Greetings friends and welcome to another Reader Voracious guide! This month we’re pivoting away from SEO Basics to budgeting tips. As someone on a fixed income for the last two years, I’ve had to get a little creative to fund my book buying hobby. (Reading books and collecting books are indeed two different hobbies as evidenced by my Owned TBR!)
The book blogging niche isn’t easily monetized and in this article I’m sharing the ways I’ve earned some extra cash, along with budgeting tips and tricks. Get your financial hats on folks, and let’s get started!
Maintaining a Budget is Important
A budget is crucial to ensuring that you live within your means and pay bills, but many of us don’t even monitor their monthly statements. I know I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion of simply checking my balance (or ignoring it altogether and hoping for the best – not recommended) and living dangerously. 72% of Americans in 2015 reported feeling stressed about money within a month, and after the year we’ve had I’m sure that number’s higher.
At least 52% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and countless people can’t afford to allot for “fun money” in their monthly budgets. The ability to not monitor our bank accounts closely or track every dollar spent is a privilege that not everyone is in the financial position to do so. I recognize my privileged position in writing this post. “On a global scale, the vast majority of Americans are either upper-middle income or high income. And many Americans who are classified as “poor” by the U.S. government would be middle income globally” according to 2015 Pew Center research. My privilege of place has invariably shaped my relationship with finances and while I’ve done my best to approach this topic in a way that will be useful for my global audience, I know situations vastly differ globally.
How to Create a Budget
I’m going to admit something: it’s become more difficult to manage a budget in this nearly 100% digital currency world. The truth is that it’s easier to keep track of your spending when you’re monitoring it, and a budget that you reconcile helps. If you don’t currently have a monthly budget and don’t know where to begin, I’m here for you!
Write down all of your monthly expenses: rent, cell phone, internet, car payments, gas, insurance, electricity, loans, food, etc. I maintain a spreadsheet with monthly due dates and amounts for each of my monthly expenses and once a month make sure that all payments went through to avoid late fees and penalties (it’s happened before). My recommendation would be to set a small amount of money into your budget to put into savings each month if you’re able to so you can slowly build up an emergency account.
If you have money leftover after the essentials are covered, that’s where financial calculators come in. Financial experts have a lot of recommendations on the percentages of total income you should allot to specific categories in a perfect world. I used the Income to Breakdown calculator on Calculator.me to get an idea of the breakdown and then adjusted based on my situation. For example, rent is recommended to be no more than 30% of your income; where I live in Southern California that would equate to a monthly salary of at least $4,000 and isn’t feasible.
While I’m not able to budget for many of these categories, I always find it interesting how income could break down if the cost of living here in San Diego weren’t so high. It was easy to take the recommended amounts from charitable gifts, clothing, personal, and recreation and move to another category.
The most interesting thing is that it’s recommended to allot the same amount to paying off debt and savings if possible. I personally have fallen into the trap of focusing on debt to the point where I don’t put anything in savings, and then when an unexpected expense came up I had to put it on my credit card… making it an endless cycle. (Owe how I long to pay it all off!)
Free Budgeting Tools
There’s a wealth of free resources out there to help you create a budget, manage your money, save for a purchase, and just keep track of your spending. I use a spreadsheet (surprise), but I used to use FinanceWorks before my credit union replaced it with an inferior product years ago (I’m still salty).
- The Financial Diet youtube channel has a lot of useful videos about budgeting and looking at your spending to identify where you can save. Some videos I’d recommend are 9 “Responsible” Decisions that Secretly Waste Your Money, 6 Ways You’re Losing Money Without Realizing It, and 11 Things I Cut From My Budget and Don’t Miss.
- Calculator.me has a number of useful and free online financial calculators, as well as hosting a lot of information about credit, savings rates, and more. I recommended the budget calculator in How to Create a Budget, but I honestly recommend poking around the whole site to learn about various financial terms in an easy and digestible format.
- Consumer.gov’s article on budgets and StudentAid.gov are both fantasticly useful websites for learning how to budget.
- The Warwick Times has a fantastic article with the financial tips to teach children and how to help them set up adult budgets.
How I Tame Impulse Buying
A side effect of us being interconnected with the internet and online shopping makes it especially difficult for me at times. Not only does the money not feel real because it’s digital, but you can’t hold the item in your hands and truly think about if you really need the thing. I’m much less likely to impulse buy in a brick and mortar store – I usually set impulses aside before I get to the register. So here are some tips that work for me (sometimes. Hey, I’m not perfect).
- Balance your accounts – it’s boring and annoying, but physically going through my purchases every month and deducting them on my spreadsheet helps. On more than one occasion I was able to talk myself out of a purchase because I didn’t want to have to track it! Balancing your account reaffirms that you are spending real money.
- Use cash for fun purchases. This may not work for everyone, but before the pandemic I used to have $20 cash in my wallet every week. There’s something about seeing the money physically go away that really makes you consider your purchases more carefully. (As a note, I haven’t used cash since the pandemic began.)
- Use website blockers to eliminate temptation. I have a problem and sometimes the only way to stop myself is to literally put a blocker on my web browser. It’s pathetic but having a redirect asking me if I really want to do the thing by disabling the blocker helps.
- Leave an item in the cart for at least 24 hours before completing the purchase. I’ve been known to put things I really want in my cart and changed my mind by the time I get to the register, so this is my way of simulating it for online shopping. I don’t buy things when I want them, I always wait a bit to make sure I really want it. Sure, sometimes that means I missed out on a sale or the item went out of stock, but having to wait a little longer is better than buyer’s remorse.
How I Make Extra Cash
The past couple of years, I’ve gotten creative to cover the cost of running Reader Voracious, hosting giveaways and Flapping Pages, and buying books I most definitely will read sooner or later. Since book blogging is a difficult niche to earn an income from, I want to share the ways I make extra cash.
I’m fortunate to be in the United States with a fair amount of opportunities which may not be available everywhere. Whenever possible, I’ll include regional limitations but keep in mind the number and types of opportunities will invariably vary depending on where you’re located but I do recommend checking them out!
This section includes referral links. I may receive a small commission for sign-ups made through these links at no cost to you.
Swagbucks is a huge web-based loyalty and consumer rewards program. It’s free to join and offers countless opportunities to earn “SB” which can be exchanged for gift cards. I like it because you have surveys, cash back, special offers and more available on one platform instead of multiple loyalty programs.
As of writing this post, I’ve earned $762.00 using Swagbucks completing surveys, playing mobile games that hope I will spend money on their micro transactions, and signing up for services I was already planning on. For example, hen I signed up for Disney+ and HBO Max I was able to earn a good amount of money back by using the link through Swagbucks. I’ve been redeeming my SB for Paypal gift cards to help pay down my credit cards.
Swagbucks is available in most countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, as well as some African countries. Specific offers may vary depending on your location.
Cash Back for Online Purchases via Rakuten
Formerly ebates, Rakuten offers cash back for online purchases made through its links. It’s worth it to mention that Swagbucks also offers cashback (for in-store and online purchases) but depending on the day and store there may be a higher cash back percentage offer available via Rakuten. I like to check both before making my online purchases, especially because you get a quarterly check sent with your earnings ($5 minimum).
As of writing this post, I’ve earned $51.59 cash back using Rakuten since 2014. Basically Rakuten is using affiliate links and passing a percentage earned back to us. The way I see it? I’m spending the money and if there’s a way to get some back in my pocket, I’m going to do it since it adds up over time.
Best I can tell, Rakuten works internationally but it isn’t explicitly addressed as US-only or international in the FAQ. There are partner sites for Canada, Japan, and France listed in the website footer.
Affiliate Income and Reader Support
Affiliate income is basically how most book bloggers try to earn from their blog, but admittedly it’s difficult to earn enough to reach the minimum payout threshold. Most of my friends haven’t gotten an Amazon affiliate payout and I know I haven’t seen anything from Book Depository in the last three years. But it does add up over time and it is worth listing those affiliate links in your posts!
Another option that’s getting more popular is reader support through ko-fi or Patreon. I’m forever grateful to my patrons and everyone who leaves me a tip, it helps me plan website improvements and host giveaways knowing that I have that extra income coming in. I discuss using Patreon as a book blogger in this interview on Plaid Reader Reviews.
The elusive sponsorship. It feels like there are less opportunities for book bloggers but that isn’t true! While we may not get many paid opportunities sent via email, you can do your research to approach companies and brands with collaboration pitches.
I recently joined Intellifluence, a free to join website that matches influencers with paid opportunities that may align with their interests. So far I’ve gotten a free camping coffee maker and a few non-blog related paid opportunities!
Do you have any recommendations that are not US-centric? I’d love to update this post down the road with visitor-submitted recommendations for international users!
💬 Do you keep a monthly budget? If so, what tools do you use to keep track?
💬 Do you have any side hustles for earning extra cash online to share?