With salaries up only 1.7 percent for the year—a repeat of last year's meager 1.6 percent—many Americans must look beyond their regular jobs to boost their incomes. There are ways to make extra money, some of them new, others tried-and-true, says Randall Hansen, founder of the career development website Quintessential Careers. Couple your ingenuity with your skills and, in some cases, Internet-based opportunities, and you can expand your bottom line even in these tight times.
Crowdfund your invention. As recently as a few years ago, inventors required bankers or venture capitalists to realize their ideas and move them to the marketplace. Now, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com allow anyone to raise money from friends and strangers who want little more than to help bring an offering to life. Of the more than 30,000 projects successfully funded on Kickstarter since its 2009 launch, the vast majority have been the work of an individual, not companies, says a Kickstarter spokesperson. One recent project sought $250,000 to mass-produce "Impossible Instant Lab," a cool gadget that turns your digital iPhone pictures into actual Polaroid analog photos. Users set their phone screen onto a cradle atop the lab and press a button. The lab then spits out a picture. Contributors who pledged $149 or more received, at minimum, a discount on a limited edition Lab with free film. The largest givers received additional freebies.
To participate on Kickstarter, you simply create an online account, write a brief description of your vision (in a few cases, like technology projects, Kickstarter requires a working prototype); decide what goodies to offer donors in exchange for their financial contributions, such as an early sample of the product or a phone call from you; and designate a total dollar target. The site usually emails you within one to two days as to whether your project has met its guidelines—which include fitting into its established categories ranging from art, publishing, and games to music, film and technology—and is accepted. You only receive money if you reach your goal within the specified time period, which can be anywhere between one and 60 days. Kickstarter deducts a 5 percent fee, but only if you hit your target. Several projects have raised more than a million dollars, but the company says the average is about $5,000. And, for many people, that can be the difference between getting their product to market and leaving the idea in their desk drawers.
Indiegogo is more wide open. It does not vet its projects and offers participants the option of collecting contributions even if they don't reach their targets. The fee is 4 percent if you reach your goal and 9 percent if you fall short.
One other point to consider: In September, Kickstarter ranked 348th in the country in site traffic, according to the traffic monitor Alexa.org, compared to 759th for Indiegogo, which means it offers a significantly larger donor pool for participants to tap into.
Moonlight. Some 3.6 million Americans took on a second job part time in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aside from providing extra money, holding additional jobs can help you explore a potential career or learn skills that may apply to your primary employment, Hansen points out. Moonlighting often brings to mind holiday hiring by retailers, which can yield attractive discounts, too. In general, though, you will make better money capitalizing on your specific work skills, he notes. For example, if you have writing talent, can design websites, keep business books, pet sit, or fix computer problems, you can advertise your services on sites like Craigslist or offer your talents directly to local businesses or individuals.
You can also teach what you know to others as a tutor. Gaye Weintraub, 38, of Katy, Texas, has done this since 2009, when she began supplementing her full-time paralegal income by helping local students with their English writing assignments. Soon, she expanded to additional subjects: creating a PowerPoint presentation, photography, elementary math, study skills, and how to use YouTube and other online websites (which she taught to a 93-year-old client, among others). After Weintraub was laid off in 2011, her thriving side business provided a valuable safety net. She has since expanded it to include writing and other freelance work in addition to tutoring.