Bullish: How to Make an Extra $100 a Month, Part II

People who enjoy the feeling of cliches pouring out of their mouths love to opine that money can’t make you happy.

Except that removing sources of suffering — which money can totally do — is pretty much the same as making people happy, unless you are some sort of miserable human being who enjoys making up new reasons to be unhappy, which is really not the case with the majority of people who just wish they had dental care and a super who would fix the hole in their ceiling.

As a broke young person in New York in 2003, I had yet another one of those the-city-is-hard incidents — you know, when you’re lugging your groceries up the subway steps in some kind of awful plastic shoes from Forever 21 and you realize, halfway up the steps, that it’s raining, and you don’t have an umbrella and wouldn’t be able to carry one anyway what with all the groceries, and there’s nothing worse than cold rain in your plastic peep-toes, and also you live seven blocks from the train because it costs less to live out a little further and undergo an extra quarter-mile of the sexual harassment gauntlet on your way home. And I thought to myself, as I always did during those moments — if I just had enough money to take a cab when everything is awful, I’d be happy.

I mention that because, yes, taking cabs when everything is awful is a guaranteed way to be happier, and because an extra $100 a month is enough to make that happen. Last week’s column was How to Make an Extra $100 a Month, Part I, and today we toss out a few more ideas. Of course, it would be lovely to turn some of these ideas into an extra couple grand a month, but an achievable goal is nice on a Thursday morning, no?

Become a Consultant

I have a contract to write some humorous, pop cultural exercises as a supplement to a textbook — you know, help the kids learn by throwing in a little Robert Pattinson. I was considering emailing one of my tutoring students — a pretty cool high school girl — to ask “What else do 16 year olds like these days?” when I thought, hmmn, if I were a 16-year-old girl, I’d set up a website (“Ask Jen!”) and rent myself out as a youth consultant.

I once got a cool gig consulting for a local PBS affiliate about a math show for kids because someone had googled “math” and “comedy” and found me. If you’re going to offer yourself as a consultant on the side, I’d stay away from offering yourself at some large, nebulous, competitive field like “marketing” or “fashion” or “small business” — instead, find some niche that no one’s even trying to fill (viral marketing among competitive cyclists, getting birds to stay still for photos…). These niches are exactly the sorts of fields where it would be hard to make a living, but easy to be the person who gets the occasional “low-hanging fruit” opportunity for the very reason that such a niche is a difficult place for full-timers to make a living.

Here’s more info on becoming a consultant
(and here).

Sell a Ridiculous Service to the Rich

Figure out something the rich might want, and offer it for $100 an hour. You only need one person to buy it to make an extra $100 a month. Two examples:

I once met a personal trainer for children. She wasn’t training prodigies for the Olympics — she just took kids to the park and let them run around, because their parents thought the kids were fat but didn’t have time to go to the park themselves. Really.

Once, I was at a client’s house tutoring a girl for the SAT. An attractive young man came in with what looked like a massage table. “Oh, don’t mind him,” said my student. “That’s just my dad’s stretcher.” Yes, a man who helped her father stretch.

Seriously, someone put up a website offering Louboutin cleaning, and then go over and gently wipe down a rich lady’s shoes with fancy washcloths. And don’t laugh while you’re getting paid.

Micro Real-Estate

A friend of mine rented a 2-bedroom apartment for $1200, and rented out a room to her roommate for $700 (always tell people when you’re doing this!) She told him upfront, “This is a $1200 apartment, and I found it and paid to put down a deposit, and I’m charging $700 for this room.” The guy she rented it to was super-stoked — no broker fees, a couch and kitchen table are already in place, someone else calls the landlord when the heat stops working. (By the way, you’re not allowed to do this with a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, but you can engage in micro-real-estate as long as your place is market rate).

Another friend of mine rented a warehouse-type space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, put up massive soundproofing and dividers, and rented it out as practice space for bands. Collecting rent from bands is not the most secure of income options, so make sure you’ve worked out the numbers so you’re okay if half of the bands break up / flee the country / attempt to pay in drugs at any given time.

Focus Groups

When a focus group offers you $300, there’s usually a bit of a catch — you’re going to be sniffing perfume and expressing your feelings about perfume for seven hours. But, hey, it’s a gig where it’s absolutely impossible to fail. “This one smells like Robitussin! I like it! Blargh, I’m a robot!”

You can’t count on focus groups to make a living, but if you sign up with a focus group company, you might expect to make $1000 or more over the course of a year. Here’s one company in New York — these are easy to Google, and you just sign up online.

When the company has a focus group matching your demographic, you’ll get a phone call asking detailed questions about what products you use, so really dredge your memory to back when you had a dog and fed it dog food. The person on the phone wants to qualify you and will sometimes encourage you to stretch the truth. (“Are you sure you’ve never bought any brand of eyebrow bleach?”)

Or you could just start a blog and start asking for free products, if you’re willing to get paid in eyebrow bleach.

Clever Banking

If you can manage to pay your rent and other large bills through online banking or on a credit card (that you pay off every month, of course), you can rack up a lot of rewards points. (Citibank has the Thank You program, and I managed to get two Chase credit cards with rewards points). This doesn’t count as income, though, unless you can manage to use those rewards for things you would’ve had to buy anyway. This year, I’ve gotten $200 in Starbucks cards from my various rewards programs. If you were going to spend that kind of money anyway (I was), then that counts as income. Other ideas: using your rewards points to get holiday gifts for people in the ‘burbs (where chain restaurants are plentiful).

It also seems that some rewards programs allow you to retain points for items you’ve since returned. I regularly order $1200 worth of shoes from Zappos and then keep 2-3 pairs and return the rest, but I think I keep my Rewards points. I’m not doing this on purpose — Zappos has free shipping and free returns precisely because they want you to feel free to order lots of stuff and see if you like it — but there you go.

Of course, you can also just take advantage of the cash bonus offers for opening personal checking accounts. European readers will be surprised to learn that anyone with an ID can set up bank accounts at banks all over the city in a single day (in Europe, you often need working papers, a call to your boss, begging, etc. to get any kind of bank account at all). While many of the best signup offers ($125 deposited into your account within 30 days, that kind of thing) require you to set up direct deposit, many don’t. Years ago, during a period of unemployment, I opened four bank accounts in a week, made a couple hundred bucks in bonuses, and netted a coupon book containing 52 certificates (1 per week for a year!) for free coffee and a donut at Dunkin Donuts. Do you know how exciting 52 free coffees-and-donuts are to the unemployed?

And finally, if you are good at math and can avoid the temptation to spend money that’s not yours, it’s possibly to make substantial money at credit card arbitrage. Basic idea: apply for many credit cards with a 0% interest promotional rate. Transfer large sums of money from those cards (via a balance transfer check — here are some other techniques) into interest-bearing accounts, or towards your existing loans or debts (you’re then paying off a high-interest loan with interest-free money, during which time, of course, you need to save the money you would’ve used to pay off the loan to ultimately pay off the credit card just before the interest-free promotional period ends). Don’t do this if your financial life is a death-spiral of spontaneous consumer purchases.

Next week: What to Do With All Your New Money! No, I’m just joking; I’m sure you’ll figure something out. (You could try making origami flowers out of money like in the awesome stock photo above, because stock photos are an excellent source of both craft ideas and worthy goals!)

originally published on The Gloss