Help me keep the lights on.
December 8, 2011 8:16 AM   Subscribe

How can I earn at least $200 per month working at home?

I collect about $850 per month in Social Security disability and I'm allowed to earn up to $1000 more. I have many skills, especially with Macintosh/Apple technologies and I learn very quickly. Unfortunately my condition is aggravated by speaking at length so phone support would be difficult. (There's a blood vessel compressing a nerve at my brainstem and causing Trigeminal Neuralgia, widely known as “the most painful condition known to medicine.") If that's all there is, though, I'll put up with the pain for the increased security the money would bring.

I've had very good luck writing resumes for friends but I'd need to learn how and where to market these. I graduated with honors from a well-regarded school with emphases in Communications and Human Relations and worked for a private foundation before I got sick. I have lots of experience in desktop publishing, technical writing, and web design. I had many Macintosh tech. support clients before I took the foundation job, being especially good at setting up systems and recommending applications/solutions. I can no longer travel easily, though, so house calls are out. I’m freakishly intuitive. There was a very successful female poker player on TV recently and I’m wondering whether I might try my hand at that without too much risk. I'm hoping for hive creativity and thinking outside my impoverished box.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 96 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a little ebook - A Guide to Making Passive Income by Collis Ta'eed, perhaps it will be of some use to you.
posted by leigh1 at 8:28 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

first, as i understand it, online poker is a scam. It's not designed to let someone beat the system, and smart people work on those games to make sure it doesn't happen.

Since you have desktop publishing skills, one thing that springs to mind is newsletter publishing for small businesses or small non-profits that can't afford a staff member to do it. Marketing? What about Craigslist (same for resume writing, if you decide to focus on that)...
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2011

There are also job boards for freelancers - try Elance, Guru, Freelancer - they will provide you with hundreds of freelance gigs to choose from.
posted by leigh1 at 8:38 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

first, as i understand it, online poker is a scam. It's not designed to let someone beat the system, and smart people work on those games to make sure it doesn't happen.

I always thought the same thing, but a friend of mine actually makes a good $600-$800 per month (best month was over $3000) playing online poker. I guess for a good, smart player there is money to be made.
posted by Falwless at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are a number of writing sites where you can make small amounts of money. When I was at my most broke, I wrote for There is also and I used quite a bit, the articles are easy and most didn't require too much research. If you have online access to your local library, that's a good way to get info without having to go to the library.

If you write resumes, post your services on craigslist. Craigslist also has freelance writing gigs, granting writing stuff. I do mostly corporate writing now but that's something I got into through networking. I also used and thought they sucked eggs, way too much effort for too little money but some people do well if you can convince buyers that your skills are worth it. You're competing against folks in Bangladesh and Estonia (who offer their services for pennies) but often they want native English speakers. They are really why I don't trust the internet - so much of what is out there was written by people like me for 3 cents a word. I can't even tell you how many articles I wrote on how to make money on the internet. There's a lot of spinning, writing the same article several different ways. Also, most of these don't allow you to take credit for your work, which is not necessarily a bad thing. (I"m not sure I want my name on all those crappy affiliation marketing program articles.)

But Textbroker, I actually liked. It was straight forward, quick paying, helpful feedback even if it didn't pay a lot. Be careful with freelancer, some clients were great but a lot were skeevy. This is the site where people go if they want 10,000 Facebook fans or youtube hits or want you to write 30 300 word articles and someone in India will say they can do it in 2 days for $30.
posted by shoesietart at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have a really great job doing customer support from home, via email. My company is not currently hiring, but doing this part time would be a perfect job for you. I am afraid I'm not exactly sure where to start looking for this kind of work (I lucked out with a craigslist ad), but I suggest investigating it.

Also, I have another suggestion that may suit you, but that would entail telling you where I work. If you're interested, MeMail.
posted by hought20 at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2011

first, as i understand it, online poker is a scam. It's not designed to let someone beat the system, and smart people work on those games to make sure it doesn't happen.

My ex used to make about 1k a month playing online poker so there are definitely people that can do it. Of course being intuitive might not help as much since you can't see the people.

I would definitely be trying to leverage those writing skills (sooo many people don't have them). Either using the freelance sites, I used odesk for a while, or just continually checking craigslist. Try checking major city craigslist sites too like NY, Chicago, LA, even if you aren't local.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:03 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the poker question, I used to play online and made money consistently. But there are a number of caveats:
  • From the player's perspective, it's a negative sum game. All money won comes from another player's loss, and the site makes money too, taken as a small percent of each pot.
  • Even if you can make money at low stakes, you may not be able to at higher stakes.
  • Even with skill, there is a thing called variance. A player who makes money on average may go days or even weeks losing money.
  • The skills necessary to make money are, in descending order of importance: patience, emotional restraint, basic probability, human psychology. The first two are critical, and if you need the money, it will be very difficult to play optimally.
  • Bots have made the game less profitable in recent years.
  • In the US, it is illegal for banks to handle transactions with online poker sites. There's also little legal protection if a site closes up and doesn't return player money.

posted by justkevin at 9:17 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

Regarding gambling - all those casinos were built on players' losses.

Both my dad and I have done well at poker consistently. However, it's not something that you want to risk money you can't afford to lose, especially if you're a beginner.

I strongly encourage you to look for something else as a reliable source of income.
posted by 26.2 at 9:23 AM on December 8, 2011

Don't gamble, you are on a fixed income and cannot afford losses needed to make the money you are aiming for.

If you have mac skills and what not, perhaps doing some design work, tech support or fixing machines. This is assuming your condition permits these activities. I would even suggest that you consider fixing iphones, and other apple products if you can technically do it. I made some decent money back in the day fixing blackberries and other devices with broken screens. Maybe even offer jailbreaking services
posted by handbanana at 9:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Online poker is not so much a scam, but unless you are very good at the game (not lucky, but good, which is an entirely different thing), you should not play it with money you need. Moreover, the recent crackdown by the US government makes the actual system unreliable even if your skills aren't.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2011

Are you a good editor? Anywhere near a research university? Science-type departments will often refer their ESL graduate students to editors for help on dissertations and publications. Contacting the administrative assistants at those departments via email would probably be a place to start. Set your rates low at first to attract a few clients and then rely on word of mouth. I did a few without ever meeting the clients and set up a PayPal account for payment.
posted by BlooPen at 9:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

I've been using Amazon's MechanicalTurk for a while to make a little extra cash. It's not much, but it helps, and I could definitely make more if I had bit more patience and was a bit better at audio transcription. They also have things like data entry (usually from photos/scans) and surveys (lots of which are helping college students with projects).
posted by MuChao at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not a grant-writer, but I know people who do well. You may want to look into that.

You mention writing skills, but perhaps you should think about small-scale bookkeeping for small business folk - dog trainers, massage therapists, and so forth.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:41 AM on December 8, 2011

This is a good blog with info on the writer's experience doing online writing and what works and pays the best.
posted by shoesietart at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding what BlooPen says, I used to do this for ESL students' dissertations in a variety of disciplines and got paid quite well.
posted by mareli at 11:09 AM on December 8, 2011

Desktop publishing, technical writing, and web design are all things that you can do on a freelance basis from home, and they are all areas where you have experience and expertise. Look for work in all three areas to start with, and over time you'll figure out which works best for you and which is the most lucrative.
posted by spilon at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2011

It's possible to do medical billing from home, but that usually requires lots of calls to insurance companies. If you're interested in that, you'd have best luck looking for a single practictioner, not someone who has an entire office already. Look for someone who has been doing the work themselves and is tired of it. Otherwise it can be hard to break into.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:31 AM on December 8, 2011

I have worked for both Leapforce and Butler Hill as a search engine evaluator. The work is mind-numbing and I would never do it again, but you can easily make $1000 a month doing that part-time, and some people actually seemed to enjoy it. The only speaking I had to do was during my Butler Hill webinar training, and that wasn't at length. Feel free to message me with any questions.
posted by jabes at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

There are some online usability testing sites around that might help supplement. TryMyUI and UserTesting are two examples. They pay $10 per test and they appear to be about 15 minutes each, though you are speaking and being recorded for those 15 minutes. There is no guarantee of test frequency, but if you fit in a desirable demographic, I'd think it might be a reasonable frequency.

I've never participated but I am considering purchasing services from a company like this.
posted by Jacob G at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, I have a relative that does medical transcription from home. Requires listening to tapes and transcribing contents. You may be able to find supplemental work via that route if you're a competent typist.
posted by Jacob G at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have friends that ghost write (and publicly write) for various blogs. They are also occasionally asked to update/maintain social media outlets for other companies.

I've heard "content correspondant" before as an official title for the position. I think most people in this capacity are paid by the post.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I work as a Physics and Essay-Writing tutor for The pay ranges from $9/hour for a couple months when you first start, up to $12 or $15 per hour when you have more experience. It's all typing or drawing diagrams in the classroom. They are always always looking for Chemistry, Math, Statistics and Physics tutors, and very often for Essay Writing tutors. They have you take a subject test as part of your evaluation. The physics test I took was about equivalent to the final exam from my freshman year of physics class at university, and the test was open book and unlimited time.

I bet you could become an Essay Writing tutor without much difficulty, and it's not unreasonable to be able to work over 20 hours per month. Memail me if you decide to apply, as has a referral program. It's great work, and I do it nights and weekends when I don't have a lot of work from my regular job.
posted by permiechickie at 3:20 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Some random ideas:

What about finding a speaking friend you could team with? Or even find someone on Craiglist? Start freelance writing. The friend does the cold-calling you do the writing.

Alternatively I had a friend make alot of money doing power point presentations for business men. She went down to the business district in a suit and handed out a bunch of cards with her basic information. Certain business folk are apparently very happy not to do their own Power Points; she was charging like fifty bucks an hour.

If this is a long-term thing, though, I think your best bet might be to set up profiles on the freelancer sites, carve out a little niche for yourself, and just hammer away at it. For example, do you know In-Design? Check out the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. It's for creating tablet applications. Learn that and--voila!--you're a tablet designer (a very good niche).

A few more freelance sites: Odesk. Helium. Vworker. Smarthinking is another tutoring site.

Okay, that's enough. Good luck!
posted by vecchio at 5:01 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another online poker problem is that cheating (mainly multiple accounts or rings of players) is the norm. So if you're not cheating yourself, the playing field is crazy uneven. It's hard enough to win at poker when the game is fair; when it's not, it's hopeless.
posted by Lizzle at 5:05 AM on December 10, 2011

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