The idea of getting rich quick and making easy money is part of the American Dream. Who hasn't spent time daydreaming about becoming one of those overnight millionaires? But your high school economics teacher was probably right: There's no such thing as a free lunch. With the exception of the occasional lottery winner, making real money takes time and effort. Still, there are legitimate ways you can make extra money to supplement the income from your day job, without breaking your back.
Click through the next 10 pages for ways you can moonlight, and end up with some money to show for it.
Cover Your Car with Advertisements
Have you been driving down the road and suddenly seen a car drive by plastered in ads for potato chips or an energy drink? Maybe you thought the car belonged to an employee with the company. But a number of advertising firms will actually pay drivers to have their own cars covered with ads.
Depending on the firm, the length of the promotion and your region, you can be paid between $400 and $900 per month to serve as a moving billboard. Some companies will even provide you with a car to drive, free of charge. All you have to do is sign up on the company's Web site, filling in basic demographic information [source: Autowrapped, Free Car Media]. Then, if a specific advertiser decides they want to target your particular demographic, they'll select you for a promotion. Promotions last from a few months to years, so the extra income could add up to a nice sum.
Of course, since you're chosen based on demographics and region, it could be that you sign up, never to be selected by a company, or have to wait years before being selected. If a sponsor chooses you, the amount of commitment and effort is relatively minimal. You'll be required to drive a certain number of miles per month to fulfill your contract, and you'll have to set aside four to eight hours for your car to be wrapped at the beginning of each promotion. Once the ads are removed, your car will be undamaged by the process.
Be an Agent for a Direct Selling Company
Before the get-rich-quick hype of eBay, there was the get-rich-quick hype of direct selling programs like Avon and Amway. But like selling on eBay, it's hard to become a millionaire selling makeup and cleaning supplies to your neighbors. According to Amway, the average salesperson earns $115 a month selling Amway products [source: Amway]. Of course, like any other kind of selling, the amount of time and energy you put in is going to affect your sales.
Direct sellers use individual salespeople to sell their products instead of using traditional retail. To join Amway, you sign up with one of the company's salespeople (or "independent business owners"). That person then provides you with catalogs and samples. As you make sales, you purchase products at wholesale from your sponsor, and keep the difference between the wholesale and the resale price as profit. You can also earn bonuses and higher sales commissions as you sell more.
Direct selling may sound like a pyramid scheme, an illegal sales operation that makes more money from the wholesale purchases of its so-called "sellers" than it does from actually selling products to customers.
But in 1979, the Federal Trade Commission decided that Amway's business model is legitimate because it doesn't require recruits to pay large up-front membership fees or make large wholesale purchases before being admitted into the program. So if you decide to become a direct seller, only sign up with programs that don't require exorbitant startup fees.
Work at Starbucks
OK, so it's more of a commitment than hawking old books on eBay, but Starbucks actually offers an impressive range of benefits to its employees. Most of those benefits kick in once you work an average of 20 hours per week. Employees can qualify for comprehensive health, dental and vision insurance. Starbucks also allows half-time employees (or partners) paid vacation. They can also buy stock for a discounted price and participate in the company's 401(k) program. Other competitive benefits include partial tuition reimbursements for employees attending classes and assistance grants for employees who want to adopt children. To top it all off, you can even take a free pound of coffee each week [source: Starbucks]. The company has also been consistently rated as one of the top 100 places to work by Fortune magazine [source: Fortune].
Starbucks' benefit plan is notable because it's one of the few that offers insurance to employees who work only part time. But some of those benefits are slow to take effect. Insurance benefits kick in after three months of working at least 20 hours a week, and vacation days for hourly retail workers don't kick in until after a year. So, in terms of ways to make extra money, it requires a long -term commitment to really pay off. And the base salary of $7.50 to $10 per hour may not be enough of an incentive for some people [source: Starbucks].
The recession has driven more and more companies to look for contract and freelance work as an alternative to full-time positions. Farming out work to independent contractors makes sense for the bottom line because companies can pay for the work they need done, with decreased overhead expenses like benefits and setting up a physical office for each employee. In today's economy, nine in 10 companies use some amount of contract work [source: Koba]. If you have a marketable skill like graphic design, search engine optimization, Web design, public relations or writing, you can take advantage of those employers' cost cutting.
Hourly pay for freelance work tends to be higher than for salaried positions. On the other hand, you will have to account for gaps between assignments. For a company, the benefit of hiring freelancers is not having to pay them when it doesn't need them. To get started, research online markets to determine the going rate for the type of work you'll be doing. There are multiple Web sites where you can post your resume and search job listings, including elance.com, ratracerebellion.com and flexjobs.com. Some sites charge a commission to connect you with an employer, others charge a flat fee to access the listings, and some are completely free.
Sell Your Gold Jewelry
The global economic recession has driven gold commodity prices through the roof. The price of gold has reached an all time high as recently as Oct. 6, 2010, when it hit $1,351 per ounce [source: Wycoff]. So it's a perfect time to unload old or broken gold jewelry that you don't have any use for. But keep in mind that the ultimate price you get for the gold won't hit the $1,351 per ounce mark. That price is for pure, 24 karat gold and doesn't take into account the markup that the person buying your gold will make before reselling it. Gold below 24 karats is less pure and will bring in less.
A scrap gold buyer, the type that advertises on TV, will pay considerably less than a jeweler. If you have an attractive antique piece of jewelry, a jeweler may be a better bet. But for scrap or broken gold, you might want to use one of those scrap gold buyers. In today's market, you can get from $12 to $50 per pennyweight of scrap gold. (There are 18.229 pennyweights in an ounce). Your gold will be worth more to those buyers the more karats it has, and the more of it you have. When using a mail-in buyer, check its ratings with the Better Business Bureau to make sure is hasn't received complaints. Also, never send gold in the mail unless the envelope is insured.
Staff Special Events or Conventions
Trade conventions and special events are good opportunities for companies to market their products, and they usually need local people to do the work for them. That could be anything from attracting attention to a booth for a new cell phone at an electronics expo, to handing out samples of a new energy drink outside of a concert venue. Sometimes you may only have to wear a T-shirt for a company's product; other times you might be asked to dress in costume as a product's mascot. The pay is hourly. Staffing services let you post your resume, headshot and a physical description in their databases. You'll then be selected by companies running promotions on a case-by-case basis. The sponsors running the promotions use physical appearance as a key factor in picking their staff, so if the idea of getting a job based on your looks is unappealing, working with an event staffer may not be for you.
Become a Mystery Shopper
Mystery shoppers are people who are paid by a market research company to report on their experiences doing things like shopping, eating in restaurants and buying gas. For each assignment, the mystery shopping company will give you specific instructions on where to shop and what to look for. You'll report back on how the experience went: the customer service, the attitudes of the employees, the cleanliness of the facilities. After you submit your report, you'll be paid for your time and reimbursed for anything you bought. So on top of pocket money you can get free snacks, gas, meals or movie tickets while you work. The pay ranges from $12 to $25 per assignment [source: Secret Shopper]. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association has a list on its Web site of reputable mystery shopping companies. Most of them let you apply for assignments online. As with any money-making opportunity that seems too good to be true, look out for scams. Reputable mystery shopping companies will never ask you to pay money upfront to be eligible to work for them.
Rent Out a Spare Room in Your House
If you happen to have an extra room or two in your house, renting out the room can be an easy way to make money on the side. Depending on the rental market in your area, you could make anywhere from $250 to more than $1,000 per month in rent. You can check classified ads in the newspaper and sites like Craigslist to see comparable prices in your area.
But renting out a room isn't as easy as simply sitting back and collecting the money. You'll have to draw up a lease that protects your rights as a landlord, follow anti-discrimination laws when placing ads and interviewing tenants, do credit and background checks on potential tenants, keep your house compliant with state laws and local housing codes, and follow certain federal safety laws. For example, local codes might require you to purchase a new water heater or update your plumbing, and federal laws may require you to pay to have lead paint or asbestos removed. State and local laws also determine procedures for things that will come up eventually, like eviction and security deposits [source: Fannie Mae]. You will also have to pay tax on your rental income. Obviously, there can also be personal issues with sharing your house, so consider whether you're comfortable sharing your living space with someone you don't know.
Sell Your Eggs or Sperm
Some people may be uncomfortable with giving away their genetic material. But for those who aren't bothered by the idea of becoming the biological parent for another couple's children, donating genetic material can be profitable and even rewarding. Women who donate an egg are paid between $5,000 and $8,000 for the time and discomfort of the process. Egg donors typically must be between 20 and 30 years old, at an average weight for their height and non-smokers. The donation process is involved: daily drug injections for a month and an outpatient procedure for the donation.
Sperm donors get between $50 and $100 per donation. Donation cycles last six months to a year, with donations made up to three times a week, so the money adds up. Donors must be at least 18 years old, but can donate up until the age of 40. Most banks require that men be above average in height (5'7" or 5'9"). Some require a high school diploma, or even a college degree. Between the initial screening and regular donations, the time commitment can be great. And while the donation process is obviously simpler for sperm than eggs, men have to abstain from any sexual activity for three days before each donation.
Potential sperm and egg donors complete a family medical history questionnaire to weed out anyone with major genetic health problems. That process also involves genetic testing and physical examinations. The screening takes several weeks, and only applicants who pass are compensated. So for some, it may not be worth the time.
Become a Test Subject for a NASA Bed Rest Study
It sounds like an urban legend that should be right up there with Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola, but NASA will actually pay you $5,000 to lie in bed for 90 days. It may seem too good to be true, but the experiment has a scientific application. Test subjects lie with their legs elevated, and the extended lack of muscle use is similar to what astronauts experience in space. Subjects are not allowed to engage in much physical activity, but they can watch TV, read or use computers [source: Smith]. So, it might be your chance to get paid while you write a novel, learn Japanese or work on items two through 10 on this list.
But engaging in a bed rest study shouldn't be taken lightly. Individuals with serious health conditions are not eligible, and applicants have to pass a psychological screening. Sexual activity is not permitted during the study, and there can be short-term and long-term side effects. Participants lose between 1 and 2 percent of their bone mass for each month they participate in the study, and that mass may never be regained [source: Madrigal].
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