Editorial Policy

6 weird jobs that can help pay down debt

Allie Johnson

February 26, 2015

There’s one piece of advice consumers who are drowning in debt often hear: Get a second job. But what if you don’t want to sacrifice what little free time you have working a gig that’s a grind?

“A second job doesn’t have to be boring,” says Kyle Taylor, managing editor of the personal finance blog ThePennyHoarder.com (he grew up eating free meals with his mom when she had a side gig mystery shopping at local restaurants). “There are lots of weird, fun things you can do to make extra money.”

Need ideas? Here are six very odd jobs that can help you pay down your debt:

1. Brand ambassador — If you’ve got an outgoing personality, working as a brand ambassador can provide a nice side income, Taylor says. “You have to be bubbly,” he says. That’s one way personal finance blogger Melanie Lockert of DearDebt.com has earned extra money to pay down $81,000 in student loan debt. Her strangest gig? Walking an invisible dog for $18 an hour to promote a new pet store. She was given a stiff wire leash attached to a collar and had to stroll her “dog” up and down the street for hours, chatting up strangers about the store’s grand opening. “It was really easy, although it was a bit ridiculous,” Lockert says.

“A second job doesn’t have to be boring. There are lots of weird, fun things you can do to make extra money.”
— Kyle Taylor,
managing editor of ThePennyHoarder.com
personal finance blog

How to get the gig: Check Craigslist or sign up with marketing agencies in your area. The American Association of Advertising Agencies offers a tool to search for member advertising and marketing agencies by state. Also, try searching Facebook for “brand ambassadors of” plus the name of your city, Lockert recommends. That will turn up local networking groups where you can get job leads, she says.

2. Focus group member — As a focus group member, you can get paid for your opinions. New Jersey resident Adam Fried, who works in e-commerce, says he’s made a big dent in his medical debt by giving feedback on products, such as cat litter, condoms, lawn fertilizer, toothbrushes  and 3-D TVs. “I never thought in a million years that somebody would pay me $150 to sit for an hour and talk about the toilet paper I use,” says Fried, who has participated in over 100 groups over five years.

How to get the gig: Scout out market research firms in your area and sign up with as many as possible, Fried says. To get started, check out the BlueBook Marketing Research Services and Focus Groups Directory, produced by the Marketing Research Association, which offers a list of market research companies that conduct focus groups.

3. Mystery shopper — When he was in college, Taylor continued the family tradition of mystery shopping by snagging a gig as a beer auditor. The job involved buying alcohol at a gas station or grocery store, then filling out a report about whether he got carded by the clerk. As a beer auditor, Taylor earned $10 to $50 per location and could sometimes visit 20 or more stores in a day. “You can make a pretty good amount,” Taylor says.

How to get the gig: Sign up with mystery shopping companies such as TrendSource and Stericycle Expert Solutions, Taylor says. He adds that a legitimate company will never make you pay to join.

4. Party princess — A few years ago, to make ends meet and pay down debt, Pennsylvania author and illustrator M. Alice LeGrow got a job as a professional party princess. She got her start when a friend who knew she was financially strapped suggested she apply to local party princess companies. She got the job, and ever since has been dressing up as characters like Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty and showing up at children’s birthday parties to do face painting and tell stories. The pay can range from $50 to $200 an hour, plus tips, LeGrow says, adding that a generous parent once tipped her $300. “It’s a fun, albeit really weird job,” LeGrow says.

“I never thought in a million years that somebody would pay me $150 to sit for an hour and talk about the toilet paper I use.
— Adam Fried,
focus group member

How to get the gig: Apply to local party princess companies. You can start by searching GigSalad.com for party princess companies in your area.

5. Professional patient — If you can act, being a professional patient, known in the industry as a “standardized patient,” can make an interesting side gig, Taylor says. In some cases, a standardized patient has to feign a condition — from a heart attack to diabetes to schizophrenia — to see if a medical student can correctly diagnose the problem. In other scenarios, the student gets a chance to practice performing a physical exam or giving difficult news. The job pays about $15 to $20 an hour, according to ThePennyHoarder.com.

How to get the gig: Check job sites such as Indeed.com using the search term “standardized patient,” or contact local medical schools to ask if they hire professional patients. For example, Johns Hopkins has a standardized patient program.

6. Rat eradicator — When New York publicist Maryellen Nugent-Lee needed steady side income to pay the bills between checks from clients, she got her state pest control applicators’ license. Now, she works part-time for a pest control company, mostly on construction sites, getting rid of rats. The hours are flexible and the pay can range from $25 for a beginner to $65 or more an hour, she says. “It’s a great part-time job,” says Nugent-Lee, who found out about the opportunity through a job fair.

How to get the gig: Contact the National Pest Management Association to learn the licensing requirements in your state, then get your license. (In New York, it takes eight weeks, Nugent-Lee says.) After that, check the NPMA jobs board for opportunities in your area.

One word of warning about hunting for a side job: Watch out for scams, Taylor says. Before you apply or sign up, do your homework by checking through sites like Scambusters.org, check with the Better Business Bureau and search for reviews of the company, he says. Legitimate companies will not ask for money, and if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

By doing your research ahead of time, you can get the inside scoop from consumers who have already tried their hand at a side gig or signed up with a certain company to find work.

“Find out what kinds of experiences other people have had,” Taylor says.

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