Like almost everyone in America, I fill my spare time with a number of projects and a handful of hobbies. I have a number of things I’ve consistently enjoyed over the years – reading books comes to mind, as does computer programming – as well as hobbies that I’ve jumped into passionately for a while and then burnt out on – golf comes to mind, as does geocaching.
Income-Positive Versus Income-Negative
The problem is that the vast majority of hobbies and projects out there are “income-negative.” In other words, those hobbies consume money instead of creating it.
Many of my hobbies certainly fall into this category. While I do strive to keep the financial implications low – I try to spend roughly $1 per hour of hobby enjoyment – most of my hobbies are still income-negative.
Of course, on the flip side of that coin are hobbies which are “income-positive.” These are hobbies that you engage in that happen to earn you a bit of money along the way. The goal of such a hobby isn’t to earn money, but if it incidentally happens, it’s a perk. Sometimes, it can be a way to “keep score” within your hobby.
Income-Positive Hobby or Side Business?
It’s often hard to see the line between an income-positive hobby and a side business. For me, the difference is simple.
If you would do this anyway even if you didn’t earn a few bucks from it, it’s an income-positive hobby. For example, my aunt used to walk in the woods for hours hunting for geodes when I was a child. She would do this whether or not she found any geodes or not, simply because she enjoyed walking in the woods and she enjoyed the beautiful rocks she discovered. She put minimal time into salesmanship – she simply hung a “Geodes For Sale” sign out on her property, left the geodes out on a table, and had a box where people could leave what they wanted (she had a “suggested $5 per geode” sign there, too). She’d just put the geodes she found on that table and then checked the cash box every once in a while.
If you wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the income, then it’s a side business. I know many bloggers who keep blogging because they really like having that income stream. Their initial passion for blogging has withered, but they keep doing it because they see the five to ten hours per week that they invest as a simple way to maintain that income stream. They’d rather be doing something else, all things equal, but that income stream – even if it’s less than minimum wage for their time investment – keeps them going.
Another example of a side business that is no longer an income-positive hobby comes from a friend who makes wooden outdoor furniture. He loves to tinker in his wood shop and he made some nice deck furniture for himself. Some people wanted to buy them, so he started making and selling them… but he’d rather be making other things in his shop than these repetitive deck chairs.
What Do You Need?
There are four key ingredients to an income-positive hobby.
First, you have to enjoy doing whatever it is that you’re doing, so much that you’d do it anyway regardless of any income stream. An income-positive hobby is about the hobby, not about the income-positive. The second the focus switches, you’re running a small business, not a hobby, and the rules and methods for that change drastically. The income generation is something you spend only a fraction of your time on, mostly just as a method of unloading or sharing stuff you’re accumulating.
Second, you have to have some way of generating income from what you do. You have to be producing something that people will pay you for. Of course, that can be any number of things, but people aren’t going to give you money unless they get something of value in return.
Third, you need a method of reaching people who will actually pay you money. How exactly are you going to share these items of value with people who will give you money for them? How will they find out about them? You need some sort of platform or way of advertising what you have to offer, even if it’s just by word of mouth. The internet offers a multitude of options here.
Finally, you can’t sink much money into it. In other words, if you woke up tomorrow and decided you didn’t want to do it any more, you’re not stuck with a large sunk cost or a bunch of inventory you can’t get rid of without taking a big loss on the chin. For example, it’s going to take a long time to turn woodworking into an income-positive hobby. You might recoup some losses, but you’re only turning it income-positive if it’s pretty much a side business.
Fifteen Examples of Income-Positive Hobbies
Here are fifteen examples of income-positive hobbies, along with looks at how these four ingredients exist in each one.
Writing a Book
Pick a topic and/or a plot, then write it all out. Edit it, polish it, then sell it.
Enjoyment Some people have turned writing e-books into a business, but it becomes a factory-like setting where they crank out content as fast as they can that meets a targeted audience. For this to be a hobby, you should focus on writing what you care about. If you find yourself deeply enjoying the process of writing and fill your spare time with it, this is a hobby to dig into.
Income generation You can sell your books in electronic form online through Amazon’s Kindle store or Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, for starters. There are also easy online options for self-publishing your book in paper form and selling it on those websites.
Customer connection If you’re passionate about books, you probably already participate on book lover’s forums. Mention your book there. Also, spend some time making sure the description of your book is exciting and interesting on the online stores, so people searching for things like your book discover your book.
Money sink If you already have a computer, there’s no real money sink at all with this one.
Hunting for Geodes
Walk around in the woods looking for geodes, other interesting rocks, arrowheads, and so forth. Take them home, clean them up a bit, and sell them.
Enjoyment It’s all about the enjoyment of walking in the woods and finding the geodes. If you enjoy that, then selling them is pure icing on the cake.
Income generation As I mentioned above, my aunt used the simple method of putting them on a table in front of her house with a “GEODES FOR SALE” sign along the road and a box to put money in. You can go further than that if you’d like, particularly if you enjoy breaking and polishing the geodes for presentation.
Customer connection You can sell geodes that you’ve cleaned up on sites like Etsy, but heavy ones may be tricky to ship. Another option is to have them in a local gift shop, splitting the proceeds in some fashion with the store’s owner.
Money sink If you’re just finding them in the woods, there’s no sunk cost at all. If you’re opening them and polishing them, you may need polishing material and a hammer, which doesn’t add up to too much cost. You may also want to borrow a pipe cutter for larger geodes, especially ones you might display or sell.
Writing a Blog
Find a topic you like and write about it. Write articles explaining the basics of the topic, your thoughts on current events in the topic, reviews of products related to the topic, and so on.
Enjoyment If you’re passionate about a certain topic and enjoy writing shorter things, a blog can be perfect for you. I’ve found blogs on certain topics (like board gaming) to be a very enjoyable outlet regardless of whether it earns money or not.
Income generation You can put ads on your blog from services like Google Adsense. You can also add affiliate links for products like those from Amazon Associates, where you receive a small percentage of any sales that go through that link. All of this is pretty effortless and doesn’t affect your writing.
Customer connection The best way is to simply tell your friends about it and also share info about your blog on any messageboards or other sites related to your hobby that you participate on. You can also sometimes attract readers by linking to other sites on your topic. If someone else has a great article, link to it!
Money sink A basic blog costs nothing to start. The only money you might ever sink is to buy a “premium” template or hire someone to make a logo for you, but both of those are optional, especially at first.
Coaching a Sport
If you’re passionate about a sport, volunteer to coach. Once you build up some experience, some positions will pay you to coach that sport.
Enjoyment If you like teaching a sport, being physically active, and interacting with kids (and sometimes adults, too), coaching is pretty much a no-brainer for a hobby. It hits all three of those traits quite hard. I’m not particularly athletic, but I’ve coached youth soccer several times (unpaid) and have been approached to run a league or referee (for a small amount of pay).
Income generation This is a hobby where opportunities present themselves if you participate for a while. You might get involved in refereeing or you might move into an assistant position at a higher level where pay is offered. Generally, you need some experience to get these positions, so the best way to get that is by coaching for free starting at your local parks and rec department.
Customer connection As I mentioned above, this is a hobby that might generate income based upon the connections you build while actively coaching. Your continued efforts will be noticed and opportunities do sometimes open up.
Money sink Generally, all supplies are provided when you’re coaching. You may need a few athletic items for yourself, but if you are physically active, you likely already have them. I’ve sometimes purchased treats for young children after the game, but the cost wasn’t much at all and my children usually received treats, too. Plus, it was a prime opportunity to meet other people in the community and build other relationships.
Take lots of photographs of memorable things. Touch up your best ones and share them online. Set up a portfolio and sell prints.
Enjoyment Do you like taking photographs? That’s really what this is all about – you just take your top 0.1% (or so) of images and find ways to sell them to others. You’re just selecting the cream of your output and trying to earn a few dollars from it.
Income generation There are a lot of ways to earn some money from a great image. You can sell prints at a site like Etsy. You can also set up a website that’s just a gallery of your stuff, place a few ads on it (along with links to buy prints), and keep a link to this site in your email signature.
Customer connection The best way is to list your photos with distinctive terms on a high-trafficked site like Etsy so that people will find them when they search. Be as descriptive as you can with your photos and make sure that you’re sharing your links wherever it makes sense.
Money sink The initial photography equipment can be quite a money sink. Thankfully, a good quality digital SLR camera that’s well maintained has quite a bit of resale value (and is fairly easy to sell) provided it’s not terribly old and is compatible with a wide variety of lenses. The total equipment is limited and the upkeep cost is basically nonexistent.
Making Handmade Jewelry or Art
Almost anyone with an artistic bent finds themselves spending their spare time creating some form of art or another. The challenge is figuring out what to do with it… but the internet has really leveled that playing field.
Enjoyment Among my friends and family, there are several artists. Virtually all of them do it because they enjoy it. They love the process of creating something with their hands, eyes, mind, and heart. All of them would continue to do it even if they didn’t earn a dime because the process of creation is so deeply enjoyable for them.
Income generation Etsy! That website provides a tremendous outlet for anyone who wishes to sell art, handmade jewelry, and other items. It’s incredibly easy to open a shop there. Just list the items as you create them with descriptive names. You may find that people eventually request pieces from you and it’s up to you whether you want to do that.
Customer connection Again, if you’re selling items online, it never hurts to put links to that shop in your email signature or to share that link on message boards or discussion forums you participate on, particularly those related in some way to the art or jewelry that you make.
Money sink These types of craft-oriented hobbies tend to have some supplies involved which can vary quite a bit. However, it’s not too hard to eventually bring them to a point of being income-positive, because once you’re producing pieces that people actually like and buy, you’re sinking far less into materials than the sticker price of the items.
Growing a Garden
Vegetable gardening is something that many people do to pass the time and raise healthy fruits and vegetables for their family. This can be a very inexpensive source of food, becoming essentially income-positive because of the food bill it replaces. However, sometimes you have a flood of food and you’re able to sell some of the excess.
Enjoyment Do you like to garden? It’s really as simple as that. Some people happily plant and cultivate large gardens each year regardless of what they produce. If that’s in your heart, then gardening is a spectacular income-positive hobby.
Income generation The food you produce replaces part of your food bill, so that’s income in a very direct fashion. If you have excess vegetables, you can simply open up a roadside stand or buy a slot at a farmer’s market. You may even be able to just sell everything you have to someone else running a farmer’s market slot, making it very easy.
Customer connection Unless you’re running a roadside stand, you don’t have to worry about this at all. With a stand, a simple large sign along a busy roadway should be all you need.
Money sink Gardening does require a number of tools and, if you’re not saving seeds, does require some seeds each year. However, even a moderately successful garden repays this with the crops of food after a few years.
There’s a person who lives somewhere near us that does loops in our neighborhood each day walking multiple dogs. The process is easy – she has a key to get into people’s garages or kitchens where she picks up their dog, walks that dog for a mile or two (she’s usually walking two or three at a time), takes the dog home, feeds and waters the dog, then locks the door behind her. It’s an easy routine, she walks her own dog along the way. She just chooses friendly dogs that get along well with each other, making it fun and easy for her.
Enjoyment If one of the highlights of your day is walking your dog and you live near other dog owners, you can simply add a few more dogs to your walk. You can charge a small fee per walk and then just pick up that dog on your loop, then loop back to return that dog.
Income generation This is something that works best with specific arrangements. Just figure out a per-walk fee, then work it out with the person whose dog you’re walking. Essentially, all you’re doing is stopping by to pick up another dog on your walk. Skip on the difficult dogs.
Customer connection Basically, you’re going to look for people near you that have dogs and who work during the day. You can identify these people when you’re walking your own dog and introduce yourself directly to them.
Money sink There’s essentially no cost here. You stop, pick up another dog, continue on your walk, return that dog, and collect money at the end of the week.
This is a great hobby for patient people. Just go to the bank, withdraw some amount of money in coins, then go through them and look for rare coins that have some additional value. Sell those, then cash in the remaining coins. I know a person who has built several full sets of state quarters doing this, selling the full sets for just a bit more than face value the cost of the coin books.
Enjoyment Like I said, this kind of hobby appeals to patient people who enjoy numismatic studies (i.e., the collection and study of coins). If that’s your thing, this can be a lot of fun.
Income generation The income comes from being able to sell coins for a value above their face value. Since you’re just sifting through piles of coins that you already own, you only earn money by selling off coins with some sort of premium. However, that premium is pure profit.
Customer connection You have to find people willing to buy your rare coins. For specific rare coins, your best bet is either a local coin dealership or eBay. For coin sets – like state quarters – you can have some success on Craigslist.
Money sink You need the initial capital to buy a bunch of pennies or quarters at once, but that money is liquid, so you can always just cash it right back in if you need to. Thus, there really isn’t a money sink here.
Tutoring a Subject You’re Passionate About
Two different friends of mine are involved in tutoring students on subjects that they enjoy. This is a great way for a part-time teacher who loves teaching individual students who are receptive to the topic. This does ride the fine line between business and income-positive hobby, but if you’re genuinely the type of person who enjoys teaching, this could be for you. To me, this is much like coaching youth sports – if you’d do it for free, this is the right income-positive hobby for you.
Enjoyment Do you like to teach? Do you enjoy one-on-one interaction with receptive students? That’s what tutoring is really all about. You have control over the topics you teach, too, so you’re not stuck teaching something you’re not prepared to teach or don’t enjoy teaching.
Income generation Most of the time, tutoring positions are paid, though rates can vary wildly. It depends entirely on arrangement and personal experience.
Customer connection The best method I’ve heard of is to simply stick a professional-looking flyer and a couple of business cards in the mailboxes of teachers in your school district that might be handling your area of expertise. Make sure to include your specialty, your information, and where you do this tutoring – libraries can be a great place.
Money sink You’ll need to print off some flyers and business cards, but that can all be recouped with one successful tutoring gig. In other words, there’s a small money sink, but not a tremendous one.
Fixing Up Cars
Two additional friends of mine are in the hobby of fixing up old cars, transforming complete junkers into attractive, road-worthy cars. They invest all of the labor themselves, then sell the cars directly.
Enjoyment If you love tinkering around with older cars and aren’t afraid to tackle any of the elements of a car on your own, this is perfect for you. It’s a constant opportunity to learn and try new things, too.
Income generation If you can transform a junker into something well-built and attractive, you’re going to turn a profit. You can then use that profit to repay your initial investment and keep moving forward.
Customer connection There are many places to sell rebuilt cars, from eBay Motors to Craigslist or even to car-specific forums. If nothing else, you can stick a sign in the car and park it somewhere.
Money sink This is a huge money sink, of course. You’ll need a lot of tools and a lot of parts and a decent-sized garage to pull all of this off. Here’s the thing, though – almost every person I’ve met that is passionate enough about cars to start buying things ends up with a big pile of tools and usually finds a workspace of some kind. It will take a lot of hours to recoup this cost, but if you love working on cars, the hours will fly by.
Trawling Yard Sales
I know many people who, during the summer, will trawl yard sales and flea markets looking for mis-priced goods that they can sell for a profit. I’ve even done it myself. The trick is to focus on things that you can accurately identify and price at a glance, so it needs to coincide with some interests of your own. (General purpose goods that are mispriced tend to vanish very quickly.)
Enjoyment If you like wandering through yard sales, antique stores, flea markets, and the like, this can be a great hobby. However, you need to have self-restraint, as this hobby works best if you focus on browsing and looking solely for the great bargains that you can quickly resell.
Income generation Income is generated through re-selling some of the large bargains that you discover. This is usually done by identifying things where the price is completely out of place, then re-selling them at an appropriate market where you can earn a higher price – say, eBay or an appropriate collectibles forum.
Customer connection You don’t really need connections to your customers, as a sufficient profile on an online reselling service like eBay should suffice. Since your items are irregular, you don’t need to worry about it too much.
Money sink Since you should be flipping items quickly with this hobby, there’s not much of a money sink other than the initial cost of the items. You shouldn’t be accumulating things with a hobby like this one.
If you enjoy playing music and have even a bit of skill at it, it’s not hard to earn at least a little money from your talents. There are opportunities to play live music at community events, busking (meaning you stand somewhere and play with a basket in front of you), or simply record yourself playing and post it on Youtube. You don’t have to record albums or sign a record contract. You just have to enjoy playing.
Enjoyment Play when it’s fun. There’s no need to sign contracts or lock yourself into a deal of any kind. Just play when it’s enjoyable for you.
Income generation If you’re playing on the street somewhere, leave your guitar case open for donations. If you’re playing at home, record what you’re doing and upload it to Youtube, enabling ads on the video. Also, you might get hired to play at a community event of some kind. The key is to focus on the fun and enjoyment of playing and let a little money trickle in along the way. You can record a homemade CD or two and sell them when you perform as an additional way to make a few bucks.
Customer connection Since you’re just playing for fun, your customers are largely attracted by the music. Your connection to the customers comes in audio form. If you want to maintain that connection, have some business cards that link to your Youtube channel where you’ve uploaded recordings of yourself playing.
Money sink The big money sink is in the instruments, but once they’re owned, the upkeep cost is pretty low. If you print business cards or make CDs, you’ll sink a little money into those.
Playing Computer Games
How can this possibly make money? Streaming, that’s how. Sites like Twitch allow you to broadcast your game play to others, you can record clips of your best plays and stick them on other sites like Youtube. These options allow you to embed ads so you can earn a bit of income while you game.
Enjoyment If you like playing computer games – and especially if you like talking to friends out loud while doing it – then this is going to be perfect for you. That’s essentially all you do.
Income generation You earn income from advertisements on your gaming streams and Youtube videos. The more viewers you have, the more you make.
Customer connection To get people to your channel and/or your streams, you need to advertise it a bit. Share the links on gaming forums where you participate. Once they’re there, you’ll have to be at least a little entertaining, so you’ll need to talk while streaming and carry on conversations with your viewers (they’ll often type in a chat room and you can respond out loud).
Money sink You need a healthy internet connection to pull this off. Without that network connection, you can’t make this work. You’ll also need some initial software (that isn’t too expensive) and, naturally, any games you want to play. If you don’t have a video camera, you’ll need one of those, too.
Hunting for Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushroom hunting is a income-positive hobby that I personally engage in. It’s simple – just take a walk in the woods and look for these little guys. Pick them and enjoy them yourself … or sell them for substantial profit. (This great book will give you an idea of what it’s all about.)
Enjoyment If you like walking in the woods, you’ll probably enjoy hunting for mushrooms. You just need to keep your eyes on the ground.
Income generation As with gardening, they can provide part of (or all of) a meal. They can also be sold and, if you can find a good buyer, they can earn you quite a bit of money. Fresh morels can often be sold for $40 a pound. Posting them to Craigslist will often quickly find you a local buyer. If not, you can dry them and sell them later on (they don’t last particularly long in a fresh state).
Customer connection If you eat them yourself, you don’t need customers. On the other hand, if you sell them, you mostly just need to advertise them in a public place like Craigslist to quickly find a buyer.
Money sink Since it’s free to walk in the woods (assuming, of course, that you have permission), there’s no cost involved. It’s just pure profit, whether you eat them or sell them.
An income-positive hobby is a great way to take something you do for personal enjoyment in your spare time and, without much effort, generate a little bit of income from it. It doesn’t remove the joy, because the motivation remains personal pleasure, but you’ll find that you’re no longer just dumping money into enjoying your spare time. Instead, your money is staying in your pocket and perhaps even growing a little bit.