10 Side Hustles to Keep the Wolf from the Door

This post originally appeared back in October 2008, just about the time the bottom was falling out of the market. At the time, I hoped it might provide a few ideas to families worried about the reliability of their full-time income. Over two years later, we’re stuck with the same worries, so the post seems even more relevant today. I’ve added a few new ideas to the original seven.

 Dog Walker by NinaZed on Flickr

Besides having a solid emergency fund, one of the best ways to hedge against financial ruin while surviving a layoff is to have one or two (or three) side hustles. Side hustles are a little different from traditional part time jobs in that they generally involve you starting up something on your own. They can range in complexity from selling yard sale finds on eBay to starting your own small business.

1. Dog walker. On the way to work each morning I pass a lady walking five or six dogs, usually three leashes in each hand. She carries a small shovel like a sword strapped to her waist, and has quite a few plastic grocery bags stuffed in each pocket. I’ve never seen them in action, but I assume these tools are for performing the neighborly deed of removing dog poop from lawns along the way.

  • Pros: You are getting exercise; your own dog can tag along and get exercise
  • Cons: Clean up (need I say more); untangling twisted leashes

2. “Date-night” sitting service. This is an idea we kicked around a few months ago when we were looking for ways to boost our income, without being away from the kids. A date-night sitting service is basically a Friday and/or Saturday night in-home service where neighbors and friends drop off their kids for a few hours while the parents enjoy a “date night.” Hosts charge a little less than a single babysitter would, but make a little more because they have more than one child to watch. Kids can play games, watch movies, and hosts usually order up some cheap pizza, or grill hotdogs and hamburgers (always a crowd favorite).

  • Pros: Your kids can participate in the fun; hourly earnings typically higher than retail job
  • Cons: Liability issues; five extra kids running around the house; no date night of your own

3. Survey participant. Anyone who has been on the web any length of time knows opportunities abound for participants to earn money completing surveys. What is less known is that there are only a small handful of reputable companies offering this service, in a space crowded by many scams. I have personal experience working with CashCrate, where I used to net $40-$60 a month working surveys a few minutes each day. Over time, I’ve managed to take advantage of their lucrative referral system and I now make a couple hundred dollars a month. It won’t make me rich, but it does add a little to the grocery budget each month.

  • Pros: No costs to participate; can be done from home
  • Cons: Email box full of offers (use a separate email account if you sign up)

4. Blogging. I’ve been writing for nearly a year now (three years, as of this update), but if I read this myself this time last year I wouldn’t have believed being a blogger could actually become an income-earning opportunity. The money comes very slowly, but for those with patience it can actually add up to become a nice supplemental income. It is not completely passive income, as there is a lot of writing, editing and behind-the-scenes administration that goes along with being a blogger. Still, if there is a subject you are passionate about it is worth a try.

  • Pros: Work at your own pace; minimal startup costs; interacting with readers and other bloggers
  • Cons: Time consuming; requires mental effort tough to conjure up at the end of a long day at your full-time job

5. House sitter. I have family member that recently graduated high school. He is headed into one of the military services, but his enlistment was delayed. Instead of hunting down a place to rent, he got the opportunity to house-sit for a couple that would be away from their home for a few months. While this job doesn’t pay an income, money saved is money earned. Rather than shelling out several hundred dollars for a half-year lease, now he gets to live rent free and pocket earnings from his job.

  • Pros: Free rent; take advantage of amenities (pool, home gyms, etc.)
  • Cons: No place for your own things; wondering when you’ll be asked to move out

6. Lawn painter. No, that’s not a typo. Painting houses has always been a nice way to make a few extra bucks, but in times of dry climate and numerous foreclosures, greening up lawns with paint is in high demand. Realtors would much rather show a “green” home than one with a brown yard. But the benefits of a green lawn don’t stop with curb appeal. A green lawn makes the house looked lived in, lessening the chances of the home being vandalized, or squatters taking up residence.

  • Pros: High demand (especially in winter months when grass goes dormant)
  • Cons: Product costs; green legs and shoes

7. Holiday Decorations Installer. This one is seasonal, obviously, but with the holiday season approaching (or just behind us) I’ve heard of many enterprising people advertising their services to install or remove Christmas decorations. Many homeowners enjoy adding icicle lights and yard decorations, but don’t have the time, energy, or know-how to set them up themselves. That’s where you come in. Charge a flat fee based on the amount of decorations the owner wants displayed, and offer a discounted fee to come back after the holidays and take down the decorations and pack them away for next year. Who knows…you might earn a little extra Christmas shopping money by helping out your neighbors!

  • Pros: Minimal equipment needed (maybe just a ladder, scaffold, etc.); set your own schedule
  • Cons: A lot of patience needed (ever try to unwind a 100ft strand of tangled Christmas lights?)

8. Tutor. Many states are struggling to keep up funding for local school systems, and unfortunately, teachers feel the brunt of budget cuts in the form of layoffs, furlough days or frozen salaries. Class sizes are increasing, and in many areas, test scores are dropping. To combat this, many parents are turning to tutors to supplement what their children are learning in school. If you have particular training in a certain area, can speak a second language, or maybe used to be a teacher yourself, opportunities should be fairly easy to come by.

  • Pros: Generally, you can set your own schedule with appointments beginning right after school and into the early evening.
  • Cons: You must have patience and have “the heart of a teacher.” Not everyone does. Just because you are smart, doesn’t mean you can teach.

9. Spring Cleanup Yard Service. OK, so maybe you aren’t up for a full-time gig mowing lawns, but this time of year opportunities abound for someone to provide a “spring cleanup.” Offer to trim small trees, rake leaves, trim hedges, put down fresh pinestraw or mulch, or edge paved areas where winter grass has crept out of bounds, etc. I just spent an entire Saturday trimming trees and hauling limbs to the street. I would have gladly paid someone to do it.

*Bonus, talk with a local Realtor about offering this service for their properties. If owners have moved on, or the house is foreclosed, they might be willing to pay for a quick spruce up to improve their property’s curb appeal.

  • Pros: No great skill or intellect needed, just a strong work ethic
  • Cons: May need to invest in some equipment if you don’t already own an edger, trimmer, shears, etc. Check yard sales advertising yard or gardening equipment.

10. Curb painting. A few weekends ago someone came by our house offering to paint our house number on the curb using an attractive template that is highly visible at night. This is especially helpful to people making deliveries, emergency services personnel, etc. What a great way to make a few extra bucks on a Saturday.

  • Pros: Highly profitable, just need a stencil kit and paint
  • Cons: Check for any neighborhood covenants or homeowner association rules that might prevent either the solicitation or painting

Do you have any additional side hustle ideas to share with fellow readers?


  1. We always hear financial experts advising us to diversify our investments to minimize risk, but no one ever talks about diversifying income. I think it’s important to develop multiple streams of income to help guard against layoffs, and also to help you achieve your goals (paying down debt, saving for retirement) much faster than you could with just one income stream. Personally, I like blogging and creating niche web sites for income. But as you point out there are many other side hustles to choose from. You really have to look at your strengths and skills to determine which is the best for you.

    • Oh that is soooo the truth re: “We always hear financial experts advising us to diversify our investments to minimize risk, but no one ever talks about diversifying income.”

      Great points.

  2. I’d also add to the mix:

    1. Sewing. If you can sew well there is cash to be made making one-of-a-kind baby clothes, women’s clothing, purses etc. I would also recommend making cloth diapers and such and selling them on Etsy or eCrater.

    2. Large animal care. I guess this is sort of like dog walking, but in high school I used to take care of friends horses while they were out of town or just too busy. I know other people who do this with other farm animals too.

    3. Stable hand. You can also be a part-time stable hand…equestrian places are ALWAYS looking for good help!

    4. House/apartment cleaning. Not something I particularly like, but if it came down to a real crunch, I’d do it.

  3. Check craigslist on a regular basis. Better if you live near a large city, but not necessary. While there are fulltime and partime jobs listed, look under gigs. Yeah, there is some junk on there, and be smart about what you do, but my oldest daughter has picked up quite a few one-time jobs and one or 2 longer ones. Everything from data entry (from home) to passing out flyers on a street corner.
    The world really IS at our fingertips!

  4. #6 Lawn Painter: now there’s something I’d never heard of, much less imagined. I wonder if the buyers eventually catch on.
    We could add garage sale pickers to the list. I know a couple people that make a good side income from that.

  5. Love the lawn painter thing 🙂

    For blogging, it’s less mentally tiring if you write the posts in the morning or mid-day.

    Other side hustle ideas include starting a doggie daycare for a limited number of dogs, decorating bulletin boards for teachers seasonally, organizing, and doing taxes.

  6. My husband and I ran a dog-sitting service for a while that brought in $20 a night per dog. Now I’m a blogger and make $500-$1000 a month. My husband is a sports official and gets $70-$110 for a varsity football game and refs 8 or so a season. He also refs subvarsity games in between and bring in another $1500.

  7. Renting out the garage. Some people need to store their beloved automobile’s, RVs or ATVs in the winter and pay decent money for dry, secure storage. Pros: money for no effort, Cons: make sure your house insurance covers it, and the garage has to be empty enough to start with.

    Likewise, you can rent out an unused room or corner of the basement. I have a friend that does this for “friends of friends” that are in transition (either travelling for long periods, off to college or divorcing). She has turned the vacant space in her 3 bedroom home into an income earning space with almost no effort. She did screen the people ahead of time and won’t store garbage or dangerous things.. she also arranges a set term that they can use the space so she’s not storing the stuff indefinitely. Pros: you have the space anyways, might as well put it to work, Cons: same as the garage (and someone walking through your house to put the stuff into storage).

    Cooking for shut-ins. Making lasagna or chili? Why not make a big batch and freeze in single servings for shut ins? My 90+ year old grandpa used to hire a neighbour to bring him 5 dinners a week. He was too frail to go shopping often and didn’t like cooking for one, but still appreciated a hot meal. You should probably only do this for people you know… unless you are food-safe certified. Pros: Not a lot more effort than cooking for your family Cons: somebody else is relying on your cooking.

    Or maybe simplify this by just offering to do the grocery shopping for a shut-in? Take their list once a week and do the shopping at the same time as you are doing your own…. I imagine you couldn’t charge much, but it’s easier than dog-walking.

  8. I wish you lived near me because I’d totally take you up on the date night service. It’s so hard to get good sitters where I live.

    Over the last few years, the biggest side hustle we’ve done is fixing up our houses on our own. We’ve built quite a bit of equity in our house over the last 10 years and for now I consider that my side job.

  9. Thanks for the great article! I’ve used a lot of your “blogging” information on your website to help me start my own blog.

  10. Poi is on to something. My mom has her groceries delivered- but would rather have someone pick up some of the things not offered on the list. I might look around her neighborhood and see if there is someone she could hire to do this for her (I live 2000 miles away).
    Good article for me—and my mom!

  11. All great ideas. Personally, I would advise that everyone have some sort of side hustles. Ideally, you would save the money earned from these into some kind of savings or investment account. But, for many these side hustles are necessary just to help make ends meet.

    For those who make a lot of money from your blogs… HOW???? I have a real passion for my blog (http://www.thesinglesaver.com) and think it has good content but make very little income from it. I am okay with that as I blog for the enjoyment it brings me and am happy to just cover expenses, but I am curious how people make any real money from it.

    • Targeted traffic is the answer. 1000 unique visits/mo is a general starting point. I personally use Adsense and Chitika primarily (pay-per-click). Although, others do very well with affiliate sales.

      You want to target some phrases that attract clickers and Google has a free keyword tool that can help you know what to target.

      You want to begin to build back links with those phrases as the anchor text as well as links that use your domain and its subsets.

      My rule of thumb is about 1y to 18mos of work before you starting seeing some decent results and 3 to 5-years for some good results.

  12. You may have to be careful with the date-night sitting. Some states may require a daycare license. I know in CA, if you are watching kids from more than one family, you have to have a license. I’m not sure what kind of exceptions there are for “recreational” sitting.

  13. Our HOA often publishes reminders in their newsletter when the curb numbers in the neighborhood need to be freshened. I imagine if you wanted to, you could offer your services to not only your own neighborhood, but also the other communities that your HOA manager serves. It would eliminate some of the door-to-door aspect of the job.

    I could have a lot of fun painting lawns green. 🙂

  14. I’m a teacher looking for jobs for the summer. I love the freedom of not working 40 hours each week during the summer, so your ideas (and the ones in the comments) gave me some great ideas for this summer! I created a list in Evernote and am ready to get started in June! Great post!

  15. High School Sports Referee/Umpire

    The pay is usually pretty well and some sports do not require much in the way of equipment/uniforms to start.

  16. If you live near a military base and have access…

    offer services such as laundry, ironing, sewing, light housekeeping, pet sitting, house sitting for deployments, storage space, meal prep/cooking, baking, etc. You’d be amazed what a single military member will pay to Not Have to Do themselves.

    Newspaper delivery. I had base access so delivered the base paper one day a week. It took me two hours using my own vehicle and I made $88.

    Flower delivery, food delivery – a lot of demand for those who can get access onto a base.

    Those are just a few I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve done or knew the person who did these jobs.

  17. Good blog post. Is extremely great point of view and that i would like to appreciate
    intriquing, significant and tips. Thanks a lot!