When my brother was in college, he loved to send me emails containing the latest jokes, memes, and YouTube videos circulating on the internet. I’ll never forget the first time I saw grape stomp lady, or the QVC guy who struggles with the teleprompter.
Since I was primed to get joke emails, I thought my brother was kidding when he sent a message with the subject line “Donated Bone Marrow Today."
The email contained a picture my brother’s friend had taken. My brother was lying face down on an operating table while a medical worker inserted a gigantic needle into his back. It looked like it would take two nurses leaning on that beast of a needle just to depress the plunger. It was jarring.
I soon learned that he was not auditioning to be an extra in the next Saw movie. He was simply doing what many thousands of Americans do every day when they want to earn some side cash -- using his healthy body to make money from the medical establishment.
From plasma, sperm, or egg donation to clinical trials and psychological studies, there are many ways to do this (legally!), and I’ll cover them in this article. Keep in mind that earning money in this way is contingent on being healthy, qualified, and vetted by a medical professional. If you want less invasive side hustle ideas, there are plenty to choose from.
Bone Marrow Donation
We’ll start with the activity my brother chose to engage in when he was running low on his beer money: donating bone marrow. This is an outpatient surgical procedure requiring an anesthetic. It’s a fairly invasive process, and not for the feint of heart. A doctor will be using a needle to penetrate your pelvic bone and extract liquid bone marrow. The marrow is given to those who are suffering from bone marrow diseases and are in need of a transplant.
Paying people for bone marrow donations was illegal for a time, but a landmark court case back in 2011 made it legal again. You can now get between $300 and $800 if you donate through a private clinic. You can also donate for free, in which case all the costs of the procedure would still be covered.
Blood Plasma Donation
Donating blood plasma is similar to donating blood, it just takes a little bit longer. You get stuck with a needle and then your blood is extracted in a process that takes about two hours. The blood is then spun in a centrifuge to separate out the plasma. The red blood cells are put back into your body using a saline solution so that you can quickly rebuild your plasma stores.
The proteins in your plasma are generally used for diagnosing diseases, manufacturing therapies, or are given to patients in need.
Blood plasma can be donated twice per week, and most facilities pay between $20 and $50 for a sample. You can check this plasma donation site to find out how to qualify and where you can donate.
Egg or Sperm Donation
This category can make people a bit squeamish, but there’s no denying that selling your sex cells can be lucrative business.
A woman can sell her eggs for an average of $7,000, though that number varies a lot based on location, age, history, education, and other factors. My local hospital offers a flat $10,000 to any first-time donor, and they also offer a nice guide on what the process entails. In short, going through the egg donation process is a big commitment and quite invasive. Hence, the big payday.
Donating sperm is quite a bit easier, and you can still make good money. Qualified men in California can get up to $1,500 per month for visiting a facility two to three times a week. A quick Google search will reveal options for your state.
If you can pass a drug test, fill out some forms, and you are over five feet nine inches tall, you should be good to donate (it’s a cold world out there for short guys). One thing to keep in mind is that this is a longer-term commitment. Most sperm banks require a one-year commitment of weekly donations, and you won’t start getting paid until after six months.
Yes, really. Fecal transplant operations are becoming popular for people who suffer from Crohn’s disease, C. diff, and other bowel disorders. It involves transplanting healthy colon bacteria into the body of someone who is ill.
If you're one of the 4% of applicants who qualify as a donor, you can make up to $40 per sample and donate up to five days per week. That’s a serious side hustle. At the moment, donors must be local to one of Open Biome's Boston-area offices, but the program could soon be expanding nationwide.
Clinical trials are used by companies to test things out before they go mainstream. They cover a lot of ground, and participants in the trials can end up being guinea pigs for everything from new drugs to new workout regimes.
The amount you get paid will vary greatly, as some studies require much more time than others. The most lucrative current study I could find is in my old hometown of Madison, Wis. They're offering adults ages 18-65 up to $6,000 for one study. But, it requires a four-night stay and 11 follow-up visits over a three-month period, which is a pretty hefty commitment.
The government maintains a database where you can find out how to sign up for over 250,000 clinical trials in all 50 states.
Psych studies are like clinical trials, but they're focused on the function of the human brain. They're usually less invasive and time-consuming than clinical trials.
I used to do these in college all the time. I'd get paid between 10 and 50 bucks per study, most of which required completing a task on a computer and then filling out a survey.
If you live near a university, this is worth checking out, as it’s not only undergraduates who can participate. Many colleges list upcoming studies on websites you can find with a simple internet search. In my area, I see that New York University is currently recruiting participants for over 20 paid studies.
Some of the procedures on this list might make you cringe, which is why I think it’s important to keep in mind that all of these donations are for a good cause. You're not just making money when you donate plasma or bone marrow - you may literally be saving a life. It requires more of you than selling your old toys on Craigslist, but the payout, both literally and figuratively, can often be much higher.
I should also mention that any money you earn using the above methods has to be reported as income. Just because you're paid for doing your part for science doesn't mean you escape the inevitable come April.
Finally, always be safe about how you approach these sorts of things. Only use well-regarded facilities, and research the procedure beforehand so that you know what you’re getting into (There are quite a few women who wish they hadn’t donated eggs, for instance). If you're at all unsure of what's healthy, safe, or legal, talk to your doctor. We all want extra cash, but health must come first.