A couple of weeks ago, I posted an article entitled “40 Free (or Extremely Low-Cost) Things I Genuinely Enjoy Doing – and You Might, Too!” I received several pieces of feedback on the article, mostly positive, but one in particular stuck out at me. Alex writes:
Your list of free things to do was cool, but I am more interested in hobbies I can take up that could actually earn a little. Do you have a list of “things you enjoy doing that earn money”?
Well, let’s do just that!
First of all, I excluded things that require significant training in order to be able to pull off. Almost anyone can make a passing attempt at any of these things almost any time. Sure, they might not be very good, but you can actually do them and you will get better with practice.
There are a lot of things you can do if you have specialized skills: record music videos and put them on YouTube, write smartphone apps, get change from the bank and look for rare coins, and so on. For the most part, I’m excluding these things and sticking with stuff you can start doing pretty quickly with only an online guide or two to help you when you’re starting.
Second, I excluded things that require a lot of equipment that you may not have. You might be able to make some money if you have a 3D printer, for example, but many people do not. I have a friend, for example, who has made some money printing off miniatures from a 3D printer, but that’s not accessible to most people. If you have an airplane, for instance, you could take people on airplane rides to make money – but who has an airplane? Some of the things below do require a few pieces of equipment, but they’re either really inexpensive or they’re things that people already have.
Third, I also excluded location-specific things. For example, in the area where I grew up, people used to hunt for geodes to earn some extra money. They also used to hunt for morel mushrooms – something I still dabble in. Those things really require you to be in specific areas to be able to pull them off, so I’m not including them, either.
Ready to pick up a new hobby and make a few bucks along the way? Let’s do it!
1. Make homemade movies.
All you really need to make a cool and memorable movie that’s perfect for becoming a YouTube sensation is a camera and a cute idea. You don’t need props. You don’t need a perfect script. You just need a camera and a good idea, nothing else.
Trust me, anything flies. There are videos out there depicting people’s cats being cute. There are videos out there of some guy dressed up as Batman doing ordinary dad stuff. There are infinite videos out there of clever hidden camera situations. There are videos out there of water balloon pranks. All of those have been hits in the past.
In the end, all you really need is a cute idea and a rough vision of how to turn it into a video. Turn on the camera, make it happen, upload it to Youtube, and share it with your friends. It probably won’t go anywhere… but it might.
You’ll never know, though, until you spend an afternoon with a camera making a video.
2. Record a podcast series.
Podcasts can be incredibly enjoyable, both for the person listening and the person recording. I’ve been on both ends of the equation many times and both are enjoyable.
All you really need to record your own podcast is a computer and a microphone. You can even record one using just your smartphone if it’s a simple solo show without much editing.
You can host your podcast for free using BuzzSprout as you’re getting started, then upgrade to other plans if your podcast becomes popular. Of course, when it becomes popular, you can actually start making money with it.
Making money from a podcast is a bit tricky, but once you start raising an audience on your own, you can look into the possibility of joining a podcast network, which often serves as a collective for finding and negotiating with advertisers for the purposes of raising money.
Not only that, podcasting is a great way to get involved with the online community of whatever topic you’re into.
3. Raise a garden.
Raising a vegetable garden is a really enjoyable and engrossing hobby. It’s wonderful to take a plot of ground, plant some seeds in it, care for that ground by removing weeds and adding nutrients, and seeing the plants grow and produce fruits and vegetables. Not only that, if you’re using heirloom varieties, you can save the seeds and plant them again next season.
So, how does this make money? For one, you can take the food and eat it yourself, eliminating the cost of meals or meal ingredients and keeping that money in your pocket. You can also take the extras and sell them. Post what you have for sale on Facebook or take them to a farmers market. Put them on a table in front of your house with a jar and a “take what you need, pay what you can” card. Look into selling the extras to local grocers. You get the idea.
Obviously, the bigger the garden, the more food you produce, and the more food you produce, the greater the proceeds. It’s all about how much you enjoy the hobby and how much time and energy you’re willing to invest.
4. Bake some bread or make some other handmade good and take it to the farmers market.
At our local farmers market, many of the booths go beyond selling just fresh produce. There are also people selling their fresh baked goods from their own kitchen, their own home-canned preserves and jams and jellies, and so on.
The thing is, I’ve made all of that stuff in my own kitchen. I’ve baked countless loaves of homemade bread. I’ve made many jars of jelly and jam. I’ve made homemade salsa. I’ve made handmade soap. I’ve made homemade laundry soap. I could sell all of that stuff at a farmers market without any issues.
Obviously, you need to check with the rules of your local farmers market regarding what you can make yourself and are allowed to sell, but it’s certainly an opportunity for you if you enjoy making things like this at home.
5. Play a free video game and stream it.
There are a lot of free computer games and low-cost video games out there, such as League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2), that offer incredible gameplay depth and fun. They also attract a surprisingly large online viewing audience, people who just love to tune in and watch people play and hear their commentary through sites like Twitch.
If you enjoy playing video games, stream them! You can set up streaming pretty easily from an Xbox One, a PS4, or a PC and stream out your games. The ability is built into the consoles; you can get OBS for free to stream from your computer. You can also record commentary as you play if you have a microphone and, in my experience, that’s the best way to build an audience is through fun commentary as you’re playing.
One great strategy is to just play through niche games that are considered classics and make lots of jokes while playing, just like you were playing with your friends. Remember, you don’t need to be competitively skilled, just interesting.
6. Take photographs and sell some of them to stock photography sites.
For many people, the process of taking photographs of people, objects, and nature is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Perhaps you’ve already invested in some photography equipment and maybe you’ve even dreamed of doing it professionally, but have never been able to turn that corner.
This is a perfect situation for stock photography. Simply take interesting photos and then upload them to a stock photography site like iStockPhoto. They’ll take care of the rest. Over time, some of your images will be sold and used in publications and in other places and when that happens you’ll earn a bit of income.
There are many, many services for this online – Shutterstock, BigStockPhoto, and so on. Almost all of them have arrangements for photographers to sell their images.
If you think a fun afternoon is taking hundreds of photographs and finding two or three that are gems, this is a great way to translate that “fun” into an income stream.
7. Start a blog on a topic you enjoy and put some ads on it.
What are you passionate about? What excites you? What do you love doing and talking about? Those are the things that would make a great blog.
It’s pretty easy to start one using a service like Blogger, WordPress, or Squarespace. All you have to do is sign up, pick a template, and start writing. I recommend focusing on two things with each article – make it informative and make it entertaining. I find that articles that manage to do both, mixing information with interesting anecdotes and stories, are the ones that grab me, no matter what the topic.
So, how do you make money here? There are many ways. You can put advertisements on the site using Adsense. You can put affiliate links to Amazon on the site. If you have a lot of writings, you can bundle them into an ebook. You can also use the blog to promote other things you’re doing, like the other ideas in this article.
Each of those things has the opportunity to earn you some real money.
8. Make crafts and sell them on Etsy.
Do you have a particular crafting skill that you’d love to share with others? Maybe you’re good at sketches and can make custom sketches for people from photographs. Perhaps you’re a good fantasy artist (like this old friend of mine) and would like to sell some of your art. Maybe you make handmade metal signs or keychain fobs. Perhaps you like to knit scarves.
Whatever it is that you like to make, you can sell it on Etsy.
It’s pretty easy to open a store on Etsy; you mostly just list yourself on there and then list a few items you’re selling, along with photographs of those items and a reasonable price for them. Describe those items well and people who are searching for interesting decorations or items to buy will find it.
Not only that, once you have items listed on Etsy, you can discuss them elsewhere. Post those items on Facebook for your friends to see and share them on other discussion forums you participate in related to your hobby.
9. Buy stuff at yard sales or thrift stores (or find it while dumpster diving) and sell it on eBay or at your own yard sale.
This is something that the father of one of my closest friends does for a living. He simply checks out dumpsters and roadside curbs during peak periods – when students move out of dormitories at the nearby university, for example – and scavenges anything of value, then sells that stuff at his own yard sale.
I even do this to a certain extent. I’ve been known to go to thrift stores looking for items that I can accurately price and then resell on eBay or at a yard sale. Occasionally, I hit gold – I once bought a board game for $3 that I resold for $120.
You can easily do this, too. Look in places where there is little financial risk – dumpsters after a moving day, thrift shops, and so on – and try to identify items that would have value if brought before the right person. Then, take the effort to put them in front of the right person, either through eBay or your own yard sale.
There’s not much financial investment at all. If you find someone who wants the item, you can make money. If you can’t, then just get rid of the item again – it’s not a big investment, after all.
10. Start a video podcast/blog on YouTube and enable ads.
This one’s really simple. If you have a video camera on your laptop or computer, just record a video of yourself discussing something that you’re passionate about. Save that video, edit it a little if you so choose, and then post it to YouTube. Enable ads on that video. Over time, you’ll earn a trickle of money from each video you post.
Just as with blogging, the real value comes from recording a lot of videos so that people who find you and are interested will stick around, watching more of your videos.
This is a great way to channel your thoughts into something that can earn a little bit of money, particularly if you’re not strong at converting those thoughts into the written word. Video challenges an entirely different set of skills.
11. Play music.
Do you enjoy sitting around and playing songs on your guitar or piano? You have fun, but you’re not quite good enough to play professionally?
That shouldn’t stop you from recording it and selling it. There are a lot of things you can do to make some money off your music.
For one, you can simply play a song (ideally, one you’ve written yourself to avoid copyright issues) and list that song on online music stores. You can also make a video for that song and post it on YouTube (with ads enabled, of course). That way, you can make at least a bit of money from your recording.
For another, you can give lessons, teaching others how to play. You can advertise on places like Craigslist for music lessons face-to-face, but you can also do things like record videos of your lessons and post them online.
Finally, if you live in a city or a town with a compact downtown, you can try busking — performing in the street or a subway station. (Subways or narrow streets work best if you don’t have an amplifier.) Tourists and commuters alike may appreciate the ambience, and tips of a dollar or quarter at a time can add up quickly. At the worst, you’ll get some valuable practice performing in public; but you can make some decent money, too. Just remember to research whether you need a permit to play in a certain spot.
The key thing to remember is that, usually, these avenues won’t cause you to become rich. What they will do, though, is let you do something you enjoy and probably make enough to pay for at least some of the costs related to that hobby, or perhaps earn a trickle of income.
Even a little bit of income can make a difference. For one, if it comes from a hobby, that means the hobby is income-positive rather than income-negative, meaning it puts money in your pocket rather than taking it out. That can make budgeting a lot easier. Even if your hobby remains income-negative, it’s not as income negative as it once was, again helping with your budgeting.
Not only that, an income-generating hobby like one of these has the potential to grow into something big, provided you strike a chord with your audience and promote it well. This usually does not happen, but it can never happen if you don’t give it a try.
If you’d like a few more ideas along these lines, I wrote about income-positive hobbies a few years ago, sharing ideas that share some overlap with this list.