When it comes to making money, there is no end to people’s creativity in finding it, and hardly any limit on what people will do for it. It can be difficult then to define what exactly is an unconventional versus conventional method for earning an extra buck. For the purpose of this list, we’ll be staying away from red-light district and black market wares, sticking to legal and, most would agree, ethical though sometimes controversial, activities that earn less than minimum wage and provide no health or other benefits.
This list also avoids the high risk or high interest quick-cash schemes like casino games, PayDay loans, cash advances, or pinching from a 401k, all ill-advised and shortsighted strategies. In the end though, this is not a financial advice column but a collection of the more bizarre or just uncommon ways to earn that have been reported in recent decades; a collection meant to entertain and inform but not guide future financial decisions.
With that, here are 15 of the most unconventional ways people have found to supplement their incomes. Money might not grow on trees, but after reading this list I guarantee you will know of new places where money can and does grow.
15 Seller On eBay Or Craigslist
Selling or auctioning things online might not seem so out of the ordinary these days, but there was a time when the pawnshop was your best bet for turning non-essential belongings into cash.
Before Storage Wars and Pawn Stars gave these slummy career choices a much needed PR face-lift, desperate people patronized pawnshops to sell valuables at 1/10th their worth to a sleazy middleman, and auctions were where you went to turn the tables for a day and buy things at 1/10th their value from desperate people. eBay and Craigslist may be less exploitative and more self-regulating than pawnshops, but they remain the online era’s last resort for selling things nobody else wants.
14 Roadside Vendor: Craft Stuff And Sell It
To be clear here, we’re not talking forcibly washing windshields at a freeway off ramp or something so involved as buying a food truck and making a small business owner out of it. This item refers to the legal practice of crafting and, after applying for a permit and getting the proper clearance, setting up a sidewalk booth to peddle your crafts from.
From the Venice Beach boardwalk to the backpacker-lined streets of Europe, and online through sites like Etsy, there will never be a shortage of spray-paint muralists, dream catcher makers, caricaturists, pan flute/rain stick vendors, and tie-dye enthusiasts to sell you the same uniquely hand-crafted souvenirs.
Every so often, the opportunity to sell someone else’s wares presents itself when a manufacturer has no distribution and a salesperson or store has no inventory. According to the author of The Definitive Guide to Creative & Alternative Financing Source, Kenneth Cole’s fortune was in fact kicked off by the grace of a cobble who fronted him $50,000-worth of shoes.
13 Freelance (Copy) Writer Or General “Doer”
Freelance work extends far beyond the writing world with the world-wide web. Not only can a person generate written content as a copy writer for jingles, advertisements, billboards, brochures, catalogs, fortune cookie writer (yes, there are still people writing new fortunes) or freelance journalist, magazine or blog contributor. Thanks to the Internet and sites like Upwork, on the more professional side, and Fivver, on the more bizarre side, you can now be or find anybody from a freelance computer programmer to freelance guy who will "sing Happy Birthday as Tin [F]oil man in just a thong" or gal who will "be your girlfriend on Facebook and leave flirty comments" both for the going rate on Fivver, $5.
The definition of "freelance" gets a little fuzzy when talking about people humiliating themselves for chump change, but a good rule of thumb is if you're being paid to contribute something to a company that you are not technically employed by and you're not a professional Jackass like Steve-O, Bam, or Johnny Knoxville, you're a freelance jackass.
12 Rideshare Driver
Much to the dismay of professional cab drivers everywhere, rideshare companies like Lyft, and Uber have become a fixture in private transportation. Even as it becomes the norm to trust “privately contracted” taxi drivers with no experience in the hospitality sector and often no insurance to cover commercial use of private vehicles, rideshare driving remains a pretty unconventional way to earn extra cash. With a recent California ruling that, if upheld, will require their employer to pay a minimum wage and provide proper health and auto insurance, Uber drivers have even more incentive to keep this second source of income.
11 Rent A Room, A Couch, Or A Parking Spot (That Belongs To You)
Yet another moneymaking scheme that has expanded beyond anybody’s expectations in the Internet Age is the age-old practice of renting out space. Before Airbnb, there was just B&B, so renting out room-and-board nothing new, but apartment dwellers and city goers traffic in another kind of scarce space, parking, and it requires knowledge of local events and a willingness to get some extra exercise and parking far from home, to make any extra cash renting out a personal parking spot. A more unconventional scheme in this category is the practice of holding other people’s places in line for cash.
10 Out-Door Advertising/“Sign Spinning”
Variously called sign spinners, sign holders, or sign swingers, the strangest thing about this job is that it’s an entire industry independent of freelance work, unique from sales or advertising. Though, some temp agencies can plug their clients into this kind of job, and small business owners tend to use private ads to hire sign handlers, there are entire companies devoted just to contracting out their sign-wielding employees to upstart business ventures. Consider The Signwalkers of Cedar Park, TX, a private company selling O.O.H. (Out of Home advertising). An interested entrepreneur can consult with a Signwalker “campaign specialist” to expand their customer base through strategic signage. A perk of this job is that you essentially only need a pulse and an alarm clock to do it.
9 Donate Bodily Fluids, Body Parts
The requirements for donating platelets, red blood cells, hair, sperm, breast milk, and bone marrow are obviously exponentially greater than spinning a sign or writing fortune cookie fortunes. And yes, there are places that stockpile breast milk, and in 2011, California’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled bone marrow is not an organ so now marrow donors can be compensated as well. Blood, plasma, and milk donors must obviously be relatively healthy, completely STD free, and well nourished.
Donated hair must be at least 10’’ long, chemical free, and well kept. Blood and platelets go for up to $35 for a single donation, sperm about $40, breast milk comes in at about $1 per ounce, and hair prices are determined by hair quantity, quality, and rarity, starting at $300 for 12” of straight blond hair and moving up from there.
Though it is legal, there is still no infrastructure in place for compensating marrow donors—that didn’t stop non-profit MoreMarrowDonors.org from valuating a single donation at $3,000.
8 Medical Research Subject
Testees was a short-lived series about two broke 30-somethings who supplement their incomes as human guinea pigs for a company called Testico. The early cancellation of the show can probably be attributed to the writers focus on scrotum-focused wordplay because the premise isn’t so far fetched.
The United States’ National Institute of Health (NIH) actually has a searchable database of clinical research trials; just type in a “diagnosis, sign, symptom, or other key words or phrases” related to human health and you’ll find a list of studies testing out interventions or treatments with eligibility requirements listed for each. Larger research universities and private medical research centers like the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN are also constantly recruiting research participants. Between government agencies, schools and research groups, there are plenty of opportunities to risk the potential side effects of taking experimental medication for some extra cash.
7 Crowdsourcing And Micro Jobs
The pre-Internet version of this cash flow supplement was to find market research to be a part of, focus groups to join or consumer surveys to fill out. Now that the masses can be gathered over night, at least virtually, and market share is determined by ‘Likes’ and ‘clicks’, sites like TaskRabbit, ClickChores and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk have popped up as hubs for people who have the knack for zoning out on mundane tasks and earning money anywhere from 1 cent to $20 a task. On the other side, polling companies, market researchers, social scientists, and fan-seekers can use these sites to recruit study participants or rally a crowd of people to click a particular Facebook banner or favorite a specific Tweet.
6 Advertise On Personal Website(s) Or Podcast/YouTube Channel(s)
Another Internet-specific cash grabbing scheme, this is the web-driven version of outdoor advertising or "sign spinning" with the additional requirement that there be some content, a blog, a podcast, some platform from which to talk up ads or sponsors who pay or commission podcasters, bloggers, Vine or YouTube stars for ad space on their media platforms. For example, Apple Inc. offers podcasters an affiliate program by which podcasters can sign up as affiliates and can link to iTunes store products, songs, movies, apps, books, and earn a small percentage of sales from customers who directly linked from the affiliate's site or show to the iTunes store. The same principle can be applied to any other social media channel.
5 Sell Scrap Metal
The question here is where to find metal that isn’t already in use and that nobody else wants to cash in on. The short answer is: On your own property or in the garbage. Home remodeling projects are a good source of iron and copper piping, aluminum siding and air ducts, steel wall studs, or any variety of wiring and hardware that you will be ripping up to make way for the remodeled space. Dumpsters are another option and provide an opportunity to fish for recyclables for a two-prong attack.
4 Mystery/Secret Consumer/Shopper
Mystery shoppers are employed by market research firms, consumer watchdog organizations, and individual business owners to assess the quality of service provided by a company or the benefit provided by a specific product, or otherwise gather information about services or products. They are called “mystery” or “secret” consumers based on the assumption that consumers will get a more honest impression of a company and its products, employees, work ethic, etc. if consumers’ association with the company is initially hidden from employees; yet another moneymaking principle with a corresponding reality TV show, Undercover Boss. Before the inter-web, it was actually quite difficult to get plugged into the world of covert shopping, but now there are online registries that make the process easy and intuitive; and a perk of this scheme is opportunity to sample all sorts of services and products for free, if not for some extra spending money as well.
3 Get A Loan Using Life Insurance As Collateral
This is by far one of the strangest but financially savvy moves a person can make to find some extra dough, and an added bonus is a policyholder in need of extra cash doesn’t have to be dead to draw funds from his/her life insurance policy. With what are called whole life policies that have higher premiums and no expiration date (policies end when policyholders actually expire), insurance companies will invest these higher premiums in stable stocks and can then take out loans, on the policyholder’s behalf, with the projected stability and/or appreciation of said stocks' value as collateral or to draw against.
2 Professional Cuddling
Professional purveyors of “platonic” touching, cuddlers and snugglers, are just on the legal side of selling physical contact; individual snugglers are not escorts nor do companies like one of the first of its kind, Portland’s Cuddle Up To Me, operate like brothels, beyond the fact that they have private bedrooms that clients pay to lie in, fully clothed, next to certifiably trained warmbodies.
Unfortunately, some former pro-spooners have run into clients who attempt to cross boundaries, necessitating street smarts and pepper spray. Furthermore, clients who receive services in the privacy of their homes run the risk of being exploited too, as payment occurs up front, and the cuddle can be terminated at any time for any reason.
At rates that rival low-end bunny ranches with none of the perks and comparable risk to both client and provider, this is not only one of the strangest but one of the riskiest schemes on our list.
1 Professional Bridesmaid, Professional Mourner
An equally appropriate title for this last item on our list would be Professional Entourage/Family Member...or Legally Leverage Your Lack Of Shame. This makes the top of the list for being the most unconventional and, some say, ethically questionable means to make an extra buck.
In 2014, New Yorker Jen Glantz posted an ad on Craigslist offering her services to brides-to-be that would rather not burden their closest friends with the responsibility of planning bachelorette parties or any of the other jobs that fall to the maid-of-honor. Glantz’ post went viral and, overnight, inspired an outpouring of disgruntled emails and genuine interest in her services.
Today, professional bridesmaids can be contracted through BridesmaidForHire.com, while RentAMourner.co.uk is the online storefront for an Essex-based business contracting professional funeral and/or wake attendees—mostly to ease living family members’ anxieties over potentially under-attended services or ceremonies. However ethical or not, these kinds of money making opportunities are quite rare, and therefore can be quite lucrative.