Why Many “Alternative Income” Ideas Aren’t Worth It

Quite often, I’ll get excited requests from readers who have stumbled upon some great idea for alternative income and want me to write about it. Here are a few of the suggestions I’ve heard.

+ Write for income at Squidoo or Associated Content.
+ Take online surveys at OpinionOutpost.
+ Try out websites through MyPoints.
+ Do freelancing work through Upwork or Guru
+ Do menial tasks through Amazon Mechanical Turk.

In a nutshell, I view all of these ideas as a waste of time, and here’s why.

Reasons to Avoid “Alternative Income Ideas”

1. The pay for the time invested is very low

The best you can hope for with these sites is something approaching minimum wage – and that’s only on rare occasions when high-paying options come through. Mostly, you’re just loitering for a dollar or two an hour.

2. You’re not building anything

The first problem might be tolerable if you were building something for the long term that would earn you much more per hour, but with services like these, you’re not. You get paid per piece, with that piece being strictly independent of other work. You can’t earn a raise or a higher rate of return with sustained quality work. If you’re extremely lucky, you might happen to randomly attract someone through the freelancing sites (Squidoo, AC, Elance, Guru, etc.) who’s interested in your work individually for more tasks, but the odds are very low.

I understand that many people do such things during idle times
Especially when they are required to be in front of a computer for a period of time but don’t have any specific work requirements to be fulfilled (like a front desk receptionist, for instance).

I also know that many people do activities like this in the evening in the family room while the television is on as something to do to “earn a few bucks” while watching television.

In either case, why not invest that time doing something that produces more value – or at least has the potential to produce more value?

Valuable Ways to Spend Your Time

Get an education

Take online classes through a university, or even just do them yourself through OpenCourseWare.

Build up an online presence

This way, people can find good information when they Google you. One great place to do this is LinkedIn – build yourself a profile there. You might also want to just buy yourself a domain name and put up a simple website about yourself. The goal is that when people Google your name, they find positive information about you that reflects well on yourself – far better than finding nothing or finding potentially embarrassing stuff.

Start a blog

Sign up at Blogger, get yourself an AdSense account so you can earn some money, and start writing articles about the things you’re passionate about. Use online resources for your research materials. Find opportunities to build traffic, like blog carnivals and connecting with other bloggers on your topic. Done well, this can not only build you a positive online presence, but also earn you some side income that builds the more you write. This is how I started The Simple Dollar – I blogged in the lazy evenings on the couch after the kids were in bed and sometimes in the mornings as well.

Open an online savings account or an investment account

Put your money somewhere where you can earn some income with it instead of the piddly half a percent your local bank gives you. Sign up for an online savings account with a high interest rate (I use ING Direct) and transfer your savings there – moving $2,000 from a 0.5% account to a 3% account earns you an extra $50 a year, you only have to get it set up once, and you can do it from the convenience of your couch or your office chair.

Talk to your spouse about money

If you’re together and idle, take advantage of it to actually talk about your financial situation. Talk about your goals and what you can do every day to help you get there. Talk about the purchases you both want to make and be genuine about whether or not they’re in line with your big dreams. Support each other in making smart financial choices. $100 a month not spent and a stronger relationship is far more valuable than some online surveys.

Get up and do something that saves money

Make some homemade laundry detergent. Install some energy-efficient light bulbs. Prepare several batches of a casserole for tomorrow’s supper and freeze the extra batches. Install a programmable thermostat. Air-seal the drafty places in your home. Request an interest rate reduction on your high-balance credit card. All of these save money for you at a rate quite a bit higher than minimum wage, and some of them continue to save money over the long haul. Instead of languishing where you are, stand up and do something that’s actually worth your time.

In short, if you’re going to work, make it worthwhile. Make it at least earn enough income now to be worth your time, or have it be something that can continually earn over the long term. Make your time matter, even when it’s idle time, and you’ll find great success.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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