My husband and I are working on paying off six figures of debt in just three short years – on entry-level salaries.  Living frugally only goes so far – we can scrimp like crazy and be frugal weirdos, but at a certain point, it’s impossible to save more.

We can only save so much, but we can always earn more.

Increasing our income is an essential part of our goal of paying off $117,000 of student loan debt in three years.  As such, I’ve been looking into several ways to start “side hustling” and increasing my income.

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Recently, a friend from high school (who I hadn’t heard from at all in 8 years) sent me a message on Facebook inviting me to her Jamberry party.  For those who aren’t familiar with Jamberry, it’s yet another multi-level marketing company (others include Beachbody, Scentsy, and The Pampered Chef).

MLMC’s often advertise flexible hours, the ability to work from home, and no prior experience needed.  Sounds awesome, right?


MLMC’s often prey on vulnerable individuals, use guilt to drive sales, and mislead recruits with unrealistic promises of wealth and early retirement.

My first experience with a MLM company

When I was in high school, I worked for a local bagel shop on the weekends.  One day, two friendly ladies came in, and instead of ordering a bagel or a coffee, they started chatting with me about their business.  They were selling healthy green smoothies and they offered me one in a small cup.  If someone were to approach me like this today, I would politely decline the offer to drink a beverage being handed to me by a total stranger.  But I was 16 years old and I didn’t want to be rude to a customer.

The green drink tasted awful, but I smiled and pretended it was delicious.  The ladies then started pressuring me to attend a party at one of their houses.  I certainly wasn’t going to agree to go to a stranger’s home, and I told them I would consider it.  They seemed irritated by this and continued to be pushy for several minutes until an actual customer walked in and they finally gave up.

I assumed that it was some kind of scam, and when I went home, I asked my parents what they thought about it.  “It sounds like a pyramid scheme,” they said.

What is a pyramid scheme?

In a multi-level marketing (MLM) strategy, salespeople are compensated not only for the sales of products, but also for the other salespeople that they recruit.  It is often difficult to tell the difference between a multi-level marketing company and a pyramid scheme.  The latter focuses more on recruiting new salespeople over selling the product.  In a pyramid scheme, the company makes more money off of recruiting (salespeople have to pay to join the company or pay for the products they are going to sell) than it makes off of sales of its products.

I’m generally not a fan of either one.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have personal experience with EVERY multi-level marketing company out there (and there are tons of them), so it’s entirely possible that there are some MLM companies that are ethical and keep their promises.

Unfortunately, there are also many MLM organizations that behave unethically and mislead their recruits.

Preying on vulnerable individuals

Rich people don’t typically don’t join MLMC’s as entry-level salespeople.  Who does?  People who need to make more money.  People who have student loans.  People with credit card debt.  Parents of young children.

People who are barely scraping by.

These people look for ways to increase their income.  They consider getting a part-time job but wonder if the hours will be too demanding or if a PT job will get in the way of their full-time job.

And then they discover an MLMC.  The MLMC promises limited hours, high sums of cash, and financial freedom.

It almost sounds too good to be true…because it is.

Then the MLMC starts encouraging the person to put money “back into” her business – to buy the products that she will (hopefully) sell.  She has to spend money to make money.  She needs to invest in her business.


Because the MLMC doesn’t care about you or your financial struggles.  They want to make money off of you.

Guilt-ing your friends and relatives into making purchases

In addition to making money off of you by charging you a fee to join and encouraging you to purchase the MLMC’s products, the MLMC also wants to make money off of your family and friends.  They do this by asking you to host “parties” at your home.  Ever been to a Tupperware, jewelry, or supplement party?  It was probably an MLMC.

Most of your contacts probably aren’t that interested in the product, and those who do attend the parties are probably only doing so out of a sense of obligation or guilt.  Many of them may not even be able to afford the products – MLMC products tend to be quite expensive compared to other similar products that your party guests could buy in a store.

Unrealistic promises of wealth and early retirement

Many MLMC’s lure in recruits by telling them stories of other salespeople who have been able to quit their day jobs and make the MLMC their full-time business.  They neglect to mention that this isn’t common.  A few people make a lot of money working for an MLMC, but the majority of MLMC salespeople only make a little money.  While it’s possible that you could earn a six figure income working for an MLMC, it’s also highly unlikely.

A final note!

Again, I’m not saying that EVERY multi-level marketing company uses misleading advertising and unethical tactics to make money.  But, unfortunately, many MLMC’s do.  Instead of joining an MLMC, why not try earning extra income in one of the following ways?

  • Get a part-time job – the hours will probably be less flexible, but you’ll know exactly how much you are going to be compensated (many MLMC’s have complex commission structures that are difficult to understand).
  • Sell items on eBay or start an Etsy shop
  • Do freelance work or create your own business
  • Rent out your home using AirBnb
  • Walk dogs or pet sit
  • Give plasma
  • Complete surveys or participate in research studies
  • Start a blog – it will take time and effort before you start to earn income from your blog, but you can set your own schedule, work from home, and write articles on something that you’re passionate about.

How do you feel about multi-level marketing companies?

Other stuff you might like:

My Personal Finance “Aha” Moment
9 Ways to Get Free Yoga Classes
How to Start a Blog in 5 Easy Steps
Married Couples: Should You File Your Taxes Jointly or Separately?
How to Stop Fighting With Your Spouse About Money

Personal Finance Resources:

Retire Inspired by Chris Hogan
YOLO: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life by Jason Vitug
Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley

Blogging Resources:

How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup
365 Blog Topic Ideas for the Lifestyle Blogger Who Has Nothing to Write About by Dana Fox
Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income by ProBlogger