Monday, September 15, 2008

alternative income

I've had quite a few people ask me recently what all I do to bring in extra money, so I thought I'd address it here.

To start off, yes, I have a full-time job. It's an entry level position in publishing, which is known for not paying terribly well. I love my job. I feel it's a true calling, and I enjoy every day that I'm at work. However, I also live in my own apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and this means my budget is very tight. So there are a number of things I can do to bring in extra money.

First, the one that's probably least relevant: I am a member of a dance company and I perform with them at paid events. I could probably do restaurant work if I were willing to market myself, but I'm not. This is an amazingly fun opportunity that fell into my lap, but I will not be a professional dancer all my life. I started out just wanting to take classes for fun, then was invited to join a company, and then was given checks to dress up and dance! I can also work off the cost of costumes, classes, and accessories.

The underlying principle is this: Find something you enjoy that people will pay you to do. Perform something, create something, teach something. The best hobbies are self-sustaining, because then you don't feel guilty spending time or money on them! You do have to run such hobbies like a business (taking tax law into account, for example) but that doesn't make me enjoy dancing any less.

The second way I bring in extra money is by doing focus groups. The availability for this largely depends on where you live--large urban areas are a better bet for finding focus groups than rural areas or small towns. To find them, look on your local Craigslist or check with any universities in your area. I apply for all the focus groups I find, but I don't qualify for very many. I'm limited in how many I can do with a particular company in a time frame (anywhere from three months to one year) and sometimes I just don't meet their requirements. There is a weird cycle that I've noticed, where I won't get any focus groups for months and then I'll have six in four weeks, even though I didn't change my application process.

Focus groups pay pretty well (between $75-125 for an hour), and all you have to do is give your opinion on a product or service. The only drawback is how infrequent they wind up being.

Third, and accessible to more people, is mystery shopping. I will do a very detailed mystery shopping post soon, but for now I'll say that casting a wide net and consistency are the most important. It's important to sign up with lots and lots of legitimate companies, apply only for shops that are worth it (which means they are not terribly out of your way or are worth a trip for some reason), and shop regularly and consistently since the payment or reimbursement can take up to two months (I do 3-4 shops per week at minimum, so I always have money coming in). It is NOT quick, easy money. So far in 2008, I've netted less than $1,000, but I've also had some really nice restaurant meals that I wouldn't have had otherwise, and that makes it worth it for me. If you're not highly organized, extremely detail-oriented, and very patient, mystery shopping is NOT for you.

As I said, I'll write more about that in a separate, upcoming post, but here are a few takeaways:

  • If your budget it too tight and you're unable or unwilling to spend less, bringing in additional money doesn't mean taking on a part-time job in the evenings or on weekends. Be creative and find other ways to bring in cash. Have a landline? Do LiveOps or similar call center work. Can you bake, cook, craft, or otherwise make something people will pay for? Can you perform or teach something people will pay for? Do you have a hobby that's currently costing you money but could be earning you money?
  • Find a way to get money or services from companies. They are willing to pay for your opinions or your time spent observing their employees. Websites like MySurvey and SurveySpot pay for surveys as well (I do these too, but the pay is abysmal compared to my other options).
There are a lot of ways to make money or get free stuff, but you can't get anything if you don't go looking for it!


  1. There are some great tips here. Lucky you being able to earn money from something you love doing. You've really got me thinking now about what I could do...

  2. i agree with frugal, i feel lazy not trying to make more money when there's many opportunities to do so


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