Jobs are so 20th century. Welcome to the "gig" economy, where more than 20 million Americans are full-time "freelancers," "consultants," "independent contractors" and other code names for not having a "real" job [source: Greenhouse]. True, the Great Recession forced a lot of workers into the freelance ranks, but more than half of "solopreneurs" actively choose the jobless lifestyle [source: Florida]. No time clocks, no cubicles, and best of all, no bosses.
But how much money can you make without a traditional job? That depends on your skills, experience and flair for self-promotion. There are wildly popular bloggers who pull in six figures a month, but the general trend is that freelance workers earn slightly less than their cubicle-bound colleagues – about $15.60 per hour versus $20 per hour [source: Florida].
Of the more than 200,000 members of the Freelancers Union — one of America's fastest-growing labor organizations — 58 percent earn less than $50,000 a year and 29 percent earn less than $25,000 [source: Greenhouse].
Even if you won't get rich as an independent worker, there are plenty of other benefits to going jobless: You can better adapt your work schedule to family life. You can tinker with many different projects instead of doing the same thing day after day. And, best of all, you call the shots.
But what if the freelance life is still too confining? What if you want to make money without working at all? Is it possible to keep food on the table and a roof over your head without doing the barest minimum of work? It sounds too good to be true, but let's explore the options, starting with the simplest of economic transactions: selling stuff.
Selling Your Stuff
Did you inherit your grandpa's valuable old baseball card collection? Is your basement full of mint-condition vintage beer advertisements? Did your daughter go through a serious American Girl doll phase? One of the easiest ways to make money without a job is to sell the things you already own. With Web sites like Craigslist, eBay and Amazon Marketplace, the world is your garage sale.
Of course, to make money in the resale market, you need to offer items that people actually want. Craigslist is already crowded with folks hawking outdated electronics and rusted yard tools for five bucks "or best offer." If you are selling used goods, it's better to concentrate on rare finds and collectibles, which are a nice match for an auction site like eBay, where avid collectors can outbid each other [source: Spors].
Or maybe you're crafty. Do you have a knack for ironic embroidery, homemade soap making or faux-vintage jewelry design? Welcome to Etsy, the online marketplace for make-it-yourselfers of all stripes. Note that Etsy charges 20 cents to list each item and keeps 3.5 percent of each sale.
If you don't have the skills to craft your own products, why not grow them? There are more than 7,800 farmer's markets in America, and consumer interest in local food is red hot [source: USDA]. Farming is a full-time job, but growing a small patch of tasty and attractive vegetables is more like a part-time hobby (and it doubles as dinner!).
If these ideas sound suspiciously like jobs, there is one other option: selling bits and pieces of yourself. For example, you can sell blood plasma — the liquid portion of your blood — to a plasma collection center for around $35 a poke. Women and men with long hair can sell 10-inch (25-centimeter) tresses for $10 an ounce or try to auction them on eBay. Some long healthy hanks of hair can fetch $400 or more [source: Bonander].
And then there are sperm and egg donations. Men can make around $60 per specimen, but can donate up to three times per week [source: Seattle Sperm Bank]. Women can make considerably more — between $5,000 and $10,000 — but egg removal is a surgical procedure with some risk of complications [source: Center for Human Reproduction].
Selling Your Services
In the age of Facebook and LinkedIn, every individual is also a brand. If you want to make money without working a traditional job, then you need to develop and market your unique skill set. You might be the best "human beat box" in three counties, but no one is going to pay you to record a beat box birthday card unless they can find you. That's where Fiverr.com come in.
At Fiverr — and copycat sites like GigBucks and TenBux — you can offer any service to the world for the low price of five dollars. Advertising your service is free, but Fiverr takes one dollar of every sale. Popular offerings are voiceovers in various comical accents, short writing projects, customized cartoons, logo design, Photoshop editing and Web site promotion.
Do you like taking surveys? (Check box A for "Yes" and box B for "No"). Companies like Harris Polls will pay you in points for taking 15 to 20-minute online surveys. The points can then be redeemed for gift cards to sites like Amazon and iTunes. There are other polling companies that pay in cash, but beware of scams.
You could also sign up to be part of a clinical medical trial – and get paid far better than for taking online surveys (sometimes thousands of dollars). Trials for weight loss, depression, diabetes and other issues are offered all over the country. The U.S. government has a Web site that lists them but hospitals and private sites also advertise for volunteers. Of course you need to weigh the risks of the trials against how much you stand to earn.
Then there's the fine art of blogging for dollars. Do you have fascinating things to say about technology, movies, politics, food, sports and/or celebrity news? Can you churn out 300-word chunks of scannable copy every hour? Do you basically live on Twitter and Facebook? Then you might be ready to become a professional blogger. The best way to blog your way to "riches" is by using Google AdSense. Google automatically posts ads on your site that it believes will be good matches for your readers. Every time a site visitor clicks on an ad, you get a cut of the fee paid to Google. Warning: You do need a lot of traffic to your site to generate some decent cash.
If you have financial savvy and a gambler's gut instinct, "day trading" offers the possibility of making Wall Street money from the comfort of Main Street. In the late 1990s, when the stock market was riding the Internet bubble, there was an explosion in home-based stock speculation. Now day traders are back [source: Segal]. Day traders aren't your average investor. They are looking for short-term gains, to flip shares quickly for a profit and get out before the momentum shifts. Just recognize that a very small percentage of day traders make enough money to quit their actual day job and a much larger percentage lose money [source: Segal].
For more tips about making money from home, check out the related HowStuffWorks links on the next page.
Author's Note: How to Make Money Without a Job
I don't have a real job. There, I said it. I don't have a boss. I don't have a company ID badge. And I definitely don't have benefits. But I do work — hard, every day — and somehow make enough to cover the expenses on my small house and feed three children with glorious appetites. I am a foot soldier in this thing called the "gig" economy. Technically, I'm a small business owner. A very small business owner. I am my own boss and my only employee and my trade is freelance writing. In addition to writing an article a week for HowStuffWorks, I write for other online and print publications, and a company that makes Web sites for colleges. I also sideline as an organic vegetable gardener and my wife, a former high school teacher, works part-time as a freelance curriculum developer. I used to think we were an anomaly, but researching this article made me realize that we're in good company. More and more Americans are striking out on their own. And with more organizations like the Freelancer's Union, we may even be able to afford adequate health insurance one day.
- Bonander, Ross. "How To: Sell Your Body for Cash." AskMen. (May 10, 2013) http://www.askmen.com/money/how_to_250/266_how_to.html
- Center for Human Reproduction. "FAQ About the Egg Donation Process and Compensation." (May 10, 2013) http://www.centerforhumanreprod.com/egg_donor_faq.html
- Florida, Richard. "The Geography of America's Freelance Economy." The Atlantic. Feb. 25, 2013. (May 10, 2013) http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/02/geography-americas-freelance-economy/4118/
- Greenhouse, Steven. "Tackling Concerns of Independent Workers." The New York Times. March 23, 2013. (May 10, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/business/freelancers-union-tackles-concerns-of-independent-workers.html?pagewanted=all
- Seattle Sperm Bank. "Becoming a Sperm Donor FAQ." (May 13, 2013) http://www.seattlespermbank.com/spermdonor.asp
- Segal, David. "Day Traders 2.0: Wired, Angry and Loving It." The New York Times. March 27, 2013. (May 10, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/business/28trader.html?dbk
- Spors, Kelly K. "How to Sell on Amazon and eBay." The New York Times. Dec. 2, 2009. (May 10, 2013) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/business/smallbusiness/03marketplaces.html
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. "Farmers Markets and Local Food Marketing." (May 10, 2013) http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/farmersmarkets