The 10 Worst Ways to Make Extra Money

Photo: Josh McGinn

Having a side income can make life a lot easier. But there are some good ways to earn that side income and some seriously awful ones. I’m not talking about dirty jobs or hard work — there’s nothing wrong with sweating for your money or needing a shower after your side job. But it doesn’t make sense to slave away over something that isn’t actually going to put money in your pocket. The "opportunities" below fall into that category. (See also: Ways to Make Extra Cash)

1. Filling Out Surveys or Surfing the Web

This work isn’t particularly difficult, and it’s easy to sign up for. The catch is that you earn pennies (at most) for any survey you complete or any site you visit. Actually making enough money to make your time worth it is impossible. To make matters worse, most of these offers only pay out once you’ve earned $20, which can take months.

2. Investment Schemes

Whether we’re talking about day trading, trading in foreign currency, or other investment schemes, it’s rare to make a lot of money with these approaches — and fairly typical to lose a lot. There are a few individuals who have done quite well with various investment schemes, but that’s usually due to a combination of a lucky investment and the ability to invest quite a lot of money at once. For us mere mortals, it’s a bad bet.

3. Medical Testing

Agreeing to try out new drugs or other medical procedures for money sounds like an easy thing to do. But while there are some people who make something approaching a full-time income from being a test subject, it requires not informing one lab that you're working for another lab. That’s because being a lab rat doesn’t pay well. Of course, that’s not even considering the side effects you might experience.

4. Selling Body Fluids or Organs

While selling an organ is illegal in the U.S., selling plasma, eggs (if you’re a woman), and other bits of yourself is considered okay. It’s not particularly lucrative, though — even selling your eggs, which used to bring in a check of around $10,000, now pays closer to $3,000. Considering that there can be some major side effects, depending on how a doctor chooses to harvest those eggs, it’s not an equitable pay off. Giving plasma repeatedly can also impact your health.

5. Sign Spinner

Standing by the side of the road to draw attention to a local business, such as by spinning a sign, has a long history. Businesses have hired people to stand outside their locations and convince buyers to enter for centuries. But it’s become a less lucrative job over the years and can now rank particularly poorly, especially with the need to stand near busy streets and breathe in pollution for hours on end.

6. Renting Out Your Stuff

There are an increasing number of websites that let you rent out your car, parking spaces, a spare room, tools, or anything else you might have. But because most of these sites orchestrate short-term loans, you’re not about to raise a lot of money this way. You better have other motives for renting out your things than just cash.

7. Recycling Scrap Metal

The prices that recyclers pay for scrap metal fluctuate pretty regularly. Even when they’re good, though, it’s hard to turn recycling scrap metal into a lucrative opportunity. In order to make a sizable amount of money (think over $500), you need to turn in something like an old car or camper. Collecting old soda cans isn’t even going to earn you minimum wage, and you might get pretty smelly hunting them down.

8. Treasure Hunting

Infomercials for metal detectors promise that you’ll find all sorts of valuables while taking a relaxing stroll down the beach. But even if you take a more active approach to finding some treasure, the odds of actually finding something are slim.

9. Work-at-Home Schemes

There are plenty of lucrative ways to work from home, but there’s a particular work-at-home scam that goes around on a regular basis. Someone will post an ad offering people the chance to make money stuffing envelopes or assembling crafts at home — some sort of situation where you have to buy supplies from the advertiser before you can start making money. But when you actually do the work, the scammer tells you that your work doesn’t meet requirements.

10. Playing Video Games

There actually used to be some well-paying opportunities that went along with playing video games, like creating in-game items and then selling them for real-world money. But these days, you have to compete with players in cheaper markets who have dramatically driven down the value of most of the items you can commonly sell.

You may read through this list and think that you could make some serious money with any of these options — that you can buck the curve. But the reality is that with each of these situations, earning money is incredibly difficult. It requires more luck than it really ought to, and the odds are good that you won’t even hit minimum wage with any of these ventures. You’d be better off picking up a second job before considering any one of these options.

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Guest's picture

"1. Filling Out Surveys or Surfing the Web"
I disagree. If you're wasting your time surfing the web anyway, why not make some money while you're at it? I've made several hundreds of dollars over the past couple years doing that, and it didn't take me any extra time I wouldn't have wasted anyway.

Thursday Bram's picture

But you weren't focused on making money, right? If you had needed to earn a specific amount of money — say enough to cover your rent — then surfing the web would not have brought in nearly enough to cover your needs.

It's pretty rare that a few hundred dollars over several years is going to make a major difference in a financial situation.

Guest's picture

I disagree with the idea "if you are wasting time surfing the web why not make money at it?"

If you are wasting time you should just stop, filling out surveys is even a bigger waste of time, because you don't get anything out of it and really aren't paid anything for it (at least with other surfing you should be reading something interesting to you).

If you really think your time is worth $1/hour, just pick up a 5-10 hour/week part time job and you will make a lot more money.

Guest's picture

Important to have balance. For some people, filling in surveys can be a low effort way of raising a few pennies. For people with more experience with making websites/making money online etc - it is NOT a good idea.

What I would definitely say is, you are much better off starting your own website offering to pay people for surveys or similar. Will make much more money in the longrun.

Guest's picture

I make PLENTY of money and don't "need" anything extra. I only do surveys when I feel like it and when the price is right. By the way, $1 for a one-hour survey would be pretty ridiculous, and I don't think I've seen anyone offer something so small. It's usually $1 for every ten minutes (yes, still meager if you're considering it more than just some fun extra bucks), but there are surveys that offer more.

Meg Favreau's picture

I think there are medical tests where you can make a decent wage, but I agree that many of them aren't viable ways to make extra money -- although they can be fun. I did one where I had to do simple math problems while in an MRI, and in trade I received $15 and the opportunity to look at my brain...which reminds me of this episode of Parks and Recreation:

Guest's picture

Strictly as a way to make extra money, #7 Recycling Scrap Metal can be rewarding. My husband's work did a store remodel and they were throwing out old metal shelving. Instead of tossing it in the dumpster, he asked them to throw it on his trailer, all he did was drive to the scrap yard and made almost $200.

You are right about cans, though. You won't make much at that, but at least it keeps them out of landfills when you recycle them!

Thursday Bram's picture

There are a lot of fixture liquidators who will take old shelving units out of stores and sell them for closer to a grand, depending on their condition. Even if a shelving system is heavily used, it's not uncommon to get around $70 per section of shelving.

Guest's picture
Tim C.

If you are talking about making any of these the primary source of income than I agree, just because they are not reliable. However, with surveys they often come extremely close and sometimes surpass minimum wage ($7.25/hr in Indiana). Other things such as a search engine that pay allow you to earn money for doing something you would normally do.

There are many survey sites out there and some consistently pay better than others. You just have to do a bit of research to figure out which ones will pay you the most.

Guest's picture

I did some medical testing years ago. I had to keep a "headache diary" and got $50 every time I walked into the office to give them my updates. Plus I got no-cost exams and an EKG. It netted me $300.
Also did six egg donations back in the 1999-2002 time period. Got a total of $17,000 (before taxes), but that was very involved. Great way to help out an infertile couple and get rewarded for it.

Guest's picture

I disagree that surveys are a waste of time. You must be selective and figure out if you are going to make minimum wage or not. This is possible because they usually tell you how long it will take and what you will be paid. Jobs are difficult to find now so this just may be a way for someone unemployed to make a few bucks. If you're not working, you have more time than money anyway. Just because it is not for you doesn't mean it isn't for anyone.

Guest's picture

My husband has a dump truck that he uses to collect throw away items that companies are getting rid of. For example, recently he netted several old water fountains that were being junked. Between the metal and the copper tubing inside he made almost a thousand dollars for a few hours work! Nice mad money.

I make enough money doing occasional surveys to buy my books, etc. on ebay. I net between $6 and $12/ hour on them. Not a living, but some nice spending money that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Guest's picture

Hi! Edward here, I disagree with what you say about filling out surveys or surfing the web to be one of the worst way to earn extra money. actually taking paid surveys is one of the simplest way to make money online. you just need to be patient and hardworking. May I share my own insights about earning online. If you want to take a look go here: and I hope you readers may find it helpful. Thanks!

Guest's picture

Saying yes to try out new medication or other surgical techniques for cash appears to be like an simple factor to do. But while there are some individuals who create something nearing a full-time earnings from being a analyze topic, it needs not telling one lab that you're operating for another lab. That is because being a lab rat does not pay well. Of course, it is not even considering the adverse reactions you might encounter.

Guest's picture

I linked to this article from another one on this same site about the best ways to earn extra cash and it's practically the same list as this one for the worst ways.

Made my day- thanks for the much needed laugh

Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

Hi Angi! Thanks for writing in! Our site features articles from several writers, each one dedicated to frugality and personal finance and offering his or her own expertise. The writers don't always agree on their approaches, but we love being able to offer readers a variety of opinions and techniques.

Guest's picture

Online surveys are a way for me to pass the time at work when I'm not seeing clients (we don't have other stuff we are supposed to be doing). After a few months I earn enough to get a small gift card.

Guest's picture

Some of this, I did. I would probably stay really away from Medical Testing. I don't want to be one of those test subjects/guinea pigs. urgh!