How to Make Money from Your Phone: Do Cash Apps Really Work?

By Shane Dayton |

Most people take their phone wherever they go.

Unless you're hitting an isolated canyon for a backcountry kayaking trip or intentionally spending time away, chances are your smartphone is with you. In the age of so many online opportunities this brings up a question that makes a lot of sense: how can you make money on your smartphone? Is this even possible?

The truth is that there are ways to make your phone work for you. So how do you learn how to make money on your phone?

One of the biggest things to understand is that there are direct methods and indirect methods to using your smartphone to make money. There are a few options that are mostly passive or direct, but these generally won't pay as well. There are also indirect options. In this case having the phone is necessary because it allows you to take on gig work that otherwise wouldn't be available.

This article covers all of these options. Read on for direct and indirect methods of how to make money on your phone.

Small Task Apps

smartphone apps

One of the most direct ways is looking at apps that focus on doing small tasks. These can be online surveys on your mobile phone, rating a commercial, or filling in data for a product. These are usually simple fast tasks. Because of that they also don't pay much. But if you're on the bus or waiting room, why not make the most of it?

There are four big apps to turn to when looking at making extra cash with small task apps.


This consistently comes up as one of the favorite apps of people used to making money off of their mobile phones. Swagbucks allows you to earn points, referred to as Swagbucks aka “SB.” In this situation SB points can't be exchanged for direct cash.

Start using Swagbucks right here.

Swagbucks can be earned through a variety of things. This includes short surveys, answering a daily poll question, or having shopping tracked. All these slowly add to the SB points that you collect over the course of months or a year.

That said, they can be exchanged for Amazon gift cards. These can be used, sold for profit, or used to buy things you then flip. There are several ways that a small amount of daily time investment on Swagbucks can lead to profit over the course of the year.

Start earning with Swagbucks!


InboxDollars is an app that actually does pay you directly for doing what you do anyway. Instead of using Google or Firefox to jump online with your phone, use the InboxDollars search engine. The first five searches in a day earn a penny each, and then another cent for every two searches after that up to 15 cents a day.

Yes, it's only 15 cents. But most people mindlessly end up visiting dozens of sites and hundreds of web pages a day. Get that easy 15 cents for doing what you're going to do anyway and it's $55 a year. That's a great easy way to get paid something or a minimal amount of time investment.


If this seems a lot like Swagbucks, there's a reason for it. Basically you can do the same style of tasks to earn points that can then be traded in for gift cards. These are not just Amazon gift cards either. There is a variety of different gift cards to choose from and sometimes a task might be worth more points here than on Swagbucks.

Otherwise if you're familiar with how Swagbucks work, you can earn with MyPoints. One easy description is to think of MyPoints as a sort of sister site to Swagbucks. Same type of tasks. Same type of rewards. Both work basically the same way.

Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk has been a popular way of earning free gift cards for quite some time. MTurk, another name for Mechanical Turk, offers payment in gift cards or cash. Depends on the job, the task, and sometimes the choice of the user.

These are a long list of various tasks that are generally very short. Fill in a description for a picture of a product. Match numbers. Proofread a bit of copy. These are generally very small tasks. Because of that they don't pay well on a task by task basis. That said, since you can do these tasks so quickly you can really stack them up in an hour.

Admittedly, Amazon Mechanical Turk does tend to work a little bit better on computers or tablets. That said, for most tasks you can use MTurk on the phone. It might not be as quick or efficient, but this isn't a full-time job.

Investment Apps

investing information paper and tablet

The second type of smartphone app that can help you get paid for using them are investment apps. These help you save for retirement. Whether part of the FIRE movement or just automating savings for the future, investment apps are a great tool.

This allows you to save every single time you make a purchase. While it might not seem like much at first, the savings definitely add up. Ever see one of those charts about the power of compounding? Put that to your advantage while creating your retirement savings! Investment options are one of the best way to get paid from using your extra savings in a smart way. This is also passive income at its finest.


Acorns is one of the most popular investment apps out there. Every purchase you make gets rounded up to the nearest dollar. The difference gets automatically invested. That $4.60 purchase becomes $5 with 40 cents going towards your investments.

Those purchases can really stack up. There's no account minimum and by automating investing with small amounts this can help budget-strapped individuals still invest bit by bit. Over the long haul this can really build up. As anyone with a large retirement account can attest to.

The one caveat is that you need to invest at least $1 per month. Though that really shouldn't be a problem.

Acorns offers one other thing worth looking at. Over 300 companies have partnered with them to allow cash bonuses when you shop at those online stores. That cash bonus goes straight into your investments with Acorns. If they're someone you're going to buy from anyway, that's free bonus money.


Robinhood is another investment app that has received a lot of attention and praise. This is more complex than Acorns. Why is this? Because with Robinhood you can trade stocks, mutual funds, and other financial products. This means more opportunities but also more complexity.

How do you make money with Robinhood? This is about investing and trading. You can invest as little as $1, there are over 5,000 investment options, and there are no fees charged for your trades. So the making money comes from short and long term investments in the market.

While it's not a direct money maker you get the tools you need to create your long-term safety net for retirement.


Betterment is a very interesting app because it is a hybrid. The Betterment app is both a savings app as well as an investment app. A penny saved is a penny earned, after all. Good investments are also the best way for most people to build wealth.

Betterment has you create your own personal goals. I love this because you choose the benchmarks or goals. It's not cookie cutter, this is your plan. Betterment then creates that personalized plan which takes into account your goals, your income, your lifestyle, and helps you create a plan to achieve those savings goals.

Betterment charges a .25% annual fee. This is more than a zero fee mutual fund, but far less than most actively managed funds. You get a budget and savings goals. Betterment also gives you the option of creating an automatic monthly deposit. Set it, forget it, and watch how fast the money grew when you check up on it months down the line!

Shopping Apps

woman shopping

Shopping apps are a common way for individuals to make money with their phone. These usually won't make you rich, but they are useful. Whether through offering special coupons and deals or getting you cash back post purchase, there are some really good potentially money saving shopping apps out there.


Ibotta is a very popular app. It manages to combine two great things most people enjoy: getting money and being lazy. Using Ibotta is very easy, and it actually pays in cash. Ibotta has a rebates section. Check on this section each day. Do you see anything you were planning on buying? Anything that you have already bought before you knew about the rebate? No problem! Take a picture of the receipt and you will get the rebate. Cash back to you! These aren't really rare items, either. There are common groceries and other items every single day. You're not limited on how often you can cash out. Every time you're above $5, you can check out via PayPal.

Ibotta frequently offers sign up bonuses of actual cash. This gives you all the more reason to look at adding this app to your smartphone.

Start saving with Ibotta


Shopkick is a shopping app that is also extremely popular with many shoppers. This is an app you use that will help you get rewards for buying things you were likely to buy anyway. You scan barcodes when you buy items to get points. These Shopkick points can then be redeemed for gift cards.

In this case there is no cash back, but if you get $100 of items via gift card through the year that's $100 more you can have in the bank.


Rakuten is an app focused on finding ways to give bonus cash back. The main idea is to focus on certain retailers. You can look at the online deals and if there is one that you were going to purchase anyway, you could get up to a 40% rebate.

This is a rebate-style app meaning you eventually get reimbursed later. Payment comes four times a year, once during each quarter. You can get paid by check, PayPal, or via gift card. Purchases make through the Rakuten app are eligible for these rebate savings.

Working Apps

The best way you can make a lot of money using your phone is through working. Because of the number of delivery apps or gig apps that have appeared, the options for making money are really impressive. These apps come in a variety of different forms.

Here are just a few of them. They are a combination of big names as well as some very niche money making apps that can help show you just how many opportunities there are for making money on your phone.


There's no denying the impact that both Uber and Lyft have had in the United States. These ride share apps allow you to play the role of amateur taxi and earn extra cash by taking people from point A to point B. Having your smartphone on you is a must to use the app and provide the ride service that people are ordering.

There are many side hustlers who use both of these apps at once. There are even other ride share apps that are very niche specific. You can tell people when a ride is available to a certain grocery store or even pick the area where you will pick someone up along the way.

These types of ride apps are a great way to earn extra money using your smartphone, and your vehicle.


Grocery delivery services like Instacart are only increasing in popularity. Don't have time to go to the store? Can't for health reasons? Is the car busted? Or maybe sometimes you just don't feel like. Whatever the reasons, there is plenty of demand for people willing to do some shopping for others and drop the groceries off.

You get a set amount for each delivery, with a little bit extra for heavy deliveries. The real money is managing to grab big tip orders. While most orders will have relatively modest tips, if you can find a 10 or 20% tip on a $200 order, that's when this can make some pretty good returns. It does take a vehicle and willingness to shop with your phone, but the potential earnings are there.

There's a reason this is such a popular side hustle.

You can also try Uber Eats right here.

Arbitrage Apps

Do you love finding a deal? Have you always wondered if you could turn a profit by buying everything off of the clearance shelves? Arbitrage apps like the Amazon Seller App, Profit Bandit, or Scoutify allow you to scan a bar code and see what these items are selling for on various online platforms.

These apps will also give information on a “sales score” which will let you know if it is selling or not. You can get an idea of what the average selling point is. If you see items on sale for $4 each and they are a hot seller on Amazon for $25 each, you might want to buy them all up!

Retail arbitrage is actually more possible than ever because of these smart phone apps. BookScouter is a similar niche app that lets you scan old text book ISBN codes and see what others are willing to offer for it. This is mostly for used text books. There are also apps for various niches like antique books, antiques, or other niche items.

This requires some active searching. However, if you love to hit garage sales or retail sales this could be an amazing way to make money.

Don't Fall for Time-Wasting Apps

There are apps that talk about playing games for extra money or taking surveys or earn cash on apps. While some of these exist, you shouldn't waste your time with them. Many are more scam than fact, and even those that pay out aren't as good as the other options in this article. Why? Because the time investment is huge compared to payout.

Survey apps are almost always a bad use of your time. Watching videos for a penny a piece, limit two a day, with cash out at $50…well do the math on that one. If you want to get paid then you need to get apps that allow you to actually earn money or legitimate gift card points in a reasonable time.

If something is offering “Apps for cash” or “Cash for app use,” be very cautious. The best apps to help you earn money on your smartphone don't need to be as flashy and they will be specific on how they work. If you don't know how you earn cash by using a certain app, then chances are you should bounce to a better choice.

In Conclusion

There are a few ways that your phone can be used to make money for you. If you find yourself on your phone a lot, use a combination of them. None of these individually is going to make you rich. However, using a combination of these to make your downtime work for you can really add up over time.

Keep an eye out for new apps trying to break into this market. There are many different options. Some won't be that good. Once in a while you'll find a gem. When you use a combination of these apps to earn money you can get some decent results over time. 

Side Hustles

By Shane Dayton

Shane has been a full-time writer since 2005. Shane has a degree in English & Creative Writing from Coe College (2002) and an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction Emphasis) from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (2007).

Shane spent years using his online writing skills to earn a living online and live the life of a digital nomad. After learning about affiliate marketing and SEO he has since created several niche sites to further increase his business income.

Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?

Yes! I Love to Learn

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