I use Pinterest a lot. My home feed these days is split about half and half between my friends’ posts and others’ posts that Pinterest thought I might like based on my interests. Because I enjoy working from home and making money, I get lots of suggestions about ways to make money from home. And most of them are terrible. Lots are just medium-terrible, like writing jobs where you retain zero rights to your work and hand it over for pennies. Many are maximum-terrible, like the gem that came up on my feed yesterday and inspired me to write this post:

“Make money selling your used toilet roll on eBay!”

No, I’m begging you…don’t. I think about the commitment this requires: constantly picking rolls out of the recycling when your family “forgets” about your “job”, filling your living space with boxes upon boxes of the things, lovingly photographing and listing and packing and shipping all your little cardboard tubes. People do this, of course. And maybe they make enough money to cover the financial cost of packing, shipping, and paying for eBay and PayPal fees…barely. But there’s one factor that people seem to forget when they’re working out whether their work at home endeavors are profitable.

Ladies and gentleman, I am begging you: factor in the cost of your time.

It may be easy, when working for yourself, to think of your own time as being free. Perhaps it would help to not think of yourself as self-employed, but rather imagine your buyer as your boss. Think of the person buying your box of 200 used toilet rolls for whatever craft madness they’re planning as your boss. Imagine they want you to work for 10 hours and take up 5 square feet of your home (what does your home cost per square foot? Factor that in too) for that box, and they’re only willing to pay you $10 for it. What!?!? That’s criminally low! You would never work for that! Right?

Where it gets complicated is where parents are concerned. An ever-increasing number of women are now self-employed, and as a self-employed mom myself, it’s easy to see how women fall into the trap of doing severely under-valued work. Working from home now mainly means working online, and when you’re selling a service online, like writing, photography, design, etc, you find yourself butting up against students trying to build portfolios and foreign workers who live in countries where wages are typically much lower than they are here in Canada and the US. It becomes easier to justify doing work for these competitive low rates when you consider that at least you get to stay at home, squeeze work in during nap times, and avoid paying for childcare.

I would argue that maybe it would be better for everyone if, as a stay at home mom (if that’s your situation), you used nap times to relax, pursue a hobby, or catch up on housework, rather than frantically trying to meet deadlines to earn $5-$20 a day. If your entire day’s work adds up to a single pumpkin spice latte, maybe you’re better off finding ways to save $5 a day (like not drinking that pumpkin spice latte) and saving your sanity.

I’m not saying that stay at home moms should not try to work and make that money. But think critically. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of “someone will give me money for this!” and stop to consider your options and pursue only the avenues that are most profitable and fit your life best. This is an important thing to learn whether you’re a stay at home parent trying to contribute to the bills, or the CEO of a large company. Just because something generates some revenue doesn’t mean it’s worth your time to do it.

Here are some things to consider when trying to figure out how to make money from home:

  1. Figure out what your time is worth. A good place to start would be to take the pay rate from the last job you held. If it was a salaried position, divide it by how many hours you were working in a year. If it looks low to you, feel free to aim higher! But make that the very base. It’s totally fine to make much less working at home than you were making at a full-time job (if you can be financially stable in that situation), but your rate for the time you put in should stay pretty similar, or else you might as well just go back to work.
  2. If you doing something more entrepreneurial (as opposed to just freelance work, which is a pretty straightforward transaction), you may have to invest time the same way you would invest money in a new business. This is fine, but set guidelines from the outset: how long will you have to work before you start making profit? When will you get paid for the time you are putting in? When will you pull the plug if the money’s just not there?
  3. Consider your passion. I doubt that selling toilet paper rolls on ebay is your passion, but hey, I don’t know your life. This is the big exception item: if you are excited and passionate about something, and if it is as much a hobby that you enjoy as it is a business-making venture, then it might be worth your time even if it brings in only a pittance. I would still encourage you not to undervalue your work, and set prices high for things like lovingly handmade items that you put a lot of time and effort into. And if it ever stops being fun and isn’t very profitable, scale it back to a hobby again and don’t worry about it.
  4. Consider alternatives. I know it sounds like I’m telling you to turn down money-making ventures, and you might be thinking “but I NEED money, and I can’t afford to just not do this stuff!” If making $5-$20 a day would make a huge difference in your life, I would venture to say your finances are quite strained. Which sucks, but it happens to the best of us. I’m not telling you that that amount of money is worthless. I’m telling you that you can do better. If you’re considering working from home for less than minimum wage, maybe it’s worth considering getting a part-time job out of the house for 10-15 hours a week instead. Some minimum wage jobs are really quite pleasant; I never pass a “help wanted” sign at a fancy coffee shop without having a little daydream about spending my days chatting with friendly strangers and pouring little hearts in cappuccinos. I have often actually seriously considered trying to do this once or twice a week as a change of pace, but as I make more than minimum wage working from home, I have to say no and stick to something that meets my requirements of what my time is worth. Keep searching for work at home ventures if that’s what your heart is set on; there are definitely some out there where you can actually make a good living, like sponsored blogging (check out izea.com), Amazon FBA selling, eBay selling (not toilet paper rolls), writing for higher pay sites (they exist!) and even direct sales, if you have that special personality that allows some people to be really successful with those types of businesses (I do not). Try some different things, give them a fair shot, and jump ship if your time is being wasted.
  5. Save instead. Again, if $5-$20 a day would actually make a big difference in your life, you might want to ease financial strain on the other side of the equation: reduce your expenses rather than scrambling to make more money. Are you a 2-vehicle family when you could probably survive with just one? Do you and your kids always buy clothes and shoes brand new, when you could probably find perfectly good stuff at thrift or consignment stores? Have you talked to a financial planner at your bank to make sure you’re handling your finances as well as possible? I’m not a fan of what I call “extreme thriftiness” where you spent an inordinate amount of time coupon-clipping or making complicated items from scratch to avoid paying retail for them; again, your time has value that needs to be considered. But I am a fan of living within your means. For me this means raising a family in an apartment instead of a house, and sharing a beat-up economy car with my husband. Of course I would prefer to have a beautiful house with a yard and my own new car. But I prefer not to have to pinch pennies in my day-to-day life, so I try to save on the big stuff. Do whatever feels right for you and lets you live comfortably.

Do you make real money working from home? Share your tips below!