The "Great Recession" hasn't been entirely bad. On the upside, saving money has become cool again. We now love coupons and think twice before buying anything that isn't a necessity. It's also forced a lot of people to get creative when it comes to making ends meet.
Suddenly, many Americans aren't just working one job -- they're working two or three. Those who've lost their jobs or are suddenly in need of cash are doing things that they never would have imagined. The new normal is that nothing is normal.
With that in mind, we thought we'd look at several "crazy" ways people are making a living in these tough times. Who knows? Maybe their success will inspire you to pursue your own off-the-beaten-track path.
Not real storks, mind you. Rather, wooden or plastic stork signs alerting everyone that a baby's just been born. Amy Stone, 40, never dreamed she'd find herself involved in such a quirky niche market, especially after her career as an executive for Federal Express, but the Memphis, Tenn. resident needed to do something after her husband was laid off.
In 2003, Stone took a buyout from Federal Express. The offer came at a time when Stone was itching to stay home and start a family. Their first daughter came along in 2005 and their second daughter last year. Unfortunately, it was the same year that Stone's husband was laid off. "[T]he need for cash was suddenly there," says Stone.
When Stone had her first daughter, her mother-in-law rented a stork to put in their front yard, but it looked hideous. "I told myself I would paint my own next time I had another baby, and I did just that with the birth of my second daughter," says Stone, who had been an art major in college. "The stork was beautiful, and people told me I should start renting it out."
After Stone's husband lost his job, renting out the stork suddenly seemed like a great idea. She began a Web site, called RentStorkMemphis.com, and started creating more storks, hoping to snag a few customers. She also started sending customers some modeling clay, so they could make impressions of their child's hands and feet and send them back to Stone, who would cast the impressions into a refrigerator magnet, Christmas tree ornament or other decoration.
Since last November, more than 30 customers have purchased the baby hand and feet impressions. "I sculpt and paint all day long," says Stone. "I have three kilns in my garage, which I'm constantly firing up. My electric bill is outrageous -- but who cares? I'm making money. I'm able to pay the house note and the two cars and still have money to go out to eat regularly."
That's good news, considering Stone's pregnant again with her third child. At least she won't have to go far to rent the stork.
Brian Hartley used to be a counterintelligence agent for the Army, now he's going undercover -- at parking garages in Boston. "I get by, by undercover parking at garages in the greater Boston area and rating everything from the paint on the walls to the smell of the staircase to the cleanliness of the attendant's name tag," says the second-year law student.
His current missions are simple enough. "I have to create an interaction, either by faking some problem like locking my keys in my car or losing my ticket or simply asking for directions," says Hartley. He reports on the customer service but, as an added bonus, he also rates the functionality of the parking garage, like what the sign looks like and how shabby or polished the parking garage appears. He also takes photos of the garages -- "discreetly, of course."
Hartley's assignments come from a woman in Michigan. "I email her my reports at the end of the month, and she sends me a check," he says. "The major advantages of this job are that I can set my own schedule, and I get reimbursed for parking at garages all over Boston. So anytime I want to go downtown, I can essentially park for free."
To be a full-time mystery parker, Hartley would likely have to travel to several cities, or adjust his current lifestyle. But for now, his part-time work offers a solid, dependable revenue stream. And in an economy like this, that isn't crazy at all.
Playing a patient
Betsy Hiebert, 46, is a wife, mom and grandmother in Manitoba, Canada. She holds several part-time jobs, but the oddest one is an acting gig (of sorts). Hiebert plays a patient at a teaching hospital.
"I'm given a script to follow," says Hiebert. "I have to act as a patient with specific ailments, and I get paid. I've worked with pharmacy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and medical students."
Pay scales depend on what the actor is willing to go through, says Hiebert. "I personally don't participate in anything invasive. But some people do, and of course, they make more money than I do."
Nevertheless, Hiebert says, "You don't get rich doing this -- you do it because you want to be a part of the process and help students learn. I also do it because I love acting and interacting with students."
The downside: It's not steady work. Patient actors are only needed during the school months and the work is sporadic. To help keep the money coming in, Hiebert has branched out. She sometimes works
as a patient recruitment coordinator, helping to pair medical students with real patients on the wards.
"This gives students an opportunity to practice taking a complete history and perform a basic physical exam," says Hiebert. "Essentially, I ask for a patient's permission to have a medical student come and visit them."
Hiebert also started a company called My Care Necessities, which sells a product called
the Personal Healthcare Journal, a way to keep all your medical information in one place.
As Hiebert says, you won't get rich being a patient actor or patient recruitment coordinator, but it may keep your bank account from slipping into a terminal coma.
Becoming a walking advertisement
In August, WalletPop wrote about Jason Sadler, who runs IWearYourShirt.com and charges advertisers $1 on January 1 to wear that advertiser's shirt, $2 on January 2, and so on until he gets to December 31, when the charge is up to $365. But as it turns out, there's at least one other guy doing this as well -- or he will be soon. Dan Strong, 36, owns a business called StripWalker, which sounds dirty but isn't. Starting January 1, for three hours a day, Strong will be walking along the Las Vegas Strip, wearing company's T-shirts all day, and Twittering and texting about his experiences, all to promote his advertisers.
Strong freely admits that Sadler was his inspiration. "However, nobody has ever walked the Strip like this as a marketing vehicle, including Jason, so that part is unique to me," he says.
It seems like a solid marketing idea. According to EndemicMarketing.com, 17,700 people are out walking on the Strip at any given hour on any given day. During the peak hours, there may be as many as 40,000 people out and about. If Strong walks around in sponsored t-shirts every day, he'll make an impressive $66,795 for the year.
Strong plans on walking and wearing the T-shirts for just three hours a day, leaving time free for his other job as a self-employed graphics and web designer.
"I can't imagine I would have quit a full-time job -- or that my wife would have let me -- to pursue something as wacky as Stripwalker," concedes Strong. "The plan has been to generate a buzz via Stripwalker, and if it sells out completely and stands on its own, great, but if not, I figured it would lead to additional work for my primary web and graphics business, and it has."
Hauling other people's junk
Just a few months ago, despite the recession, Lawrence Breer, 73, retired from this job. As he puts it: "My wife forced me to quit, after I whacked myself with a chainsaw and nearly fell off a ladder."
But Breer still thinks his job was a great way to earn extra money. Breer supplemented his retirement income by hauling other people's junk.
Breer, who is a great-grandfather, retired from the Air Force in 1956 and worked as a local journalist in Yakima, Wash. for years after that. After retiring from journalism, Breer was looking for something to do and realized he had a pick-up truck that he could put to good use. So he started running ads in the local paper, offering his services to haul trash and junk from people's garages.
Not so crazy, you think? Think again. Breer recounted some of the things he's picked up in the past several years. "Probably the worst trip was when a woman with two elderly relatives living with her asked me to haul a bathtub out of her backyard," says Breer. "It was full of pee-soaked Depends. You know what Depends are?"
Um, yes, we do.
But disgusting or crazy as the job could be, Breer says, "It turned into a bonanza." He was soon supplementing his Air Force pension and Social Security with an extra $1,200 to $1,500 a month. "The thing is, you just need to look around," advises Breer, who spent about five years hauling junk from garages and backyards to the local landfill. "There are all kinds of services out there that people will pay for -- like tree pruning, painting, carpentry. My wife thought I was especially crazy, saying, 'This is not going to fly,' '" adds Breer. "But when she saw I was beginning to make money, she said, 'Woo-hoo!'"
Doesn't sound so crazy to us.
Geoff Williams is a regular WalletPop contributor. He is also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race and the co-author of the upcoming book Living Well with Bad Credit.
Crazy ways to make money during the recession: five true stories