If the lyrics to the Dolly Parton song “9 to 5” could be your autobiography, maybe it’s time to consider some unconventional ways to make money. After all, if you’re “barely gettin’ by,” you’re probably looking for creative ways to earn extra cash about now.
Like hot-dog eating, for example. If you wanted to make your cash by cramming hot dogs down your throat, you could compete in Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for a chance at the $10,000 grand prize. First, though, you'd have to beat Joey Chestnut -- who's won the annual competition 14 of the last 15 years, setting a record of 76 hot dogs on 4th of July in 2021. The contest may be over for this year, but that means you have 12 months to start practicing for 2022.
Whether you're struggling to pay the bills or just looking to pad your savings account, check out some clever ways to earn a buck that are on the stranger side.
Last updated: July 5, 2021
1. Win a Competitive Eating Contest
So, if you really wanted to compete in Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, it probably wouldn't happen until next Fourth of July. All competitors must have a contract with MLE -- that's Major League Eating -- in order to participate.
This particular contest got its start back in 1967 at the Nathan's Famous stand in Coney Island, New York. It's still held there today, and in 2011 it opened a contest for women, too. Whoever swallows (and keeps down) the most hot dogs in the 10-minute allotted period is awarded $10,000 for their efforts (both on the women's and men's side).
A champion like Joey Chestnut -- who's won 12 Nathan's contests and many others -- makes eating look pretty lucrative, too. Find out how much he's worth as he defends his hot-dog eating championship.
2. Work as a Living Statue
Individual performance artists make money posing as living statues on street corners around the world. There are even companies like the Rhode Island-based Ten31 Productions that hire performers to work as living statues for events such as WaterFire in Providence.
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3. Deliver Phone Books
It might seem hard to believe, but those old-school phone books that show up on front doorsteps are delivered by folks who bag them, load them and go door to door to drop them off. The website DeliverYellow says that the job is a great money-maker for individuals, community groups that need fundraisers and people who already work as delivery drivers.
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Rover offers conventional pet care services, such as dog walking and drop-in visits. Some pet care pros will also housesit overnight for pets, including cats, snakes and even horses who want to stay on their home turf, however.
5. Grow Marijuana — Legally
In some parts of the country, it's now legal to grow marijuana for sale. You should do your research before embarking on this money-making opportunity, though.
Anthony Franciosi, founder of Honest Marijuana Company in Colorado, cautions that too few potential investors and partners fully understand the legal and licensing requirements, or the amount of work and capital needed, to run a high-quality marijuana-growing operation.
"To find people to invest money in the cannabis industry is not the issue, because I think it's happening every day," said Franciosi. "Finding working partners who understand the true task ahead, appreciate cannabis and are willing to put the hours in to be successful is a different and more difficult proposition. Investors are not easy to come by, but I have had a few different parties who were interested in working with me."
6. Sell Hair
Looking for ways to make money online? Sites such as Online Hair Affair allow users to sell their own hair -- for a small fee. Currently, the site has a listing for 12 inches of blond, never-dyed hair for $400.
7. Sell Breast Milk
Sites such as Only the Breast specialize in selling breast milk, and prices typically range from $1 to $2 an ounce. The practice is somewhat controversial, however, since breast milk can spread disease. Additionally, buyers and sellers should select the sites they use with caution, as studies have found that some online breast milk contains cow's milk or even commercial baby formula.
8. Milk Snakes
Snake venom is used for several purposes, including scientific research and antivenom production. And while there are jobs available in venom collection, Brian Barczyk, star of the Discovery Channel show "Venom Hunters," tells Channel Guide magazine that milking snakes is unlikely to get anyone rich.
"We do it because we love it, we believe in it and we would do it for free," said Barczyk. "I don't want to ever encourage anyone to go out there and quit their day job to go collecting venom, because they're probably going to fall short."
9. Sample Beers
World of Beer, a chain that operates more than 70 restaurants and bars in 20 states, hired four "Drink It" interns for summer 2017. According to Thrillist, the interns were paid a salary of $12,000, plus travel expenses, to write about their beer-tasting adventures for the company's site and other outlets.
10. Stand in Line
Before the days of TaskRabbit and other labor-outsourcing sites, Clint Evans queued up to snag tickets for "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" for those too busy to do so themselves.
"I sold my time too cheap at $30 for about six hours of standing in line. But today's sharing economy offers you similar options. Many people will pay you an acceptable hourly rate or price per project," said Evans, now CEO of the consultancy and marketing firm StandOut Authority. "The big benefit for savvy line waiters is you can read or listen to an audiobook."
11. Make Money Through Google AdSense
If you have a website, blog or YouTube channel, consider signing up for Google AdSense. The service recruits high-paying advertisers whose ads will appear on your site and sends you a check when your account reaches a certain payment threshold. Although ads have to accumulate a certain number of clicks or views to earn significant sums, the Google AdSense site features some inspiring success stories to motivate you.
12. Play Video Games
Golden Tee is a popular golf arcade game. A few expert Golden Tee players can make a living through the video game and its Golden Tee Live payouts. The game's maker, Incredible Technologies, even hosts a Golden Tee World Championship, which features a top prize of $10,000.
13. Speak Out
Other outsourcing sites feature folks selling strange services alongside more conventional offers to transcribe taped interviews or create custom logos. For example, one seller on the outsourcing site Fiverr offers to scream loudly for a period of 20 seconds in exchange for a $5 payment.
14. Be a Mystery Shopper
Many companies are looking for consumers to evaluate customer service at their stores. Along with providing hourly pay, a number of companies offer perks such as mileage reimbursement and snack budgets to their secret shoppers.
15. Sell Blood Plasma
Blood plasma is used to treat many diseases, as well as chronic conditions such as hemophilia. According to the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, each plasma donation center sets its own compensation rates for donors. For example, CSL Plasma's site says first-time donors can earn up to $400.
16. Participate in Clinical Trials
Many hospitals, universities and other institutions conduct clinical trials. Some are looking for healthy individuals, while others seek subjects who have specific medical conditions to test new drugs or treatment programs. But you won't necessarily need to test drugs with unpleasant side effects to collect your cash. PAREXEL in Glendale, Calif., is currently accepting applicants to take part in a study involving no drugs or placebos.
17. Communicate With Congress
Companies such as NextWave Advocacy work with corporations, trade groups and advocacy organizations who want people to write letters to national, state and local legislators about a variety of issues.
NextWave hires both people who work from home to call constituents and recruit them as advocates for specific causes and writers who help shape constituents' experiences into compelling stories.
18. Pose For Art Classes
Art schools and other institutions that offer drawing classes often hire live models to pose for them. Applicants must generally be comfortable posing both clothed and in the buff, and can find opportunities on sites like Indeed and SimplyHired.
19. Find Focus Groups
You can make more money this year by participating in a focus group. All sorts of companies need focus group participants to provide opinions on their products and services. Visit Find Focus Groups to locate opportunities with in-person, online and phone-based focus groups.
20. Do Jury Duty Online
Companies like eJury hire people to review real court cases online. Lawyers use their feedback to prepare for trials and develop settlement strategies. The eJury site pays online jurors $5 to $10 for each case on which they render a "verdict," depending on the length.
21. Pen Poems
Companies like Blue Mountain Arts regularly seek out short poetry and prose to be published in greeting cards or books. Writers can submit material to Blue Mountain either by mail or online. The company pays $300 per poem for worldwide, exclusive rights to publish it on greeting cards and other products and $50 per poem for one-time publication in a book.
22. Write Romances
Harlequin and other well-known publishers accept submissions directly from writers who want to see their work in print. The imprint, which is known for its romances, offers advances, royalties or both depending on how a specific title will be published. In addition to submission details, Harlequin's website offers aspiring authors advice on a variety of writing subjects.
23. Eat Ice Cream
Wells Enterprises makes Blue Bunny ice cream, Bomb Pops and Weight Watchers frozen treats and often needs taste-testers to sample the goodies. As a trained descriptive panelist, you would provide feedback on the appearance, aroma, flavor and texture of a variety of the company's products.
24. Work in Funeral Services
Funeral service workers perform tasks such as embalming, cremation and directing memorials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for funeral service workers was $54,830 in 2016, so this weird job might just be a lucrative one for many.
25. Be an Animal Acupuncturist
Veterinarians are increasingly offering holistic services, such as massage and animal acupuncture. With that in mind, it's not surprising that the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture and other organizations now provide training and certification programs for vets. Moreover, many clinics employ doctors with multiple certifications.
26. Test Amusement Park Rides
If you love thrill rides and want to earn some extra cash, you might consider a career in amusement ride testing. Engineering firms like GMH Engineering use sophisticated equipment to inspect and test amusement park rides. But employees leave the hands-on work of riding roller coasters to the crash test dummies.
Don't have a tech background? You might be able to secure an entry-level theme park job and work your way up, according to HowStuffWorks. Some amusement parks even hire temporary ride testers, so you don't have to leave your day job to enjoy the fun.
27. Rent Out Your Drone
High-end equipment, such as cameras and drones, can be expensive. Increasingly, people who own these pricey gadgets and gear are renting them out to others when they aren't in use. Sites such as KitSplit are even popping up to handle the details of the transactions for you.
28. Be a Mermaid or Merman
The Sip 'n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Mont., is known for its giant blue fishbowl drinks, a long-time entertainer named Piano Pat and mermaids and mermen who take over the bar-side pool to entertain patrons.
If you've always dreamed of donning a tail but don't live anywhere near the Sip 'n Dip, don't despair. The bar is one of a handful of facilities around the country to feature mermaids as entertainment.
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Levi Leidy contributed to the reporting for this article.