Off-the-Books Businesses
Dagny Dalton

Looks like times are getting pretty tough for anyone who doesn't want to contribute taxes to the Shrub's war chest. Individual liberty doesn't pay real good.

But there are a few things you can do to bring in some cash without popping up on the government's radar screens. Generally, these won't make you rich. But then, if you suddenly start living beyond your apparent means, the taxman's going to wonder how you're doing it.

Some of these ideas are seasonal, but you can make that work to your advantage, too.

Mail Drops and Remailers
Email's great, but it still can't handle packages, or documents that have to be hardcopy. Consider starting a small mail drop service. Your customers could be perpetual tourists, and folks who simply need a cutout. The latter could be someone in a state with stupid restrictions on ammo or mace who wants to mail order the stuff.

  • Charge a minimal flat rate subscription fee. Then charge for any incurred expenses (real shipping and handling costs plus a percentage profit margin) that exceed the monthly fee.
  • Clients' mail drop addresses (mail coming to you for them) should be your name, plus an ID code; i.e.- "XX" or "34." scawled on the front or back of the envelope. The idea is to avoid being too obvious that you have a drop service running out of your home.
  • Don't let your customer base get too big, or the post office is going to notice.
  • If someone asks about all those envelopes and packages, you buy and sell stuff on eBay.

Fruit/Veggie/Herb Stand
If you have a garden in a city, you may be able to get some cash out of it. Put in a small cash crop or two of veggies or fruits that tend to be expensive in the stores. Since you don't have to worry about cross-country shipping, you can grow stuff for flavor rather than durability.

  • Herbs and spices can be grown year 'round indoors.
  • If you have a greenhouse, or a good size spare room, you might try growing off-season goodies, like cataloupe in the dead of winter. You'll need extra lighting to pull this off. Do it as an experiment first, to see if you can recoup your additional power expenses. But if you're going to grow the stuff anyway, for yourself, that's less of an issue.

This is the sort of thing you should only do occasionally, since gambling attracts undesirable attention. It'll work best in areas that don't already have a legal lottery.

  • Always play it straight. If you cheat someone, they will report you to the cops.
  • Be sure you have the prize(s) lined up in advance, even though you risk taking a loss if you don't sell enough tickets. See above reference to cops.
  • Consider pairing up with a church or some other respectable charity as a cover. But be sure the charity billed really does get the promised cut.

Anonymous Debit Cards
People living off the books often need a way to make electronic payments, or get cash from machines. The downside to that is going back on the books to get a credit card. But now PayPal and other services let you buy pre-paid debit/ATM cards. Some grocery stores even offer pre-paid shopping cards. This things can be bought and resold for a slight mark-up.

  • To avoid any electronic trail, most people will want to pay you cash or money orders for their cards. Cash is cool, but you might not want to cycle MOs through your Treasury-monitored bank account. You can use check cashing shops, but you'll need to increase your mark-up to cover the shop's fee.
  • You can do this with pre-paid cell phones, too, for people who don't want to use a credit card to buy and charge them with minutes.

Bake Sales
I'm not kidding. Some communities sponsor big bake sales or flea markets for charities. A typical example was a mall in Georgia. Quarterly, they'd let any charity in the area come in for a weekend and set up booths to peddle cakes, bread, cookies, or arts and crafts. Each individual group made its own sales and kept the money. To sign up for booth space, you just had to represent yourself as a club or organization of some sort.

  • Bill yourself as the "Marion County Campaign to Eradicate Individual Poverty" or something like that. You aren't lying - its your individual poverty you're stomping out - and no one is cheated because your selling a product for that cash.

Room to Let
Got a spare room? Lease it out, weekly or monthly. You get money, and maybe you're making a home available for a perpetual tourist.

  • Word of mouth advertising is best, but classifieds are okay.
  • Take rent in cash.
  • Insist on references (you're going to have a stranger in your home) and really check them.
  • Get the details straight before your roomer moves in: Extent of kitchen privileges if any, quiet hours, guests, bathroom use, sanitation and hygeine, parking... Anything else you can think of.

Till Gardens
A lot of serious gardeners don't want to buy an expensive tiller they're only going to use once or twice a year. And some are older people who have trouble running the balky machines anyway. It's darned seasonal, but you can till a lot of city garden plots for folks in the early spring. Some people even till their gardens under again, after the last fall harvest.

  • Get a tiller scaled to your jobs. If you plan to cover suburbs with 2 acre yards, buy a larger tiller, because gradens will be larger and a dinky tiller will take too long.
  • If you're hitting 1/8 acre city plots, a giant tiller is a disadvantage when maneuvering to the backyard.
  • Those itsy-bitsy ultra-lightweight tillers are only good for individual use in small gardens; they aren't appropriate for a tiller business.

Snow blowing
If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, consider buying a good snow blower. "Global warming" doesn't seem to be reducing winter weather. And as America's population ages, a lot of people could use someone to blow and shovel snow for them.

  • Concentrate on residential neighborhoods with a large population of retirees, or busy-busy yuppies.
  • Line up clients in advance. When winter approaches, stick handbills on doors advertising your services. Follow-up with a personal appearance.
  • Arrange whether you'll show up whenever a set amount of snow falls, or if you wait to be called. Either way, be prompt. Someone needing to get his Mercedes out of the garage to get to work isn't going to be happy with you if he discovers his driveway still blocked when it's time to go.
  • Accept advance payments if offered, and give those people priority when the snow falls.

If you're willing to work hard, and aren't expecting to get rich, there are ways to make a living. Look for seasonal opportunities. You may clean gutters in the fall and winter when the trees are shedding leaves. Pick apples. Think about what sorts of tools you to work with. Just keep an open mind.


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