In 2008, I was a freshman in college during the great recession. The world began to shift, and mountains of money were lost and made, seemingly overnight.
I learned how to fend for myself because I had to. I learned how to self-publish books, build websites, and navigate social media. Before long, my efforts turned into a few hundred dollars. Then a few thousand. And suddenly, the recession didn’t feel so scary anymore. If anything, it felt like I had found an unfair advantage.
You can absolutely do this too.
Below is a reflection of what's worked for me and how you can use these strategies to benefit from a down economy.
Start a discount-focused blog
As cliché as it may sound, understanding people is the key to making money. So, when a recession strikes, the best strategy is to step back and ask, "How will people react?"
First and foremost, people will go on the defensive. They'll spend less money, take fewer vacations, stop going out for dinner, and generally horde as much money as they can (a lot of financial advice will promote this route).
One way you can use this behavior shift to your advantage is to present them with ways to maintain their lifestyle with less money. Budget travel tips, discount shopping strategies, sales alerts — this type of content can produce a high income for you while providing a service people are motivated to look for.
Take any niche, hobby, or interest you might have and start a blog about the “discount” version of that thing. Then, monetize it with ads, product recommendations (which we’ll cover more below), or launch your own product. The best part is your audience will still want this content when the recession is over.
Create a hobby YouTube channel
When more people stay in for the night, content consumption shoots up. That means people spend more hours watching NetFlix and scrolling on TikTok and YouTube.
You can capitalize on this by creating your own channel based on one of your interests or hobbies, then monetize it through AdSense or channel sponsorships.
One strategy I've used is to catalog my learning journey publicly. In 2018, I needed to learn a new piece of software. Instead of consuming as many tutorials as possible, I would learn a small portion of the tool and create my own tutorial on just that part. I did this for about 3 months and published 12 tutorials during that period.
To date, those videos have earned me just over $40,000.
You don't need to be an expert to create content online. Simply invite people into your journey. Share where you're at and where you hope to go next. By doing this, you'll gain an audience and build an income stream that will supplement (and even replace) your job as needed.
Recommend your favorite products as an affiliate
For the uninitiated, affiliate marketing is the practice of talking about a product, then getting a commission when someone buys it.
One example is this blog you’re reading. I use Ghost to publish it and think it’s the best tool to build a modern website. So, when a reader takes my recommendation and uses Ghost to build their blog, I get a recurring commission.
You can take this strategy and implement it on any social platform. Every time you see a booktok creator recommending their favorite reads, a beauty blogger showing off their daily skin routine, or a diy-er naming their preferred tools — all of them are engaging in some form of affiliate marketing.
Commission rates range from 2% to 30%, depending on the type of product (software and luxury ones tend to pay the highest).
Get a part-time remote job
If you’re looking for more immediate income (because building an audience and revenue online does take some time to gain traction), securing a part-time role is one of the best options.
When people think about recessions, their first thought is job loss. But this is only half the story. Most companies who lay off don't magically erase the work that needs to be done. Instead, they turn full-time roles into part-time and contractor positions. This enables them to maintain some level of operations while cutting costs.
For you, this is an opportunity to earn a side income or explore new fields. I have a friend who was a teacher and used their spare hours to experiment with new roles in a part-time capacity. She eventually doubled her salary by switching to data analytics full-time — all because of a connection she made while in one of these part-time roles.
Don't just look at the hourly wage when choosing a part-time job. Think about what experience or relationships could also come out of it. Furthermore, remember that remote roles will offer you the most flexibility. These tend to cost companies less, so expect a surge of remote listings during recessions.
A few of my favorite places to find remote jobs are:
Sell your clutter online
This advice circles back to what we said earlier about people wanting to save money and find discounts. If you have unused stuff other people would find valuable, you're sitting on a pile of cash.
Toys, clothes, books, furniture, pet supplies — you name it, there's a used market for it. Places like Craigslist and Facebook marketplace might not make the news like they once did, but people still make full-time incomes from selling and reselling their finds on these websites.
The last time my wife and I moved houses, we knew we wanted to downsize so it could feel like a fresh start. Over a weekend, we took pictures and listed a few dozen items on Facebook for sale. By Monday, we made $800 — from stuff we were going to give away or throw out!
Of all the options listed in this article, this is by far the fastest way to make cash during a recession. If you’ve hit hard times or need to take care of an unexpected expense, start with this strategy.
Additional ways to make money
Since becoming a writer and online business owner, I’ve stumbled upon hundreds of ways to make money online, but I’ve only tried a handful of them. I strongly recommend the ones above because I know they work and have personally made money from each option.
However, if I had the bandwidth for a few more experiments, here’s what I would try.
- Retail arbitrage – Find clearance items at big box stores (e.g., Walmart) and sell them for more online (Ebay and Amazon).
- Renting equipment – Buy expensive hardware or lawn care tools and rent them out on an hourly/daily basis. I've seen people break even in a month, so everything from then on is pure profit.
- Food cart — Get a license and sell something tasty outside of sporting events or in busy areas. I personally know a Spanish food cart that does $1,000+ a day.
Remember that recessions always end
As we wrap this topic up, I want to leave you with one last bit of encouragement. One of the best things you can do for yourself and the important people in your life is to use recession periods as building times.
Start that business, get that certificate or degree, take that risk — because doing so now will set you up for even greater success afterward when the economy recoups.
Fear makes people slow. They wait and watch, hoping the cards will fall in their favor. But you don’t have to play the game like they do.
You can take the offensive, act quickly, and influence the outcome. There’s a lot of money waiting to be made. Don’t let this recession go to waste.