smart spending

5 hobbies that can make you money

Macklin's business thrives because she delivers. She's proud to say she's never returned a purchase.

"I've done many, many different things, but something that has always been a constant is wardrobe consulting," she says. "I have certain clients who keep coming back to me season after season and year after year. It used to be women who were executives who were pregnant two or three times and just wanted to throw everything away and start over again, but now it might be a bunch of outfits for a trip or a wedding trousseau.

"One just never knows. Every job is different; that's what so wonderful about it."

Macklin charges a flat fee of $45 an hour, door to door. She hasn't changed her fee in years, nor does she advertise or even have a Web site. People find her through word of mouth or her occasional lecture appearances.

Her clients are evenly split between men and women. She has purchased everything from cars to Picassos. She knows some of her clients so well that she'll even pick up items for them on pleasure trips to New York or Connecticut.

She won't take kickbacks from any store. And although she was a mystery shopper for years, she won't work for a single store because she doesn't want them limiting her shopping options.

"If you want to put an outfit together and really do a great job, you might have to go to three or four different stores," she explains. "And I like to do it from head to toe, because to wear a pair of 1970s shoes with a 2008 outfit is so -- ecch!"

So, what is the worst thing about being a personal shopper?

"It's unpredictable," Macklin says. "You can't expect a steady income. You can't say Christmastime will be your busiest time; sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't."

The best part is a no-brainer, she says.

"It feels good," Macklin says. "You're doing something good for people."

Personal shopper business
  • Skills: shopping for men, women, children and pets.
  • Market: busy professionals, the elderly, disabled or fashion-challenged.
  • Opportunities for growth: Macklin doesn't even advertise. Need we say more?

Day lilies

Got a green thumb? You might want to sow a money crop like day lilies into your garden this spring.

"Most people who sell day lilies get started as a hobby," says Kathy Lamb, owner of Loon Song Gardens in Champlin, Minn. "When you grow day lilies, you become very passionate about them and love to select different varieties. You do this for a few years and fill up your gardens and at some point you make the decision that you must dig these up, divide them and get rid of some of them. That's when some people start selling their day lilies."

Day lilies are wonderfully whimsical flowering plants. They are neither true lilies nor bulbs. You harvest them by splitting the part below ground, called a crown, into two or more new plants, called "divisions" or "fans."

Here's where it gets economically interesting: U.S.-grown, field-harvested day lilies are more expensive than their imported counterparts. However, U.S. lilies bloom in one to two years and sell better than the tissue-cultured day lily imports available at your local discount stores, which often take three times as long to bloom.

Lamb says common varieties like Stella de Oro sell from $3 to $5 a double fan, while new introductions can retail for $300 to $500 for a single fan. Some even sell at auction for up to several thousand dollars.

Because all day lilies from a new hybrid (there are some 60,000 registered with the American Hemerocallis Society, or AHS) start as divisions from the original plant, their price can remain in the $100 to $150 price range for 10 years until supply catches up to demand.

The best way to break into the business is through a local day lily club; you can find a listing of these as well as valuable regional symposiums on the AHS Web site. Day lily growers like Lamb prefer to ship them bare-root, wrapped in paper or sawdust.

Day lilies business
  • Skills: basic gardening, some market research.
  • Market: retail to home gardeners, landscapers (locally to worldwide).
  • Opportunities for growth: develop and patent your own hybrids for optimal return on investment.

With a sturdy Web site and a few in-demand varieties, you can harvest cash from your day lily garden in no time. If you ship out of state, however, be sure to check with your state department of agriculture to see if a nursery license or certificate is required.

Lamb says the wholesale market is probably unrealistic for most hobbyists.

"That would require a really sizable production area," she says. "You would be selling to other nurseries and they would want quantities in the thousands. You would need to have some field space to be a wholesaler."


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