Friday Finance – the case against side hustles

jk. Source

I looked around for side hustles.

I was not impressed.

While side hustles are often spruiked as a great way to increase and diversify your income, including in my own book, I reckon we need to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The bad

There are many online jobs that pay next to nothing. Captioning, Fiver, copy writing, office tasks, typing up meeting notes and so on. They seem like a good idea because there’s no cost to entry or commute, but once you calculate the hourly rate it is not worth it for the vast majority of people.

Workers often complain of making <$10 per hour, all told. The management of these companies, cough Indian cough, can also be difficult, with frequent comments about arbitrary rejection of work or favouritism towards Indians in promotion.

Unless your Uncle Rajiv owns one of these businesses, stay away.


There are some professionals or semi-professionals who can make these jobs worthwhile. Extremely fast typists, the very best copy writers and so on. These are probably <5% of the people who ever seriously try it.

There are also people in Third World countries who find working for $10 per hour worth their time, including Westerners. I was not one of these.

The good – online

The best online side gigs are ones where your skills are valuable enough to be paid properly and you are not competing with Filipina housewives living in bamboo huts.

Online nursing, teaching, web design, counselling and so on are much better prospects for the average person looking to make a bit of beer money. Some people turn it into a career.

This is not an exhaustive list. The point is, you need the skills, experience and/or qualifications to make most online work worth considering. This applies whether you run your own business or work for someone else. Better to spend time acquiring those skills than to fuff around with $7-per-hour stenography.

The good – offline

Always remember that the real world still exists and can be a fun place to visit.

I once had a Sunday-morning gig that paid half my rent. I ended up quitting because the boss lady was intolerable, but while it lasted I couldn’t believe how much extra cash I had in my wallet.

If you can find a weekend job locally that pays a reasonable hourly rate, that will beat most online gigs for most people.

These day, people turn their nose up at stocking shelves overnight at the supermarket but will spend the same number of hours creating monetised YouTube content that earns next to nothing.

Your time, your choice.

Pick a real-life side gig that you don’t hate. Some people enjoy warehouses because it’s a compete break from their regular office work. Some like teaching piano. If it’s fun or you can at least have a laugh with merry coworkers, there’s a better chance it will last.

Just working one extra day per week can make a big difference to your budget, as I discovered. The poorer you are, the truer this is.

Cash-in-hand whatty what now? Sorry, no idea what you’re talking about.

The bad – offline

Not everything in the real world is flowers and puppy dogs. There are plenty of side gigs out there that are not worth your time.

Chief among these are jobs where you are classed as a sub-contractor, which enables your employer to say they are not really your employer and pay you under minimum wage.

Long ago, I did ‘walking’ as a part-time job – delivering those annoying advertising materials to letterboxes. The job itself was easy in good weather but when I calculated my hourly rate, including time spent picking up and collating the materials, it was ridiculous. Second-shortest job I ever had. The shortest I quit before I started but that’s a story for another day.

Opportunity cost

Every hour that you put into one thing is an hour you cannot put into something else.

If you’re working ridiculous hours for a low return, you’ll be exhausted and lose the creative spark to think about what else you could be doing.

Your time is precious.

What about you? Anybody tried a side gig and how did it go?

  • This article provides general information. It does not take into account your personal circumstances and is not intended to influence readers’ financial decisions. Get your own, professional advice.


  1. Kentucky Headhunter · April 22

    Somehow got recommended a video something like, “Anyone Can Make Big Money Doing Freelance Copy-writing!!!”. Didn’t bother to watch as it was evident that the creator thought making a video about the subject would be more remunerative than actually doing that gig and since we know youtube pays pennies (if that) for thousands of views and this channel had views in the hundreds or maybe a couple of thousand for most of its videos…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. TechieDude · April 22

    My side gig is installing and repairing tech – mostly wireless networks and phone systems. There are tons of small businesses here that don’t want to pay the bigger outfits rates. Since I work at home anyhow, and not on a clock, I can fit this in my daily schedule. For example, I rebuilt a small business network, then worked with their new phone system vendor to configure their network and firewall for SIP trunking. I think I spent a couple afternoons and pocketed about a grand, before tax, etc.

    Bad part is this you have to strike when the iron’s hot. And my day job has ebbs and flows of busyness that makes time management a challenge. That and you have to constantly forage for new customers until you build a base. Other bad part is a lazy partner that has issues understanding “partner” vs. “employee”. His side of the business is all hardware, where mine is more consulting. He complains he doesn’t get enough work, I complain that he’s not hunting and gathering like he should.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that since bigrainbowcorp is paying me 6 figures, my time would be better spent taking training in the craft that pays the bills – software – and starting on Fivr or upwork for that. Bad part of that is it bumps up against my non-compete. 2/3 of the software that I use for work, I own. So big grey area there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vizzini · April 22

    What, exactly is the definition of “side gig?” If it’s just any second job or source of income, then my side gig worked out really well, and is now my main gig — I bought a bunch of rental properties. Doing it for real isn’t easy work, though, in any respect. Your results will probably not be as good if you employ a property management company and/or trust contractors for your renovation and repair work, but not everyone can do or manage all that themselves. I have a very motivated wife who completely handles the management parts of the business while I provide investment capital and handyman services (and she’s very handy herself).

    I have a tertiary gig that’s now my side gig, ranching, and it’s not especially lucrative. There’s a reason only a tiny percentage of the population works in agriculture anymore: it’s a rough, rough job. I do it for love as much as money, but I’ve got friends who have it as their “main gig” or profitable (more or less) side gig. Also, when Bill Gates and company try to force us all to eat bugs and algae, he’ll have to pry my cattle herd from my cold dead fingers.

    In a way, my main jobs from 2000-2018 felt like side gigs. It was work from home plus significant travel (at first global then later just around the Midwest US). Depending on the exact role I was doing, who my boss was*, and the status of clients I was working for, I sometimes had copious free time. My role ranged from professional services to system architecture, software architecture and design, to sales engineer over the years and each had different challenges but both the companies I worked for over that period allowed me to be home-based. I was getting paid Silicon Valley wages and living with Appalachian cost of living, which allowed me to buy all those rental properties.

    * I had bosses at one end of the scale who were of the mind “If you can get everything done that I need you doing in two hours a week, I don’t care what you are doing the rest of the time” to ones at the other end of the scale who seemed to find the idea that you might be idle on “company time” (and I was salaried, and expected to give up a significant portion of my life, including many evenings and weekends, to planes, airports, hotel rooms and being along, away from my family in strange cities) a grievous sin to the point that some of them made us keep time cards, and I was forced to invent ways to fill my work hours. I guarantee you that the more a boss tried to monitor my time, the less enthusiastic and productive work he got. Fortunately I only had a couple of the latter type.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Kentucky Gent · April 23

    I had two side gigs in my life. Both of them were front desk/night auditor for hotels. The first time I quit was because I thought my day job was about to get really rough. I wasn’t wrong, and wound up working crazy hours. For salary. So my hourly rate essentially plummeted.

    The second time, I was in grad school. I worked at Days Inn on Wolf Road in Albany, NY. Got to see police take down some criminals right in the road outside the back office window. The ladies working there were eye candy, except the ones in housekeeping. I quit when I got a research assistantship.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lemmiwinks · April 23

    I’ve had an inadvertent side hussle for a few years but although the rate is good (I set it low at $70/hr*) the work is extremely patchy. In the absence of a transport vehicle I can only do a few km radius. Since I wasn’t actually looking for a side hussle I mainly set the price as a slight deterrent so the neighbours wouldn’t call me over every time the grass got over ankle high. It is what it is.

    If I lost my job tomorrow I would petition local farmers and mower repair shops for work while applying to the mines.

    *Don’t get excited, it’s slashing paddocks, where I provide everything except the paddocks. Going rate for “professionals” seemed to be anywhere from $70/hr to $140/hr when I researched it. Given my tractor is 60 odd years old we can say it’s at the bottom of its depreciation curve and luckily it’s easy on the fuel consumption so I figure I’m OK.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. freemattpodcast · April 23

    Where I live, there are some decent Craigslist cash jobs that beat a 9-5 or temp work.

    Yeah, I saw one of the copywriter outfits. It is a race to the bottom. Terrible way to get started. Some folks never get selected and there is always someone bitching about something. They also don’t pay the best diddly squat.
    I also had an issue with a transcription service. Their screening was janky at best.
    Yes, semi skilled or skilled is usually a better deal. A wire toter on a temp contract is better than that crap.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · April 23

      Yes, I faced dodgy screening for a captioning job. I don’t think those who make the decisions are native speakers of English.

      Liked by 1 person

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