Obviously, you can earn money from questing and off enemies. That's a pretty slow way to build your empire, though, so if you want to start building up money quickly, you'll need to do so through professions.
Now, you can make money from just about any profession if you're smart about it. For those just starting out, though, the easiest and quickest money can be earned through gathering professions, hands down. While they won't make you millionaire rich, they're more than sufficient for lining your pockets with enough to cover all the leveling essentials.
Making money through herbalism
What are the basics? Herbalists are the folks going around Azeroth picking herbs. It's a pretty easy profession to get started with -- you level your herbalism skill by picking herbs up from the ground. The better the herb, the higher the herbalism skill you need to pick it. In general, though, your herbalism skill will level much faster than you will.
Who buys herbs? Quite simply, there are two groups of people interested in buying herbs: alchemists and those who practice inscription. The high-level Cataclysm herbs are obviously in the highest demand, but leveling alchemists and scribes are in need of large quantities of low-level herbs. Even max-level scribes have a need for some lower-level herbs to make glyphs ... if the price is right.
How much money can you make? For the beginner, the money is okay, but you need a little bit of patience. The cheapest of herbs don't sell for any real amounts of money -- on my server, Peacebloom sells for 20 silver each on a good day, 5 silver on most. Once you start leveling and picking some more advanced old-world herbs like Khadgar's Whisker and Fadeleaf, you'll start seeing 50 silver to 1 gold each. Some of the more unusual finds hold their values better than others, but it's rare that you'll see significantly more than 4 gold apiece for anything, Cataclysm-level herbs included.
So long as you're not trying to harvest a player character, you'll often get two or three herbs from one node, which typically works out to two to three gold per node from level 20 on through to level 80 or so. By the time you're leveling through Cataclysm content, the possibility of finding Volatile Life enters the mix, meaning a good node could spike in value up to about 25g. Thankfully, in my experience, competition for nodes while leveling is extremely low. It's stupid-easy money, even if it only flows in at a trickle.
If you are going to sell these, list these on the auction house in multiples of five. That's the minimum quantity scribes need to mill the herbs into inks. Even at more unusual quantities, though, you should have no problem selling your herbs -- at the right price, there's always demand.
Making money through mining
What are the basics? Mining is just like herbalism, but with ore instead of herbs. Miners actually can sell the ore they mine in two different ways: either as the raw ore or as bars of metal that they smelt. There are different buyers for each.
Who buys ore and bars? Well, the ore goes to jewelcrafters, who will buy them in multiples of five to prospect (consume) them in search for gems. The smelted bars are bought by both blacksmiths and engineers, who need the metal to make their wares.
How much money can you make? Like with the herbalism market, the ore that you find early in the leveling process sells for the least amount of money -- Copper Ore is maybe worth 25 to 50 silver apiece on an established server. As you level, the ore you find gets more valuable; Mithril Ore, which you often start seeing around level 40, often goes for 1 or 2 gold apiece; Outland and Cataclysm ore often goes for double that. Typically, the smelted bars sell for more than the raw ore, but you may want to list some of each to play to each potential customer.
Ore tends to be found in mountainous areas, which to be quite honest means it's typically located in more awkward spots than the herbs which pop up everywhere. Competition for these lower-level nodes is typically low, but if they're twice as hard to get at, then you're really looking at the same kind of money from mining as from herbalism for the same amount of effort.
Making money through skinning
What are the basics? Skinners make their money by removing the pelts and scales of their animal-type kills. Skinners can also skin other peoples' kills, so long as the corpses have been looted. There's not much else to it.
Who buys leather? Leatherworkers. Period.
How much money can you make? Well, this varies based on server, but there's no secret in the fact that leatherworking is an awful profession. Leveling it requires tons of leather -- simply mind-blowing quantities. That keeps low-level leatherworkers in business, though it means that demand (and often pricing) is highly erratic. The lowest-level of leathers, Light Leather, can swing wildly between 10 silver and 1 gold apiece on a mature market; prices go up from there, with Rugged Leather (~level 50) selling between 2.5 and 5 gold apiece.
Truth is, skinning is one of my favorite ways to make money while leveling. Granted, you need to plan your leveling such that your travels take you through areas with lots of skinnable animals. But when you're in the Western Plaguelands or Un'Goro Crater, you're literally surrounded by "skinning nodes" that respawn faster than you can harvest them all.
The process of gathering leather is so seemlessly integrated into the leveling process that it really does prove to be a terrific profession on the way to 85. Just be sure to have room in your bags to fit all that leather.
One man's trash is another's ...
There's money to be made in supplying people who are leveling professions. So far, we've discussed the money to be made in supplying leatherworkers, blacksmiths, scribes, jewelcrafters, and alchemists. Tailors and enchanters need materials, too, though their mats aren't farmed from nodes; they're found as drops from mobs. Cloth is surprisingly valuable, especially the Netherweave and Frostweave Cloth that can be turned into bags. Resist the temptation to sink it all into leveling first aid!
Cloth is especially valuable when you consider it also feeds the first aid profession -- something everyone can take and something everyone seems compelled to level. Linen Cloth seems to be universally worthless, and Silk Cloth doesn't seem to be worth much either, but Netherweave and Frostweave Cloth have real value (mainly because these are turned into bags). Regardless, if you're not feeding a tailoring profession, you should take all your cloth stacks to the auction house.
If you must take a crafting profession ...
Not a lot of low-level craftables sell, but that's not to say that no low-level craftables sell. Here are a few tips:
If you need even more ideas ...
Many people speed level their crafting profession -- that is, they make the items with the least amount of mats required, and they make a lot of them. The blue-quality items that take more materials to make are often skipped over by people leveling, which is a shame; you can actually make money while leveling a profession by selling the right blues.
Any green- or blue-quality piece of equipment has inherent value to enchanters -- after all, that's where they get their mats. As such, each piece of craftable gear has a floor value of its enchanting mats.
A lot of crafting professions have patterns and recipes that have inherent fun value, even for people who are at level 85. For example, an alchemist can learn Recipe: Elixir of Giant Growth at 90 skill points, and it provides skill-ups through 160. You can sell Elixirs of Giant Growth all day at a phenomenal profit -- there's no reason to level alchemy any other way. Tailors can find similar boons in roleplaying items like the Lavender Mageweave Shirt, a terrific way to level from 230 skill up to 240 or so. Keep an eye out for unusual patterns like these while questing in a new town -- if a craftable isn't learned from a trainer, it's probably more valuable to make.
If you're making multiples of an item while leveling your trade skill, for some reason, a lot of people like to unload their entire inventory at a bargain basement price all at once. If you're doing that, you're going to lose more in unsold auction fees than you'll make selling.
Obviously, the ways to earn money at lower levels doesn't stop there. Many people find that they can make good money through fishing (especially those used in crafting professions, like the Firefin Snapper
and Oily Blackmouth
). A low-level friend of mine actually traveled to the shores of The Krazzworks in the Twilight Highlands just to fish. It took a lot of corpse jumping, and his low level meant he fished up a lot more junk
than a level 85, but he did wind up getting a solid haul of very valuable Deepsea Sagefish
and Volatile Waters
. Not a lot of work netted him a cool grand -- way more than he'd have gotten farming up Peacebloom.
You can also make some solid money by buying limited-quantity items from vendors -- think patterns, schematics, and recipes -- and reselling them on the auction house. The vendors in a number of old world towns sell these, and profit margins are enormous, so be sure to check every vendor whenever you're in a town.
All considered, there's near infinite ways to make money while leveling -- the only limits are your own creativity. What are some of the way you've made money while leveling from 1 to 85?
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped. Do you have questions about selling, reselling and building your financial empire on the auction house? Fox and Basil are taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.