When I was a kid, I stumbled across this site called “AllAdvantage” that promised to give you cash for running an obnoxious banner ad at the top or bottom of your operating system. Naturally, I ran that sucker 24 hours a day, using a tiny utility to simulate mouse movements so the advertising bar wouldn’t notice I was “idle” and switch off. My parents probably weren’t thrilled with the electricity I wasted, but I did get a payout of more than $150 one month—a fortune for a kid.
I suppose running a bitcoin mining rig is the modern-day equivalent, but you’d probably make a lot less money than I did decades ago. Thankfully, there are other options if you want to sit on your butt and get a little cash for it. I’m stressing the little part, however, as you aren’t going to be buying a Tesla by filling out online surveys. If you’re patient, and really have nothing better to do with your time, here are a few tips you can use to score lunch and/or gas money around the web:
Find opportunities that maximize rewards for time spent
One of the best resources for finding opportunities to make money for minimal investment is the helpful subreddit /r/beermoney. And, yes, that name is intentional; you’d have to kill yourself with work in order to make a living from websites or services, but it’s not the worst plan if you find yourself with a lot of time to kill at your desk.
Specifically, this subreddit has a great, stickied list of sites and services you can use to make a little extra cash. I recommend reading through it in its entirety and thinking about what makes the most sense from a time/reward standpoint—as well as your personal preferences. You might actually enjoy filling out a ton of surveys, say, over dealing with researching and finding new Mechanical Turk projects to complete.
Among the websites profiled throughout the subreddit, I’d probably first check out:
- Swagbucks: Score a mighty $1 for every 100 “Swagbucks” you collect, which you can earn from filling out surveys, watching videos, playing games, or taking advantage of special shopping offers (buy X items, get Y amount of Swagbucks, which can sometimes actually make you small amounts of money depending on how good the churn is).
- PlaytestCloud: There are worse things to do than earn a small chunk of change by playing video games and sharing your thoughts (out loud!) during the process. While payments vary, the site notes that, “Generally, a 15-minute playtest and survey will have a reward of $9 USD”.
- UserTesting: Same deal as PlaytestCloud, but you’re browsing websites and apps and sharing your thoughts. Every 20 minute video you complete nets you a cool $10.
- Survey.com: Grab the iOS or Android app and see if there are any local experiences you can participate in, which can include product demos, “secret shopper”-like audits, stocking shelves, taking pictures of items or helping to build promotional displays. It’s not hard work, and it pays reasonably well, assuming you can find any nearby gigs.
- Prolific: Here’s one bit of good news—you fill out surveys, assuming your demographics align with what some faraway researcher wants—and you’ll probably make at least $6.50 an hour at minimum. That’s nothing to write home about, but then again, it’s not that hard to fill out a survey (or multiple surveys).
- Respondent.io: Similar deal. You participate in research (with an eye-opening average hourly payment of $140), and you enjoy a lovely dinner and night on the town. The caveat, of course, is that your demographics have to fit whatever it is a researcher is looking for, so don’t assume that the cash will flow like spice.
- Mechanical Turk: You’ve probably heard of Amazon’s program. If not, here’s the simple version: You pick tasks to complete—“anything from conducting simple data validation and research to more subjective tasks like survey participation, content moderation, and more,” describes Amazon—and get paid for your efforts. Since you’re going to see a lot of lowball offers on the site, I recommend using the unofficial /r/mturk subreddit to help you hunt for juicier opportunities.
- InstaGC: Similar deal as everyone else. Complete surveys, watch videos, shop, and you’ll be able to earn gift cards. 100 points gets you $1, and according to /r/beermoney, “Many claim this to be one of the easiest beer money sites.” Worth checking out!
- Microsoft Rewards: Sure, you’ll have to use Bing for searching the web if you really want to rack up those rewards, but Microsoft’s program is free. You can also participate in daily quizzes and games to boost up your points stash.
Be careful about “idle” earning opportunities
Facebook recently got blasted for its big research program, which asked participants to install a custom root certificate that gave the company a window into most of the important things users would do on their devices. Google, too.
While the monetary rewards can look tempting, resist the urge to give companies that much insight into your life. They don’t need to see your photos, what you send in your messages, what you look for on the web, or where you are at any given time. Your privacy is worth a lot more than a measly $20 a month (or whatever).
Similarly, I’d resist the urge to take part in any program that asks you to replace your router with a custom device, or add a special networking device to your current setup. Same deal—letting companies spy on your life might be an easy way to score some cash, but it’s a terrible trade-off.
If you must participate in these kinds of programs, be smart. Load up a secondary smartphone or tablet with a dummy account and do nothing on it that you would otherwise do on your primary device. You still shouldn’t install a tracking router into your home network, but if you must, connect it to your regular router (if this works) and connect a single dummy device to it, like an old laptop or a smartphone. Use that from time to time to do simple things, and keep on using your regular router’s wifi or Ethernet connections for everything else. You could even isolate this, or any other network tracking device, behind its own VLAN, but that’s probably getting a bit complicated for most people.
There are lots of “get rich quick” services out there that sound great on paper. And people involved in them are typically more than happy to share what a great experience they’re having (and how much money they’re making), especially if they can drop in a referral link to an app or a service.
See where I’m going?
Before getting started with any kind of “we’ll pay you some minimal amount to do stuff” service, read reviews. What are people saying about the payments? The opportunities? How long it takes to get paid? Are there any creative methods a person can use to maximize their profits for the work? Is the work something you can actually see yourself doing, or will you likely quit a few minutes after you’ve finished your first project?
And, most importantly, is the service a scam? If someone is trying to refer you a site that allegedly pays out thousands of dollars a week (or month), the answer is probably “yes”. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, you’re either incredibly lucky, or you’re going to want to do a little more legwork before you cough up your time (or your details) for some random service. And don’t install random apps for a site or a service until you’ve vetted it. The worst thing you can do is let the allure of a pile of digital gold put a dent in your cybersecurity.
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