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10 More Ways to Make Money on the Fringes of Society

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In my first article on ways to make money at the fringes of society I started with stooping, flying a sign, and dumpster diving. Those were followed by a dozen more examples, and I included a few of my personal stories too.

I suspected it would not be my last piece on the subject.

When I recently  stumbled onto an article about a man who makes $200 per hour foraging for mushrooms (add that to the list) I remembered my unemployed friends in Michigan who harvest wild morel mushrooms and sell then to local restaurants every spring.

They sometimes make $200 per day, not per hour, but that’s still pretty good.

That article convinced me it was time to revisit the subject. It also made me remember more of my own unusual income sources. I’ll include a few of those in the following list of ten more ways to make money on the fringes of society.

1. Make Palm Leaf Crafts

When we first came to Tucson my wife and I bought a rose made from a folded and twisted palm leaf. It was part of our home decor for years.

Our budget for street crafts that day was only $2, but while we talked to the vendor he sold a $6 scorpion (which was very artistic). My guess is that he sold at least 4 items per hour at an average of $4 each.

Between customers he was busy doing his palm leaf origami work to make the next product.

I’m pretty sure he got the leaves at a nearby park. When the materials cost you nothing and you have no overhead, you keep 100% of each sale. There aren’t many businesses with a profit margin like that.

How do you make these crafts? You can start with the Origami Resource Center, which has a whole section on working with palm leaves. There are also numerous YouTube videos on palm leaf art.

2. Wash Car Windows

You don’t have to jump out at intersections to squeegee a windshield and intimidate drivers into paying a buck for your service.

Instead, follow the lead of street entrepreneurs around here (Tucson), and just work through parking lots asking people politely if they want their windows cleaned for a couple bucks.

My wife and I just paid an old woman $2 to wash our car windows while we were at a restaurant, and she did a great job. I’m not sure how lucrative it is for her, but a spray bottle and a rag were her only tools, so the capital investment is minimal.

3. Sell Bottled Water on the Street

You’ve probably seen people selling all sorts of things at street corners, with the transactions often happening through car windows just before the light changes. Cold bottles of water on hot days may be one of the best sellers.

And you can probably stay out of trouble. For example, when entrepreneur Neville Medhora did his bottled water experiment, he asked a police officer what he would do if he saw him selling water without a permit.

The officer replied, “I can’t speak for every officer, but personally I wouldn’t bother you unless you start causing problems.”

Here in Tucson (a good place to sell water) we regularly buy 24-packs of bottled water for $1.99. That’s just 8.5 cents per bottle, so selling them at $1 each would make for a very good profit margin, even after paying for ice to keep them cold.

You might want to go for a better brand. In that case you could pay as much as 25 or even 30 cents per bottle, which still leaves room for a nice profit.

4. Sell Things at Flea Markets — To the Vendors

You have to pay to set up at a flea market. Then you have to sell things one-at-a-time. Why not sell something to the vendors instead, and let them worry about the retail sales work?

For example, when my wife and I were done doing craft shows I sold my last 50 walking sticks to a flea market vendor. When we found interesting rocks we used to sell them to a vendor who made crafts with them.

And one time, I made $42 selling a bunch of junk-picked golf tees to a flea market vendor.

Want to sell something to vendors? You can locate your nearest flea markets using the list at (where else?) FleaMarketList.com.

5. Collect Shopping Cart Quarters

At Aldi grocery stores you insert a quarter in a mechanism on the shopping cart to use it. You automatically get it back when you return the cart and push it into the corral.

Aldi explains “By not having to hire someone to police the shopping carts, we are able to pass on the savings to our customers.”

Of course, sometimes people still leave their carts out in the parking lot. I’ve returned a few of them for the quarter that’s left with them, and I’m certainly not the only one who has thought of doing this.

Our local 99-Cent store has recently implemented these quarter-deposit carts too, and I suspect other stores will follow, providing more opportunities for making a quarter.

If you are bolder (or more desperate) you might even work around the parking lot offering to return the carts for people so you can keep the quarters.

6. Rent a Shed as a Bedroom

My first home was a mobile on the outskirts of a small town. By renting rooms I paid off the mortgage, but I wanted still more income to fund my job-quitting lifestyle, so I built a shed to rent out as a bedroom.

I built parts with used lumber, floored it with a patchwork of carpet samples, scavenged the door, use cheap plexiglass for a window, and placed it all on a foundation of recycled cement blocks. The whole project cost a bit over $200.

A friend who needed a place to stay was my first shed-tenant, at $45 per week. That returned my investment in the first 5 weeks. The next tenant paid me $50 per week, which was 90% profit (he still had to use the home for the bathroom and laundry facilities).

If you want to try this, and your local rental laws make it tough to do long-term rentals, you might try renting your shed by the night on Airbnb.

7. Sell Things at Rainbow Gatherings

The rainbow family, according to their website, is “the largest non-organization of non-members in the world.”

They have no leaders, but somehow manage to have a big week-long gathering of thousands of people somewhere in the U.S. each year. There are smaller gatherings at various times and places.

According to a nice young rainbow girl my wife and I met at a Arizona hot spring, using money is frowned upon at these events.

But she still managed to fund her travels by “selling” vegetarian sandwiches for books, gas, or whatever else the buyers had to offer.

If you want to make money “selling” something at these gatherings, you might barter for things that can later be turned into cash, like jewelry or anything else that can be sold.

8. Find Cash Laying Around

Who hasn’t found lost money, whether a few coins or a $20 bill? But can you keep it, and where can you find more?

The law generally requires you to make an effort to locate the owner of lost money, but as a practical matter there’s no enforcement when the amount is small. So what about the ethics of found money?

I wouldn’t try to find the owner of a dollar bill found on the ground, because it wouldn’t be worth my time or his. On the other hand, if it was a $100 bill I would ask someone at the nearest store to call me if the owner came looking for it.

When to keep lost money is your call, but where are you most likely to find some if you want to make it a more regular event? Here are a few examples of the best places to try:

Where People Sit

Money sometimes falls from pockets when people sit in a mall food court, or slouch in a movie theater seat. You can also look near benches in parks and at bus stops, and under the bleachers at sporting events.

Under Drive-Through Windows

When I worked in fast food I watched a homeless guy regularly scoop up spilled change at the drive-through window. Best time? The crack of dawn (nobody gets out of their car to pick up dropped change at night).

In ATMs

One writer says he has found “hundreds of dollars” left behind in ATMs.

Parking Lots

Money falls out when people take their keys out of their pockets.

Cigarette Packs

Some people have the habit of stashing currency in the plastic around their cigarette packs. Sometimes they forget about it when they discard the empty pack, so if you see one laying on the ground…

Gas Stations

Pulling keys and wallets and other stuff out of pockets is common at the pump, and it sometimes results in money falling out.

9. Sell Your Labor in a Home Depot Parking Lot

Contractors hire “parking lot day labor” at Home Depot stores in many parts of the country, and they usually pay cash at the end of the day. It can be a way to find work fast, especially if you live in an area with a lot of construction going on.

Even if your Home Depot (or Lowes) doesn’t regularly have guys standing around waiting to be put to work, there will be contractors there early every morning, along with their work crews.

That makes it a good place to find a job in many of the trades (roofing, carpentry, landscaping, etc.) and even in unskilled positions like construction cleanup or routine lawn work. Ask around.

10. Sell Street Papers

Street papers are newspapers that are intended to be sold by the homeless (and sometimes others living in poverty).

For example, one of the newest ones, The Springs Echo, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is wholesaled to homeless persons for 50 cents-per-copy and then sold by them for the $1.50 cover price.

NPR reports that some homeless vendors have done so well selling street papers that they’re no longer homeless. They say “The Contributor,” a paper in Nashville, Tennessee, has sold as many as 75,000 copies of an issue, and has 400 vendors selling it.

If you have your own ways to make money on the fringes of society, please tell us about them below… and keep on frugaling!

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