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These occupations are classic black-market businesses, and much can be learned and applied by studying how they operate. There’s obviously much higher risk associated with these occupations and businesses, but they have a correspondingly higher rate of return as well. In discussing this very phenomenon with another activist and citizen journalist, Libertarian Lady, I discovered that exotic dancers can make incredible incomes. Almost all dancers decide not to declare to the I.R.S.
So, if you’re not hung up on the body and sexual issues that go with the adult entertainment industry (and can handle the psychological and emotional trials that often go with being a stripper), you can still make a very robust, cash-only income this way.
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Bartending and restaurant service jobs (waiting, serving, busing tables) are also great ways to make and then hide income. I even had an independent bartending business for a while! We’d put ads up on Craigslist and sure enough, once or twice a week, we’d have gigs! I’d charge $25.00 an hour (with a four-hour minimum) to bartend a party, and easily undercut the competition by operating outside of the system – which is always much cheaper. It’s riskier, since operating this way does expose you to possible fines and regulations, but it was worth it to me. It’s almost always better, if you’re willing to assume the risk, to work outside the system and simply pay the fines if you get caught. Or, if you’re an activist, resist! Don’t pay the fines at all and use it as a form of civil disobedience. Either way, it’s cheaper to pay the fines than it is to go through all the b.s. licensing. Some people will refuse to pay the fines, do the jail time, come right out and start again! It all depends on who you are.
I’m also a fan of the black markets which are already in existence. Look at the immigrant community for inspiration. Immigrants employ their own micro-societies which contain free markets. Go to any ethnic enclave and observe. They speak their native language (a great tactic for keeping communication more private!), they are in a concentrated geographic locale such as a neighborhood, or networks of neighborhoods, and they do business with each other. They patronize one another’s health practitioners; they buy their food at one another’s stores. They use one another’s services. In almost every case, certainly in the case of every immigrant I’ve personally known, all their dealings (or as many as are deemed safe) are off the books. Most don’t even take credit cards or checks. It’s all cash.
As such, these communities have created underground economies which are already strong. If you take the effort to learn another language, like Spanish, it can allow you to plug into these economies. Get a little acquainted with their culture and you will see these are often some of the finest human beings you’ll ever meet and they would be happy to do business with you. Those doing business outside of the system are often high integrity business people; the more established they are, the more they depend upon evading detection by operating fairly and in a way that benefits their community. And so the market serves to regulate itself.
One of the easiest ways to find an underground economy is to go to flea markets. Flea markets, the business owners, and customers that patronize them, represent one of the last bastions of the true free-market economy in the U.S. What I mean by this is that unlike brick-and-mortar businesses, you don’t need a business license or a tax I.D. You just pay rent on a table; you can sell damned-near anything you want, and the free market determines your success! If you’re trying to sell something no-one wants, you won’t make any sales. If you sell something people want, you’re going to do really well.
If you’re highly educated, you might feel as if working in a flea market is “beneath you”. But remember, this is about freedom. If you don’t mind the sacrifice of working two days a week, on the weekend, to escape the rat race, you can earn an income that can set you free. Sometimes you need very little, even zero cash to start up. Have a garage sale and use that $25.00 or so to buy rent on a table at your local flea market. Look around your house.
How attached are you to all that clutter? Ask yourself: are you more attached to it than you are in love with the idea of independence? Sell it! People will buy anything if you price it right.
Leverage your junk! Put it on Craigslist or any of the other free classified sites on the internet.
Put a notice up at your grocery store bulletin board. Then use that money to launch your flea market business.
Once you’re at the flea market, look around. Not only are there people selling things at the flea market, there are people offering services like haircuts, nail salons that set up booths, people giving massages. Just know that you have to adjust your pricing when you offer services at a flea market; no one is interested in spending a lot of money. They’re motivated by the low prices to attend! Then again, you’re spending next to nothing by offering goods and services at a flea market and have nearly eliminated all of your traditional over-head costs. It evens out. It’s a net gain. You could go out and rent at spot at some mall, make a ton of money and then see it all go right back out again as you cover your costs.
When you do become an independent business person at a flea market (or if you decide to operate inside any other counter-economy), don’t forget to patronize the other vendors and services! Don’t go to Wal-Mart and buy your groceries, hit that little bodega for your apples!
Buy your lettuce from the farm stand at the flea-market. Instead of using valuable capital to market to people solely outside of the flea-market, put your money and time into that world.
Plug in. Plug into the mutual benefit of doing business with one another as well as their vast knowledge base – the collective business acumen of others doing business outside of the statesanctioned economy. They already know it all! For example: How to stay on the down-low, how to avoid restrictive and expensive laws and regulations and bureaucrats – they’ve already got it figured out. No need to reinvent the wheel, because this isn’t anything new to these microsocieties with flourishing counter-economies.
You can make a very good living while you’re getting your feet wet. Then when the economy picks up, you’ll be a veteran participant. Before the economy crashed, some vendors at my flea market were making $2,000 a weekend -- $1,000 a day, just buying and selling stuff at the flea market. Now, you can buy and sell with junk dealers, but I wouldn’t buy anything expensive looking for a high return. Don’t buy anything that retails for more than $30 or $40. The first thing you’re going to do is just clean out and sell your clutter. You’ve already got two or three months’ worth of inventory in your house! Go sell that junk; it’s all profit. Don’t sell anything you really care about or that you bought at a really high price point. Something you paid $100 for, someone will want to pay $15 for. But if you don’t use it anymore, who cares! Sell it.
Another great source of inventory is cheap wholesalers. Buy it for cheap and then turn it around for a profit at the flea market. Businesses that are going under often have inventory that they wish to unload for cheap.
Again, all this is cash. Consider your customer when you’re selling at a flea market, and price accordingly. People don’t want to spend a lot of money at a flea market; that’s why they’re there! If you’re interested in making more money, you can, but there’s more of a paper trail.
Places like antique malls or consignment stores where you can rent space for cheap, say, $100 a month, can make you more money, but to operate under cover, you’ll have to rely on those methods of identity shading mentioned earlier. Some of these places keep records of everything you do, and some don’t.
Some of them will just hand you cash, and they don’t want to know who you are, or what you do, and that’s it. Those are the ones you want to find. The more privacy, the better. The benefit of using a platform like an antique mall is that the customers are far more willing to dish out cash. The mark-up is totally different, much higher, reflecting the expectation of the customers that they are more likely to find a “treasure”. The store will sell your inventory for you; you don’t even have to be there. The benefit for them is a steady stream of a variety of different inventories, which is attractive to their customers. If you set yourself up in ten or twelve of these places, you can practically operate invisibly. You just show up, replenish your inventory in your display and collect your money once a month.
You can also make a living buying and selling on eBay. This was really big in the 2000s; people
were just staying at home and making money hand over fist. It’s become a lot harder recently:
eBay is now referred to by many as “feeBay”. eBay and PayPal have increased their merchant fees so much that now you need to mark things up about 15% to cover all the listing fees. If I buy something at $50 and want to double my money, now I have to sell it for $115 instead of $100. To give yourself a little eBay pricing tutorial, go to eBay and look at the “sort” features on the left. Look for the sort category box of “Completed Listings”. This will show what people have purchased and at what price.
Let’s say you’re selling shoes, and you’re going to buy these shoes from another seller and you’ve already taken these costs into account, so I’m buying my shoes for $10 and I’m selling them on eBay for $30. I have to also now take into account that 15% of that is going to go right up in smoke, and that if I mark up my product in an attempt to recoup the 15% fee, is anyone going to buy it at the marked up price? So, in order to determine if this is a viable transaction for me to engage in, I’m going to go to the “Completed Listings” section, and I’m going to research and see if people are actually buying a comparable item at that price point. This is an excellent tool.
Before you sink a penny into anything, you get to see if it’s worth your time.
I made a living off eBay for a year, just turning stuff over from Craigslist to eBay. Plenty of sellers on Craigslist refuse to pay the listing fees on eBay or are intimidated by setting up a seller’s account on eBay. Craigslist is wonderful for acquiring inventory to sell on eBay because you can haggle and barter and trade prices down. You can take anything off Craigslist, say a Star Wars DVD collection, go over to eBay and research the completed listings and see if you can make a profit.
This works really well in a big city, where you can physically go and trade the cash the same day, and there’s a big pool of sellers on Craigslist. It’s leg-work to go get the stuff, but it’s cash. You can turn around and list things right away on eBay that you’ve just purchased that day! I was making a couple of hundred dollars a day on eBay; it’s gotten harder, but if you’re willing to do the work and hustle a little bit, it’s a really viable way of making a cash living.
Alternatively, you can just make a living on Craigslist, by watching the For Free listings. There are junk dealers who watch Craigslist like a hawk, and when they see stuff coming up for free, they’ll drop everything, run on over to get the free item, bring it home and turn around and list it on Craigslist for $30 or $40! And just sit on it. And eventually, they’ll sell those items. I’m sure you’ve seen people do this with yard sales, too. Yard sales are wholesale paradise, a great place to buy stuff that you can turn around and re-sell.
You have to be careful though, if you’re buying stuff that you just think will re-sell. My advice is to bring a smart phone or a lap-top with Wi-Fi and actually look up that item on eBay (again, in the Completed Listings section) and see what people are willing to pay for it. Let’s say you come across what looks like a classic Hot Wheels car; hold onto it while you look up the price on eBay and see if it’s worth it! People get into trouble when they buy things that they like, thinking, “Well, I would pay $20 for this, so will someone else.” That’s ok if you are your only customer!
Otherwise, it’s all about what other people (the free market!) will pay for that item. So be a good primate, and use your tools! Find out what others will pay before you go acquiring inventory you can’t then re-sell.
So in near total anonymity, you can set up your eBay account and PayPal account (linked to your ghost LLC or mystery bank account), sit at home, use your commercial post office box for delivery and shipping, and live completely under radar this way. As a further benefit, you seldom might have to deal face-to-face with people if others are shipping your inventory to you! If doing customer service makes you feel uncomfortable, this is the life-style for you! If you can’t stand people whining and complaining, bitching at you over the phone, buying and selling on eBay might be the way to escape that kind of misery. It’s also a great way to start with no money.
Something else at which I’ve been successful in the past is the creation and marketing of eBooks.
You’re listening to or reading an eBook right now! I love eBooks; I’m admittedly not a big reader. I don’t buy a lot of hard-cover books. But I do buy eBooks. People over 40 probably haven’t purchased a lot of eBooks, but people under 40 feel quite comfortable doing so and buy them in good numbers. The arrival and adoption of eReader technologies like the Kindle, which allows readers to download and read electronic copies of books on this book-sized electronic reader, is revolutionizing publishing.
While downloading an eBook doesn’t provide the same tactile experience, the price point of an eBook is so much less than a physical book that consumers are ordering eBooks like hotcakes!
And like a physical book, the Kindle reader is portable. And unlike physical books that take up a lot of space, the Kindle can be any book you want.