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This is the fourth article in a series about finding methods of earning incremental income. Some people have a desire to earn more money without the available time to learn a new skill or start a new business. I’ve written about becoming a mystery shopper, selling items on eBay, and teaching and tutoring.

The key to these techniques for earning more money is understanding that trading in small amounts of time for small amounts of cash is not a path to wealth. Nevertheless, when you have ten minutes here and ten minutes there, and would otherwise would be spending the time watching television, why not optimize that time a little better?

Recently, Donna Freedman offered advice on online surveys on a visit with the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, and she prepared a comprehensive article for MSN earlier this year.

My experience with online surveys

Pen and Paper: Online SurveysA few years ago, I gave online surveys a try. During an open enrollment period, I signed up for PineCone Research, one of the more popular online survey operators. Every few days between October 2006 and November 2007, PineCone sent me an email with a link to a new survey. Completing the surveys took only a few minutes each, and when completed, the company sent five dollars per surveys to my PayPal account relatively quickly. I received new survey opportunities every few days, but I rarely completed the surveys.

If I had signed up for more companies, I would have had enough opportunities to earn more money. I decided that answering surveys was not an ideal way for me to spend my time. Completing surveys can be somewhat tedious; I compare it to data entry, an annoying task that I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible throughout my adult life. As a result of my lack of motivation, I didn’t earn very much from online surveys.

Income potential for online surveys

Anyone interested in spending a significant amount of time completing surveys can earn much more than I did. With enough time, there are enough opportunities to earn a good part-time salary. PineCone research may be one of the most popular survey companies, but they don’t always accept new participants. Be on the look-out for ads that announce the next enrollment period. In her article, Donna cites the MSN Smart Spending community with recommendations for other survey providers, including Toluna, Synovate, Lightspeed Online Research, i-Say, SurveySpot, Valued Opinions and Surveyhead.

Although I earned five dollars for each survey at the time I participated, compensation can range as low as 50 cents. You may occasionally be able to find a survey that pays twenty dollars, depending on how your profile matches a survey’s requirements. Sometimes, the unique profile aspect is as simple as being a man; most survey respondents are women, and if a company is looking for opinions from men, they may be willing to pay more or offer more opportunities.

Do you earn extra money taking online survey? What do you enjoy about these opportunities?

Photo: Senior Peter


This is the third article in a series about methods of supplementing income with spare-time projects. I typically focus on the big changes people can make that result in earning significantly more money, but this series focuses on incremental income. The first article was about becoming a secret shopper and the second was about selling items on eBay.

While I worked at my previous job, at a company in the financial industry, I wanted to use my extra time to learn more about business. I’m not particularly a fan of “business” as an industry, but I figured I was involved with it, so I might as well improve my skills. I decided to do this by enrolling in the University of Phoenix Online.

I was aware of the potential downsides, primarily the stigma that is attached to online degrees, particularly within human resources. That wasn’t particularly important to me. Another downside, the relatively high cost of tuition, also had negligible relevance because my company paid for almost all tuition costs. What I liked was the flexibility and the technology. Ever since I was exposed to online education via the web in its earliest incarnations, I’ve believed in the strong potential of this type of learning. It hasn’t been perfected for a mass audience yet, but I believe it will continue to improve.

The University of Phoenix and other schools, whether focusing on courses online or not, hire teachers or facilitators to develop materials, engage students, and share their experiences. If you have a master’s degree and you are successful in your field, you could qualify to teach an online course. There is a wide variety in quality among facilitators in online education, not dissimilar to universities focused on traditional education. Good teachers are always in need, and schools would do well to nurture them.

Income potential for online teaching

Using my experience earning a Master’s Degree at the University of Phoenix Online as an example, different facilitators will spend a different amount of time working. Regardless of the hours, salaries are standard. For a six-week graduate-level course, a new facilitator will receive a stipend of $1,400. After staying with the university of ten years, that salary reaches the maximum of $1,910. Those rates are as of 2009, so they might have changed in the past few years. You do need a PhD or JD to teach graduate level courses, though.

Facilitating an online class is, for most people, not a good prospect for a full-time job, but or those who have jobs in the field in which they’d like to teach and have the extra time, it could provide between $10,000 and $20,000 a year to prop up your balances.

Those with just a master’s degree can qualify to teach undergraduate courses, but the pay would be less. If you’re really interested in teaching in some form that doesn’t conflict with the time required for a day job, consider becoming an adjunct faculty member at a local community college. You may not need to work many hours and you may receive a higher salary.

Income potential for tutoring

With the highly competitive nature of college enrollment, an increasing number of parents are willing to spend money for tutors. Anything to give a child an advantage over another seems to be worth the expense. You can take advantage of this attitude by offering private lessons in an academic area, including the arts, with which you are most gifted.

  • Get to know the middle school and high school teachers in your academic field in your town and the surrounding towns. Once you do, you may ask teachers to recommend you to students in need of help or enrichment.
  • Your best advertisement is having pupils with noticeable achievement. When parents and teachers see improvement, they will recommend you to others.

The amount you can charge is proportional to the difficulty of the material; you may be able to charge $20 an hour for a ninth-grade student struggling with geometry, $30 an hour for a tenth-grade student needing more experience with algebra to score higher on the SATs, or $40 an hour for an eleventh-grade student who’s ready for calculus in advance of the rest of the class. The more advanced the topic, the less there is a chance you’ll be competing with exceptional high school students, who will likely charge less per hour than you would accept for the same work.

It’s not just academic subjects. The demand is so high for test preparation tutoring that you could charge $100 per hour or more. You might do well on your own, but many parents look first at organizations that offer these tutoring services, like The Princeton Review. If you can’t find pupils on your own, you could work for an organization like this as a part-time tutor. The possibilities for income is limited only by your time and desire. It may be difficult to handle twenty hour-long tutoring sessions a week, but there always is a demand for these services.


This is the second article in a series about methods of supplementing income with spare-time projects. I typically focus on the big changes people can make that result in earning significantly more money, but this series focuses on incremental income. The first article was about becoming a secret shopper.

A friend of mine is stuck in a job she hates. She’s been looking for a way out, but for financial reasons, is currently stuck in her position. One way she’s trying to earn some income is by buying items at low prices from a variety of sources and selling these items on eBay for a profit. The concept makes sense, because eBay is such an efficient market. Garage sales or yard sales are much less efficient because there isn’t a wide pool of potentially interested buyers to drive up the cost of a rare item. Nevertheless, people still use garage sales to sell unwanted items because they don’t want the hassle of creating an effective eBay listing.

Finding deals at physical shopping locations and selling those items on eBay can produce a healthy profit with the right kind of knowledge guiding the shopping prices. It’s also possible take advantage of bad eBay listings and flip products purchased online for incremental income.

Finding the right items to sell

Income potential for selling items on eBay is limited only by the seller’s ability to recognize good deals before purchasing. In this case, a good deal is anything that is underpriced based on the eBay market. This type of knowledge comes from paying close attention to completed eBay sales. It would be very difficult to understand the eBay market for all products, so it might make sense to focus on one or a small number of product categories, such as old books, magazines, dolls, vinyl records, or vintage clothing. As you gain knowledge and experience, you might have the confidence to expand into additional categories.

Book SaleKnowing the target prices for purchasing products, the price at which you will be able to earn a profit, is one step for finding the right items; next, you need to be in the right places to find a deal. Here are a few locations where you may scour for deals.

  • Garage sales and yard sales. Your local newspaper or local events website can help direct you to garage sales in the area. At garage sales, you can often be successful negotiating towards a better deal, increasing your potential profit if the item can be sold on eBay. There are two good times to visit garage sales: at the beginning, when some of the best deals have not yet had the opportunity to be scanned by other shoppers, and at the end, when you have stronger negotiating power and sellers who are motivated to get rid of their less popular items at any price.
  • Book sales. Libraries and schools often put collections on sale to the public once they’ve outlived their use. The key is to be able to cherrypick the best selections, spotting any editions that may be rare or collectible. That isn’t the only way to succeed, however. Often, at the end of sales, you may find that the selling organization offer deals where you can fill a box of any books and take an entire lot at a small price. Even with books that aren’t rare, you can make a profit by listing these individually on eBay or a book selling website of your choice.

    For an overview of what this can be like, take a look at the Bryn Mawr/Wellesley book sale, an annual event in Princeton, New Jersey. The claim to be the biggest book sale on the east coast, and many shoppers here are looking to profit by reselling their finds. Here’s a video.

  • Other eBay auctions. If you become adept at spotting auctions that are not well-designed and would not attract a lot of interested buyers, you may be able to bid a low price, win the auction, and turn the item around on eBay with a better listing to earn money. There are tools you can buy that help in this endeavor, but I wouldn’t suggest paying any money up front for a tool that can help with incremental income. Search eBay listings for popular misspellings, and you may find popular items with less traffic than they should have, if the correct spelling was used. Many sellers anticipate misspelled searches and use incorrectly-spelled words in their listings to draw more attention from potential buyers.
  • Flea markets and swap meets. Thanks to eBay, it’s less likely to find great deals at flea markets and swap meets. The more savvy vendors have moved the bulk of their operations online because of the greater revenue potential. Nevertheless, flea markets and swap meets could provide some opportunities for finding profitable items, but education and experience is more important than ever.

Building your eBay reputation

You can attract more potential buyers on eBay by being a good — and frequent — seller. Always offer good return policies and always communicate well with your customers. The feedback and ratings they provide will solidify your reputation as a trusted seller. The more you sell, the more eBay increases your status. The more business you do on eBay, the faster you will move up to and through the ranks of PowerSeller. The eBay PowerSeller badge is a somewhat important piece of advertising for your seller account, but it isn’t the only criterion that buyers are concerned about. Interestingly, as a PowerSeller, eBay allows a certain number of policy violations, but the more you make your selling approach friendly to buyers, the less you need to worry about that.

To build your reputation, you may want to focus on growing positive feedback from buyers, and that might require forgoing significant profit. Sell as many items as you can handle, even for a bargain, to quickly receive the positive feedback you need to attract more discerning buyers.

Here are a few ideas that will move your reputation in the right direction.

  • Ship your items quickly after receiving payment and offer shipment tracking.
  • Respond to shoppers’ inquiries immediately.
  • Charge reasonable prices for shipping.
  • Always be gracious in your communications.
  • Leave great feedback for others.

eBay selling income potential

Unfortunately, the internet is full of promises of riches to be derived from selling items on eBay. Many such advertisements simply fail to subtract the cost of goods from their revenue, others just outright lie. However, it is possible to earn a living making a business out of scouring physical sales and inefficient eBay listings for deals, selling the best finds for a profit on eBay. My former co-worker’s husband made such a living, but I believe he would say that he wasn’t exactly rich and it was a hard, time-consuming job. He focused on music recordings, and really enjoyed music, so besides the potential revenue he was working with something he enjoyed. Furthermore, their entire apartment was full of stuff determined to be unsaleable or waiting to be sold. To do this well, you may need significant storage space while your items are being sold, and that could be a drawback.

More likely than making a living, this process has the potential to add a few hundred dollars to your bank accounts each month. Even this requires diligently finding only the best deals and attracting enough buyers on eBay. In the worst case scenario, you spend more for your inventory than you can make by selling on eBay, resulting in a loss. It’s a risky business, but you can reduce that risk with practice and by focusing your tactics on a specific category to start.

Do you have a profitable side business (or main business) selling or flipping items on eBay? What are your suggestions for success?

Photo: Phil Roeder


For all of the eight years of Consumerism Commentary’s existence, I’ve written about big ways to earn more income, like changing a career path, learning how to negotiate, or building your own business, much more than I’ve written about options that might seem more available to most people. I’ve generally shied away from the smaller ways to add to your bank accounts. The time you spend on any projects can easily be worth more than the small income the activities generate. When I write about financial responsibility, I want to encourage using the time you want to trade for earning income thoughtfully rather than undertaking small projects that only add to financial well-being incrementally.

Because I like to focus on the big picture, I’ve never discussed they small ways people can use their spare time to generate extra income. Because this income is usually small, these are activities people may not want to do unless they also enjoy them. For the most part, these are not full time jobs or career paths. These are suggestions for the majority of middle-class workers in the developed world who feel their finances could use some assistance and are willing to trade some of their free time in return for some more money.

This is the first article in a series about earning more money.

The first option to explore is an activity that could make many modern consumers happy. If you like shopping, why not get paid to do it, and pick up some additional perks along the way? Secret shoppers or mystery shoppers are hired by corporate executives who want to get a real indication of how the companies’ branches, offices, or franchises are operating.

Secret shopping scams

Secret Shopping, Shopping BagsAs with any money-making prospect, the first rule of thumb is to avoid scams. Nefarious people abound, looking for people willing to take any steps if they think it will help them earn money. Most people find secret shopping opportunities by searching online, and scammers can easily post job listings. Here are some signs that the secret shopping opportunity is a scam.

  • You are required to pay to participate. If there’s an enrollment fee, a listing fee, or any kind of fee that you are required to pay before receiving a job, the opportunity is almost definitely a scam. Even if they promise you will earn your fee back, any up-front costs are red flags.
  • The company sends you a check to cash at the bank as part of your assignment. This is a common scam. You would receive a check for a large amount and be required to send part of the money back to the company quickly. Avoid this. Some banks do legitimately use secret shoppers to evaluate branches, but you won’t be required to deposit a check and send money to the company.
  • You must buy products or services using your own money. While it is common for legitimate secret shopping services to operate this way, and reimburse your expenses after the fact, many don’t require spending money at all. If you’re just starting out, stay away from companies that require you to use your own money until you’re comfortable with them.

Secret shopping responsibilities

When you receive an assignment, you will usually have a date or a range of dates during which you will need to perform the task. The company will outline the task. The task may involve walking into a store and asking for help, going to a doctor’s office and scheduling an appointment, or ordering a meal at a restaurant. The company may provide you a script to use, particularly if the assignment involves calling the company. After your experience, you will need to complete a questionnaire describing your encounter and return the completed form to the company. Almost always, these forms can be submitted online.

A key skill required for successful secret shopping is the ability to remember details. You generally won’t be able to take notes while you are undercover; this will alert employees that they’re being observed. You may need to remember details like how many employees were visible, the quality of the greeting you received, sales techniques, layout of store, and compliance with the company’s standards.

These same skills will help you succeed in other types of jobs as well. Determine the best use for these skills. While they could help you earn some money as a secret shopper, if you are inclined to do well, you might be able to use those skills in other, more lucrative jobs.

Secret shopping income potential

The income from secret shopping is limited only by the time you have to devote to taking on new assignments. The higher quality of the questionnaires you return, the higher the probability you’ll receive more assignments. Some jobs don’t pay at all, but you’re allowed to keep what you buy. A typical example is the meal you eat while secretly shopping a restaurant. Most jobs that pay offer $10 to $20, or perhaps lower due to fallout from the economic recession as supply of potential shoppers increased. If you are able to find enough jobs from the same company, you could build up a reputation for being a high-quality secret shopper. If the company has more lucrative assignments, this could increase the possibility of receiving those assignments. If you do well, you could receive more assignments than you can handle, so be realistic with the assignments you accept.

Do you have time to go on one shopping excursion per week? You could be looking at an extra $500 to $1,000 over the course of a year, or even more if you are able to land more lucrative assignments. This can pay for a vacation or strengthen your emergency fund. If the time it would take to go on a weekly secret shopping excursion would take away from your quality of life, perhaps spending more time with your family, working with a hobby you love more than shopping, or building your own business, you may decide that your time is worth more than what you could earn from this activity. It’s more than just a financial decision, its personal.

Secret shopping is an individual activity. Each assignment could bring you to a new shopping location, which might be exciting, but there aren’t really opportunities to get to know people. For people who prefer working on their own rather than building relationships and forming teams, secret shopping could be a good opportunity.

Have you ever been a secret shopper? What were your experiences?

Photo: I See Modern Britain


Body Parts You Can Sell

by Luke Landes

As I mentioned a few days ago, Consumerism Commentary is matching your charitable contributions. Please take this opportunity to give to your favorite charity. Here’s how to make your charity count twice. If you’re desperate for cash, you may have considered selling some of your extraneous body parts. In some ways, I’m glad there isn’t […]

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My Experiences Selling Online

by Smithee

I recently sold a number of possessions in my year-long quest to vanquish my credit card debt as quickly as possible. Before this, I had very limited experience using online selling tools, and generally thought of them all as a hassle, so I thought I would try more than one and see how they stacked […]

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