Money for Jam

7603 MyGen Sup Doorstop
7603 MyGen Sup Doorstop

Courtesy of My Generation.

When you’re earning over $1000 a week, an extra $50 hardly seems worth the effort. But when you’ve retired on significantly less, that $50 will pay for your wine for the week, or a meal out, or two new lipsticks, as Leigh Bramwell discovered.  

“Don’t count your time” is not a piece of advice Donald Trump would give a budding businessperson, but it’s a common theme among the growing band of retired and semi-retired people making a bit of extra money from home.

If Jim Edwards factored in the time he spends making bespoke breadboards and wooden kitchen implements, he’d be losing money hand over fist. But that’s not how it works, he explains.

“I wanted to make enough pocket money, over and above the pension, to enjoy a couple of bottles of wine a week.

I can make one breadboard and sell it for $40, and I’m covered.

Jim has plenty of old timber on hand – he’s been collecting for years – and tools, and his material costs are minimal.

“Sandpaper, wax, oil, and they last for ever,” he says. “So each breadboard, say, might cost me $2 to make. That’s a profit of $38. And that’s actually three bottles of half decent wine. But if I added in my time – say two hours at $30 an hour – I’d be losing.”

Some people, however, have to count their time, particularly if they’re providing a service rather than a product. A favourite budget stretcher is gardening, which is costed pretty much on a time-only basis.

Many retired men mow lawns, weed gardens and do property tidy-ups, charging anything from $15 to $25 an hour. Looking after a couple of clients for two hours twice a week can rack up $100, and that might pay for wine and petrol, or a restaurant dinner.

“It doesn’t sound like much when you’ve been used to, say, $1200 a week in your hand, but when you’re down to just super – it increases your salary by 20 percent,” says one part time gardener. “Most people would be pretty happy with a salary rise of that size.”

But, he warns, remember to factor in any materials such as fertilisers or garden sprays, and petrol for power tools. “And if you take your clients’ rubbish to the dump, you need to pass on any dump charges, and add a bit for mileage.”

Now an apartment dweller, he enjoys gardening, likes getting outdoors, and enjoys the social contact.

“One of my clients is a woman in her seventies – my age – and we work in the garden together and have a good laugh. The other is a young family so that gives me a different aspect. It’s also a good feeling to be able to hand on my knowledge of gardening.”

Other keen gardeners make money by growing extra vegetables for sale. A productive vegetable garden is a great way to stretch the weekly food budget, and the surplus can be sold at the gate or at local markets, depending on quantity.

Tomatoes, plums, lettuces and citrus are heavy croppers and during the season it’s possible to make an extra $30 – $50 a week bagging them up and selling them.

“We have to laugh when we see limes in the supermarket for $20 a kilo when we’ve got them lying all over the ground getting run over by the lawn mower,” say a Northland couple. “We’ve got half a dozen trees and they’re absolutely laden. They’ll be at their best in another three weeks and we’ll bag them up and put them at the gate for $5 a bag. Usually we sell about 15 bags a week over a six week period.”

They considered taking a stall at the local farmers’ market but say the market has quite strict rules, one of which requires stall holders to be present every week, rain or shine.

“That didn’t suit us because we like to have the flexibility of going away for weekends, so selling from home suits us better.”

Adding value to a product like fruit by creating jams, chutneys, sauces and pickles is another money-spinner and a popular pursuit in the face of a resurgence in ‘old-fashioned’ crafts.

For many, there’s no better way to spend a wet Sunday than in the kitchen making plum jam or lime marmalade.

Sales opportunities are, however, limited. Many farmers’ markets require than any food sold must be produced from a commercial kitchen, and even selling such items at smaller local markets and roadside stalls can be fraught with difficulty.

Last year a charity jam makers from the Far North was forced to pull her jams out of the local hospice shop after a complaint to health authorities that they were not made in a commercial kitchen. Gloria Crawford had been making jam for good causes since the 1980s and for the hospice for the past five years. She was eventually issued with a Food Safety Authority certificate allowing her to continue, provided she make the jam according to a set of food safety rules. Ironically, these required no change to her jam-making method.

Other jam, sauce and chutney makers either sell at their gates, or by word of mouth among friends and relatives.

Making crafts for sale is simpler, and there are many opportunities in this area for those who are skilled with needle and thread. Aucklander Sheryl Sefton has been sewing since she was seven years old, and makes, among other things, exquisite paper dolls. She describes them as a modern take on the tab dolls of the fifties and sixties, but these are artworks as opposed to playthings.

“It’s all about recycling and upcycling,” she says. “I’ve always been a collector of fabrics and threads, and these don’t take much in the way of materials. I’m a quarter metre girl – even the bindings on my quilts are done in pieces so I don’t have to buy long lengths of fabric.”

As well as making dolls for sale – they sell for $35 each – Sheryl teaches others how to make them, and sells templates so people can try their hand at home. In the school holidays she offers craft classes and delights in passing on her knowledge and passion. “Some of the girls hadn’t even held a needle before,” she says.

Inez White was just about in that category when she starting making fabric doorstops under the brand name Stop It!

“I was getting a new house and I’d seen these and thought they were cute. I wanted one, so I made one,” she says. “When friends saw mine they wanted one too, but finally I got sick of making them to give away and started selling them at the local market.”

Like Sheryl, she spends little on materials. She sources fabric scraps and swatches from furnishing shops, finding the retailers are often happy to give them away. She buys the filling – a sand and gravel mix – from the garden centre, and sews her creations on a borrowed sewing machine.

“You should have seen them when I first started,” she laughs. “I cut the first one out when I’d had a glass of wine. It was quite tall and not very pretty, and I couldn’t figure out how to sew the bottom piece on.

Now, though, she’s a dab hand and can sew ten in an hour, and says it’s a great way to fill in a winter’s evening. She sells at the local craft market, and says the good thing about it is that if she’s too busy, she can simply stop for a while, and start making them again when she feels like it.

“I won’t make a fortune, but it’s not about that. It’s about enjoying it, and making a bit of extra cash.”