Being in debt sucks. Being in debt and making peanuts for a salary and knowing all the steps you need to take to be financially secure (like contributing $5,500/year to a Roth IRA or having a fully-funded emergency fund) yet being unable to take them is a special kind of hell.
Sometimes Saving Money Won’t Save You
A little over a year ago, things were looking pretty shitty in an exploded-outhouse kind of way. Our monthly expenses were around $6,000 (including our mortgage that we couldn’t get rid of), Zach was headed back to school for one last chance at getting a degree, and I was responsible for supporting our family. The only job I could find (cleaning up lab animal poo) paid $500/week.
I’m not a math expert, but even I can figure out that it just wasn’t adding up. I tried saving money, but no matter how much I saved, I would never have been able to make ends meet with my day job alone.
Of course, there is a simple way to fix this: start side hustling to make more money. I say this is simple in the same way that driving a car is simple. But, if you’ve never driven a car, you might as well be asking someone to fly a space ship to the moon.
It’s the same idea to start side hustling: you can tell someone to do it, but if they’ve never done it before, you might as well be asking them to launch a million-dollar real estate empire on the side.
Over time, I eased myself into making money on the side. One of the legacies of grad school was that I didn’t really feel qualified to make money doing something unless I was an expert in it—and no one was hiring for my expertise (synthetic herbivore poo? Anyone??).
Related post: The Financial Reality Of Being A Broke Biologist
Maybe you weren’t blessed with a high-paying profession, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay in the poorhouse forever. Since starting to make money on the side, I’ve boosted my income by another $1,000/month. Zach’s also started side hustling, and with his extra income, we’re now able to make ends meet. Here’s how we did it:
SWISS: Start WIth Something Simple
You wouldn’t compete in the Iditarod with a couple of poodles who chased a cat once. Nope, you need to work up to making max money just like it takes years of training and preparation to compete in a major race.
One of the easiest ways to start side hustling is with quick online surveys. I’ve used Swagbucks, Inbox Dollars, and Harris Poll. These were great to start out with because they didn’t involve actually talking to people (people are quite scary, you know…).
Up Your Game
Once I was comfortable making money through simple surveys, I decided it was time to up my game. I had $6,000 of expenses to pay each month, after all, and each survey only paid a few bucks at most.
I’d heard people talking about other ways to make money online. I decided to try my hand at transcribing, because I had ears, fingers, and a pathological aversion to speaking with people.
I signed up for some easy transcribing jobs that didn’t require working one-on-one with someone, like TranscribeMe and Quicktate. Eventually, I felt comfortable transcribing for sites like Focus Forward, which required email communication with real, live managers.
After about a year of this, I finally decided to try freelance writing, where I work one-on-one with editors and even have live phone calls with clients (*gasp*). It was a big step up, and it was only possible for me to get there by taking baby steps along the way.
Try Lots Of Things Except Drugs*
There’s a whole world of money-making opportunities out there that you don’t even know about yet—just ask one of my old friends who used to pose nude for art classes.
I didn’t even know freelance writing was a thing that paid (and paid well) until I went down the Internet rabbit hole in search of other things. I tried tons of things like website user testing, spinning yarn, designing knitting patterns, and watching sled dog kennels before I found it.
I call this the Shotgun Approach—put out lots of feelers, and see which one hits.
Rather than stressing out about finding The One Gig right now, just focus on trying out a bunch of different stuff. As you research each thing, you’ll find other things that might be better options for you.
Here are some great resource for simple side hustles you can try:
- 60+ Ways To Make Money On The Side (Budgets Are Sexy)
- Epic List Of Side Hustle Ideas (Believe In A Budget)
- The Sharing Economy: 200+ Ways To Make Money In Your Spare Time (Side Hustle Nation)
- 99 Side Hustle Business Ideas You Can Start Today (Side Hustle Nation)
- The Top 68 Side Hustles: Add Some More Money To Your Life (Money Peach)
*Beer not included
Pursue The Things That Stick
After you’ve tried a bunch of stuff, you’ll be in a good position to pick which option is best for you in the long run.
It took me about a year of searching and trying new things before I finally settled on freelance writing. I picked it because of the following qualities, which I think are important in any side hustle:
- Highly paid (and not just in Exposure Bucks)
- Flexible (I can do it at midnight in my jammies if I want)
- Creative (I sell words)
- Scalable (I can easily do as much or as little as I want)
- Highly valued (My clients are grateful for my work)
- I can drink beer while working (but not too much)
Keep Growing And Nurturing Your Side Hustle (Like A Good Man-Bun)
Once you’ve found The One Gig, you’re not home free yet! You still need to develop it so you can grow and constantly adapt.
I started out making $50/blog post. That was fine just starting out (smokin’ actually, especially given my fear of people).
Rather than rest on my fine laurels, I worked hard to improve my writing over time. I invested in training, and I dropped some clients and replaced them with ones who paid more. I asked for raises from my existing clients. Just this month, I took on my highest-paying client ever—at $350/post.
If I hadn’t grown my side hustle, I’d still be making less than $400/month. Now, it’s a bad month if I make less than $1,000. By growing and tending my business, I can now bring in enough to supplement my income and support me and Zach. After all, he’s a big dude with a big appetite. 🙂
Were you scared to start side hustling too? What helped you get over it? Leave a comment below!