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The Pros and Cons of Side Hustling

(Originally posted on The $76K Project on 9/17/2017)

As most of you are already aware (thanks to my not-so-subtle kvetching), my current work life consists of both my full-time job and a side hustle, an online teaching gig that I tackle in whatever open pockets of time I can find in the evenings and over the weekend. I decided to take on this extra work for two reasons. One, we wanted to build up an emergency fund and sinking fund, something that would take forever and a day to accomplish if we were relying entirely on our salaries; and two, we wanted to speed up our debt elimination process (we’ve currently mapped it out over a five-year timespan, but we want to shorten that as much as possible). 

Both Fortysomething and I found side gigs we can live with and have been investing our time in them for a little over a month.

Many folks in the personal finance/debt elimination circles see side hustling as an efficient way to make up lost financial ground. Generally, I agree. But I also think it’s not a strategy that will work for everyone: it’s such a tradeoff between time and money. So one of my main questions when I decided to give side hustling a chance was, Will it be worth it for me?
TL;DR: Generally, yes, but the SH life comes with both pros and cons.

First, the pros:

Not surprisingly, it brings in some extra cashola. Our gigs generate an extra $1200 or so a month, a sum that currently goes straight into the emergency/sinking fund (though we may end up using some of it to increase our grocery budget because both Fortysomething and The Kiddo are bottomless pits when it comes to food). Our budget is pretty tight, and the amount we can allocate for savings via our steady income stream is limited. Thus, side hustle savings is a major boon for us.

It offers a safety net through job diversification. I don’t know how many of you are as paranoid as I am, but here’s an admission: I’m always worried about losing my job. I’ve had this fear from the very first day that I commenced my very first job as an administrative assistant. My boss was a family friend and the likelihood of me getting canned was, despite my obvious inexperience, pretty much zero, but such rationalization is no match for my brain, which prefers to wallow in worst case scenarios. In my mind, no matter how secure my position might seem, there’s always a chance that it could slip through my fingers tomorrow. Having a side hustle makes me feel like I have a safety net in the event that my employer decides to downsize or reorganize. Damn, would that be a problem, but at least I’d have some stopgap measures in place to staunch depletion of savings.

It helps me avoid stressing about my day job. I have a tendency to come home and fret about any lingering problems or negative experiences I might have had at the office. I’ve been known to spend entire evenings obsessing about the day, which of course is completely pointless and unproductive. (Okay, so in rereading this, I sound pretty neurotic. Which may be true.) With a side hustle, though, I don’t have time for endless rumination. I’m forced to shift gears. The upshot is that I'm more refreshed and mentally ready for the day when I head to my office each morning.

It presents an opportunity to dabble in something I enjoy. A side hustle should be fun – or at least mildly pleasant. I’m enthusiastic about teaching because it gives me an opportunity to immerse myself in science, something I don’t get to think about in my regular line of work. Geeking out about topics like star clusters, genetic engineering, and earthquake prediction with a bunch of enthusiastic undergrads? I can happily live with that. 

To be honest, I feel pretty passionate about what I’m doing in this side hustle, and that in itself makes me want to continue. 

And now the cons:

Also not surprisingly, it eats up a lot of time. I spend at least 12-15 hours per week on the side hustle. The nature of my work dictates that I’m in my virtual classroom every single day to answer questions, participate in discussion forums, and grade. By the time I’ve walked home from work, made dinner, and finished my online class checklist, I am usually way past ready for bed. My free time has definitely dwindled. Fortysomething devotes anywhere from half to one full day of his weekend for his work, which means less rest for his weary teacher brain and less time for us to go explore the world as a family.

Occasionally, it can be frustrating.
 My interactions with my students are overwhelmingly positive. Every now and then, though, something will come up: a student disagrees with a grade, for example, or there’s a misinterpretation of instructions and an ensuing angry email. Or my supervisor decides to tack on an extra outreach initiative and wants it done an hour ago. It happens, and when it does, I sometimes question whether the job is worth it.
Side hustles often pay a pittance. I’ve dipped my toes into enough side hustles to know that many of them aren’t worth it (at least for me).  Case in point: last year I tried freelancing with Rev, a company that transcribes audio files and adds captions to videos. After my first week of dedicated caption-making (which involved listening to audio files over and over and over again), I raked in a grand total of… wait for it… $25. It didn’t take long before I quit*. The same goes for survey-focused outfits like Swagbucks and Inbox Dollars. Yeah, it’s kind of fun to take the occasional quiz or watch a short advertisement for a few points that eventually turn into a few dollars, but as a real revenue stream, they don’t seem worthwhile (If you’ve had a different experience, I would love to hear about it!) 

Basically, my time is valuable enough that I’m not going to dedicate myself to underpaid employment. One of the reasons I decided to pursue online teaching is that this particular school pays a wage that seems fair to me. Fortysomething's happy enough with his pay as well. I wish more side hustles offered higher wages and made the work more worthwhile. 

*(On the other hand, I did meet an experienced Rev captioner who earns upwards of $1500 a month. He’d figured out how to transcribe quickly, efficiently, and accurately, and he’d turned what started as a hobby into a full-time occupation. So I’m not saying Rev is a scam. I just didn’t want to put in months of nearly-free labor before getting to the point of being able to make some significant money.)

So will we stick with it? For now, absolutely yes. For me, at least, the pros far outweigh the cons. I have four more weeks to go in this class and have agreed to teach another section in November. The earnings from our side hustles will first fund our emergency and holiday accounts, and then we’ll use it to pay down debt. It’s hard to say no to that opportunity. Even with limited time and occasional frustrations, it’s a challenge we're happy to accept, at least for a season or two.

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