My friend and I heard someone on the phone say the phrase 'mailbox money'.

The sentence was 'mailbox money is always nice'

My friend told me that 'mailbox money' means money/checks that you keep getting in the mailbox (not necessarily in the mailbox, but usually), by doing only one thing once. For example, if you developed an app, you would work on it once, but keep getting money/checks for it. Same goes for developing a website and putting some ads on it. (I understand that websites need maintenance, and apps need to be updated, but the general idea is that you do something once and you keep getting money/checks for it.)

When I Googled it I could not find a really good website/reference for any legit definition for that phrase. I read on this website that it means money that you're not expecting.

Any enlightenment?

  • 1
    "Me and my friend..." English is a polite language -- put your friend first, and then change me to I. People will take your questions more seriously and try to give you legit answers. :)
    – JLG
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 1:19
  • @JLG: Thank you for your comment. I sometimes make this common mistake (mistakenly write Me instead of I), but it's my first time to know that I should always start with the other person. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 1:24
  • 1
    See Passive income en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_income
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 30, 2013 at 6:44

5 Answers 5


It's not exactly a well-established expression, but the meaning is reasonably transparent.

Here's an online article from 2005 which I think makes it clear "mailbox" can be seen as metaphorical. Essentially, it just means income (often sporadic, relatively small amounts from many different people) that keeps arriving long after you did something.

It's very much a "how to make money on the Internet" sort of term. I don't think a musician, say, who periodically receives royalty money from something he recorded decades ago, would call it "mailbox money".

A plausible context would be where you create a website that becomes popular, and sell advertising space on it. Assuming people keep going to your website, you should keep getting payments from the advertisers. But as you can imagine, in practice it's probably not as simple or as lucrative as it might seem. Most likely the only person getting rich is the guy who persuaded you to send him $10 for his book explaining how to create a popular website.

TL;DR: "Mailbox money" is an Internet marketing myth.


Here (in West Virginia) "mailbox money" means money that you do not work for, as in royalties from an oil or gas well on you property. Every month a check from the Oil & Gas Drilling Company arrives in your mailbox and you didn't have to lift a finger to earn it. Folks are mighty envious of anyone getting "mailbox money"!

In reply to @FumbleFingers Yes, as a surveyor, I know many people whose minerals (under their farms) have been leased to an O&G Co. The O&G Co. comes in, leases your minerals, drills a well, and you get a check in the mail typically for 1/8th royalties of the production. That's "mailbox money" because you haven't done a thing other than walk down to the mailbox once a month to get your check. The ad you found (don't invest! don't do it!) wouldn't be considered mailbox money out here because it's a working interest and you are putting up the money to drill the well. You're probably right, it is a tax dodge... because a working interest in a well means that company is gonna charge you for every expense in the leasing, drilling, upkeep and management of that well; you're footing their entire cost before you see any possible profit.

And in further conversation with @FumbleFingers: We may have stumbled onto a word in transition across the rural-urban / 20thC-21st C divide. Out here "mailbox money" is likely to come from others using your land. In urban and more modern settings "mailbox money" would likely come from something intellectual or artistic you did once that people still pay to use. (Would be nice, eh?) Since someone (or their Grandpa) bought (or homesteaded) the land, work was done back in the day, same as with a clever slogan, artistic image or app. But methinks the books for sale on Google might be blurring the line between "mailbox money" and "get rich quick without doing any real work" schemes!

  • Do you actually know anyone with a well on their property that someone else pays (rent?) to pump? This one looks typical, and they're asking $1.2M for a 60% stake. It looks more like a tax dodge than a going financial concern though. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 4:13
  • I did a bit of trawling through instances of "mailbox money" on Google Books, and it certainly seems to extend beyond Internett-generated payments. But this one is typical - most of them seem to refer to unpredictable varying amounts, rather than a steady regular amount. Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 17:47

A very common form of mailbox money is that received by actors and crew on motion pictures. Every time that motion picture is shown again, whether on pay-TV, cable, network, NetFlicks, or whatever, some money goes to the people who worked on that picture (according to their contract at the time).

Movie actors who no longer get new work LIVE on mailbox money. That is how former-stars who are now "has-beens" live the lifestyle that they live even though they no longer work in that field.

  • A good answer. Should have looked up some reference and cited them in support as well.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 30, 2013 at 6:38

Where I'm from (and to the people I work with), mailbox money means a royalty check for writing a song. Its a pretty common term in songwriting circles.

In general it just means money that is paid to you for a past event (you don't have to do anything for it in the present). It just shows up in the mail.


If someone said to me "mailbox money is always nice" I would only assume they were talking about money or a check that they got in an envelope in their mailbox. I wouldn't assume they were necessarily referring to a recurring check or some money from their relatives. I think it should be clear from the context, or they are being intentionally vague.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.