Personal Finance

Everyman’s Guide to Increasing Income

Mike and I often post about how to manage your finances to get a little bit of extra return from it (whether it be through leveraged investing, real estate, dividends or asset allocation). That’s the stage of “financial life” we’re at. Some people comment on personal finance blogs and say “that’s all well and good for you, but what about those of us who don’t have any money to invest?”.

With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to do a post about how to make extra money if you’re poor and unskilled. I’ll apologize in advance, but most of these boil down to “get a second job”. When you don’t have any money to invest, unfortunately your labour is what you have to earn money with. I’ve done most of these myself (and am happy I don’t have to do them any more).

I’m not going to post any “get rich quick” ideas like setting up a vending machine route or doing “no money down” real estate deals. These are all ultra-low-risk, very reliable ideas to get some extra cash in your pocket. As well, some things people suggest like blogging for ad revenue clearly have a spectrum of returns they offer. Probably most blogs pay the people who start them FAR less than minimum wage. These all should be fairly close to “sure things” (which is why they don’t pay all that great).

  1. Get a second job. Yes, I’m sure that you work hard and I can understand at the end of the day the last thing you want to do is head off and work somewhere else. Jobs like delivering newspapers, product samples, phone books, working retail, working fast food, or telemarketing are usually available (I’ve done each of these except for telemarketing). Like everyone, you have to decide which you want more: money or free time.
  2. Work overtime at your current job. If you’re not on salary, see if there’s the opportunity to work longer shifts or extra shifts. Many companies have trouble getting staff these days, so your manager might be very happy to give you extra work. If you get any sort of over-time pay all the better!
  3. Start a cleaning business. Most people like to live in a clean house but hate to clean. You can earn $10-15 / hour pretty easily by just putting up some fliers around your neighborhood with your phone number and rates. Eventually you can bring your own cleaning supplies and charge more (probably $20 / hour). Any healthy adult can wipe dusty surfaces, scour tubs and vacuum. Clean freak customers will be delighted to give you pointers to make you a better cleaner.
  4. Do semi-skilled work. Can you surf the Internet, write e-mails and use Word? Post a flier offering to teach elderly people basic computer skills. Have you passed many high school subjects? Offer in-home tutoring on any subjects you did well in. Can you do minor repairs, cut grass or paint? Post a flier offering to be a “rent-a-husband”. Do you have a car? Get a job that requires one (like delivering pizzas) or offer things like getting groceries for shut-ins.
  5. Help people clean out basements / garages. Post a flier saying you’ll help people clean out their garage or basement if they let you take anything that they’re going to throw away. It amazes me what perfectly good things people will toss. Take their garbage and sell it on EBay or Craigslist. A digital camera may eventually be useful (maybe one of your clean up jobs will give you an old one). A truck would be useful as well (then you could take furniture / appliances as well). Eventually you’ll learn what will sell and what really is garbage.
  6. House sit / Baby sit / Pet sit. Check in on people’s houses while they’re on vacation or walk their dog while they’re at work. Requires you to be trustworthy and responsible (they’re trusting you to take care of their beloved homes, children and animals), but once you’ve proven yourself there’s a good chance of repeat business and referrals. An added benefit is that you can walk multiple dogs at once, or check on many houses on the same day – you get paid multiple times for the same time commitment!
  7. Do some small scale farming. If you live in a rural area, grow plants you can sell or raise small animals (such as rabbits or chickens). Get a book from the library or find someone already doing something along these lines and learn from them. You can even offer the plants / meat as “organic” (since you’re not going to use pesticides or anything, right?). Rabbits can thrive on day-old bread (bakeries will sell you a ton of it cheap) and weeds and greens you can pull from anywhere. Chicken feed is dirt cheap. A fun article about raising chickens was posted on kuro5hin. Don’t bother trying to breed dogs or anything like that – the market is saturated with people doing it for fun and you won’t be able to make any money. If you end up not being able to sell what you’ve raised – eat it yourself and cut your grocery bill!

Pretty much any of these can be expanded to something that pays significantly more if you like it and are good at it. Do you like doing minor repairs or painting? Start a flooring or painting side-business. Got more cleaning customers than you can handle? Raise your prices and hire someone to help part-time. An aunt of a friend of mine house-sits full time. When people go on extended vacations, she moves in and lives in their place – no need to pay rent! As you get more skilled or expand your operations, the pay will increase as well. When I was doing contract programming, I was basically doing the computer skills idea at a much higher level (and was able to charge $50 / hour to do so).

More information

104 ways to save extra money – Great list of ideas to save money.

24 replies on “Everyman’s Guide to Increasing Income”

I had a second job one time selling credit cards. I think it was at Zeller’s – I’d walk around and harass the customers into signing up for the card.

I like the idea of offering your services in the area – I always thought I could do sort of a (limited) handyman sort of business if I was unemployed for any length of time.

For a while I was working for a friend as a DJ. He taught me what I needed to know and I would help him cover events. For the work it was pretty good pay which helped me buy my car. And he was always looking for a good person to train too so it wasn’t just because he was a friend.

I’ve done it (office job + bartending in NYC) but have found for myself and friends it’s really hard to work day and night jobs once you pass a point in your mid-twenties. The cumulative effect of your career getting more demanding, working all the time, and getting run down really impacts your quality of life. More entrepreneurial things are probably somewhat easier, as at least you’re your own boss half the time. My husband is currently doing this in some sort of misguided male desire to make up for his sex months unemployed and it’s pretty brutal on him, me and the household. If he doesn’t give it up soon I’m handing his notice in for him.

Great list Mr Cheap – it really does boil down to if you want to make some extra money you will need to put the time in (online or in the real world).

I think doing a second job is good if you have time, but I do believed that we must find passive income. Income doesn’t require labour or skills. Dividend investment are a way to go if you like to invest a little bit at a time while getting dividend every month.

Yes, a very good typo. Show that comment to your husband and tell him he has responsibilities at home where he’s needed more than at a second job ;-).

Guinness: I definitely agree it gets harder later in life. If someone doesn’t have a lot of money, but they want more, they don’t have a lot of options. Even doing something along these line for a couple of hours a week is better than nothing. I’m planning a follow up post on decreasing expenses, so maybe those will be easier for us “older” folk…

FFB: Never thought of DJing, but that’s a good suggestion. Do you know how easy it usually is to find a “gig”? How expensive is the equipment?

Matt: That’s certainly what *I* think. Everyone looks for the magic pill that makes them lots of money easily, but I don’t think it exists.

ETF Income: I agree, I’d rather make money through dividends than getting a second job. If you look at the second paragraph, these are all ideas for people with no money or skills. Buying dividends isn’t an option if you’re broke!

You could also raise cute little furry animals, post pictures of them on the internet for people to look at, and then hold them ransom like the guy at His technique would probably work well with puppies.

Oh, and you forgot niche affiliate sites. It’s not too difficult to put together a few 5-10 page niche sites that will earn you $50 per month each.

When I worked it was for my friend’s company so the only equipment I needed were some CD’s (most were provided by the company) and a set of headphones. The equipment was either provided by the company or the location I worked (I used to cover a bar a lot and we used their equipment). As far as finding gigs goes…the whole point of my working was that the company had enough work to dish out to others. Sometimes I would be the second man on a job like a wedding where I would DJ and help carry things while my friend would emcee.

Starting up your own DJ business would be harder since you need the equipment, experience, and contacts. This was just extra work for me so it was great picking up an extra job here and there. In fact I may go back to doing it as well as possibly some photography jobs too. Learning is just a matter of going along with the DJ and learning the equipment and how to pace things.

Kyle: I don’t think “niche affiliate sites” fits with what I was suggesting. Its far from certain or reliable (some may pay off well, but many probably don’t) and requires an advanced skill-set (being able to select profitable niches, able to target profitable advertising, able to set up websites, etc). Once you’ve factored in paying for domain registration and hosting, its probably quite easy to LOSE money when you’re starting.

The point of this article wasn’t to suggested every possible way to make money. It was suggestions for people with little (or no money) and no special skills.

FFB: Very interesting, thanks for the details! Maybe “DJ Cheap” will make his appearance on the KW club scene ;-P

If you are fluent in several languages, you could try doing freelance translation work. If you’re inexperienced at translation charge less to start with.

You could do the scout-out-thrift-stores-and-flea-markets-and-
garage-sales-and-sell-the-good-stuff-on-eBay-for-a-profit thing. It’s probably best to develop an area of expertise, say vintage Pyrex or something, and become knowledgeable in it. Then you’ll know what to look for.

You could also buy things that need to be restored, fix them up yourself, then sell them. (On eBay or not.) Furniture, vintage radios, whatever…

For a person who is not so young anymore, I think it is easier to work on Saturdays than to have to work in the evening after you get home from your full-time job.

I used to have a co-worker who taught fitness classes in her spare time. You could teach anything that you’re good at, for example: knitting, quilting, photography, etc.

You could look for short-term employment possibilities, such as working at a festival or sports championship or something of that nature. Gives you a few extra dollars that you can squirrel away. And of course you could do short-term retail work during the Christmas season.

Instead of holding animals for ransom as Kyle suggests, maybe you could raise them and sell them as pets. Birds might be easier than some others, or you could specialize in something a bit exotic like hedgehogs?

You could sell your crafts on

I like #7 and have been planning to do something specific in that area. However, it takes 3 years to be certified as organic, costs money and requires inspections so *don’t* try to pass your produce off as organic if you’re not. (Even if you don’t use pesticides, maybe it’s blowing onto your property from your neighbour’s place or maybe the people who lived there before you saturated the soil with them.)

Go organic by all means, but please do it right!

Blogging can be a profitable way to make some extra cash. When I visit blogs that I like, I certaintly look for interesting advertisments that I could utilize to support the author that I enjoy.

Cleaning houses???? I pay someone to clean mine and I think it’s totally worth it! 😉

Sometimes free time is more important than extra money and I agree that, as guinness said, finding free time as you get a bit older and spread your time amongst more people, is more difficult

Kyle – I think that is a great suggestion. I’d like to try that strategy with my kids although I’m not sure if anyone will give me any money! 🙂

I have done free-lance translation work in the past, and also used additional shifts at my job to help pay for COBRA insurance costs from my wife’s former job. It all leads to more income, which makes a difference in the end.

you can create virtual persons/personas in online role-playing games (WorldofWarcraft, etc.) and then these are sellable on ebay or even on the online games’ websites – but i would bet this is soley for the under-4o crowd – however it assumes you have computer assets/systems and skills to do this – but it’s really just playing a game a certain way (which also has upfront costs) in order to monetize rather than win….

Great list Cheap, but might I add:
how to make extra money if you?re poor and unskilled

It’s probably worth taking that last point to heart and becoming skilled. I know that you meant it “tongue-in-cheek” and these are definitely good way to generate extra “bursts” of income, but they’re not necessarily efficient ways of generating longer-term income.

And that’s really the goal here, if you want money to invest you must have positive cash flow. If the only method you have to generate significant positive cash flow is to spend more time generating money then I think you’re failing at the most important long-term investment: you.

And the training can often be paid for. Most professional companies have some form of either a tuition reimbursement or a incentivized course list (pass these get more money next pay raise). If your company can’t help you, then ask the Canadian government. If you’re not earning “average wages” and you won’t be any time soon, then maybe it’s time to talk to EI. They’ll give you living expenses, help you get a student loan and may even help with tuition just to get you through college.

Being “unskilled” is a guaranteed method to make it difficult to save. If you’re earning less than $12-15 / hour (SK, MB and east), then your number one long-term focus should be pushing that salary. Working 60 hours @ $10 / hour is the same things as 40 hours @ $15 / hour. That’s extra money for every hour you work (which is what these “passive income” people are all trying to find).

If you’re an experienced professional making in the top quartile for your job description, or you’ve just topped out your current organization (“I already earn more than everyone else I work with.”), then maybe it is time for some “diversification”. But for any “poor and unskilled” people, the number one priority is to become skilled so that you can increase your long-term earning potential. The difference between “skilled” and “unskilled” is 50% to 100%. That’s $15 to $20/hour instead of $10. That’s 10-20k / year.

I’d say, you should start with education.

Gates – I agree with you (and that’s how I’ve lived my life – I’ve spent FAR more years pursuing education than I have in employment).

Many people find multi-step processes like that challenging, and its hard to get started when the result seems so far away. These all give pretty fast pay-offs.

The hidden side benefit, which I touched on in the last paragraph, is many of these could/will lead to gaining skills. It also opens the opportunity to develop skills in related areas (such as sales and marketing as your business develops, managing people if you hire employees, or negotiation if you start going after bigger jobs).

For someone who has the interest / ability / drive education would be another, probably better approach. If I way in my 20’s and “poor and unskilled” in Canada, I’d learn a trade in a heartbeat!

[…] people clear out basements (in exchange for them letting him take anything they don’t want – I got idea #5 from his book). He’ll sell the stuff he gets at flea markets, along with vegetables he grows. He finds that […]

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