Help me find ways to make more money
June 1, 2014 3:54 PM   Subscribe

I am unable to work because of disability. I collect SSDI and while I get food stamps, I only get $17/month, which doesn't go very far. Since I went on SSDI in 2010, I've tried various ways to supplement my income, but I have yet to come up with anything reliable. Budgeting is not the problem; there simply isn't enough money. Plus, it would be nice to improve my quality of life even a little bit.

I am unwilling to donate plasma. I have looked into medical studies and found none that seem good. I am not stable enough for a part-time job or even substitute teaching. Telecommuting jobs are ideal for me but I am willing to show up in person. (I live in Madison, WI.)

I am a writer and editor and have had various short-term freelance jobs using those skills. I have a BA and MFA in English, experience tutoring and teaching, and a ton of publication credits. I have copyedited periodicals, books, trade journals, academic writing, and other things I'm forgetting. I have written professional bios, press releases, and copy for websites, in addition to the arts journalism and creative writing I do. I frequently check craigslist in different cities as well as websites listing freelance writing opportunities. Sometimes this is helpful, but I generally just end up spending a lot of time composing professional emails to people I never hear from.

One of the niche skills I have is the music promotion stuff. As a music journalist, I have read plenty of band bios and press kits, so I started writing that kind of thing for hire by record labels, PR firms, and unsigned artists. I enjoy it, but it's hard to find reliable work. At one point I emailed about 100 different labels and PR firms expressing interest and sharing writing samples, and I only heard back from 2. I write for a small record label in town, but there isn't much work and he can only afford to pay me $30 for each bio, whereas labels usually pay around $200.

Most of my skill sets involve writing/editing, and that would be ideal for me. I will give you a idea of some of my other skills in case that triggers something. I am a photographer, though not terribly experienced or accomplished yet. Ditto that for visual art. I also happen to be very good at reading tarot cards. I worked for a psychic hotline briefly but quit when I realized the business was run in a way that was shady to employees and customers alike.

So there you have what I think the relevant info will be. Please share any and all (legal) ideas you have, and let me know if you need more info. It would be nice to find a client for whom I could do regular work. I also would prefer to go a route where I didn't have to constantly spend time posting and answering ads, though I'll do it if it's part of the game.

Thank you.
posted by mermaidcafe to Work & Money (20 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Check your MeMail.

One short answer is that music journalism is even more severely underpaid than it used to be. I'm from the alt-weekly world, and writers who used to get $50 per show review are now getting around $15 -- so I'm not sure that's worth your while, unless it's for a show you really wanted to see anyway.

If there are alt-weeklies near you, they are often crying out for decent writers who have an interest in the arts and popular culture. I know from bitter experience as an editor how flaky so many freelancers can be, so if you can pitch a bunch of interesting articles and meet your deadlines, you'll leapfrog a bunch of others who are really just frittering their time.

Again, they don't pay very well, but if you're fast, you can write short, concise previews and get your hourly rate up a bit.
posted by vickyverky at 4:14 PM on June 1, 2014

My mother in law has built up a steady income through It's freelancing, and you'll probably have to take some crap jobs at first, but with your resume and having enough time/web access to hunt through the listings and bid, it should be fairly straightforward to build up a steady income in six to nine months (at least that's what happened with her, and then she was able to lightly assist a friend of hers repeat the process).

Also, since you live near Madison, could you market yourself as an editor/writing tutor for the students at University of Wisconsin–Madison?
posted by anastasiav at 4:18 PM on June 1, 2014

You need to be very cautious about earning income while on SSDI. After a certain amount, they will reduce your disability payment by how much you make. After a certain number of months of generating income above the threshold, you get kicked off the system all together.

A friend of mine is on SSDI, and we're not sure if its a coincidence or not, but as soon as he picked up the smallest job you could imagine just for some spending cash, he got audited to ensure that he was still disabled enough to be on disability.
posted by hwyengr at 4:20 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I already asked Social Security, and I can make up to $700 extra a month so I'm cool.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:40 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider joining the Editorial Freelancers Association -- they have a members-only job board, plus a lot of other additional resources. Dues are currently $145/year, which may be steep for you, so maybe contact them directly and see if they have a reduced dues structure for applicants on SSDI/food stamps.
posted by scody at 4:45 PM on June 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had luck with CrowdSpring, which runs contests for things like naming new companies and products as well as longer writing assignments.
posted by carmicha at 5:06 PM on June 1, 2014

Are you eligible for SSI disability to supplement your SSDI benefit? I'm guessing you've already looked at this, but worth considering in case you haven't. I don't know how it works outside of CA, but in CA it's possible to receive both in some circumstances.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:31 PM on June 1, 2014

Carol Give of Make A Living Writing, Practical Help for Hungry Writers is not a fan of relying on sites like Guru
but has much good advice. Join Absolute Write also for a great community.

Freelancing, I have made more money packaging my own column, and writing technical and corporate work. is a good resource for technical writing. also has technical contracts. $15-25 an hour is not unusual.

I also did a lot of mystery shopping after I first moved down south, as an adjunct to my writing and a seasonal business. Mystery shopping ranges from eating at a fancy restaurant and getting reimbursed for the meal, to small jobs that you can do over the space of an hour. For instance, I used to do trailer checks at nearby theatres, reporting peoples reactions to film trailers, then staff would let me sit through the movie. I was paid $5 to $10. I would do grocery store checks and lop off $6-10 off my bill, buying things I already needed. My funniest mystery shopping job was taking photos of a toilet in a national drug store chain, to assess cleanliness. I also got paid $15 for half an hour's work. Mystery shopping is a business, so keep in mind that you can take mileage off your taxes if you file schedule C. You will have to have a PayPal account.

You can visit the site to see listings of mystery shopping companies, and posts about experiences. You should never pay to be added to a mystery shopping company; the only money you should pay out should be for the service or product that you are assessing, you will be reimbursed, and I've never heard of a legitimate job where you had to spend more than $50. Typical shops, you buy a product of $10 or less (like a hamburger meal at Sonic), then get paid back for the item and a small payment, usually under $10, beyond. The higher cost shops involve opening up a bank account or buying eyeglasses, or something similar. My husband and I each earned several hundred in actual gross income but saw many free movies and had maybe ten free meals a year, a hundred in free grocery items, plus reimbursements for our gas and mileage that lowered the net income. It worked out very well for us, and many SAHMs use this for similar reasons. I stopped doing this after returning to school.

Volition's website has all listed companies. Basically, people will warn you if a company suddenly is paying slowly or their difficulties with certain assignments that they have.You can memail me too for more info. The site owners are not very friendly but it offers good resources.
posted by mitschlag at 6:03 PM on June 1, 2014 [13 favorites]

Go down to the farmer's market and hawk yourself as a booth sitter for $5 a pop. People always need to get away for bathroom breaks. Or they might need someone to run and get them a lemonade or sandwich. It's a pretty chill crowd, I'm sure you could meet people and work out some side cash that way.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:56 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider not mentioning the tarot/psychic things to most potential employers.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:57 PM on June 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Lionbridge, Leapforce, and Appen all have part-time, flexible work-at-home jobs that pay fairly well and are not very demanding (if you are a smart person with good reading skills.) Lionbridge's Internet Assessor job and Leapforce's Search Engine Evaluator job are both worth looking into. I don't know much about the other jobs those companies offer, except that someone I know recently started as an Internet Crowd Worker for Lionbridge and it seems like it's going to pay way less than being an Internet Assessor.
posted by Redstart at 7:03 PM on June 1, 2014 [17 favorites]

If you find the right person at the farmer's market, they might let you do readings for a percentage. Consider they pay a big booth fee and such (I used to sell soap there), but it might be fun. I'd be less inclined to do it at a store where you had to show up all the time, but if someone is selling soap or plants or handmade purses down on State Street (technically outside of the Farmer's Market around the Capital Bldg.), hey, why not? The Community Pharmacy folks might have some leads for you that way. They are also really nice and chill people there.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2014

I think tarot readings are super-silly but if I saw an ad I liked (I don't know where? Somewhere I would see it, anyway, with a photo of a nice-looking person and a web site URL, with a web site with more photos, testimonials, explanations of what's involved) I could see myself hiring somebody to do readings at a party for laughs if the fee was not too high. (When I had more spare time I wanted to learn phrenology to have a cool party trick. That could be a neat party-entertainer two-for-one if you have any interest in weird discredited disciplines? I always thought people would enjoy for-real phrenology done for kicks. I think most people know horoscopes are BS but many still enjoy them anyway -- it's personalised {theoretically!} to you! and I bet phrenology would appeal in a similar way. And I bet a certain flavour of hipster would thrill to hiring a phrenologist for their party.)

As a person with excellent copyediting skills (&c) and dire poverty right now due to disability -- it pained me to read this, and I really hope you're able to quickly and painlessly find a way to get the full $700 over the table (and however much more under it, because being crippled and poor is more hardship than anybody needs). Best of luck, mermaidcafe!
posted by kmennie at 7:21 PM on June 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ever consider just hanging out a shingle as a Tarot Reader & Psychic? I looked into getting my cards read once and the lady was charging like $50. This was probably a decade ago so I imagine it's more now, and she's still got her sign up. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing one could get rich doing but might produce a small, steady income, which is well-suited to your requirements.

There are also people out there making money by teaching online tarot classes. One lady I'm familiar with has a website and YouTube channel where she offers free tarot information, and then schedules a class a couple of times a year in how to read cards.

Are you crafty at all? You might also supplement your income selling tarot-related craft items on Etsy. Tarot card bags and spread cloths could add another income stream to your website, and you could maybe branch out into other New Age/Wiccan/Pagan items as well.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:40 PM on June 1, 2014

The assignments are boring and the hourly rate usually ends up being not that great but Textbroker can be a pretty reliable source of writing income.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:41 PM on June 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I used textbroker when I was broke. As jacqueline above says, it's boring but straight forward and reliable.

If you have new-agey stores in your area, you can see if they'd be willing to let you do readings a few hours a couple times per week. One of the homemade candle/handmade knits/jewelry/beading supply/wicca stores in my area offered that.

Can you tutor at some place like Kumon or Sylvan or post an ad on craigslist for ESL students? Can you babysit/petsit/clean house for And make sure everyone knows you're looking for part-time work.
posted by shoesietart at 11:08 PM on June 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I came in to say Textbroker. Not particularly good money, but easy and flexible and you could start today, maybe while you're looking into the better freelancing options people have listed.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:28 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I made a decent amount of money proofreading and editing foreign graduate students' papers and theses while I was in grad school. Their professors often recommended that they find a native English speaker to do this.

I charged by the hour and I really enjoyed the work. Most of them had a very good command of English but sometimes made mistakes in their choice of words or in their use of tenses. And the Asian students often forget to use articles.

If this sounds appealing, memail me with any questions.
posted by mareli at 6:30 AM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Proceed with caution. I work and receive SSD, and boy do they give me a hard time.
The SGA level now is $1070. You can earn more than this is you have medical expenses related to your disability. These are known as IRWEs. You will need to document every penny spent on IRWEs, and SSA can be very brutal in terms of what it will accept as IRWEs. You should bring your paystubs to your local office every month, as well as IRWE documentation
posted by angrycat at 7:45 AM on June 2, 2014

I'm a freelance writer/editor and I think you could make a LOT more reading tarot cards. Could you charge for reading cards at parties? When I was a teenager, I went to a few fancy parties where there was a palm reader or something walking about; I bet she charged a ton. Or, if you're good at organizing events, you could do, like, small "girls night" type parties where women have a few cocktails and get their tarot cards read by you. If you know anyone who owns a clothing store or does manicures, you could team up and put on little girly evenings of shopping and champagne and tarot, or whatever.

Another idea - a lot of people I know with journalism backgrounds do social media now, mostly for small businesses but also some government or nonprofit stuff.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:23 AM on June 3, 2014

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