When the power grid goes down and stays down, local economies will focus on the basics, and trade goes low-tech. NOW is the time to think about how you will be able to manufacture goods or offer services from home that you can use for income or barter.
The purpose of this list is to get the reader thinking about ways to earn income or barter with such skills should the need arise. The ideal side gig is one that has a low or no start-up cost, won’t take long to learn to do, and can be earning immediate income in a variety of ways (including using online platforms), yet can be adapted easily and continued in a grid-down or societal collapse scenario.
Here is a list of 22 modest side gigs you can begin now and be ready to go low tech when the time arrives.
Sell firewood. Everyone will need a way to cook their food and keep their dwellings warm. Contact the local US. Forest Service office and inquire about getting a permit to harvest downed trees. Take a truck and a chainsaw and you’re in business. Cut the logs, split it, stack it, and season it. You can sell by the cord, or by the bundle.
Start a produce business. Start as a middleman and buy from a produce wholesaler in your area, then resell at retail prices. Don’t forget many down and out people sold apples during the Great Depression to make ends meet. This is an easy business to start because you can buy bags of apples and oranges and start selling at flea markets, door to door, on street corners or at the farmer’s market. Develop routes for personal deliveries of produce. Take bags of fruit and veggies and drive through campgrounds and RV parks and sell from your vehicle. Make sure you are not violating any local soliciting laws. If you go through campgrounds, ask permission of the park manager first. This business can be adapted to benefit people who will be growing much of their own food and need a way to barter with it (which you can supply) and can be re-tooled to go low tech through distribution by bicycle.
Laundry/ironing service. Before electricity gave rise to clothes washing machines and dryers, people hand-washed their apparel, hung them outdoors to dry in the sun and pressed clothes with irons heated on top of wood stoves. This is a business you can start today with all-electric tools yet can adapt beautifully to low-tech tools in a flash. Be prepared by acquiring a washtub, wash board, and a wringer to pass clothes through to eliminate excess water. Put up a clothesline or find a drying rack and find an old-fashioned iron. Secure a good supply of laundry soap such as Zote or Fels Naptha. Practice using these low-tech tools and you will have an important skill to sell or barter.
Sewing and alterations service. You’d be surprised how rare a business like this is becoming. Back in the day, being a seamstress or tailor was steady work and your family didn’t starve. Start low tech like the Amish! Get a treadle or hand-crank sewing machine. Stockpile fabric, thread, notions, needles, sewing patterns, and replacement parts for your machine. Concentrate on learning how to re-size items and do repairs on coats and jackets.
Learn to knit or crochet. Start small to gain your skill, then concentrate on making warm sweaters and socks. Stockpile yarn and anything made of wool that you can unravel and re-purpose or mend and use for barter. You can find bulk yarn at thrift stores and garages sales.
Recondition and repair shoes. When the electricity goes down, how will the gas pumps run? Walking will become the primary mode of transportation, shoes will take a beating, and people will be more mindful of taking better care of their footwear. Start now to gain the skill to recondition and do small repairs to sneakers and boots. Stock up on polish, leather cleaners, dyes, buffers, Shoe Goo, and all kinds of shoelaces. Since this kind of work is all done by hand, it’s a perfect side gig to learn in stages, yet still earn income before and after the grid goes down. There are people who find quality men’s shoes in thrift stores, recondition them and then sell them for top dollar on platforms like Poshmark, Mercari or Etsy. Why not earn as you learn and do the same? You’ll be ready when the grid goes down and trade this skill for other things you need. Here’s a free reference tool that details shoe repair back in the day: Home book to learn expert shoe repairing (PDF).
Sharpen knives and scissors. With a small investment for proper tools and training, this type of business never goes out of style. Start by sharpening your own knives, scissors and saws, and practice using modern as well as “old school” tools. Set up routes to professionally sharpen kitchen knives at cafes and restaurants and sharpen the scissors and clippers at beauty salons and barbershops. This is not as easy as it seems, because high-end knives and scissors need to be maintained at a higher level and require a professional’s skill with a pro’s tools. Yet, having this skill will be valuable in a grid down economy, when people will need such a service.
Recondition used bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and learn how to motorize bikes. When gasoline costs skyrocket or altogether disappears, bicycles will be THE mode of human-powered transportation. Learn to recondition and repair them now and be ready. If you can also do upgrades to the average bicycle, your service will be gold! It’s possible to install solar-powered electric engines to bikes to help those who can’t pedal everywhere (the elderly, differently abled). It might be useful to learn how to take small gas-powered lawnmower engines and adapt them to bicycles, turning them into motorized bikes. These types of engines can run on alternative fuels, the manufacture of which will also become a cottage industry. Inventory will be the tricky part but start by scouring neighborhoods on trash collection day. Free is the best price! Scrap collectors find bikes put out in the trash all the time. Or scout the freebie section of Craigslist and buy as many as you can at the lowest price you can, at garage sales. Offer to upgrade bikes by attaching a basket in front and back, turning a regular bicycle into a bike that can haul necessities.
Blacksmithing. For many, this is a personal hobby used for purposes around their homestead, yet this profession was the heart of every community before the gas- powered engine displaced horsepower. In an extended grid-down scenario, the blacksmith and his forge will be busy.
Gunsmithing & Reloading – These two skills are incredibly important because guns are tools that help put meat on the table. Yet, without bullets, a gun is useless. So, if you are serious about maintaining your own firearms, and learning an in-demand skill, then either or both these skills will be invaluable in a future grid-down economy. You will certainly be able to provide for yourself and others if you can do them.
Food production. In a grid-down and supply-chain down scenario, food production becomes life or death important. There is a learning curve to all types of gardening, so you better start now to learn how to raise fruits and vegetables. In addition to learning how to garden, do you own a dairy cow? Egg-laying chickens? If you own a dairy cow, learn to make butter and yogurt and sell it fresh. If you own chickens, sell the extra eggs. Set up a weekly route and deliver to those who appreciate food nearest the source and those with specialized dietary needs. You can continue a business like this regardless of what happens. Food products are the ultimate barter item.
Learn to harvest fish, and snare small birds and animals for food. Good fishermen know the secrets of their favorite fishing holes. The use of simple snares has caught many a meal, but can you gut and clean the fish? Can you kill a snared animal, prep and cook it? These are very important skills to have in the short term after a grid-down or societal collapse. Yet, how soon will the lakes, rivers and streams be stripped of aquatic life, and forests made quiet by the disappearance of animals as famine stalks a land? We have all read the stories of how even the zoo animals disappeared in the Socialist takeover of Venezuela.
Create and Sell Bedrolls. In a societal collapse, people will be trying to get home or to reach family. The roadways will be busy with people walking. Think about what they might need for the journey. Why not create portable bedrolls? With very low start-up costs, you can make the ground cover which can be rolled-up, slung across the body and carried as you walk. Learn how to make this for sale or barter. See how they are made below.
Pair the ground cover with a blanket and you have very useful item to sell or trade. Keep your costs low by finding blankets at thrift stores and garage sales.
Find used kid’s wagons and recondition them. Think Radio Flyer. Or make your own and sell them. These will be like gold for people who need to shuttle anything around. Connect them to bicycles and they become more useful.
Learn to make large baskets or tote bags from free or discarded materials. Without gasoline to power vehicles, people will be looking for ways to tote and carry goods.
Make candles from other candles and resell them. Buy up candles at thrift stores and garage sales, melt down the wax and pour it into molds (recycled food jars or Pringles cans). Sell or barter with the candles. Stock up on wicks, and anything that can be used as a wick, like shoelaces.
Know how to make bar soap from scratch. Get a copy of “Primitive Soap Making.” If you can’t make soap, make sure to stockpile it. Great barter item!
Learn Leather working and recycle leather. Re-purpose old leather purses, and turn them into cast iron skillet handle covers, oven mitts and potholders. In a societal collapse and reorganization, people may not need a wallet, but they will need cast iron handle covers because more of them will be cooking over an open flame. There is always a need for leather belts, slings, straps and shoelaces for boots. Recycle old leather and turn it into a cottage industry.
Save containers to sell or barter. Large plastic canisters, small tins with lids, popcorn and candy tins, coffee cans (both metal and plastic). Keep old canning jars. There will be multiple uses for items like this in a grid-down scenario, especially to keep vermin out of food. The things we take for granted now will find sudden value.
Stockpile and recondition garden tools. [This is HOT!] Buy them at farm or estate auctions, garage sales, thrift stores. Clean them, sharpen them, restore them, and sell them. Familiarize yourself with the better brands so you know their true value. If you get the cheaper tools, fix them to last longer, as they will become worth their weight in gold. People are becoming anxious about access to food and millions more will start gardens this Spring. Watch for the price of rakes, shovels, hoes, trowels and tillers to skyrocket!
Save vegetable seeds and sell them. Get heirloom varieties that are hardy and save enough seeds to put together packets to sell before the next growing season. Be sure to save enough for your own needs, but set aside enough to sell or barter. This works especially well for people who can grow very large gardens, but even a small plot or container garden can grow food enough to save and sell seeds.
Start collecting items now to be a “General Store.” Collect items like patch kits, tools, blankets, warm coats, hats, scarves, flannel shirts, cast iron pots, skillets, and dutch ovens. Portable shelters like lightweight pup tents and tarps will become very valuable. Collect ropes of all kinds and for different uses. Stockpile handkerchiefs, bandannas, new combs and hairbrushes, matches, Superglue, bungee cords, duct tape, and long- handled cafeteria-style serving spoons (both metal and wooden). If you prefer to specialize, pay attention to what folks want but are getting too expensive to buy. These are items there will always be a market for but no one will be able to provide, unless you plan ahead. Alcohol, cigarettes, pipe and chewing tobacco and smoking accessories. These are heavily taxed products and will become rare after the stores are looted. If you can supply these items, you are in business.
Open a coffee stand and stockpile green coffee beans. Learn to roast them without electricity over an open flame. Grind them in an old-fashioned coffee grinder. Can you imagine what a single cup of fresh-brewed coffee will cost in a possible future where society is re-organizing after a collapse? Green coffee beans in air-tight cans have been available to preppers for a number of years, but the cans are small. Find a source for bulk green coffee beans and dry can them in 64-ounce canning jars. Coffee beans will not store for long periods of time because they are oily and go rancid, but you may be able to extend their shelf life to 5-7 years if you dry can them and remove oxygen from the jar. You might consider stockpiling freeze-dried instant coffee and store it in a cool, dark place like a dry basement. Stockpile sugar and coffee creamer as well.
Learn to cut hair. If I was just starting out after high school today, the only formal training I would even consider would be to go to barber or beautician school and learn to cut hair. This is an evergreen profession and regardless of how bad society becomes, people will always need haircuts. You can earn a living all day long with this skill, no matter what the future holds. Read this article – Desperate Times – The SHTF Haircut.
About the Author: This is a guest post by PJ Graves. PJ is a retired award-winning radio broadcaster, news reporter and writer, whose reporting has been featured on national radio networks and whose articles have been on Survivalblog, Prepper Website, Rapture Ready and various online news magazines. In addition to writing, PJ runs Golden Page Media*, a digital publishing business with free email newsletter featuring innovative ways to save money, side-gigs, prepping tips and little-known ways to change careers without going into debt or paying for training. She enjoys home church, living in Amish Country, exploring historic sites, classic films, cooking, volunteering at a local food bank, and small town living.