The secret to making money isn't working at a high-paying job, it’s finding creative solutions to people’s problems, and it doesn't take a fancy degree to do that. To get your creative juices flowing, check out these common and not-so-common ways of lining your pockets. Below that, you’ll also find more general financial advice as well as some money-making ideas for kids.
Flip a Product
- Buy underpriced used books. Outfit a phone or PDA (personal data assistant) with a scanner, scan the ISBN numbers of books at used bookstores and thrift shops, and compare the asking prices with what the books are selling for on a site like Amazon. Whenever you get a good hit (which won’t be often but, since the process is fast, won’t take long, either), buy the book and resell it online. Be discrete about this, as the store managers probably won’t like what you’re doing.
- Bargain-hunt at yard and thrift sales. If you have a bit of knowledge in a particular area (ex. Taxco Mexican silver, action figures, classic National Geographics) or even just a good eye for quality, visit private sales early and often to find unexpected deals.
- Go to police auctions. You can find incredible deals here, and though may not be able to resell a car that was involved in a serious crime, you can probably find some spectacularly cheap jewelry that someone else would be happy to buy off you.
- Refinish ratty furniture. If you have lacquer thinner, sandpaper, stain, and some craft sense, you can buy worn-out furniture and fix it up for a great resale price.
- Rescue battered wood. Pallets and pallet stock are cheap (or free) and easy to come by. Look for untreated specimens at construction sites, community colleges, buildings under renovation, or shipping warehouses and plane them down and/or kiln-dry them in a homemade kiln-dryer to uncover their hidden beauty. You can then resell the wood as is or even turn it into beautiful furniture. (Be sure to advertise that the wood is “reclaimed,” as people are often willing to pay much more for this.)
- Flip houses or apartments. If you are a handy(wo)man with great design sense, a knowledge of what’s valuable in the construction of a home, and assets you’re willing to play with, consider buying, fixing up, and reselling real estate. This requires quite a bit of up-front cash and elbow grease, but the payoff can be big.
Participate in Studies
- Sign up with focus groups in your area. Studies that you are eligible to participate in pop up sporadically but pay quite well – often more than $50 for an hour of your time. You can also look for focus groups online but will have to sort through a lot of bogus “opportunities” and sites that ask you to pay up-front for the privilege of participating before you find anything worthwhile.
- Participate in medical studies. If just the thought of this frightens you, know that the intensity of such studies varies greatly. Some studies ask participants (particularly those with medical conditions) to test treatments or medications that can have adverse side effects, but others ask participants to perform physical tasks with no lasting effects. If you are able-bodied and paranoid about keeping it that way, you can even participate as a control in a study at a nearby medical research facility or medical school.
Find an Artistic Outlet
- Sell photos. If you have a decent camera and a good sense of light, color, and composition, you can take and sell stock photos – i.e. nondescript images that lend themselves to many applications and are commonly used to illustrate online articles or products – with minimal effort. Stock photos of locations (a fire hydrant, a bare wall near an interesting tree, or anything you might find as a default background image on your computer) are easier to take, but stock photos of people (i.e. people arguing, people kissing, people laughing) usually sell for more, as they have more uses and require the written legal consent of your subjects. Hunt for a reputable stock photo dealer or database that will pay you fairly before signing on with anyone.
- Design web images. By pairing good aesthetic sense and the use of design or photo-editing software, you can make and sell background graphics for social media pages, web logos, or computer icon packages. If you know or are willing to learn computer programming, seriously consider making web pages; programmers may be easy to come by, but programmers with an eye for beauty are another thing altogether.
- Make and sell crafts. If you are even a little bit crafty, consider selling your goods on a site like Etsy. Though you can make more money on intricate projects (ex. an exquisitely woodburned gourd), even labor-light projects can bring in good money if you’re willing to produce them in high quantities. Who knows – if you do well, you might even be inspired to start a crafts business.
Participate in Marketing Research
- Become a mystery shopper. This means doing business with various establishments and rating their products and services without their knowledge. It may sound like cake, but remember that it requires discreteness, a good memory for detail (ex. the name of every individual who helped or served you), and enough cash for you to be able to pay for your shopping experience up-front and then wait to be reimbursed pending the approval of your review.
- Write product reviews. Many companies will pay a lot more than two cents for your two cents. Product reviews are a great way to get paid for being opinionated that doesn’t require the writing background that many other writing jobs do.
- Complete online surveys. Though tedious, online surveys are often quick and painless and, for a few bucks at a time, can add up quickly. Read How to Make Money with Free Online Surveys for more details.
Pursue a Passion
- Start a website or blog. Sure, competition in the online world is steep, but one thing that makes a good site or blog stand apart is the dedication and enthusiasm of its writer. Plenty of sites focus too hard on SEO and keywords, and while SEO-optimization is certainly necessary to help your content make money, delving into something that truly matters to you will set you apart from your fluff-and-stuff competitors.
- Start a small business. Being passionate usually translates to a superior product and better service, which is especially sought after in the age of the anonymous, 1-minute online review. Worried that there isn’t a market for your interests? The fact is that though you may not personally know many people who want what you have to offer, thanks to the internet, there’s a huge market for niche-products (pigeon diapers, chainmail wedding dresses, you name it)… and you might just end up being a trend-setter. To create an online store, you can either make your own website or, if don’t want to self-host, you can sell on eBay or a similar site.
Do Odd Jobs
- Watch and/or walk your neighbors’ pets. Taking a few pooches to the park every week is a good way to have fun, get some exercise, and meet new people, all while making a little cash on the side.
- Landscape. Look for brush-clearing, mowing, or woodcutting jobs, some of which may land you regular customers. This can save you money at the same time: if you are hired to pick up pine needles, use them to mulch your roses, which will appreciate their acidity and smothering effect on weeds; if you are hired to cut and clear a fallen tree, use it to heat your house that winter.
- Run errands for the elderly. Contact your local community center or church to get in touch with people who need help getting groceries, cleaning their gutters, or getting to the post office. You might cultivate some lovely friendships at the same time.
- Find odd jobs online. Check out Craigslist, Fiverr, or Zaarly for interesting or unusual gigs that come up.
Use Money-Making Apps
- GigWalk: This iPhone app allows you to team up with companies posting gigs and get small jobs done for cash. These can be anything from mystery-shopping to making deliveries to testing apps to taking photos. Simply install the app, make a profile, and start looking for gigs in your area.
- WeReward: This iPhone and Android app allows you to complete small tasks (ex. taking a photo of yourself with your favorite beverage or eating at a new establishment) for points that translate to cash. Though the per-task reward is small, there are millions of participating businesses and the points can add up quickly. The location-based rewards are best if you already have an active lifestyle and won’t have to force yourself to starting eating/drinking out all the time.
- CheckPoints: This iPhone and Android app allows you to go to stores and scan items for points, which you can then use to redeem prizes. This is a handy way to make a little extra while you do your shopping, but note that the rewards are either actual products or gift certificates – no actual cash.
Sell Things You Find Outside
- If you have a manzanita thicket: trim and dry the branches and sell them online. Believe it or not, people love using them for crafts projects. In fact, many of the things you don’t even look twice at have to be ordered online by people living in cities don’t have access to them.
- If you have a curly willow tree: trim, dry, and sell the twisting branches online to craftspeople or to a local florist, as they are commonly used as accent pieces in bouquets.
- If you have a pine tree: sell the pinecones that flood your yard every fall. Extra long or large ones make beautiful holiday decorations, especially with a simple twist of ribbon.
- If you live by the beach: sell driftwood, which can be used for crafts or, if the pieces are large and dense, as decorations in marine aquariums.
- If you have a pond: pick and dry the cattails before the downy seeds begin shedding and sell them as decorations for bouquets (or even bunched together as stand-alone bouquets). You can also divvy up and sell bits of your water lily, water hyacinth, fairy moss, or any other plant that’s doing its best to overtake your pond anyway.
- If you have a tree drowning in mistletoe: cut the mistletoe down, turn it into festive, ribbon-wrapped bunches, and sell it around the holidays.
- If you are selling something that you know or can verify hasn’t been treated: you can even advertise it as being organic, which might heighten interest and allow you to increase the price.
- If you don’t have access to any of these items: get paid to collect them from other people. Plenty of people would happily hire someone to cut back their Manzanita forest or wade into a pond and break apart their water-lily thicket, meaning you can make money from both gathering and selling your product.
Make Money Passively
- Become a moving advertisement. “Wrap” your car in an advertisement, go about your usual commute, and get paid monthly to do it. (Some car-wrappers in San Francisco make as much as $400 a month doing this, but of course this varies depending on how big a city you live in and when / how often you make your commute.) You can also get paid to wear a company’s logo t-shirt around (particularly if you wear it someplace conspicuous, like at your school; see ShirtsInSchools.com as one example).
- Rent out a space. If you have a spare room, an unused parking spot or driveway in a busy part of town, or even an empty lot that you wouldn’t mind seeing transformed into an urban garden, rent it out and enjoy an extra monthly paycheck.
- Try affiliate marketing. This means promoting someone else’s products or services for pay without actually carrying an inventory. There are many ways of incorporating affiliate marketing into your website/blog/page including banner ads (which are generally ineffective, as people tend to avoid these), linked articles (which are quite successful when the article content is thoughtful and doesn’t appear spammy), and product-placement videos (which can be very successful when done by people with charisma or a good sense of humor). You can even become an affiliate marketer without a website. Basic ways of making money through of affiliate marketing include:
- Cost-per-click: you get paid a very small amount every time someone clicks from your content onto the advertiser’s site; good for high-traffic content
- Cost-per-lead: you get paid a bit more every time someone signs up or fills a form with the advertiser thanks to your content
- Cost-per-acquisition: you get paid a (fixed or percent) commission every time someone makes a purchase with the advertiser because of your content; good for focused, high-quality content
Make Money Quickly
- Sell CDs and/or DVDs. Back up your collection on a computer or external hard drive, then sell the original discs. You’ll make quick cash and save space at the same time. If you have prized collections (boxed sets, limited-release editions, etc.), sell these individually for what they’re worth; otherwise, sell your discs very reasonably (remember, your potential buyers can also get the exact songs they want instantly by downloading them for buck or less apiece). Even for a mere $4 each, a sizeable collection of CDs can haul in a tidy – sum.
- Sell hair, plasma, or other body parts/fluids. Long, healthy, untreated hair can be sold for a variety of purposes (including high-end wig- and extension-making) and earn you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on color, health, and length. Plasma can be “donated” (for compensation) provided that you are old, healthy, and heavy enough to qualify. Sperm can be donated, but you usually have to know (and be able to document) a fair amount of information about your parents as well as your medical history to be eligible.
- Donating eggs is often touted as a fast, high-profit medical procedure, but the process is actually requires that the participant undergo hormonal and medical treatment, receive regular checkups and ultrasounds, and abstain from sex and intoxicants, all of which take weeks or even months before the eggs are even eligible for removal. The removal process itself is invasive and lasts about 30 minutes. Consider your options very carefully before taking on anything like this.
- Read How to Make Money Fast for more ideas.
Financial Wisdom to Live By
- Use the law of supply and demand to your advantage. Most of us are familiar with the law of supply and demand--the more there is of something, the cheaper it is; conversely, the rarer the product or service, the more expensive it is. However, other than when we get to a toy store before sunrise to get on line for the latest fad toy that kids can't get enough of, we don't really apply the law of supply and demand to our own lives--particularly our careers. For example, if you're aspiring to do something that many, many other people want to do (so much so that they do it for free, as a hobby) then it will be far more challenging for you to make money doing it. On the other hand, if you do something that most people don't want to do, or if you get very good at doing something most people don't do all that well, then you can make a whole lot more money. In other words, choose a career in pharmacy over photography.
- If your career path is going nowhere, resign gracefully and switch careers. Research occupations to find out how much they pay and what their future outlook is (in the U.S., you can find this information in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook). Find an occupation that pays well, and invest in the education and/or training to get you that job. Look for employers that offer competitive salaries and ample opportunity for advancement.
- If your goal is to make enough money to retire early, prioritize earning potential over job satisfaction, since you plan on getting out of the rat race early, anyway. Consider the types of jobs that pay extraordinarily well in exchange for hard work, little psychological satisfaction, and a punishing lifestyle, such as investment banking, sales, and engineering. If you can keep your expenses low and do this for about 10 years, you can save a nest egg for a modest but youthful retirement, or to supplement your income while you do something you really love doing but doesn't pay much. But keep in mind that delayed gratification requires clear goal-setting and strong willpower.
- Recognize that time is money. This critical piece of advice is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who was an accomplished American inventor, journalist, printer, diplomat, and statesman--the ultimate multitasker. Your ability to manage your time (and stop procrastinating) is a critical ingredient in your ability to make money. Whether you have a job or are self-employed, keep track of what you're spending your time on. Ask yourself "Which of these activities make the most money, and which of them are a waste of time?" Do more of the former and less of the latter, simple as that. When you're focusing on high-priority tasks, get the job done well, and get the job done fast. By working efficiently, you're giving your employer or clients more time, and they'll appreciate you for it. Remember that time is a limited resource that you're always investing. Will your investments pay off?
- Jack up your prices. If you're providing a skill, service or product that is in high demand and low supply, and you're making the most of your time, you should be making good money. Unfortunately, there are many people who are too humble or fearful to demand that they get paid accordingly. It's the pushovers in life who get taken advantage of and exploited, so if you think you might be one of them, learn how to stop being a people pleaser. If you work for someone else, ask for a pay raise or get a promotion, and if none of that pans out, revisit your career options as described previously. If you're self-employed, the first thing to do is to make sure your customers and clients pay up on time--this alone can substantially improve your income. Check your prices and rates against those of your competitors--are you undercutting them? Why? If you're providing a superior product or service, you should be getting at least the average, unless your profitability depends on mass production, in which case you're probably making a lot of money and wouldn't be reading this article anyway!
- Be proactive. Remember Murphy's Law: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong." Make plans, complete with as many calculations as possible, then anticipate everything that can go wrong. Then make contingency or backup plans for each scenario. Don't leave anything to luck. If you're writing a business plan, for example, do your best to estimate when you'll break even, then multiply that time frame by three to get a more realistic date; and after you've identified all the costs, add 20% to that for costs that will come up that you didn't anticipate. Your best defense against Murphy's law is to assume the worst, and brace yourself. An appropriate amount of insurance may be something worth considering. Don't forget the advice of Louis Pasteur, a French chemist who made several incredible breakthroughs in the causes and prevention of disease: "Luck favors the prepared mind."
- Redefine wealth. In studies of millionaires, people are surprised to learn that most millionaires aren't doctors, lawyers, and corporate leaders with big houses and fancy cars; they're people who religiously live below their means and invest the surplus into assets, rather than liabilities. As you're taking the above steps to make more money, keep in mind that increased income does not necessarily equal increased wealth. Most people who flaunt their wealth actually have a low net worth because their debt to asset ratio is high--in other words, they owe a whole lot more money than they actually have. All of the previous steps have outlined aggressive strategies for making money, but you'll never get anywhere if you have a hole in your pocket.
- They say that a penny saved is a penny earned. Actually, when you consider that you pay taxes on every penny you earn, you really do make more money by saving than by increasing your income, especially if the extra income will increase your tax rate dramatically. For example, let's say you have a choice between saving $100 or earning an extra $100. If you pay 15% taxes, then when you earn an $100, you only get $85. But when you save $100 off of your existing budget, you keep it all. To sweeten the deal further, if you take advantage of compound interest as found in most savings accounts, over time you'll start making money on the amount saved plus previous interest paid on that amount saved. It'll be pennies at first, but eventually the amount will multiply exponentially.
- Take advantage of tax laws if you're self-employed. Money saved on taxes is still money saved. You may be able to deduct many of your business expenses (use of your home, use of your car, office supplies, etc.) if you keep good records. You may also qualify for tax breaks, such as deducting your health insurance premiums on your tax return. These laws are in place to encourage commerce and business growth, so don't neglect their benefits especially if you want to make money.
- If you're not self-employed and work for a company, find out if they have a retirement plan. If you're lucky, employers will sometimes match contributions you make into a retirement fund. Retirement plans also often have the benefit of being tax-deferred. The longer you get to keep your money (and make interest on it) the better. It's never too early to start planning for retirement.
- Know the difference between an asset and a liability. The dividing line is whether it puts money in your pocket, or takes it out. As much as you love your home, for instance, it is a liability rather than an asset because you put more money into it than you get out of it (unless you're flipping it or renting it out). Whatever money you save, invest it in assets such as stocks, mutual funds, patents, copyrighted works--anything that generates interest or royalties. Eventually, you might get to the point where your assets are doing the work for you, and all you have to do is sit there and make money!
- Watch out for inflation chipping away at your assets. We've all heard an elderly person describe the purchasing power of a coin in their day. Inflation continues to make today's money worth less in the future. To win the race against time and inflation, learn to invest your money in the right places. A savings account might help you to keep up with inflation; however, to stay ahead of the game you'll want to invest in bonds, stocks, or some other investment that returns above the average rate of inflation (currently 3%-4%).
Make Money as a Kid
- Ask your parents if they'll pay you for doing more chores. You're probably already expected to do chores around the house and help out your family for free. If you need a little extra pocket change, however, ask your parents if there's something else you can do for a small fee. For instance, maybe your mom really hates folding laundry and would be willing to pay $5 a week for you to do it instead. Whatever it is, let your parents know you're willing to take on more work for a bit of allowance.
- Make sure you're able to do whatever you agree to do. If you know your parents like a chore done a certain way, don't cut corners - do it well, and they may even agree to give you a raise in the future!
- Run a lemonade stand, or something similar. During hot summer months in the US, many kids run lemonade or cold beverage stands on the sidewalks in front of their houses. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Offer something that's appropriate for the weather. Cold drinks or popsicles will sell better on a hot day than on a rainy day. If it's too cold or miserable outside to do much business, hold off and wait for a better day.
- Keep your costs down. In order to turn a profit on what you're selling, choose to sell an item that's inexpensive to make. Lemonade is a classic because all of its ingredients (water, sugar, lemons or lemon juice concentrate, and ice) are fairly cheap and easy to obtain. Popsicles are another favorite because they can be bought in large quantities from the store!
- Set up on public property. You can set up your stand on a sidewalk, public park, or other area that is not owned by a private person. Doing this can help you avoid accusations of trespassing. Be aware, though, that some larger metropolitan parks might require you to get a permit to sell there.
- Advertise your price. Get a large piece of paper, cardboard or poster paper, and write what you're selling and how much one serving costs. For instance, you might write "LEMONADE, 25 CENTS". Set a fair price point, and make it something you'd be willing to pay yourself; if you're not sure what's fair, ask your parents or another trustworthy adult.
- Have somewhere secure to keep your money. Find a lockbox, coin purse, wallet, or envelope to keep your earnings safe and collected.
- Do odd jobs around your neighborhood. Mowing lawns, babysitting, raking leaves, snow shoveling, washing cars, and bathing pets are all examples of services that many people are willing to pay someone else to do. If you can do some of these things and you have some spare time, knock on the doors of family members or neighbors you know well, and offer your services.
- Only work for people you know or your parents know well; never work for strangers.
- Be trustworthy. People like to know that whoever's working around their home or with their children can be trusted, and they might even be willing to pay extra for that peace of mind. Be fair and honest in all your dealings, and never steal; these qualities will pay off later.
- Be willing to negotiate. You might have two neighbors who want their sidewalks shoveled, but one might be willing to pay $5 per week while another will pay only $3. If the neighbor who's paying you less is elderly, living on a fixed income, disabled or otherwise strapped for cash, consider accepting the lower price in order to build your clientele. Remember, that person who pays you less might later recommend your services to someone else willing to pay more.
- Save money. All that extra money won’t do you any good if you can’t hang onto it.
- Work on eliminating any debt you may have. When you have a high debt load, you're making someone else money; what you pay in interest is their paycheck. The sooner you repay your loans and debts, the sooner you stop giving your money away.
- Start analyzing your decisions from the perspective of a firm. In economics, a firm's goal is simply to maximize profit. Well-run firms spend money only if they can expect to make more money from their investment, and they allocate their resources to the most profitable use. You're not a firm, of course, and you have other considerations, but if you make the majority of your time and money decisions by choosing the options that promise the highest return on investment, you'll likely earn more money, and that's good news for your shareholders (you and your family).
- Beware get-rich-quick schemes! Millions of people still get caught up in them. If it's too good to be true, it's truly no good. People who know how to get rich are busy getting rich. They are not advertising methods to get rich.
- Don't lose sight of what's really important to you in your quest for money. Sure, you may be able to make more if you work longer hours, but will you and your family get to enjoy the extra money? Money can do a lot of things for you, but don't work yourself to death - you can't take it with you