True money stories from smart people: How to make money from others' misery

19 July 2016

“Where there’s muck there’s brass,” the saying goes, but what about “where there’s misery, there’s moolah”? Has anyone noticed that one?

Well, quite a few people, actually. Some smart folk have spotted several ways that misery – at least other people’s misery – can make money for them.

A young American, Scott Rosenbaum from New Jersey, worked out recently that a friend in need is... a great business opportunity. He set up a website called Rent a Friend (yes, really) where people pay a monthly fee to get in contact with potential ‘friends’ near them. When they find someone they’d like to have as a friend, they agree to pay the ‘friend’ hourly and, if both parties are happy, they hang out.

These ‘friends’ can make between £5 and £30 an hour, probably depending on how often they can say, “No,your bum doesn’t look big in that”, “Forget her, she was never good enough for you”, and “Yes, officer, he was watching TV at my place on the night of the murder.”


Then there’s Susan Fox, a copywriter in Boston USA (clever, these Americans) who wrote herself a lonely hearts ad 10 years ago, which resulted in 31 dates and a husband.

She now charges $400 to $450 (£275 to £310) a go to write astounding lonely hearts ads for others, mostly women, along the lines of “Cameron Diaz-type. Sensual, slender, smart, tall, strikingly pretty,” or “the sophistication and high cheekbones of Cate Blanchett with the personality of the young Katharine Hepburn”.

These may sound a little unrealistic, but they’re better than “high-mileage nightmare, Botoxed to the skies who’s been through three husbands and has a prescription drug habit that makes Anna Nicole Smith look like a Quaker”.

As we all know, sometimes people just need a hug. What we don’t all know is that you can make a good living from this. Kitty Mansfield, from Richmond, London (at last, a Brit!) runs She regularly opens her arms to people who ‘crave intimacy’ (mostly men) and want to cuddle up on the sofa, or even in her bed, but non-sexually and wearing pyjamas or tracksuit bottom.

She lets clients bring their favourite pillow, ‘blanky’ or teddy. For this, she charges £25 for half an hour, £45 for an hour or £95 for the two-hour ‘Silver Screen Snuggle’. Not bad for drinking cocoa and watching Fast and Furious.

Even dying can be a business opportunity for some even if you’re not a funeral director. Professional mourners or moirologists, to give them their official title, who attend strangers’ funerals to make them look popular, have been in practice for well over 2,000 years, mostly in Asia and the Middle East. But now they’re making a few quid per wake in parts of the UK.

Rent-a-Mourner, based in Essex, has a staff of 22 who attend the funerals of strangers. In fact, rising life expectancy (the deceased has outlived family and friends) and multiculturalism (the deceased is new to the country) has led to a steady rise in the number of bookings for professional mourners, who can make £50 to £90 a day doing this.

All of which begs the question, if you can earn money being kind and caring – or at least giving a pretty good show of it – can the milk of human kindness actually save you money?


It seems that anything that keeps your friends and family close and supportive has to be a sound financial decision. At least you won’t have to pay for a friend or the occasional cuddle. And perhaps they even will look after you in old age.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine who was at the swimming pool with his young son recently watching other dads interacting – or not – with their kids. He noticed how so many of the men ignored or brushed off the adoration of their offspring as they splashed around calling out to them, trying to get their attention. “What a collateral* of love they’re wasting,” he sighed.

*In lending agreements, collateral is a borrower's pledge of specific property to a lender, to secure repayment of a loan.