How I Make Money on the Side

Corynne, Mystery Shopper, Boston, MA

In 2007, I answered a random spam email soliciting mystery shoppers (people who are paid to anonymously visit a store and report on their experiences), and signed up at no cost with a company that facilitates mystery shops.

I’m a lawyer, but I spent the next few years also working as an independently contracted mystery shopper. I typically reviewed 75-100 shops each month, and then spent around 1-2 hours completing the shop reports online each weekend.

Most shops pay me about $5 to $20 for my work. I’ve made as much as $14,000 in a year shopping, which doesn’t include all of the purchased items that were reimbursed to me by the companies: fast food, fine dining with valet, clothing, movies with concession stand purchases, groceries, oil changes and more.

The best part: With help from my mystery shopping money, I was able to purchase a two-family home.

Site to get you started: MSPA North America

Johnathan, TaskRabbiter, Los Angeles, CA

In April of last year, I was searching for a way to make extra cash to supplement my income working full-time as a pharmacy assistant for a medical center. I literally typed in “extra cash” in the app store on my phone and it brought up TaskRabbit, which lets people outsource unwanted chores to other people for a fee. I visited the website, went through a background check and a video interview and six weeks later, I was a TaskRabbiter.

Whenever someone lists a task that they want to pay someone else to do–grocery shopping, IKEA assembly or delivering birthday flowers to a friend–all the TaskRabbiters in the area get alerts on their phones. The first person to reply or the person who’s willing to do it for the least amount of money takes on the task. I do tasks almost every night of the week and on the weekends, when I book multiple tasks in a row. I make about $50 per job, and earn $300 to $400 in a typical week. Most of my jobs are basic carpentry gigs–I actually had to replace a set of tools since taking on all these tasks!

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Site to get you started: TaskRabbit

Deanna, Personal Care Attendant, Boston, MA

In 2009, I was searching Craigslist for positions as a part-time personal care worker, in addition to my full-time work as a Senior CAD Architect at a small architecture firm. I came across a position an hour away from my house, working one day a week with a wheelchair-bound college student who has cerebral palsy.

I was hired through a program that assists disabled families to pick and choose their own attendants–as long as we meet some basic criteria (over 18, English-speaking, at least a high school degree), pass a background check and get a health checkup by the program’s doctors. Since my job doesn’t require administration of medication, I don’t need special training. I’m paid $11.10 an hour, and I get a check every two weeks.

I mostly help the student with her homework, flipping flash cards and book pages for her, as well as running errands around the neighborhood. I adore her humor–I feel more like a big sister or mentor than just a personal care attendant.

Site to get you started: Craigslist, Indeed

Tracy, SAT Tutor, New York, NY

When I got my first job out of college, I wasn’t quite making enough money to sustain living in an expensive city like New York. I knew a lot of people from college who were supporting themselves through tutoring, so I got a position on the weekends tutoring high school students in reading. To get the job with a private tutoring company, I had to submit my SAT scores, take a practice test, teach mock lessons and undergo about 10 to 15 hours of training.

On Saturdays and Sundays, I commute to the suburbs, where I teach for about five hours a day. Working five days a week at my full-time job, and then tutoring on the weekends leaves me exhausted, but my attitude is that I might as well work hard while I’m young.

Plus, the pay is good–around $150 per day–and I like working with students. Since I give out my personal email, I’m often fielding emails from students during the week, which is unpaid work. But it pays off: At the end of the “semester,” I get a bonus, based on student feedback.

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Site to get you started: Kaplan, The Princeton Review

Sarah, Brand Ambassador, Minneapolis, MN

To make some extra money, I searched Craigslist for positions as a brand ambassador–you know, the person who stands at pop-up booths to hand out samples and answer questions. That was three years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Although I still search Craigslist from time to time, I’ve also joined mailing lists for two marketing companies that look for people who can represent brands at trade shows and events. If I notice that a company charges a fee to join the list, I skip it.

Typical pay for events is $17 to $19 per hour, but I’ve made as much as $26 an hour. Some companies pay a flat rate–I once made $250 to work a seven-hour shift at a trade show. And many companies offer “backup” employees who are paid just to show up (between $20 and $50), in case they’re needed; you usually only have to be there for about 15 minutes.

I can do it on nights and weekends, which is great for me, since I work as an executive assistant, and I’ll soon be entering business school. And the more available you are, the more offers you get–there are so many companies looking for help that finding work is never a problem.

My most memorable job? I worked for a company called Mustard Girl, and when I showed up for my shift, I discovered that the company owner (whose image is the basis for the logo on the mustard bottles) looks like me! All day, people stared at the bottles, and then back at us, trying to guess which one was the girl on the bottle.

Site to get you started: Craigslist, Victory Marketing