I’ve worked for the post office, invested in real estate, and had a successful internet publishing business. But over the years I’ve also cut trees to sell to lumber yards, rented out my shed as a bedroom, and sold things retrieved from dumpsters.
I prefer to make money in non-mainstream ways. For example, I love doing some manufactured spending with my credit cards, even if I only make $20 at a time. And yes, I still watch those dumpsters for things to sell (I found a nice extension cord a few days ago).
What about a four-year degree followed by a stable career, or starting a traditional business, or working at a regular job? Those are great options for most readers. But not all of us walk these more-conventional paths comfortably.
So whether you want to choose a new path, find a fun way to make some cash on weekends, or you just want to know what’s available out there, here are some of the many ways people make money on the fringes of society.
1. Become a Stooper
“Stooping” has been going on for as long as there have been horse race tracks. It refers to the practice of picking up betting slips from the floors and garbage containers to look for winners.
Apparently people don’t always know they have a winning ticket (it can be confusing), so finding discarded ones is relatively common.
According to the Baltimore Sun, “Jimmy,” a 64-year old stooper, has been at it for almost four decade! His best day brought in $3,000 (he found a winning trifecta ticket). On some days he might make only enough for lunch.
Jimmy explains the discarded winners as a result of too much drinking by gamblers. At race tracks in Maryland in a recent year there were $583,694 in uncashed tickets.
Not surprisingly, race track officials don’t really like stoopers cashing in on this windfall, so guys like Jimmy try to remain inconspicuous. You should probably do the same if you decide to try this.
2. Fly a Sign
You’ve seen people standing at the side of the road, or at the entrance to a store parking lot, holding a piece of cardboard that reads something like, “Will work for food,” or “Anything helps.” This is called “flying a sign,” and it’s a common method of begging.
What if you have no better options? How much can you make flying a sign?
Your income will depend on your location (and skills), but an investigative report by Fort Worth magazine found that $32 was the average daily take for the people they interviewed.
That’s not much, but most of the homeless they talked to put their signs out for less than three hours daily.
HomelessAdvice.com profiles several sign flyers who make between $10 and $25 per hour for their efforts. They all work the streets of northern California, generally for no more than a few hours daily.
3. Junk Pick and Dumpster Dive
I’ve made a little money from junk picking, and the “treasure hunting” aspect makes it fun. But I’m a small-timer. As I reported in a previous post on dumpster diving, there are people who make thousands of dollars doing this.
GarbageFinds.com is one of the best resources I’ve seen for learning the necessary skills and knowledge. It’s a blog published by a professional scavenger. Pay special attention to his post on scavenging college dorms on move-out day.
4. Become a Busker
“Busking,” or street performing, runs the gamut from singing, acting, and doing magic tricks, to dressing up as a statue that moves when money is deposited in a box.
I once watched a juggler collect about $35 in his hat in about 20 minutes, so this can be pretty lucrative (Lesson: Boulder, Colorado is generous to buskers).
What if you have no performance skills? Become a costume busker. While in San Francisco my wife and I paid a giant rainbow-colored robot $2 to have our picture taken with him.
A minute later we saw some Japanese tourists do the same. No particular skills are required to dress up in a costume (but make it outrageous).
Where do you make the most money? What’s the law say about street performing? Which of the dozens of types of busking is right for you? You’ll find these questions and more answered on the website BuskerCentral.com.
5. Work the Fields
Once, when I was between jobs (okay, I’m almost always between jobs), I picked apples with two friends, and we were paid cash daily. We worked when we wanted, took breaks anytime, and one friend drank beer while working.
The owner apparently didn’t care because he paid us not by the hour, but for each bin we filled.
I made $8 per hour when sharing the work and income with my friends, and $13 per hour when working alone. Lesson learned; work alone if you’re fast.
The truth is, it’s tough to make minimum wage from agricultural gigs. I work quickly, and pickers with years of experience work even faster, but most people aren’t fast enough.
I figure my apple-picking friends could make only $5 per hour on their own, which is why they quit when I started working alone.
On the other hand, there are exceptions to that low pay for farm work, which brings us to our next fringe money maker…
6. Become a Workamper
There are thousands of people who roam the country in their RVs, stopping to work when they need money. They call themselves “workampers,” and Workamper News has been one of their primary information sources for 30 years.
The temporary jobs they find include agricultural work, caretaking, campground hosting, and seasonal work at resorts. Often these are low-paid positions that are meant only to fund their travels, but there are higher-paying gigs.
For example, consider the fall sugar beet harvest in Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota. One workamping couple reports they made a minimum of $13 per hour harvesting beets, and they were paid $26 per hour on Sundays.
The company also paid for a full-hookup campsite for their RV.
7. Sell Your Blood
An article on how homeless people make money in Portland, Oregon reports that one man interviewed makes $50 weekly donating plasma. I may pay a visit to CSL Plasma here in Tucson to make some cash, because they say I can make up to $400 per month.
DonatingPlasma.org has a locator you can use to find donation centers near you.But whether or not they want to call it “donating,” be sure they pay (the hospital is going to make a big profit on your plasma, so why give it away?).
8. Credit Hustle in Casinos
An article on 1,000 people who live in the tunnels under Las Vegas reports that one couple survives by “credit hustling” in casinos. That means they check slot machines for credits people leave behind, and then cash them in. Their best find was $997 in one machine.
This isn’t just a Vegas thing. When I worked at a casino in Michigan I saw people doing this all the time. I’ve even stumbled onto some leftover slot machine credits myself.
9. Work for a Day Labor Company
Unlike regular employers or temporary employment agencies a day-labor company is a place where you can go to work when you like and usually get a check at the end of the day.
I did this when I lived in Florida, standing on the side of the road holding a sign one day (horrible), and at other times doing construction work (more interesting).
Some of my co-workers were homeless, which is not surprising given the pay. From their daily minimum wage check $5 was deducted for transportation (my car; the money was added to my check).
But the real hourly pay was far worse when you consider the unpaid hours spent waiting each morning to see if there was work.
Day labor is a fast way to start making some cash, and it can be interesting, but you won’t make much for your time.
10. Scavenge for Scrap Metal
One of my more-resourceful coworkers at the day labor company offered to remove some old air conditioning units from the roof of a business, for free.
The owner agreed, and my coworker made a couple hundred dollars selling the copper coils and other parts as scrap metal.
Those were large air conditioners. The scrap metal value of a typical home window unit is only about $12 to $18.
Other things scrappers look for include wheels, copper wires, and old electronics (which have gold and silver in them). I’ve also cashed in aluminum lawn furniture and metal door frames.
The prices paid change regularly, and vary by location, but any scrap metal price list will give you an idea of what’s valuable and which items aren’t worth the trouble.
11. Collect Cans
A PBS report on homeless recyclers found that it’s tough to make more than $25 daily by scavenging cans and bottles to sell for scrap. Aluminum cans are worth up to $2 per pound, plastic around $1 per pound, and glass only 10 cents per pound.
On the other hand, if you live in one of the states with a bottle bill (where the law requires deposits on beverage containers) you can do much better.
For example, in Michigan, where cans have a 10 cent deposit, I used to make hundreds of dollars annually just taking home the empties from my workplace break room.
In that same community I met a man who covered his rent by bicycling the streets looking for empties and turning them in for the deposit.
12. Sell Craigslist Freebies
Go to Craigslist, and under “for sale” click the link that says “free.” You’ll almost always find some good things people are giving away — things that can be sold.
Some items are ready to flip right away. Others may need repairs or improvements. It helps to get creative.
For example, on her blog, Sarah Titus explains how she got free furniture on Craigslist, and then painted it artistically to make profits of $60 to $200 per item.
13. Sell Things You Don’t Own
One thing about being between jobs is that it leaves you time to find ways to make money. That was my neighbor’s situation when he offered to sell his friend’s snowmobile. He put it in the yard with a “for sale” sign on it.
A buyer offered $650, so my neighbor called his friend and asked, “will you take $450?” He agreed. That’s a $200 profit on a snowmobile that wasn’t even his.
14. Collect Spare Change From Vending Machines
Who hasn’t stumbled upon a quarter or two in the change slot of a soda machine? Vacuum machines at car washes are even better. Just make it a habit to check any vending machine you walk past and, once in awhile, you’ll hit the jackpot (and maybe be 50 cents richer).
Hint: Push the change return button. Besides leaving a loose quarter behind, people sometimes don’t push the return button hard enough, and leave up to a dollar waiting to be refunded.
15. Check Thrift Store Clothing for Money
I found this idea posted on a Reddit thread on slightly illegal hacks, but I don’t see anything illegal about it. The commenter said his father checks the pockets of coats at thrift stores, and has found up to $50 as well as sunglasses.
Of course, if you find $50, you should at least buy the coat.
If you have some money making stories from the fringe of society, please share them below… and keep on frugaling!