Last Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Students throughout time have often needed to hold down a job to bank some much-needed funding for college. However, COVID-19 is likely to wipe some classic student jobs off the (restaurant) table. Although most parts of America have provisionally reopened bars, cafés, and other public spaces that provide a lot of temporary work to students, spikes in confirmed cases are causing some leaders to change their tune.
The words “second wave” are on everyone’s lips—but many experts agree we’re still stuck in the first. All of which is to say: we’re probably going to be here a while, and you may have to find new ways to make some spending money in the meantime. Fortunately, we’ve got some ideas for you! And although you can certainly use student loans to cover living expenses, they only take you so far. Making some extra dough can help decrease how much interest you end up paying back in the long run—and there are achievable ways to do it, even as the coronavirus looms. Here are seven creative ways to earn spending money during the pandemic.
1. Sell your stuff
If quarantine is good for anything, it’s made you realize how much unnecessary stuff you have sitting around your bedroom and home. Decluttering can help clear your mind as well as your closet space—and it can help you stash some cash too! Facebook Marketplace is popping despite the pandemic, and sell-your-stuff apps like Poshmark, OfferUp and Letgo are running strong too. To maintain safety and social distancing, many of these platforms have published sales guidelines in accordance with CDC protocols, asking users to clean and disinfect items before selling and to consider taking touch-free, online payments through services like Venmo.
2. Take advantage of credit cards
If you play your cards right—pun intended—credit cards can be a good way to hack your finances and spend smartly. That said, you have to be really careful to make it work. For instance, say you have a credit card that offers 1% cash back on all purchases. If you spend $1,000 on your card over the course of the month, that means you’ll earn back $10. It isn’t a lot, but it’s not nothing—it’s at least lunch—and it’s $10 you wouldn’t have had if you still spent $1,000 with no cash-back benefits. Some cards may also offer higher cash-back percentages on gas stations, restaurants, and travel.
However, if you carry a revolving balance and end up paying interest on your charges, the amount you’ll pay the credit card company can easily eclipse any rewards you may have earned. Consumer credit cards frequently see rates of 20% APR or higher, which is why overspending on a credit card can easily lead to a debt spiral. Experts also suggest using your student credit card as a means to build credit (and earning any rewards or points on everyday spending is an added plus). So if you want to use this trick, here’s the rule: pay off your credit card in full and on time each and every month—down to $0. This means avoid spending more than you actually have, so proceed with extreme caution.
3. Share your knowledge
Do you play guitar? Code like a boss? Have a penchant for math? Other people would love to level up their own skills in these areas—and will pay you to help them do so. Teaching and tutoring are jobs that can easily be done from home thanks to Zoom and other video chat technology. Search for online tutoring and teaching jobs on job boards or create your own online course or coaching system using a platform like Teachable.
You could even do this the old-fashioned way and simply put an ad on Craigslist (or your own social media channels) offering private classes. Then you can set up the scheduling, pricing, and process with your students individually. If you’ve already worked as a tutor in the past, reach out to your clients and ask them if they’d like to continue online. Although it may not be face-to-face, students are back in school and will always be in the business of learning.
4. Save at the grocery store
They say a penny saved is a penny earned, and in our pandemic-affected economy, nothing rings truer. Grocery spending is simultaneously one of the largest budget categories for many Americans—and one of the most flexible. Case in point: according to the US Department of Agriculture, the average monthly cost of groceries for a single adult female ranged from $173.10–$343.70 in May 2020, depending on whether she was “thrifty” or “liberal.” The difference between those two numbers is $170.60—which is to say, a whole additional month’s worth of groceries if you learn to shop cheaply.
Saving money at the grocery store doesn’t have to mean spending hours clipping coupons or only buying ramen. For instance, the app Ibotta can help you earn instant rebates on the items you already have on your list. And sometimes just changing where you shop can make a difference: vendors like Aldi, WinCo, and Trader Joe’s are known for their lower-than-average prices.
5. Look for remote work
Although “real” jobs may be in short supply, they’re still out there. Many companies have moved their customer service teams from physical call centers to home offices, at least for the foreseeable future, and some companies hire temporary workers for these kinds of positions. Search “temporary work from home jobs” on your favorite job board, or consider striking out on your own by offering your services on a platform like UpWork. Depending on what your part-time job was last year, you might be able to negotiate a work-from-home arrangement with your previous employer (though if you were slinging drinks or pouring coffee, then probably not).
6. Join a delivery service
You might not be able to bus tables, but you could translate your experience into delivering for Grubhub or DoorDash. Many restaurants that aren’t allowing on-site dining are still offering take-out and delivery to customers. These delivery service jobs also allow you to set your own schedule and work when it suits your needs. Of course, even with “no contact drop-off” options, you’re likely to be interacting with people, so be sure to wear your mask and carry some hand sanitizer with you.
7. Consider a loan—but be careful
Personal loans can look like an alluring way to get some extra cash when you need it. Since they’re unsecured (read: don’t require collateral), they might look like no-strings-attached funds. But the interest rates on personal loans tend to be higher than what you’d find with most other types, ranging from 5.99% to a whopping 35.99%. (For reference, the current federal student loan rate for undergraduate borrowers is 2.75%.) So, although it might seem like an easy way out now, personal loans are likely to bite you in the long run.
Unless you’re in absolutely dire straits, we’d advise against taking out personal loans—or even extra student loans—if you can help it. Take advantage of the other pandemic-friendly ways to earn extra money outlined above, or think of some others on your own. Hopefully with a little extra elbow grease, you won’t have to turn to the Bank of Mom and Dad this semester.