It might not seem like it when you start out, but making money in Skyrim is easy. There are a variety of different kinds of jobs you can work to bring you cash, but, like real life, earning an honest living can be a slow, drudgerous endeavor if you don’t know what you’re doing.
As a game, Skyrim is designed for you to be rewarded fairly for things that are fun and not grind-like, like clearing dungeons and completing quests. So everything is a little like a job. But quests are dangerous, and if you, for some reason, prefer earning an honest living over killing skeletons in underground caverns, here’s a guide to some of Skyrim’s careers, in order of professionalism and usefulness.
(A side note: If you just want money quick, don’t care at all about gameplay, and you don’t mind cheating, here are a couple of full-on exploits for unlimited gold. There’s even a free house exploit. These ‘sploits honestly seem less fun than actually playing the game, and don’t blame me if these are patched soon, so I don’t condone or recommend using them.)
Before beginning your Skyrim career, take this piece of advice: Prices in the game are adjusted based on your Speechcraft skill, which is raised through buying and selling things and speech challenges. There are a number of items and potions that help raise your scores too, including the hood that comes from the Thieves Guild and the Amulets of Dibella that seem scattered everywhere in Skyrim. Make sure you remember to suit up with high Speechcraft gear before you buy or sell anything. Also: Quaff a Potion of Glibness for better prices.
Keep in mind: Your speech skill is raised with each transaction you make, so sell items separately, always. If you’re unloading 5 daggers, sell them to the merchants one at a time for a five-fold boost in skill points.
But on to the jobs! For blue-collar, Joe Sixpacks out there who want to work an honest, proletariat job in a video game, here are some of Skyrim’s low-skill professions. Think of these as the McDonald’s jobs of Skyrim.
Blue Collar Jobs
1) Farming: There are various sharecroppers and dirt farmers throughout Skyrim who will pay you for each cabbage and carrot you bring them, then point you to a field and expect you to toil like a common laborer to extract the riches of the earth. Try Farmer Pelagia at Pelagia. He pays around 6 gold a head for cabbage. This is the most you’ll get in the game for vegetables, but it is, I think you’ll agree, chump change. Like actual farm work, this is a mug’s game. The work-to-profit ratio is awful, and you’re the freakin’ Dragonborn! Do you REALLY want to spend you life digging around in the dirt for cabbages?
2) Cooking: There are a ton of animals and plants that can be killed and made into delicious dishes that can be sold to innkeepers and other merchants, as well as allowing you to enjoy low-level boosts. While cooking is alright for the beginning adventurer, it’s really not too useful later, for either cash or boosts, so don’t worry about learning to cook.
3) Woodcutting: This is another common-laborer profession – it takes no skill and delivers no benefit beyond the gold. Still, it’s fairly easy and profitable to work as a lumberjack. Hod in Riverwood will give you ten gold for two pieces of wood, and you can even use the axe that’s lying around his shop. Elderscrolls.wikia.com did the math and found that you can make about 3000 gold in a real-world hour through woodcutting. That’s okay money, but woodcutting is still way too blue-collar and repetitive for my taste, so let’s move up the class system to more dignified work.
Here are the “professional” careers a Skyrim adventurer might take up to make a ton of dough, increase different skills, and create useful items in game.
White Collar Jobs
1) Smithing: This skill not only gives you money, but also levels up your smithing skill and, at higher levels, allows you to create useful items to fight with. When starting out smithing, you’ll want to craft daggers. They’re easy, take few ingredients, and don’t weigh much. To make them you’ll need iron ingots and leather strips -- one of each per dagger. You can mine the iron if you’d like. It takes a long time, but if you must mine your own ore, get a pickaxe and look out for oddly colored rocks scattered throughout the world. Getting leather is easier. Just kill and loot all the damn animals that attack you, tan the hides and turn the resulting leather into leather strips.
If you buy the raw material from the vendors at the forges, and then use these shops to make daggers and whatnot, and then sell them, the turn-around is much quicker. You can get rich and become a skilled blacksmith in around 45 minutes if you do it right, just through buying ingredients and crafting. Once you’ve reached the higher levels of blacksmithing, you can craft better armor and weapons for yourself. But ultimately, being a blacksmith is way too much like working for a living. I do not recommend working for a living in a video game.
2) Alchemy: Now we’re getting to a more dignified tier of employment. Alchemy is mixing different natural ingredients together to create potions and poisons. It’s like pretend chemical engineering. While we’ve posted a full an alchemy guide for the ins and outs of this profession, as far as making money, here’s my tip: Don’t go around the world simply looking for alchemy ingredients. It’s cool to pick ‘em up as you’re doing other things, but again, you’re the Dragonborn, not some botanist.
It’s much more dignified to buy ingredients at alchemical shops, make potions, and sell them back for the money it cost you for the reagents, plus a profit. As you craft, you'll learn the properties of different ingredients and be able to make better potions. The problem: Eventually, you’ll have potions worth more than most merchants carry. While waiting a couple days refills merchants' coffers, it's more time-efficient to do the Thieves Guild questline. About halfway through you’ll meet a fence who carries $4000 in gold and buys anything. Even if it’s stolen. There’s a high level perk that allows merchants to carry an extra $1,000 in gold too, but I wouldn’t recommend fully powering-up your speechcraft tree… it just doesn’t seem worth it.
If you want to be a completist, here’s a list of EVERY possible potion in the game, as well as what it costs.
3) Enchanting: In my experience, this is the most useful profession to be in if you just want pure money. You will get rich. You will boost your skill in Enchanting. You will create very useful magical weapons and armors. But Enchanting is a little difficult to get into in the beginning. You start by basically disenchanting any magical items you don’t plan to use, breaking them down into their components and learning how the different enchantments work. You learn new enchantments and your skill goes up. Then enchant various weapons, pieces of armor and pieces of jewelry to create magic items. As your skill increases, the goods you create are worth more.
While you obviously will want to use the items you create that suit your playstyle, everything else you craft will sell for a bunch of money to merchants. You can combine enchanting with smithing and make a steady supply of daggers to enchant and unload on merchants. Through putting skill points into the enchanting tree, you can eventually learn to add two enchants to items. Combine that will fully decked out enchanting sets and you can create impossibly over-powered, one-shot swords and unbreakable armor. Here’s a guide to overpowered Skyrim enchanting. This seems like math to me, and doesn’t suit my playstyle, but your mileage may vary.
All of the above “careers” take a certain amount of grind, which may or may not fit your personal style, but don’t worry. It’s still possible to be filthy rich in Skyrim without "working." Much like in actual life, the only truly easy money comes through theft. So don’t waste your life picking cabbages for a dollar a head or enchanting stupid rings, instead, just take what you want. You’re the damn Dovakhiin, am I right? Yes.
The number one rule of a life of crime: STEAL EVERYTHING. Break into people’s houses by learning how to pick locks and take their belongings. Steal from rich people. Steal from poor people. Steal from the Jarl. Steal from your own companions. Take everything that isn’t nailed down. Steal from merchants on the highways. Murder them and take their stuff. There’s really no reason all the wealth in Skyrim shouldn’t be yours.
You might get caught, of course, but if you do, you can pay your bounty or even serve some jail time… better yet, just restart your latest save if the guards spot you.
If you don’t want to wait for night to fall to rip someone off, and you don’t mind playing Skyrim a little cheaply, here’s a quick stealing exploit: If you lift a barrel over a friendly NPC’s head, it blocks the character’s line-of-sight and you can steal with impunity. But beware: If the NPC moves, the barrel or cauldron could be knocked off, and you’ll go to jail. I expect this to be patched soon, but you never know.
All of the advice I gave above about buying ingredients and crafting finished projects like potions and crafted armor is improved through theft. Rather than buying alchemy ingredients or soul gems from mage shops, break in at midnight and lift everything, then mix it into potions or make a magic sword, and no one will ever know it was stolen. Your creations are then pure profit. The same goes for leather and ingots at the blacksmith shop.
After your orgy of thievery, you’ll be left with a ton of hot merchandise. Honest dealers won’t touch your criminal wares, so you’ll need a fence. So join the Thieves Guild in Riften. Those lowlifes are your kind of people now, anyway. Once you’ve completed your Thief quests, they’ll be a ton of fences around Skyrim to buy your stolen property. Here’s a list:
Obtained during the Thieves Guild Questline
- Tonilia - Obtained after "Taking Care of Business" Location: The Ragged Flagon, in the sewers beneath Riften.
- Mallus Maccius- Obtained after "Dampened Spirits" - Location: Honningbrew Meadery, a house to the southeast of Whiterun.
- Gulum-Ei - Obtained after "Scoundrel's Folly" - Location: The Winking Skeever, the inn just to the left when you enter Solitude.
- Enthir - Obtained after "Hard Answers" - Location: Winterhold, (Daytime) Hall of Attainment on the second floor toward the northwest in his room and (Nightime) at The Frozen Hearth in Winterhold.
Obtained after completing thief quests from Vex and Delvin
- Niranye - Obtained after "Summerset Shadows" Location: Windhelm, directly left near the Blacksmith quarter, behind a vendor stall.
- Endon - Obtained after "Silver Lining" Location: Markarth, Inn and house.
- Khajiit Caravans- Obtained after completing a misc quest given by Tonilia after the Thieves Guild has a greater influence in Skyrim. Can be found near all the stables of the big cities.
On a similar note: Pickpocket everyone. There’s a ton of gold just walking around, waiting for your talented fingers to extract it from pockets. Keep in mind: The more valuable or heavier the item you’re trying to steal, the harder it is. So, at the beginning, keep your pickpocketing within reason; later you can make bigger scores. The best thing to steal is jewelry. It’s worth a lot. It’s small. And you can add jewels later to level your smithing and add value to the jewelry.