Job security is a thing of the past. We live in a system of at-will employment and have no protection from employers who lash out at employees for a variety of reasons, from political stance to sexual orientation to attractiveness. Gone are the days when you were guaranteed a good job, with pay increases, bonuses, health benefits and a pension plan so long as you did your job well. You could walk in to work any day and find yourself unemployed.
You have to be prepared for the worst. Having a large emergency fund is an ideal protection against the terror of unemployment, but if you're making minimum wage, it can be nearly impossible to build up. One of the best safety nets I have found is to have a few streams of income (Note: a great read on the subject is Multiple Streams of Income by Robert G. Allen).
First, it allows some flexibility in a strapped budget. If your minimum wage job just barely covers your expenses, it will be impossible to build up a safety net of 6-12 months living expenses. However, if you can start a side business at home, even if it's only earning a couple hundred a month, you can bank it all and increase your security in event of illness, layoff or firing.
This second (or third) income can also increase your independence from your employer. If your boss controls your paycheck and your paycheck is the only way you can pay your bills, then your boss controls whether or not you become homeless. However, if you can start generating some income from home, you have control. You may not be able to become completely self-employed, but you might be able to make enough money to pay rent and a few bills if the worst happens. Add up all necessary bills (rent, water, electricity, gas, etc) estimating on the high side. Leave out such expenditures as internet or cable as these are not necessary for survival. The amount you come up with should be your goal income for your side business. That way, if you found your main job gone, you can still survive with the aid of unemployment and perhaps a food pantry.
Self employment can be a wonderful way to make a living, if it suits your personality. You can pick your industry and your hours and you can maintain your ethical stance. When I worked in finance, I had a little side business selling books online. Years later, Trucker was able to take over and within a year was able to quit his day job. Out of your passion can grow a career.
There are many ways you can bring in extra money each month. Some offer a great return on the time, some offer little money, but may be enjoyable.
* online sales-antiques, collectibles, books, movies, magazines, records, games and CDs can be sold on half.com, amazon.com, and ebay.
* Etsy.com is a great way to sell crafty stuff-from homemade bags, to candles to crocheted dog sweaters as well as crafting supplies. You could try collecting pine cones, acorns, shells and pretty stones to sell for others to use in their crafting.
* Selling your body. No, not that. There are other ways to make money with your bod besides a street corner. You can sell blood plasma up to twice a week (if you make $30 each time, that's $3120 a year). Sell your hair online (OnlineHairAffair.com, Hairwork.com). Donating sperm can be an easy way to make some cash, although the pay won't be astounding. Ladies can sell their eggs for a large amount (I've heard various amounts ranging from $3000 to $7000), although you have to put a lot of time in for tests and procedures.
* Mystery shopping, if you go through a reputable company, can be a way to make a bit of money and reduce your expenses. If you like to go out to eat, you can mystery shop restaurants for free meals and perhaps a small check. Or you could go to a store to buy something you need and get reimbursed later, making the item free.
* Mypoints, swagbucks, inboxdollars and other "paid email/search" sites won't pay the bills. They do however, provide the occasional check to throw into savings, and the points can be redeemed for gas cards.
* If you enjoy writing and have something interesting to say, try selling your writing to both print or online magazines and newsletters. You could also write books, children's books, greeting cards, ads, business letters, etc.
* Craigslist gigs offers listings of short jobs such as extras for film, modeling, moving, housekeeping and babysitting. If you regularly respond to jobs, you can earn a decent amount.
* People are busy, so you can make money by saving others time. Errand running service, lawn/garden care, grocery shopping, housecleaning, pool cleaning, and organizing all pay well and you can work as little or much as you'd like.
* Direct sales are a mainstay in the "work-for-yourself" world. Avon, Mary Kay, Nature's Sunshine and other direct sales companies can bring in extra money if you are a good salesperson. Generally, you'll only be able to make a living with direct sales companies if you can sign up lots of other people to sell under you.
I try to always have at least one or two small jobs in addition to my main gig. I keep them on a smaller scale, as most of my time is dedicated to my job, but if I had to, I could pour a lot more time and energy into them to increase my earnings. I can also increase my earnings if I am saving for a particular goal, such as buying a new car/house or to take a vacation.