Making quick cash is possible, but there are several nuances…
Last week, I wrote about some of my attempts to make quick cash, and how they backfired on me. Fortunately, there is a lot more to that story, so here is a sequel – some of the most successful (if eccentric) ways to make quick cash that actually worked for me.
Reselling books online. This was something I stumbled upon back in college, about 15 years ago: one of the first successful online booksellers sold a full information package for $50. It included his self-published know-how paperback, a CD with some spreadsheets, and an invitation to a private forum where other booksellers shared their tips and tricks. In essence, it’s quite simple: you become the middleman that buys books cheap and resells them for more money on Amazon and other online platforms. It’s fine from the ethical standpoint, as you don’t rob those garage sales or thrift stores: you pay exactly as much as they’re asking, and then you get it to the people that are actively looking for it. You’re just a cog in the machine, a strange book courier in this offline/online economy.
At first, I used to write down each book’s ISBN (that 10-digit number on the back cover) at my university’s used-book store, then check them at the library’s computer (nowadays sites like BookScouter can help you do that in bulk), and run back to buy the ones that sold for mucho dinero online. Later on, I leveled up to the point where I bought a little Palm Pilot (that was around 2006, okay?) with an attachable military-surplus laser scanner, and used specialized software that would access the giant downloaded database to tell me if the book I just scanned was worth buying. The apps and platforms that offer those services come and go, but this site has a fairly good list. If I’d never left Reno, if I hadn’t started my strange, strange odyssey across North America, I might have turned that into an actual, viable business. As it was, even my half-hearted attempts made me between $300-$1,000 a month. Make sure that you have plenty of space at home, though – and ideally no indoor smokers and/or furry pets, since that could lower the books’ value. (You do not want to give your customer an allergic reaction.)
Upside: you can buy used books just about anywhere, and you can earn a lot of money per hour if you go to Friends of the Library sales, where you can meet all your local competition.
Downside: this will require some investment on your part: a barcode scanner, a subscription to a book-price database service, a good data plan, etc. Profits are not guaranteed, so you might end up with 300 books whose prices got driven down to $0.01 by fiercely competitive booksellers.
Writing e-books. The only full-time job I found after college (right after the 2008 collapse) was at an Amazon warehouse. I didn’t have a lot of fun as a manual worker, and I kept daydreaming of ways to generate new cash flows. The e-book market was really taking off around that time, so I decided to join the fun. I published several non-fiction reference books that either explained interesting concepts (Taoism-101) or utilized old and copyright-free content (50 Shades of Yay: Great Thinkers on Happiness). It was a half-hearted effort, to put it mildly, and I ended up deleting the very first e-book I published, if only because the way I’d put it together (all 50 pages of it) was frankly embarrassing. If you want, you can see all my e-books over here.
Alas, sometime around 2016 Amazon changed its payout structure. E-books used to get the same payout when a Kindle Unlimited customer borrowed them, regardless of their length. Folks who wrote long e-book novels became unhappy with that, and Amazon gave them exactly what they asked for: it changed the payout so that you’d get paid based on how many pages of your e-book have been read. Sounds good, right? Well, a lot of scammers abused that new system: they would publish 100,000-page-long collections of gibberish (there was no editorial review: just upload a Word doc and a cover image) with a hyperlink leading to the last page, promising to do a raffle for everyone who clicks the link and tells them the codeword on that page. (And I’m pretty sure the raffles were fake, too.) With that new change, both the short-form and the long-form writers ended up losing money, while shameless entrepreneurs took all the cash.
Later on, Amazon tried to limit the maximum e-book length and eliminate the hyperlink scam, but scammers would just hire troll farms to virtually flip through each page of their nonsense e-books, making hundreds of dollars per hour. That was one of the funniest examples of good intentions backfiring horribly: although some writers still make decent money selling e-books, that source of profit is not nearly as great as it used to be. I used to make up to $600 per month, and my profit has fallen to about $10 a month over the years. There was, of course, the time when one of my e-books got really popular with college students, and I made several thousand dollars in a week – but that was just a lucky break.
Upside: the world is your oyster! Write whatever you want, publish it on Kindle, get some 5-star reviews from your friends, and let the market decide how much your writing is worth. No publishers to deal with, and you get to keep most of the profit.
Downside: you’d have to do all the stuff traditional publishers typically deal with: editing, cover design, checking for typos, promoting your e-book, etc. Very few people are good at all of the above.
Being a subject matter expert (SME) and representing a start-up. A lot of my stories are too strange to be true, and this one is pretty far out there. After my e-book on saving money on college went viral for just one week, I got contacted by a New York Times reporter on a tight deadline. She asked a few questions to get my advice, and quoted me in this NYT article aimed at broke college students. Because the world is a very small and funny place, a brand new start-up (they rented textbooks to college students) saw that article, looked at my e-book, and decided that I was a famous expert. (Little did they know that I was just a warehouse grunt, packing boxes 50 hours a week.)
The start-up made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: be their SME, chat with their Facebook followers, answer the followers’ questions about college costs, and get paid $250 an hour for doing so. No, that is not a typo: it was $250 an hour. Yes, I was just as confused as you are. The contract was for six hours over three days, and that was quite likely the easiest $1,500 I’ve ever made. Granted, I had to gently threaten that start-up with a lawsuit when it took them several months to pay me, but it all worked out in the end. That was a very improbable chain of events, and one you might not be able to easily reproduce. (If you do, let me know – I’d love to hear your story!) However, if you’re an expert in some specific topic, try contacting some start-ups that might appreciate your expertise. You’d lose absolutely nothing aside from a few minutes of your time, and you might end up with some extra cash and a fun story to tell at parties.
Upside: Easy money! Most of us don’t get paid at all when we waste time on social media, so this is the best of both worlds.
Downside: Getting paid might be difficult, and you’d need some proof that you are, in fact, an expert. See if you can get mentioned in an article on the topic (check out HARO to find reporters on tight deadlines), or write an e-book, or both. This is the least reliable way to earn quick cash, though it’s also the most fun.
Psychology experiments and mock trials. If you live anywhere near a college or a university, you might be able to find a study or an experiment looking for volunteers. A lot of them get snapped up right away: I’ve participated in only one of them back in college, and that was because a friend told me where and how to sign up. That was a fun experience and an easy $40 for two hours of participating in a group experiment.
There are also mock trials, where newbie lawyers come together to organize a make-belief trial where they’d practice their skills as defense and/or prosecution. Since engineers often get called up as expert witnesses, engineering students get invited to those mock trials to get some experience too – and they get paid $200 a day for their time. I was not an engineering student, but my best friend was. I successfully bluffed for a couple of days during the mock trial about a broken rollercoaster, and it was a fun way to make quick cash. Look around and see if there’s something similar near you. (Bonus points if you’re an actual college student: there’ll be far more available opportunities.)
Upside: a fun and easy way to make some quick cash. Who knows, maybe the psych study you volunteer for will make history! (Though hopefully not in the “Stanford prison experiment” sort of way.)
Downside: you can’t exactly pay rent with this. If you manage to find these studies and mock trials, that’s great, but don’t expect a steady stream of income.
Medical trials. Back in early 2021, Canada was really far behind on their covid vaccine rollout. (To the point where I took a couple of road trips from Toronto to Ohio to get my shots, instead of waiting four more months to get my second shot in Canada.) I decided to boost my odds and signed up for a vaccine trial organized by a Canadian company: I found the sign-up link through a sketchy little post on Reddit.
The trial involved several visits to the clinic, getting my biometric data recorded for posterity, and finally getting a shot that was either a groovy new vaccine (67% chance) or a placebo (33% chance). The study’s organizers said they were aware that most participants would get their actual covid vaccines within a year, and they were okay with that, as long as they got to collect any data at all. I don’t think they ever progressed to the second part of their study (since folks started getting their shots in May-June), but we all got paid nonetheless. Altogether, I think my haul was around $200, and I may or may not have gotten some extra protection against covid. (Gotta keep improving those odds, eh?)
Upside: there are always clinical trials somewhere near you. There are many portals, such as ClinicalTrials.gov, that can help you find them. You’d make quick cash and also help advance our understanding of science! Or test some new makeup product, either/or.
Downside: there’s always some potential for bad side effects. No matter how safe something may seem, it’s possible that you’ll be the one unlucky participant that suffers gnarly (or maybe even permanent) consequences. Proceed at your own risk.
Getting paid to play video games. This is my favourite way to monetize a hobby. There are many ways to make quick cash from gaming, but I’ll talk about the two I’ve personally succeeded at. I’m a huge fan of Diablo-2, so when Blizzard released a shiny new rebooted version in September 2021, I ended up with a high-level character within 48 hours. After a couple of weeks, I realized I could actually make money with all the rare items and runes I kept finding. A bit more research led me to G2G, a trading portal where you can buy and sell video game items: in-game gold, weapons, supplies, etc. I’d grind for high-level runes while listening to fun science podcasts (such as Ologies with Alie Ward), and ended up making around $220 during that first month before the prices crashed due to all the competition. This method works best for brand new games, before the excitement wears off and gamers with too much money move on to something else.
The second way is to sell in-game drops and badges on Steam. If you play Steam games long enough, you might get some loot that other, more passionate gamers would pay you for. The prices range from a few pennies to several dollars per item. In my personal experience, CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive, a team shooter game) drops a lot of different loot to reward gamers at random. This will not make you rich, but if you love gaming, you might end up making a few dollars by selling your loot and badges. Then you can use that Steam cash to buy new games – talk about a circle of life! If you’ve had Steam for a while, look at your inventory page – you probably have a lot of virtual swag that someone else will pay you for.
Upside: gaming is fun, money is fun, and getting quick cash for gaming is the ultimate kind of fun, eh?
Downside: you’d have to be really good at a very popular game, or willing to spend a lot of your time playing random Steam games to get virtual loot that way. This probably won’t pay for your groceries, but you’ll be able to make a few bucks along the way.
What about you? What fun, bizarre, eccentric ways to make quick cash have you come across? Share your story in the comments!