Why side hustles are popular
These days, side hustles are all the rage. With wages stagnating and housing costs skyrocketing – as well as the internet’s ability to let anyone monetize their skills more effectively – it’s no wonder people are looking to make a buck outside their regular 9-5 gig. Add to that the glamorization of entrepreneur culture, and pretty soon it seems like everyone has an online jewelry shop or artisan hot sauce business.
But as empowering as it can be to hustle and make a little change on the side, have you ever stopped to think about whether or not you’re actually benefitting? Sure you may be bringing in money, but is it enough to appropriately cover your expenses, time and effort?
Is it hurting your full time job?
For most people, getting a side hustle doesn’t interfere with their full-time gig. But sometimes, the lines start to blur. If you work as a receptionist and find yourself with ample time on your hands, it might seem harmless to start doing internet surveys while you’re on the clock.
By doing so, you might be violating your company’s employee policy and thereby risking your full-time gig. Every employee handbook should have a section that discusses what you are and aren’t allowed to do during working hours. Most don’t care if you check Facebook every once in awhile, but frown upon earning extra money when you’re supposed to be focused on work.
You might also have signed a non-compete clause for your company. When I worked as a newspaper reporter, I wasn’t allowed to freelance for a media organization located within 50 miles of my employer. I couldn’t use the expertise or contacts I gained during my job to leverage freelance gigs for their competitors.
Another factor is if your side hustle starts making you too tired to focus on your day job. Slacking at work to earn some money during your off hours is a quick road to unemployment, especially if your boss finds out why you’ve been so lethargic.
Is it really making you money?
A few months after college, I got my first real reporting job at a local newspaper in Indiana. I was happy to be gainfully employed, but struggling to pay my bills and save money at the same time. I started doing internet surveys for a $1 apiece in my spare time. They were easy, quick and didn’t require anything more than an internet connection.
I also started applying for free samples from companies for things like laundry detergent, dishwashing soap and shampoo. I figured applying for free samples would be a great way to save money on the essentials.
It took me a long time until I realized all those side hustles weren’t making me any real money. Sure, I could get an extra $20 a month from all those surveys, but that wasn’t enough to really make a dent in my student loans. Instead of wasting my time scraping for pennies I could have been reorganizing my budget, fine-tuning my resume or learning a new skill that would pay off down the road.
Too many people sign up for a side hustle without calculating how much they’re really making. If you have a side hustle, sit down and figure out how much you actually earn and how much time you devote to your side hustle. The math should equal at least minimum wage or more.
You should also calculate what you’re spending on your side hustle. For example, if you’re working at the mall after work and grabbing take-out every day because you don’t have time to cook, that cuts into any extra money you’re making.
Taxes are another important factor, since you have to report any extra money you receive as income on your taxes. Most experts recommend saving about 20% of what you earn for taxes. If you still have a regular 9-5 job, you can increase your withholdings to compensate.
I know several people who realized they were barely breaking even on their side hustles once they counted their expenses, taxes and hours spent. That’s fine if you love what you’re doing, but if you’re just trying to make money there are better ways.
Is it too time-consuming?
I spent a year freelancing while I was also working a day job at a nonprofit. I’d come home, feed the dogs, work out, make dinner and start writing. I did this for about a year before I finally quit my job to freelance full-time.
During that time, I spent many hours writing when I could have been watching a movie, spending time with friends or pursuing other hobbies. Sometimes it was hard to say yes to fun things because I knew it meant I wouldn’t get any work done that day. I’d feel guilty while spending time with my boyfriend because it meant I wouldn’t write anything that day.
Side hustles are great, but only when they don’t overly-interfere with your life and hurt your relationships. Listen to your family and friends if they start complaining about your hours. Are you more stressed or irritable? Do you feel tired because you’re staying up later? Are you working out and eating healthy? It’s ok to cut back on your side hustle if it means being happier overall.
Do you enjoy it?
When you think about how enjoyable a job is, you factor into the equation how much money you’re making. You may not enjoy data entry in your free time, for example, but see it as a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time when it comes with a substantial paycheck. Building model trains may not bring in any money, but it’s absolutely worth the time if you fully enjoy the process and end result.
With a side hustle, things get a little murkier. You have to compare how much emotional value you’re getting with the financial value, and that’s a decision no online calculator or algorithm can tell you. If you make a modest wage driving for Uber, that could be offset by the fact that you enjoy the socialization and opportunity to explore your city. If you’re an introvert who dreads going out to pick up passengers, you probably shouldn’t be doing that for less than your time is worth.
Is it stressing you out?
Stress in America has become an epidemic. Too many people are burning the candle at both ends, overworking their bodies and overexerting their minds. This contributes negatively to mental and physical health issues, as well as poisoning relationships and tanking careers.
You may enjoy making homemade hot sauce, but is the stress of negotiating with vendors and keeping up with production demands worth the extra money? Often with side hustles, we let success goad us into an unsustainable workload that leads to a crash and burn. It feels great to profit financially from something you care about, but an enjoyable hobby can quickly become a tiresome burden after a certain point.
Is it the best gig available?
If you’re dead-set on working a side hustle, make sure it’s the best one you can find. The Starbucks down the street may be hiring, but is making $10 an hour better than the money you could make consulting from home, writing freelance copy or coding? Depending on your skill set, there’s probably a less time consuming and more lucrative side gig available than driving for Uber or running errands for TaskRabbit.
When it comes to making extra cash, don’t sell yourself short. Think carefully about your side hustle options before deciding on one, and make sure you’re maximizing your earning potential.
Are you doing it for the right reasons?
Often, people take on side gigs as a necessity rather than a way to bolster their lifestyle. If you’re looking to make some extra dough because you can’t afford to make your credit card payments or pay your bills, you probably need to reconsider your priorities.
Rather than running yourself ragged trying to fund an unsustainable lifestyle, take a closer look at your budget. Do you really need a subscription to a meal service or an expensive cable package? Can you really afford the luxury sedan you’re leasing? Are you going out to restaurants and ordering takeout multiple times a week when you’re perfectly capable of cooking at home?
By making a few minor changes, you can eliminate the need for extra income. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with hustling for more cash – but it should come from a place of motivation and passion rather than a desperate struggle to stay afloat.
The bottom line
The spirit behind side hustles is great. There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself out there to earn some extra coin – you just have to be practical about how much value the gig is actually adding to your life. It’s fine to run an unsuccessful artisan pickle operation in your free time, as long as you don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re an entrepreneur of a growing company.
If something is a hobby, treat it like a hobby. If it’s a business, well… go ahead and get down to business.