Amazon’s Mechanical Turk– A Real, Honest, Stay-at-home Job, by LAT

This article is not about practical survival skills; it’s quite the opposite. It is a pre-collapse idea only and will disappear post-SHTF. Why this is useful information is that it’s an idea that may let you make the leap to living at your retreat full-time sooner and help you make ends meet while other income sources are developed. It is a plan for your home-based business, requiring no start up capital, and it’s a job for which you are already hired. You won’t have to leave the house to work or to get paid. There is actually no selling either.

I, like many of you, am a stay-at-home mom. My husband works full time outside of the home and also works side jobs when he can. We took JWR’s advice about diversifying our income, and in addition to taking care of the household, raising children, gardening, and so on, I have a small home-based business. We are savers and are able to meet all of our needs with these income sources. However, there are still a few times a year when it seems like there is too much month left at the end of the money. There are also times when you just need to buy something that is bigger than the monthly budget allows. I started looking around for ways to bring in a few extra dollars, but it was hard with the schedule of a mother, as well as seasonal chores. When part-time jobs were available locally and seasonally (which is not often), they often had many applicants or strict hours, which precluded me. We weren’t looking for a lot extra, just enough that we could start to build up a bigger emergency fund and have a more ambitious purchasing plan than we had for items needed.

After a long time of searching, I came across Amazon’s Mechanical Turk ( . This was exactly what we were looking for, and it’s probably what you are looking for also. As I came to realize, it is a prepper’s best friend.

What is it? Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (“Mturk” for short) is a company started by Amazon in 2005 as a way to weed out duplicate pages on its website. It has since grown. It is not a “get rich quick” scheme or anything like that. Far from it. It is a web-based network of workers and employers. Requesters/employers post a “Human Intelligence Task” (“HIT” for short) on the Mturk website. In a nutshell, these are things a living, breathing human must do that computers are not capable of. Workers complete the task, and the employer approves or rejects the task. If it is approved, you get paid for it. Simple enough, right? Let’s dig a little deeper.

First the legal stuff. For U.S. workers, you need to be eligible to work in the U.S. They send a 1099 tax form out at the end of the year for your wages, and you are responsible for any taxes owed on it. Remember, you are a real employee doing real work, so you owe real taxes. You are considered a contractor.

Sign up is simple. You can sign up with your existing Amazon account information, but they will require a SSN or tax identification number and a few other things. You submit the application, it is reviewed within 48 hours, and you are ready to start to work.

What kind of work can you do? There are roughly 500,000 open HIT’s on MTurk at any given time. There is a huge variety of work to do. Some are psychology surveys for graduate students. Some are marketing research, like do you prefer packaging “A” or packaging “B”. There are audio transcriptions to be completed. Some ask you to record yourself saying certain words or phrases. (Think language learning CD’s. Someone has to read all those phrases in German.) Some ask you to classify a product into a category that you would use to search for it. Others want you to beta test a website and provide feedback, or write a short article for something. Others have you searching for certain terms on Google and then reporting the rankings and what major city you are near. Most are simple; some are more complex. I was a tad skeptical at first, but these are real, honest jobs. Each has its own payment and time frame to be completed. How many of these HITs are open to you depends on your ratings and qualifications.

MTurk has a very interesting “feedback” system, and it pays to do good, quality work. (Like any job, when does it not pay to do well?) Each HIT you accept is tracked, and you are ranked in certain categories. These categories include:

  • Total HITs accepted– how many you agreed to work on,
  • Total HITs submitted– how many you completed within the time frame allotted,
  • Total HITs returned– HITs you accept but return to allow someone else to do,
  • HITs abandoned– HITs you accepted but didn’t complete in the time frame and didn’t return,
  • HITs approved– how many of your HITs get accepted by the employer, and
  • HITs rejected– how many of your HITs get rejected by employers.

Employers can put certain requirements on jobs, such as total hits approved equaling more than 1000 or HIT approval rate is 95% or higher. As a general rule, the more restrictive the qualifications, the better the pay. I like this system much better than something like an eBay style system, where it can be manipulated. MTurk ratings provide a much clearer and honest picture of what each worker does.

In addition to the ratings above, you can also obtain “qualifications”. There are currently a little over 13,000 different qualifications that you can receive. These are granted by the employers. Some require a test, while others do not. As an example, one of the transcription companies has a sample transcription job as a test. You complete it and submit it. Your score is your rating and will qualify you for future transcription jobs. Others are confidentiality statements. Again, the more restrictive the qualification (i.e., can you speak Finnish fluently), the higher the pay.

Speaking of pay, I’m sure by this point you are wondering what the pay is and how it works. Honestly, it depends on the job. Some jobs, like rating jokes (yes, it’s a real job) pay a penny a joke. Others, like development of a web page or transcription of an hour-long audio (also both real jobs) pay $40.00. The majority that are available to newer workers pay between $0.05 and $2.00.

In order for you to get paid, you need to sign up for an Amazon Payments account. It is Amazon’s version of PayPal. An employer prepays Mturk for the work to be done and deposits the money into its account with Amazon Payments. When you complete a HIT, it gets sent to the employer to approve or reject. The default setting for employers is to auto approve completed hits after seven days. They can change this to a maximum of 30 days, meaning it could feasibly take up to 30 days to get paid for the job. Most approve HITs within a few days. Once your HIT is submitted and the employer approves it, that amount is transferred to your account. Amazon gets their cut by charging the employer a small fee per job. This fee is paid by the employer, not you. Amazon holds all funds for the first ten days of a new account. Once you have money in your Amazon Payments account, you can spend it directly and immediately on Amazon (how convenient for them!) or have it deposited into a bank account. Bank accounts must be linked like they are through PayPal. Once they are verified, transfers typically take two to three days to show up. We have a separate account we opened up specifically for PayPal, so we used this one. With the abundance of free checking accounts out there, I highly recommend opening up one specifically for this and/or PayPal.

When I got my email saying my application had been accepted, I couldn’t wait to begin. I excitedly told my husband all about it and set aside an hour one day to see how much money I could make. My first job was to write a 50 word answer to a debate question. Easy enough. That paid $0.15. My second job was a marketing research survey for packaging for a new cracker. That paid $1.00. In the first hour of work, I made a little over $8.00. Initially, I was frustrated. I applied one hour of my time, and I only made a little over minimum wage. Not to sound conceited, but my time is worth more than minimum wage.

Later that night, after the house had gone to bed, I sat down to give it another try. This is when the beauty of it hit me, and why I realized it was so prepper-friendly. I had gone about it wrong earlier by sitting down for an hour straight. Here was a job that I could do 24 hours a day, when it was convenient for me. I could do it five-minute HIT by five-minute HIT, if I wanted. I could spend 15 minutes in the morning, doing it while coffee brewed, and 15 minutes before bed. I could miss a week if I wanted to. I could truly do it at my own schedule. If I had to can vegetables that day and couldn’t get to any HITs, it didn’t matter. Likewise, if we got snowed in, I could do HITs all day.

Also, I could do it all at home in bed if I wanted. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection for the HITs, and honestly, some could be done on a smart phone. It is truly an all season, 24 hour a day, work at home, direct deposited job, with work available on demand. The application process is strictly determining if you are eligible, not having to go through a selection process. Whether home is an apartment in the city or a retreat in Montana, as long as there is Internet, you can do it. Most of the HITs do not contain video or images, so dial-up should work for it as well. You could even do it at the library computer if you are limited by that.

I settled on a goal of $5 a day. In pieces of time here and there, I tried to make my goal each day. Some days took five HITs. Other days it took 20 HITs to meet my goal. On a few days, I only made $1.50, while others I made $10. At the end of the first 30 days though (honestly only 26 days, since I didn’t work on Sundays) I had beat my goal and made $180. This is not a huge amount but is very respectable. This represents many things– eight or nine ounces of silver, a new .22 rifle, an extra trip or two to the grocery store, or an extra car or credit card payment. This did not require me to change anything that I was doing. I took advantage of some “down” time I had to be productive. When you think about this over a year, you are looking at roughly $1800. I know of very few homesteads that could not use an extra $1800. If you are on a super strict budget and started to use Mturk, you could buy two PTR91s or an ounce and half of gold after a year with no changes to your income. We decided to wait until we reached $240 in the account to withdraw anything. $20 went in an envelope for our tax liability. (You don’t want to forget to set that aside!) $20 went for a donation to charity. $100 went to savings for a rainy day, and $100 went to our purchasing plan. We withdraw the money when the account reached this amount for ease of budgeting, rather than making a monthly withdrawal. As stated above, it showed up in our account three days after making the transfer online. The couple that told me about Mturk each has their own account. Hers goes to buy Christmas and birthday presents, and his goes to buy new guns.

Some people are able to make a modest living strictly off of Mturk. In the event of a job loss, I think it could help hold you over till a new job was found. If you had two adults doing it, you could make even more money. I think it is a huge blessing for prepper families who are rural and don’t have part-time jobs available nearby or where work is only available seasonally. You can even do it on a bus or train commute. It may be the extra income stream needed to make the move to your retreat full-time. It could really help the self-esteem of a disabled or older family member and allow them to enjoy a way to still contribute. If you are in the unlucky position of having a spouse that does not support prepping, it may be a good way to go about a purchasing plan without disagreements over budgeting. The possibilities are endless.

Here are a few final thoughts on the matter. Like anything, there are some bad apples. Amazon tries to run a tight ship, but with 500,000 HITs, some things slip through. Amazon hosts the site but is not responsible for content. It is up to workers and employers to police it. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If a 30-second survey pays $50, it’s probably not real. If anything asks you to download software to complete the HIT, don’t do it. This is a violation of HIT rules and should be reported to Amazon. There is a small amount of adult content on some Mturk HITs. Some are things like reviewing flagged images or surveys about sexual habits. These are very clearly marked on the listing page, and as such, are easily avoided. Even HITs that MAY contain adult material are very clearly labeled for easy avoidance, so you will not accidentally stumble across them. People try to use computer programs to complete HITs, so many HITs have test/reliability questions built in to them to ensure a live human is completing the job, such as “If you are reading this question, please select item 4” or something of the sort. Read all instructions. Do good work. It pays. Employers can and will give you a bonus above and beyond the stated amount for quality work. I did a HIT that was to beta test a website. I had an issue with one portion of the page. Rather than just point out the issue, I included my ideas for fixing and improving it. In addition to the $0.80 the job paid, I was given a bonus of $1.00. Good work also leads to future work. Employers will email you directly with a link for new HITs when you have done quality work. Capitalism is alive and well, with workers going after high-paying jobs and employers rewarding good workers.

I hope you try Mturk. It is a very friendly, easy way to make actual money from home and is available on demand to all. My husband’s French grandmother was very fond of the saying “Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.” It translates to “little by little, the bird builds it nest”. We are continuing to build our nest, one HIT at a time.

God Bless!