5 Ways to Make Extra Cash with No Upfront Investment

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No real estate or stock dividends here. Just cold, hard cash.

It seems everytime I read a blog post about making extra cash on the side, it involves some sort of upfront investment. Yes, it would be awesome if you had enough money to live off the interest, but most people out there don’t have that money right away. Yes, you should put away as much money as you can for that one lovely day you can finally retire, but until then, here are some ideas to get there faster.

Woman looking at smart phone holding cash.

Survey Sites & Apps

This is probably the lowest paying of all of them - but it does pay. My favorite survey site is Amazon Mechanical Turk for two reasons - it’s Amazon, so you know you can trust them, and it’s more than surveys, it’s microtasks. Each microtask pays at least a penny, but you can easily do enough during one episode on Netflix to pay for an entire month of Netflix.

Another survey option is Surveys On The Go. There’s both an Android App and an iPhone App. For me, these are pretty much location-based surveys. Again, they normally don’t pay much (although I did get a $25 Home Depot survey once), they’re normally pretty quick. Quite a few surveys you won’t qualify for - but you’ll still get a quick 10¢. It does have a minimum cash out of $10, which goes to your Paypal account.

A popular app is Google Opinion Rewards which is, just as the name says, by Google. Again, it’s a location-based app. I find it often asks what kind of payment I used at various stores - which takes two seconds and pays me 10¢. The Android version just gives you Google Play credit, so you won’t be able to pay your bills with it. I hear the iPhone version pays via Paypal.

I’ve heard good things about Prolific, but I haven’t used it.

A word of advice with surveys: be honest. These surveys often have “trick” questions to see if you’re being honest. For instance, the Google Opinion Rewards app will ask where you’ve been - with several options of places you could not have possibly been.


If you can write, you can blog. If you can’t write, blogging can be an excellent way to become a better writer. And you don’t have to pay a dime.

Yes, investing in your blog may provide better returns. A custom domain probably provides better SEO (search engine optimization) and looks more professional.

But if you don’t have money, you don’t have the money. Thankfully, sites such as Medium and Blogger provide a free place to blog. Even Wordpress.com provides a free version.

Personally, I blog via Github Pages. It requires a little more technical skill than the others (it uses something called Jekyll), but I like getting my hands dirty.

Even Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quora provide ways to blog, each with their own caveats.

But enough about how to do it for free - how do you make money?

Two ways: advertising and affiliate income.

Advertising is putting an ad on your page. The most popular method is to use Google Adsense. It’s what I use. It probably pays the least and you can’t use it on every free blogging platform.

Affiliate income is when you provide a link to a product, and if someone buys the product through that link, you get a share of a sale. (Okay, I guess affiliate income is technically advertising.) There’s a whole shrew of these out there, but the most popular and most generous is Amazon Associates. It’s probably also the easiest to use. And since every free blogging platform allows links (hyperlinks are the lifeblood of the internet!), you can use them on every platform.

You can even use affiliate links on non-blog links. Make sure you read terms and conditions to see if affiliate links are allowed (even on the free blogging platforms!).

This is probably my favorite because I haven’t spent a dime or much time (look I can rhyme!) yet it’s provided massive results. At least to me - I made almost $1,000 last year. Is that a lot? I think so.

What are print-on-demand sites? Mostly t-shirts, but most have expanded to other areas such as tote bags, coffee mugs, stickers, and more.

My favorite is Merch by Amazon. It’s great because it’s from Amazon, and your shirts get listed on the main Amazon site, getting maximum exposure. It’s also the print-on-demand site I’ve had the most success (check out My First Seven Months on Merch by Amazon: Sales Report) All shirts come with prime-eligible free shipping, which is great for your customer base.

The downside to Merch by Amazon is there’s a waiting list to be approved. And when you do get approved, you can only submit so many designs a day and have so many designs up. These limits will increase over time, so it requires a lot of patience.

For anyone without patience, other good sites include Teespring, Redbubble, and TeePublic. There’s actually MANY more than those three, that’s just what I’m using for now.

You don’t need to spend a mint on graphic design tools such as Adobe Photoshop. I just use a couple free tools - namely Inkscape and Paint.net. Other people use free tools such as Gimp. There might even be a few free apps you can use on either the App Store or Play Store!

If you want to know what my tees are, here are some links:

Sell Artwork Directly

In addition to selling artwork on t-shirts, you can sell the designs (or better yet: parts of the designs!) themselves.

The Noun Project allows you to upload SVGs (which is a vector graphic format) for people to purchase for use on, say, a t-shirt design. So if you made an SVG to use on a t-shirt, you could also upload that SVG to the Noun Project for extra exposure (and cash!).

Like taking pictures? Try selling your photos on Shutterstock. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just talent, determination, and that camera you carry everywhere you go. You know, your smartphone. Shutterstock is somewhat picky about the photos they accept - which means less competition for any photos they do accept. Less competition means more money for you.


Normally I’m not a big fan of rebates, but these aren’t the normal rebates you find as a sticker attached to the product at the store.

ReceiptHog is in a class of apps called “receipt apps.” Most of these allow you to upload (almost) any receipt for a small reward. A typical receipt uploaded to ReceiptHog will net you five “coins” which is worth about 3¢. It takes forever to get to a suitable cashout (maybe a year), but what else were you going to do with those receipts? An added bonus is it lets you look up old receipts - I’ve actually been able to return items to the store by looking up the receipt on this app.

Ibotta is a popular one as well, but you can’t just upload any receipt. You go through a list of rebates on the app and select which ones you want to use. Honestly, I never found any rebates for anything I wanted, so I don’t use it. Some people love it, though.

I’ve heard great things about Checkout51, too, but I don’t use it.

eBates is super popular. It’s awesome if you do a lot of shopping online. My recommendation is to install the browser add-on (they have one for both Chrome and Firefox. Not sure about Internet Explorer / Edge) and forget about it. When you’re on a site that utilizes eBates, a little message will pop-up. You’ll click on it and BOOM anything you buy will net you cash back. eBates pays quarterly, so it might be a while after you make a purchase before you actually get the cash back.

Onto credit cards. Technically the cash back you get from credit cards is a rebate - at least that’s how the IRS looks at it. My two personal favorites are the Chase Freedom Unlimited which gives 1.5% cash back on everything, and the Chase Freedom which gives 5% on rotating categories and 1% on everything else. The trick here is to the Freedom for the 5% categories and the Freedom Unlimited for everything else. Both of these cards have decent signup bonuses, as well.

Other great cards include the Capital One Quicksilver (1.5% cash back), Citi Double Cash (2% cash back), and the Discover it Card (rotating 5% categories, 1% on everything else). There are also some cards people swear by, such as the various Chase Sapphires, but they have annual fees. I won’t include these here since this is about making money without an upfront investment, and I’m including that annual fee as an upfront investment, even though it’s often waived the first year.

Caution! Rebates will almost never net you more than you spent! So in the grand scheme of things, they really aren’t making you any money. In fact, if you aren’t careful, some of these might make you spend more, especially the credit cards. So if you have a budget, be sure to stick to it. And if you don’t have a budget, make one!

Additional Reading

Be sure to check out Michael Dinich’s article How To Make Money Fast.

That’s All Folks!

There are probably ideas that I didn’t mention here simply because the possibilities are endless. But the fact is you don’t necessarily need money to make money. It can help, sure, but you have to start somewhere!

Are there any ideas here you find actionable? Anything glaringly obvious I missed? Or even something obscure? Comment below!

3 comments for 5 Ways to Make Extra Cash with No Upfront Investment

  • Hi Joe!

    Great list here! I’ve heard of Merch by Amazon and I was interested in looking more into it, but I’m not sure where to start. It’s something I’ll have to dig further into.

    I’ve made money by picking up free furniture and giving them a face lift. It’s really fun too! Ok, fine… there are small up cost investments such as paint, paint brushes, and sand paper. But it’s not too much! I’ve also made money by picking up free stuff (i.e. clothing in excellent condition) to sell. Honestly, I am surprised with the stuff these ppl give away sometimes… I’ve seen online ads where people are desperate for you to take away their stuff. It doesn’t come up a lot, but I’ve tried it and it’s not too shabby.

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  • avatar for Kayla Sloan Kayla Sloan

    I agree that an upfront investment isn’t necessarily the way to go if you want to build your income or retirement income. These are some good ideas.

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  • I’ve tried survey sites but I feel that my earnings from it is not commensurate to my hard work. So now I’m blogging and freelance writing.

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