10 Side Hustles to Keep the Wolf from the Door

By Staff

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.


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?