A few underground economy examples to start your day

by Mayberry
underground economy examples

Photo by: Tony Alter

As the price of life continues to blow past the threshold of bearability, I’ve noticed some really interesting things going on. For instance, a guy who owns (well, occupies anyway) a home on the “main drag” has started selling refurbished washers and dryers.

Of course he has a sign up soliciting your broken down machines, for which he’ll pay you cash (and I suspect he only takes cash for his products, which is fine and dandy to me). On his front lawn sits 4 or 5 washers and dryers for sale, and the inventory changes fairly regularly. Let me just say “Bravo!” to this guy, he’s found himself a way to, shall we say, “circumvent” the system. And he’s providing a valuable product to other folks who are feeling the pinch as well.

There are some really good things coming out of this burgeoning underground economy. For instance, when my water heater finally crapped out, all I had to do was place it by the curb, and viola! It was gone over night. Two things happened there; I was relieved of a no longer needed piece of junk, and the scrap collector who picked it up made a little money. Win win for everybody involved, and no money had to change hands.

Myself, I was engaged in a “side business” after I lost my “big money” job, strictly cash or barter. I repaired boats. I also charged extremely reasonable rates, charged no tax, and paid no tax. “Regular” shop rates were running $75 an hour and up, I charged $35. I didn’t have enough work to make a career out of it, but I earned some beer money and kept myself outta trouble.

Besides, I enjoyed doing it. I still do some boat work, mostly for my neighbors, but the economy has pretty much wiped out the business as most folks’ boats sit idle in the driveway, many with futile “for sale” signs on them. Oh well, I had a good run, and now it’s time to come up with a new plan. Adaptability is the key.

There are many, many “home grown” businesses popping up, with advertisements on websites like Craigslist, and in local classifieds like Ad Sack, and Pennysaver. They run the gamut from tree trimmers, to gun smiths, to plumbers….. I’ve seen many ads for seamstresses, day care, mechanics, handymen, or virtually anything else you can think of. Even for many proffessional craftsmen and service people, there is an “after hours” price…….. That’s the beauty of free markets, and a free society. When something isn’t working any more, crafty folks will come up with new solutions.

And this is where we are headed folks. Those days of people getting paid exhorbitant amounts of money to cook the books, shuffle paper, etc…. are quickly coming to a close. Better get yerself a skill, or learn how to produce something of value. When the dollar is worth zero, or nearly zero, you’ll need something to fall back on.

Nobody (except for Bill Gates) can put up enough food and supplies to last their lifetime. You’ll need something to trade. And on that note, here’s a website y’all might wanna take a look at, barter.net. Things like this are popping up left and right!

Just for grins, here’s an idea for a niche business I thought of: Us Texans love our trucks, and most of us actually use ’em as trucks, not “cowboy cadillacs”. With gas prices being what they are, many folks are having to give up their trucks for something more economical. That being the case, small pickups have really shot up in price.

Now nobody wants to haul hay, a greasy old engine, sacks of feed, fire wood, etc. in the trunk of their car, or inside a smaller SUV. So what to do? Well one creative feller I saw just recently took a sawsall to the back half of a little economy car and made himself a pickup! He added some air shocks to the rear end so it would handle a little bit more load, and viola! Economy pickup truck! Just close in the “cab” with something, sheet metal, plywood, plexiglass……. Seal it up, and there ya go. Heh heh. Just an idea anyways…….

Do you have any workable underground economy examples, if so please share those in the comments below. Thank you.


  1. Im careful to not divulge to much info on my “hobbies”. I have 4 chainsaws, 2 riding mowers, several weedeaters in my shop. All in need of repair. I also have found that fence companies charge an obscene rate for building fences and do incredibly shabby work.Building Handicap ramps are another hobby ive discovered I like doing as well as decks,piers,awnings and screened in porches. I also have two older gentlemen that have the same interest in the hobbies as me. I have only been interested in these hobbies for a couple of years and ive established friendship with a dependable group of other like minded hobbyists.

    • Nebraska Woman says:

      bc, I know several people who build and repair ramps. I also have a friend that repairs handicapped cycles for free. Bless you and all those people who make live easier for people in wheelchairs.
      I cannot believe the number of people who do not have basic sewing skills. I earn money by simply repairing clothing that easily could have been done by the owner.

      • axelsteve says:

        A friend of mine once bought an iron and ironing board when he was in the marines. He made himself extra money ironing pants and shirts. They are picky about creases for some reason. He made good money sometimes.

  2. Thomas The Tinker says:

    Dang…. ya had to add “workable” didn’t ya. first thing that came to mind was a generality. What is it that people just won’t do? Like the fella that snakes out my drain every 6 months. I hand him what he asks for and praise his name on the way outta the basement. ??????????????????

  3. Here’s some I’ve seen:

    Mowing lawns. Advertise with a flyer, go door to door in a nearby “nice” neighborhood wearing a nice polo and twill pants, and then wear work clothes (or those clothes?) to mow the lawn. Do a mow, trim and blow package (leaf blower).

    Window washing: There were store window washers who came around about once a week to businesses in a retail district where I worked. They also did odd handyman things on occasion. The smart ones wore a “work uniform” complete with name patch and this made them seem more trustworthy.

    Painting house numbers on the curb: I saw this suggested somewhere. You need bright reflective paint with the reflective beads you stick on top of it, and the flyer is like “We will be coming to your neighborhood to paint house numbers for your safety”, so perhaps a little misleading in that it seems official.

    House cleaning. One girl I know does an “environmental” version with all just vinegar and baking soda.

    Seamstressing. I have done that on occasion, mending clothes for people. I also made my own tactical gear – not sure if good enough to sell though. I think I would need a walking foot sewing machine to make it go fast enough. There are people who go to Renaissance fairs and the like and sell cloaks, which are relatively easy to sew.

    Some people hire themselves out to show movies on a projector. They have a laptop and a projector and go to people’s parties. This seems to go with movie pirating but doesn’t have to. It’s kind of like being a party DJ only with movies.

    If you want to get racy, there’s being a private stripper. You need to bring a personal bodyguard/driver with you for safety, which is yet another under the table job. Mostly this is bachelor parties.

    People make stripper costumes and sell them to strippers. They take trunks of their wares from bar to bar. I guess one could sell them in other places too.

    I once had a guy hire me to open his bills and make a list of them for him. He had some kind of phobia of opening his own mail and would drop off a wad of it about once a month for me to sort through.

    You can get work typing student papers under the table, proofreading, making web pages etc.

    You can teach private lessons in just about anything you can think of. Or you can teach classes, same idea.

    If you are musical you can play in a cover band. It’s boring but it pays. I’ve also made money transposing and arranging music.

    In Japan people hire themselves out to pretend to be lonely people’s relatives and come for visits. Call it the G rated version of an escort service.

  4. mom of three says:

    A lot of easy job’s that people can’t do is because they are taking them out of the highschool, electives. Sewing, car repair, even FFA is gone in most schools. If the kids don’t have parents, who can show them the basics then there you go another generation, not learning. It won’t all go away I feel there is enough people who have it that can and should pass their skills along. I’ve started with my kids learning how to cook, bake and can so at least they can fend for themselves.

    • In homeschooling my kids, one year we did a life skills class. I included skills that I thought are necessary for life including cleaning and maintaining a home, cooking and baking, meal planning and grocery shopping, basic sewing, basic wood shop ( they built desks amd bookshelves), laundry and ironing, balancing checkbook, etc. Good for them and good for us as we knew we could trust them to complete tasks adound the house.

  5. JP in MT says:

    There are many ways to make a few extra dollars. This shows a few, along with the comments. When someone tells me he/she can’t find work, I take it to understand that they have found an easier way to get income; there’s lots of “work” out there.

  6. satcadir says:

    Take a deep freezer (-18 degrees) and replace the thermostate by a normal refrigator thermostate. So you have a low energy cooler. In my case instead 1kwh/day only 70wh/day. Better isolation and some oter parts make it.

  7. Our church actually helps broker jobs – all kinds, it can be anything from driving a person to a Dr appt to weeding a garden or babysitting. We also have a local “time bank” there’s no $ that changes hands, it more like bartering jobs. You volunteer your services, again it can be just about anything computer work, lawn mowing etc & you rack up hours in the bank when you provide help and then you can “cash in” your hours when you need something. There are lots of handy-men on the list which is great.

  8. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Charm school. How many people know which fork to use, why is a spoon above your plate, how to use a finger bowl, what is a salt dip? My DS holds seminars as public service for graduating law students just to teach them how to eat with a client.

    • mom of three says:

      Charm school, WOW that’s a good one it seems like no one is teaching manners anymore. I always told all three kids manners, never go out of style no matter what year we are in. Two thumbs up TG Ma for that job!

    • axelsteve says:

      Tgma My father inlaw used to have people go take a class so they can conduct buisness lunches . Colledge educated people (mostly computer sciences) Had to learn how to eat with there mouth closed and how to open and close a door without slamming it.

    • Nancy V. says:

      Ah yes, Charm School. I was “sent” to such a school for one summer by my parents when I was 12. They were fed up with me climbing trees, playing with radios and building junk from scavenging the dumps for treasures. and wanting to do anything boys did. I had manners but I was a tomboy.

      I was taught social graces, how to walk like a lady (I still hate teacups), how to sit properly, use makeup, proper hairstyling and fashion, and how to use place settings and utensils.

      But in that school, I became more of a young lady. The skills I learned there, have benefitted me my whole life, especially in my professional work.

      Still a tomboy, but with a ladylike flare 🙂

  9. vietnamese guy says:

    hello, i come from third world country ( well i live and work in the usa these day) and out in third world countries people either eat off their farm or learn a trade to fix things ( like tv car house..ects.. ) and trade their skill for money or food, that how people survive over there. so learn how to farm or how to fix things and made lot of friends in your area and you will have a good chance to survive what ever god like to throw at your way. sorry for bad english.

    • Happy Camper says:

      I am in love with the Vietnamese culture, my interest was sparked because my father was based at Vung at au in 1967-1969 in the Australian Army (RAR9). I travelled to Vietnam in 2011 to see the war relic areas. Firstly I am still in awe of the Vietnamese people and their continuing sufferance.
      The Vietnamese culture of what you have described is what we can all learn from, thank you for sharing and I look forward to learning more from you Duy.

  10. Stealth Spaniel says:

    Look at all of the great ideas that are listed in the letters! Isn’t it amazing that these same people do not need to be licensed, to file God knows how many papers to pay taxes to the city/county/township/state/federal government, get permits, apply for assistance, or buy insurance-just to be successful? No wonder 100 years ago, this country produced so many millionaires. Entrepreneurs, business visionaries, inventors-all just need government out of their way. We are dying because of over regulation in this country. These same “businessmen” now have to be careful of who knows what. SHTF will be frightening, but also liberating in the sense we will slowly gets back to being Americans. Thanks for a good article!

  11. Nemoseto says:

    I have my degree in forestry and used to oversee logging and storm damage crews (inventoried forest stands, wrote thinning plans, marked trees and trained and oversaw the crew doing the work, used to be a good job but the ressession crushed it).

    I make some money each year doing land clearing for new homes, cutting an acre and piling the wood as firewood and branch piles, leaving the better trees for future landscapes, it takes 40-80 hours per acre working alone. I also clean up wind thrown trees, do overdue yard work (brush clearing, etc). I spray painted the words “tree removal” and a track phone number on my truck. most of the jobs I did take only a few hours to a day and I charge about $15 an hour, I haul the wood home, split it, stack it and sell it in the fall. I usually have 50-150 cords of fuel.

    I also grow pumpkins, turnips, tomatoes, summer squash etc to sell, and make assorted crafts from firewood. I also work short term gigs at the county fair, a chainsaw repair shop (I have factory training), and other shot term single day gigs

  12. Chuck Findlay says:

    Almost any service business is a good thing to do. Service businesses are easy to start part time and can grow into a real job. Services businesses are good because you normally need only a modest amount of supplies and or tools to do them, but they are normally labor heavy. Meaning it cost little to start, but it takes more work (labor) to get it going. Fortunately this labor and time is just what a new business person has in excess when starting out.

    All the businesses I started (and still doing most of them) I did this way as I never had the money to invest in a big start up and I NEVER wanted debt to start doing it.

    I would suggest you start several mini service based businesses, this way you have several sources of income. And it’s almost a sure bet that no single one will provide a good enough income by itself to live on. I do home repair / handyman work, reloading ammo, carpet cleaning, auto repair, electronic repair, I build wood furniture, I work for a lumber yard doing all the work in customers homes work that the yard doesn’t do. I build sheds on site for people. I do some computer building in the winter. Plus a few other things I can’t think of right now. All of these things take minimal tools or supplies to start and are all good starter businesses for those strapped for money.

    What do you do that others may pay for. I don’t sew, it’s hard to find a person to shorten pants hems. I keep looking for a person to do sewing for me but it’s hard to find someone. Do you sew? if so run an ad in a local paper, put up a poster at the local store and you will likely get calls. Also I noticed no one does shoe repair any more, As times get tougher people will need this service and while it will not be a big money earner right now, it will probably pay enough to pay for used equipment that is needed for doing it. And I would think the same tools could also be used for other leather work.

    Other then the handyman service that exploded the last 2-years none of the things I do makes a good income by themselves, but together they all serve me well and keep me so busy that I have trouble making time for my own projects.

    Also it’s a very good idea to not be in debt doing this type of work as you will have periods of no or low income that you need to get over and debt requires you to make monthly payments. And those monthly payments will keep you working for other people. Most people can’t chance starting a business when they don’t know what next weeks or next months income will be. They need a known and reliable amount of income to be able to service the debt they have. I would hazard a guess that the debt people carry is what keeps most of them from breaking out of the job they have and never really knowing what freedom really feels like. The idea of being another cog in the wheel working for others at a job has become repulsive to me. Once I found the freedom to set my one life on a path I chose I found life so much more enjoyable. I don’t know if a person in debt and a cog on a wheel can ever feel this freedom, I know I didn’t.

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