Several years ago, my wife and I set an ambitious financial goal for our family. As a way to temporarily increase my income, I decided to embark on the millennial rite of passage known as the “side hustle.” While the term “side hustle” is used broadly to describe part-time or temporary work in addition to a full-time job, it has become particularly synonymous with the millennial generation. Countless articles, blogs, and podcasts extol the benefits (and even the necessity) of a side hustle as an apparent golden ticket to financial success.
I found an opportunity that offered flexible working hours and jumped into it enthusiastically.
But, after several months of significant investment of time and energy into my side hustle, I was physically exhausted and ultimately left with a very insignificant financial return. In contrast to the promises of success and happiness, working additional evenings and weekends, while missing out on time with family and a healthy living routine, led me to question whether a side hustle is the best way to increase income.
Is a side hustle the most efficient way to increase available cash?
Numerous advocates point to a side hustle’s potential to out-earn a current, full-time job. While success stories illustrating this possibility exist, the exact opposite is most often the case. If increasing income alone is one of your main goals, the highest probability of achieving this may be within your primary job. Working more hours or seeking advancement where you’re already employed takes advantage of a current salary that is most likely higher than that of a part-time job. Regardless, working increased hours, for job or hustle, incurs a costly time investment weighed against other priorities and goals.
In addition to time costs and a likely lower salary, a side hustle provides a diminished return due to the multiple hands in the worker’s proverbial pocket. If a side hustle relies on third-party platforms (such as eBay, Etsy, etc.), income is reduced by their fees, expenses, and taxes. In fact, for a middle class earner, it’s very feasible for their side hustle income to be taxed at a 10% greater rate than other income if it pushes them from the 12% to 22% tax bracket.
Controlling cash: reduce your outflow
While not as glamorous or marketable as a side hustle, an extremely efficient method of increasing available income is through reduced spending. It sounds simple, but by saying “no” to a purchase, you receive an immediate return on both time and money by retaining the full dollar amount you would have spent as well as the time spent shopping for that item.
To be clear, I’m not advocating the extreme cost-saving measures taken by some, like making your clothes or smuggling toilet paper home from the office bathroom. Instead, the desire to accomplish a specific financial goal should drive the ability to differentiate between a “want” and a “necessity.”
In this regard, a short term lifestyle cut is an extremely efficient way to increase available cash for a specific financial goal. Cutting out Starbucks on the way to work every morning, eating the food already in your fridge versus ordering delivery, or trimming the number of streaming services your family subscribes to are all potential ways to cut “wants” from spending. Suggestions like these are likely to add up to hundreds of extra dollars a month.
When is a side hustle worth it?
While my side hustle did not provide me with the immediate financial return I desired, I do look back on it as a valuable experience that ultimately informed my primary position. An opportunity to explore an alternative career opportunity or passion without rashly or abruptly walking away from an employment situation may be the actual value of a side hustle.
Whether you ultimately choose a side hustle or lifestyle cut to increase income, an investment of either time or self-control will be needed. Like any investment, weigh the options without getting caught up in plans without a realistic picture of the required cost. Positive returns are the result of commitment and discipline over time.