know up front what a survey is worth, even if you disqualify part way through (which earns you a lesser amount). The downside is that if you’re like me and aren’t a frequent spender on hot items (flat screen TVs, cars, etc.), you might not qualify for many surveys; however, you’ll still earn partial credit. That partial credit adds up quickly. Other downsides: Their surveys can take longer than the time estimates they give you (I usually complete the surveys casually while watching TV). A search of the Internet finds some angry people reporting that their points were once wiped away, but I haven’t experienced anything like this. Other survey sites to check out: PineCone Research and MySurvey.com. With all of the survey sites you research, just be sure to read the terms of service and make sure you’re comfortable with their privacy policy.

4. Half.com – I still encounter people who haven’t heard of or used Half.com, so I thought I’d better include this one. Half.com has a very simple interface for posting and pricing your books, movies, music, and games for sale. It’s not an auction; you’ll receive an email when someone has purchased your item. If you notice things that aren’t selling, you can easily switch to “repricing mode” and reduce the prices. It’s a good way to declutter and make some extra money.

5. Research companies – A friend once invited me to come along to an event at a research company. For an hour of my time, I sat in a room with other people and was presented with two Arby’s sandwiches. We were given checklists that had us grading the aesthetic appeal of the buns, the “mouthfeel,” and so on. It took an hour. I left with a full stomach and a $30 check in my hand. On my way out, I asked to be placed on their mailing list for other research. Do a search of the web or your local phone book for research companies in your area. Place some calls to find which ones are open to public testers, and request that they add your name to the list.

Do you have some tried-and-true ways to easily earn extra dough? Please share in the comments!

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