Work is important in keeping us professionally satisfied (and, you know, making money), but hobbies keep us interesting and well-rounded. The question “What do you do for work?” is usually followed up by “What do you do in your spare time?” You don’t want to be the person who has nothing to say.
But when you’re trying to achieve financial independence, it can be difficult to set aside time for activities that feel unproductive and don’t get you closer to your goal. It’s no coincidence that ambitious FI-ers are often workaholics. However, these are the same people who, when they finally reach their goal and retire early, don’t know what to do with themselves, because work is all they know.
That said, there’s a way to strike a balance here. By finding a way to monetize your hobbies, you can explore new interests and add dimension to your life without sacrificing productivity. Even if you’re not pursuing FI, there’s no harm in giving yourself an extra source of income.
Most hobbies can be turned into side gigs if you’re creative enough, but here are some of the simplest hobbies you can monetize.
Reading Books (And Reviewing Them)
If you’re a bookworm like I am, you’d read books for free any day of the week. But if you’re flexible on what kinds of books you’ll read–and willing to share your thoughts on them afterward–then reading is actually a hobby you can monetize.
Most of the legit paid book review websites require an application to become a book reviewer, which makes sense. They may want to see writing samples first, so pick your favorite book and write a sample review of it to demonstrate how you think as a reviewer. Show off your analytical mind, attention to detail, and skill putting your thoughts together in writing.
Here are a few sites to start with:
Reviewing books won’t make you rich, but it’s a great way to discover some new authors and hone your mental sharpness by thinking of points you’ll make as you read.
Photography (Portraits, Stock Photos, Contests)
If you have a keen eye for composition, light, and color, you can do more with your photography than posting it on Instagram. (That said, Instagram is a great platform to start building a brand and following if that’s your goal!)
Enjoy photographing people? Hire yourself out for photoshoots or headshots with high school seniors, families, or working professionals. No matter what kind of photography you enjoy, seek out contests you can enter online. Along with the prizes, it also just feels amazing to have your image place in a competition.
As far as stock photography, it’s a competitive arena, but there’s no harm in uploading your images to a stock photo site and seeing what happens. If they turn out to be popular, they can become a passive income source for you as long as you keep them online. Usually the sites have certain acceptance criteria and take a commission of sales. You can also generally specify whether you want name credit to help spread your reputation as a photographer.
Here are a few stock photo sites you can start looking into:
One area of paid photography I’d recommend avoiding: weddings. There’s a reason wedding photographers are expensive–it’s stressful and time-consuming. Expectations are high and the day-of demands are intense. You’ll have to worry about things like getting multiple angles, taking shots of all the attendees, editing the pictures in the couple’s preferred aesthetic, and more. Unless you’re just shooting a low-key affair, wedding photography is a professional job, not a gig for the hobbyist.
Woodworking/Carpentry (Selling Artisan Goods)
It can be extremely satisfying to work with your hands and create a physical product you’re proud of. If you’re the type of person who enjoys power tools and could picture yourself spending hours in a workshop to the smell of sawdust, woodworking might be the ideal hobby to pick up.
Not only can you use this skill to make furniture or decor for yourself (thus saving money compared to purchasing them); you can spread the word that you’re selling your craft or taking custom orders. Depending on the kind of woodworking you want to do, you can make practical items like tables and chairs, detailed pieces like figurines, or fun items like chess boards and puzzles.
However, this is one hobby that can come with a steep up-front investment as you collect the tools and materials you need. Before diving in, consider looking for a class you can take or a local carpenter you can shadow for a day, so you can gain experience and decide if it’s a long-term interest before assembling your own workshop.
Writing (eBooks + Novels)
Books can be an excellent source of ongoing passive income. If you’re more interested in nonfiction, choose a topic you’re knowledgeable about, write an eBook, and publish it on your own through Amazon Kindle or another provider. If you have ideas for fictional storylines swimming around in your brain, get them on paper and decide if you want to go the official publishing route or self-publish it.
While there are writers who have famously struck it rich with popular fiction franchises, it’s admittedly not an overwhelmingly lucrative field in general. Most writers–particularly fiction writers–are motivated by passion over money, and if they happen to strike a chord with the right audience and become successful, all the better.
The best thing about writing as a hobby you can monetize is that it costs literally nothing to start, assuming you own a computer already. Time, creativity, and (ideally) grammatical proficiency are the only materials you’ll need.
Getting Credit Card Rewards
Not everyone might consider this a fun hobby, but using everyday spending to earn cash back and travel points is one of my personal favorites (along with trading and investing in the stock market).
If you mostly use debit cards and cash, you could be missing out on free travel and other perks. Start small by getting a first credit card from a local bank, so you can build your credit history and qualify for the better cards later on. Pay off the balance in full each month so you’re not charged interest.
What turns this into a hobby is that the serious points-chasers don’t just find one card they like and just use that for everything. We calculate what will give us the maximum reward for each specific type of purchase we make. For instance, one credit card might give you extra rewards for travel-related purchases. Another might give extra points at the grocery store. Another might give cash back at gas stations.
And then there are reward redemptions. Some cards give you straight cash back applied to your statement. Others have a higher redemption rate if you use them through a travel partner like a specific airline or hotel.
When you become a points hobbyist, you’ll eventually find that it’s second nature to know which card to use at all times, calculate how to get the maximum redemption rate out of all the card rewards, and choose what cards to apply for next.
Further reading: How to Use Credit Cards to Make Money and Travel for Free
Music (Performing + Tutoring)
Whether your musical inclinations lie more towards the rock or classical side of the spectrum, there are usually options for getting paid for using your skills.
If you play an instrument like drums, bass, or guitar (electric or non-electric), look for gigs filling in with local bands for recording sessions. Being a “session musician” is a type of musical freelancing. If you play a classical instrument, you can look for session musician roles in orchestras (which are rarer). Or, you could look into joining the orchestra as a regular performer, which typically comes with a per-performance stipend.
Performing not so much your area of interest? Then pass on your skills to the next generation of musicians (or your peers if you prefer adult students). Private music teachers are typically quite well-paid, and it’s convenient as you can set your own hours and work from your own home or studio.
Anything Else (If You Start A Blog About It!)
Blogging is like a combination of writing, web development, marketing, relationship-building, and actually doing the activity you choose to focus on with the blog. That makes it a great choice for someone who likes variety and embraces challenge.
Once you start a blog, it can take a few months to get to the point of monetizing it. Don’t focus on that aspect right away. Instead, focus on providing real value to your readers. That’s what ultimately will make your blog successful. Once you’ve built a platform you’re proud of, you can start forming affiliate partnerships or adding advertisements to help cover the costs of development, marketing, and your own time
The nice thing about blogging is that it gives you flexibility to pursue the activities you’re really interested in. If you love backpacking, start a blog about your trips, gear, and photos. If you love movies, start a movie review blog. If you’re into fitness, help people build nutrition and exercise plans for their lifestyles.
You can read about one couple who does this on their blog Screw the Average. They write city guides, packing lists, and stories about their experiences, and the blog helps fund their travels.
Finally, don’t feel like all of your free time has to be spent making money. Sometimes you need to just take time to enjoy your life, whether or not you’re being financially productive. But if you can make extra money by doing something you enjoy–well, that’s the dream, isn’t it?
Do you have any hobbies you can monetize? Have you started monetizing a hobby already? Comment below.
Kate is a writer and editor who runs her content and editorial businesses remotely while globetrotting as a digital nomad. So far, her laptop has accompanied her to New Zealand, Asia, and around the U.S. (mostly thanks to credit card points). Years of research and ghostwriting on personal finance led her to the FI community and co-founding DollarSanity. In addition to traveling and outdoor adventure, Kate is passionate about financial literacy, compound interest, and pristine grammar.