Second Shifts: Finding Extra Income in the Side Hustle
I have held more than one job for almost as long as I’ve been working. For much of that time, though, I’ve had the privilege of working multiple jobs by choice, rather than out of necessity. Having a voluntary second source of income, even a small one, has made life a little easier, easing unexpected financial bumps and job changes, as well as helping me upgrade my living situation by providing a steady cushion of a little extra rent money.
The side hustle is a job that is not strictly necessary, and minor enough that you don’t quite think of it as working two jobs, so what comes out of it feels kind of like “extra” money. A side hustle is distinct from hobbies, passion projects, or creative work aimed at building your profile; it’s really just about the income. The best side hustles, in my experience, are easy to pick up on a “sometimes” basis, and lucrative enough to be worth missing happy hour.
Talking with my friends in similar positions to mine, it started to seem like having a job and a half at 25-ish was the norm, or at least a norm, rather than an anomaly. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August 2014, about 6.8 million people held more than one job. A little over half of those, 3.6 million people, had a secondary part-time job in addition to a primary full-time job. Although multiple job-holders only make up just 4.7 percent of the employed population, that adds up to more than the populations of Los Angeles and Chicago put together. Even for those with non-essential side hustles, it’s a response to wage stagnation, if nothing else; more is more, so work if you can get it.
The money I earn from my two current side hustles—freelance copy editing and working at a bookstore—is the closest I’ve come to anything resembling “disposable income.” Copy editing is inconsistent but financially rewarding, about a $1,000 project every two or three months. Bookstore work is easy to come by on weeknights and weekends, but isn’t a huge boost: about $45 after taxes for a four-hour shift. In a good month (with a copy editing payout) I’ll make an extra $1,100 or so before taxes; any other month I might make only an extra $100, or $150 if I work a lot of shifts at the bookstore.
In the interest of filling out the data with personal stories, I asked friends and friends of friends who have side hustles what it is they do on the side, what they do the rest of the time, and how it all comes together.
Main job: Television post-production
Side hustle: Short-term temp office work; Freelance editor
For five months after I was fired from a waiting job last year, I did a strange combination of short-term temp jobs through three agencies and freelance work via Craigslist and Elance. It wasn’t really a side hustle; more a bunch of little stuff at once, and it was hell. I found a long-term temp job through one of my agencies, and in another four months left for a position at a TV production company. I kept doing my temp job one day per weekend for a month and a half after I started the production job, for a few reasons: I left the temp position abruptly and wanted to stay on part-time as a courtesy; the second reason was the extra money was nice (school loans are the worst). Six days a week, nine or more hours a day wears you down.
All my short-term jobs really varied depending on what they were and how long they’ve lasted. Often they brought in $90 to $120 a day net. When I kept doing my long-term temp job one day a week, it netted an extra $500 per month. I lived off the extra money I made, paid off school loans, and saved it in the bank. Hopefully I can use some of it toward a vacation this coming fall or winter. I took a pay cut for the TV production job—it was a trade-off for a better commute, better office environment, potential for growth or a raise, and the temp job was going to end in a month or less anyway—so that little financial boost from working six days a week was nice.
Main job: M.A. student in art therapy
Side hustle: Babysitting
I’ve been babysitting on the side for a year now. I found the job through a family friend. It pays $15 per hour, so about $400 to $500 a month. I usually work once a week, but it depends. I usually use the money for bills—electric and cable and to buy groceries. Occasionally I will buy myself something new to add to the internship wardrobe.
Main job: Teacher
Side hustle: Fitness coach
I’ve been a private fitness coach for one kid for a year and three months-ish. It kind of fell into my lap; the kid’s parents approached me about helping with some workouts. It pays $75 an hour, roughly four hours a month, so around $300 per month. I use what I make for beer money mostly, and sometimes for groceries or other superfluous things.
Main job: Bookkeeper at a private foundation
Side hustle: Office administrator; Dancer; Model
Depending on how you decide to structure it, I suppose my whole work life is an assemblage of side hustles. As a self-defined dancer/performer, I often consider my dancing and performing to be the truest expression of my career-based identity. However, it is unfortunately not surprising that performing makes me very little livable money. While I feel like performing modern dance is what I am pursuing most ardently as a career, the income I earn from “dance jobs” does not pay my bills. My main money hustle, an administrative assistant/bookkeeping position at a private foundation, is what pays my bills and what I would consider my j-o-b job, but I often frame it in the form of the support it gives my dancing career. In the clearest interpretation of the question, my foundation position is my primary source of income and therefore, “job.” Sure.
On the side, I do basic administrative tasks for artists/dance companies looking for help with organization. Depending on the client, I create press releases, email blasts, promotional materials, file documents, maintain websites, copy edit, etc. Most of these jobs I receive through a friend who set up a freelance company called A.O. Pro(+ductions) that helps artists with administration and production for their projects. When I was transitioning out of my last job, we met to discuss her company, and I essentially pitched myself as a candidate for her team of artist-freelancers. She fields requests from clients and funnels them to freelancers with applicable skills for a modest percentage.
The compensation for these jobs varies tremendously depending on the task and how much experience I feel I have with that particular skillset. Generally, I charge somewhere between $15–$25 per hour. There are months when I make an extra $50 and others when I get close to $500. It really depends on the life of a project and whether or not it’s paid hourly or in summation. The average is inconsistency.
Most recently, I’ve been attempting to do the impossible and save money, the success of which was greatly aided by the opening of a separate bank account that allows me to delight in what I’ve saved without mixing it in with funds for daily expenses. This money is intended to accumulate for three purposes: the purchase of a new computer so I can keep freelancing like a boss (and enjoy the new features Apple has added to its machines since 2007), travel, and (oft-needed) emergency funds.
Main job: Policy worker
Side hustle: Babysitter
I babysit for a family on the weekends. I’ve had this gig for all of a month, and found it through a coworker who also babysits as a side hustle. It pays $20 per hour, which I’m told is the “going rate in this area.” For me, that translates to about $320 a month. With the money I make, sometimes I like to feed my inner shopaholic (she doesn’t get out much on my salary). The rest of it I try to save, because it’s rarely possible to do so with my current income.
Main job: Pharmaceutical support associate
Side hustle: Food runner at a restaurant
I’ve been a runner at a restaurant for a month, after finding the job on Craigslist. I was also a runner at a previous restaurant from February to June of this year; I don’t work a second job during the summer. The job grosses about $1,500 per month, which I use to treat myself here and there, but mainly to catch up on debts.
Main job: School social worker; graduate student
Side hustle: Nanny (a.k.a. Chauffeur)
My side job initially started as a nanny position, but recently it has turned me into more of a chauffeur. I’ve worked for the family for three years, and I found the job through my mom, who used to work with the father. It pays about $15 per hour with some extra for gas. When I was working while I was in school I would make about $1,000 a month. This year, my hours were cut back to maybe five a week because the kids are older. I’m lucky if I make $400 a month.
When I was in grad school I used the money more toward “treat yourself” expenses and my car payment. Now it’s getting put aside for groceries, car payment, and/or student loans.
Main job: Writer; MFA student in fiction and literary translation
Side hustle: Bookseller; Restaurant server
I’m a bookseller at independent bookstore and a server at a Chinese restaurant. I got both jobs pretty much within a month or two after moving to New York, almost three years ago. The bookstore job I got kind of through meeting a girl in a writing workshop I was taking, who was working there at the time. The restaurant job I found through Craigslist. The bookstore job pays about $11 an hour. The restaurant job is, of course, much more variable, since it depends on tips. I feel like I have no idea how much I make there, but it’s not very much at all.
“All” the money I make goes in with “all” the other money I don’t have/am not making, which eventually goes to pay for rent, ramen, occasional beer, occasional plane tickets back to California, and a ton of books.
Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
John Sherman is a writer and copy editor and sometime bookseller in Brooklyn.