How Much Do ‘Easy Money’ Side Gigs Really Pay? I Found Out


Side-gigging has saved my finances in so many ways over the last few years. I’ve been freelance writing and editing since 2015, which has helped me survive a surprise layoff, pay off my student loan debt and build a substantial emergency fund, ultimately increasing my overall net worth and giving me a sense of security I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. Running a freelance business, as well as my own site devoted to student debt, on top of a regular 9-to-5 requires a lot of hustle. That’s why I’m so intrigued whenever I hear about “easy” ways to make money. It sometimes makes me wonder: Am I going about this entrepreneurship thing all wrong? Could I be making good money while putting in a lot less work? So I gave it a shot.

Taking Surveys

What could be easier than getting paid for sharing your opinions? That’s why I signed up for Swagbucks, a popular survey-taking platform that pays in (you guessed it) Swagbucks, worth one penny apiece. You can redeem them for gift cards once you earn at least 300, or $3 worth. Each survey pays between 20 cents and $2, with longer surveys generally paying more.

So, how’d I do? I managed to earn just $3 for two and a half hours of work, or about 83 cents per hour, which I mostly spent trying (and largely failing) to prequalify for surveys. All surveys begin with certain questions—about demographics, employment, income, industry, etc.—designed to determine whether you’re the target audience. Because you don't know what the survey is really about until you dive in, it can be hard to predict whether you’ll qualify.

The seven surveys I ended up taking ranged in topics from beer drinking to ideal vacation spots and actually required a lot of time and attention, ruling out multitasking. I worked in the system long enough to cash out, then called it a day.

Tips for using Swagbucks to earn more: By the end of my experiment, I’d gotten better at honing in on surveys I’d qualify for. Generally speaking, the highest paying are looking for the narrowest set of participants—say, those with certain medical conditions or who fall within a certain demographic—which obviously means it can be harder to qualify. If you decide to give Swagbucks a shot, you’re probably better off starting with mid-range surveys first.

Another interesting insight: If, like me, you work in marketing, you may have a tough time, too. I realized many surveys disqualify marketers because of the risk it could be a competitor trying to view questions or drive up the costs of the survey.

Watching Videos

I was lured to Inbox Dollars by the promise of getting paid to watch videos online. Between Facebook, news sites and TV, I already watch countless hours a day—why not get paid for it?

Signing up was easy, and you get a $5 bonus just for filling out your profile. Because I regularly watch videos while using the stair-stepper at the gym, that’s where I decided to “work” on Inbox Dollars.

Over three days, I spent two hours watching videos, netting a grand total of $1.40. They were boring, too—ranging from news segments and celebrity gossip to health advice. While you don’t have to pay strict attention to earn money, you’re often prompted to perform an action (like clicking on a button or answering a question) to make sure that you’re actually there.

Tips for using Inbox Dollars to earn more: The videos you’ll find on Inbox Dollars are very similar to the news clips you’d find on Facebook or at the top of an online news story. I prefer going deeper into subjects, which could explain some of my frustration. If you like shorter videos, you might find yourself enjoying Inbox Dollars a lot more than I did!

I would recommend finding your own version of the stair-stepper—essentially dead time you can’t do much else with, whether that’s your own gym time, commuting on public transportation or waiting in the doctor’s office.

Completing Microtasks

For years, I’ve heard how microtasks—short jobs that take seconds to complete and pay pennies apiece—are the future of work ,so I signed up for Amazon Mechanical Turk. Signing up was quick, but it can take up to three days to approve your account. After that, it’s easy to get started. When you log in, you’ll see a dashboard full of tasks that haven’t been completed. You’ll find a brief description, qualifications and payment, ranging from 1 to 20 cents.

While the tasks vary, most are centered around the idea of machine learning. You’re taking actions in order to help machines and algorithms get smarter. Some tasks I completed during my test included:

  • Comparing short, half-second sound clips to determine whether they were identical, similar or completely different
  • Circling the nuclei of cells in a photo
  • Thinking of ways to make products more useful for users

I only managed the make $3.20 over two hours, but the work was actually pretty interesting.

Tips for using Amazon Mechanical Turk to earn more: I’ve actually kept my account active and log in occasionally to see what’s new. You won’t get rich performing microtasks, but it can be a nice way to make a few bucks in a dull hour.

While it’s tempting to only apply for higher-paying jobs (like carefully outlining the nuclei of cells), in reality, these tasks take a lot more effort and time. I had the most success when I opted for low-paying, but repetitive tasks that allowed me to get into a groove.

Playing Games

Blast is pretty straightforward. The app, which was launched by the co-founder of Acorns, recommends certain games (from puzzles to role-playing games), and you download the ones you’re interested in. Each has a “mission” for you to work toward, like reaching a certain level or playing for a certain amount of time. Once you complete that mission, you’ll receive anywhere from 25 cents to $1.25.

Over the course of a day of playing games during my downtime (waiting for an oil change, hanging out with friends and yes, on the stair-stepper), I made about $5. After a week, I’d earned just under $20, all for doing something that I would’ve done anyway. (While I don’t exactly think of myself as a gamer, I do play games on my phone almost every day.)

Tips for using Blast to earn more: If you already play on your phone, you might as well make money. Again, it probably won’t be a significant income source, but an extra $10 to $20 a week can definitely add up. Pro tip: Don’t jump to turn down a game you don’t think you’ll like. I found myself really enjoying a few games that I initially thought weren’t for me; they’re still installed on my phone!