Barry Smith: Take this job and stuff it |

Barry Smith: Take this job and stuff it

Barry Smith

“Earn $35-$40 an hour working from home stuffing envelopes,” the ad in the back of the magazine read.

I had seen this ad many times before, but it seemed like the time was right to finally give it a try. Envelope-stuffing is a job that I’m fully qualified for, I thought. Though I’ve never technically “stuffed” an envelope, I have put stuff in one and sealed it. “Stuffing” can’t be a huge leap from my current envelope-related skill set.

This was 20 years ago. Maybe those ads are still out there. I don’t know, nor am I going to spend any time researching it. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to see them because my brain stopped registering them shortly after I finally sent in my money for the envelope-stuffing secret to success.

(Caution! Spoilers ahead.)

First of all, let’s ponder that hourly wage for a moment. $35 to $40 an hour is righteous bucks. And these were 1990 dollars. This was almost quadruple what I was making at the time, and the work I was doing was nowhere near as creatively satisfying as stuffing envelopes surely would turn out to be.

I was a bit hesitant to answer the ad at first, as I was still stinging from the “Make Money Reading Books” fiasco from earlier that same year.

That one seemed to have real promise. Make money reading books! This combined two of my favorite activities — making money and napping on the couch with an open book on my chest.

I sent in my $25 (Money Back Guarantee!) to find out the secret to making money reading books. The kit — and I use that word loosely because it was really just a few photocopied pages stapled together — that arrived explained exactly how this is done. First, you read a book — specifically a book that has been published recently. (So much for retroactive pay for all those books I had to slog through in high school.) Then, after you’re finished reading the book, you write a book review of said book, and you get someone to pay you for it.


Oh, and the money-back guarantee? Well, in order for that to happen, you need to provide at least one official rejection letter from someone who is not interested in publishing your book review.

Even the refund seemed like more work than I was willing to do when you factor in everything involved — four or five weeks (if I’m focused) to actually read a book, several more weeks to write a review, then type it ­— yes, type it — then (foreshadowingly) stuff it in an envelope and mail it and then send along the rejection letter that I’d most certainly receive. Man, that’s like 75 hours of work just to get my $25 back — just to break even! No, I think envelope-stuffing is going to be much more my speed.

I imagined my little envelope-stuffing factory all set up in my small bedroom. I’d need a table, of course. I could probably get one of those from the Dumpster. Once things really got rolling, I’d need one of those little envelope-licker sponge bottles. I’d need — well, that’s about it. Astoundingly low overhead for this gig. Some people have to invest an awful lot of money to pull down such an hourly wage — like paying for college and stuff — but I’d be in it for pennies. Pennies!

I sent in my $14.95 to learn the secret of how to make money stuffing envelopes. A week later, a very familiar-looking “kit” arrived and, as advertised, explained in detail how you can make money, at home, by stuffing envelopes.

Here’s how:

You print up lots of fliers advertising the secret to earning $35 to $40 stuffing envelopes — for only $14.95. Then you “stuff” (very important step — it’s the “stuffing” that separates you from the amateurs and their “putting”) these fliers in envelopes and mail them to a bunch of people. When someone sends you the money, you send them the very same “kit,” which I received, one that essentially contains the long version of this paragraph.

And that’s it.

In retrospect, I can appreciate the circular beauty of it. But I didn’t have the luxury of pondering it at the time.

I was already late for work.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays.