Graduate school is an odd season of life. While many work full time during graduate studies, often others, like me, discover their graduate program isn’t a good complement to a standard full-time job and, like me, seek alternate ways to maintain an income while working towards the next career goal. For me, during even the most stable seasons of my life, a standard 9-5 hasn’t felt like a good fit for me. Once I started school full time I found I needed to be creative in producing income. These ideas have helped make the lean financial season of graduate school a little more comfortable and a little less dependent upon student loans.
1. Sell Found Stuff to Make Money as a Grad Student
Ebay, Etsy, Craigslist, and local resale spots are a great way to turn (legally) found objects into cash. Many apartment complexes have an area where useful but unwanted things are discarded for others to reclaim. In my Seattle apartment building, I regularly found small vintage objects, name brand textiles, or furniture that was easy to resell. I’d list furniture on craigslist and make $20-$50 just for letting someone into my building to carry the unwanted item off, and after awhile, friends would give me a heads up on free items to claim and resell in their buildings. If you befriend your apartment manager or volunteer to help with clean-outs, you may be able to claim even more free items to resell for cash. In Seattle, where people are mobile and rapidly change jobs or relocate for promotions, it’s not that uncommon for a person to move, forfeit their deposit, and leave behind all the stuff they’d rather not deal with moving. I’ve been able to score high-end rugs and art supplies from these abandoned belongings that management simply throws away.
Ebay and Etsy are is the most profitable way to resell small, mid-to-high value items, while craigslist is an easy way to move large items quickly. A local buy/sell group on Facebook and a Flea Market booth have also been successful avenues for me to turn found objects into cash.
2. Credit Card Points
Ok, OK, I know, but hear me out: Credit card points are slow to accumulate, but do add up- they add up even faster if you pay your graduate school tuition with a credit card. (Check the fine print, though! After a few semesters of doing this my school began charging a service fee that was equal to the amount of credit card points earned, so was no longer profitable.) Whatever way you accumulate your credit card points- use them wisely.
Generally, redemption as a gift card is the highest-value payout you can get on your credit card points, and you’ll get a better payout if you wait until you have a large number of points. When you do cash out, don’t necessarily choose the gift card you want– you’re more likely to spend it carelessly. Instead, get a card to a popular store and resell via eBay or CardPool for cash.
In 2016, I cashed out my points for a Lands End card and used the points from paying tuition to purchase a heavy raincoat that lasted several seasons in Seattle. In summer 2017, I cashed out my credit card points for a giant Best Buy Gift Card, which I then resold for only $15 less than full value on eBay, using the funds to book lodging during my Solo Trip to Croatia and Bosnia.
3. Build a Blog
Blogging has its advantages and disadvantages, and success isn’t easy, but it IS possible to blog in such a way that you are able to both profit from your blog AND itemize your taxes and deduct from your taxes item you would have purchased anyway- legally. For example, if you start a blog about The Best Coffee in Seattle and monetize that blog with ads or affiliate links, you are then free to deduct the cost of purchasing coffee- or whatever it is you blog about- from your taxes. Check with an accountant or tax preparer to ensure that any paperwork applicable to starting your blog as a business is filed and the items you deduct are allowable.
4. Meals as a Business Expense
Building on the above, once you have a legal business you are able to deduct a portion of business lunches, dinners, or coffee-shop receipts from your taxes if those meals or coffees were consumed in the course of doing business. Invite your business mentor out for a meal? Deduct it. Worked on your latest pitch at your favorite Starbucks? Your drink is a legitimate tax deduction. I’ve had accountants tell me this is the biggest area small business owners- especially graduate student micro-business owners- lose money- our meals are business dinners far more often than we actually think about it, so pay attention, snap your receipts with a storage app, and get that money back.
5. Find a Restockable Item to Sell
Have a friend who makes resin charms? Know a girl who’s second-cousin runs a suitcase handle factory? A classmate who is closing out his party store inventory? In the internet age, you can make a sizable side-income off the oddest of items, and online resale is a great way to make money as a grad student because you can work when (and only when) it’s convenient. If you can find a wholesale source for even 2-3 items that no one else sells online and that (preferably) you can restock reliably, you can make it work selling them online- yes, even if they are weird, obscure, niche items.
Find your product, list it on Amazon, eBay, and niche-appropriate sites, and get ready to ship. This may seem daunting, but once you’ve got the product set up to sell through marketplaces you’ll find a steady side income growing. Utilize Amazon’s FBA fulfillment or a third party fulfillment company for a worry-free option. With third-party fulfillment I can trust my income will continue even when I’m traveling abroad.
When I was in grad school I began selling an obscure craft product on Amazon. By the time I graduated with my master’s degree 2 years later, I’d accumulated a decent monthly income stocking that product on Amazon’s marketplace. When I decided it was time to end that project and start in the field I’d studied, I was able to sell the business to a new owner for mid-five figures and walk away!
6. Find your Skill and Consult
Where are you an expert? What knowledge do you have that business, non-profits, or organizations could profit from? Don’t be afraid to examine your graduate studies and either 1. develop a workshop, training, or teaching around what you are studying, or 2. whenever possible, utilize assigned papers to research topics you can specifically adapt to content for a profitable workshop, skill, or training topic. A master’s degree qualifies you as an expert and one great way to make money as a grad student is to start selling that expertise. Get a jump start off profiting off your studies by developing your research into a profitable platform.
For me, developing my listening and reflecting skills in my master’s program helped me realize I had a gift for capturing the content of a presentation visually. I began marketing myself as a graphic recorder and within one year found myself being flown out to illustrate events and taking graphic facilitation gigs for major corporations.
However you do it, creatively building your income during graduate school is a clever way to create flexibility in your schedule that can adapt to the seasonally hectic patterns of grad school life and reduce reliance on student loans. These are a few of the ways I’ve found to bring in a little more cash during school- what are your tips?