I recently came across an article “How to Save $100k by 30“. After having a “smh” and “lol” at the paltry goal (only $100,000? dream big!), I skimmed through the suggestions. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of it covered the obvious basics of FIRE and even included some of the buzzwords of the community. As I read through, one suggestion which stuck out was “get a side hustle”.
This is a good recommendation for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the few on the list which could be useful for anyone at any time. Sure, not going into credit card debt or going to a cheap school is great advice, but those choices are time sensitive. The younger you proably benefits more from that advice. Some of the other advice like “say no to your friends” might not be sustainable or reasonable depending on your current social circle (and your interest in finding all-new friends). Getting a side hustle, however, is something that can be done at any time and can have a multitude of positive benefits.
The first and most obvious side hustle benefit is the instantaneous infusion of extra cash (if your side hustle pays right from day 1). This extra funding can help you chip away at that FI savings goal, assuming you don’t spend it (no inflated living expenses allowed!). $60 extra savings a week adds up to $45k over 10 years(with a 7% ROR), which is not bad considering that’s the equivalent of a couple half hour piano lessons. f it doesn’t pay right away, consider that many things which don’t pay can grow into lucrative activities over time. And if not, there are many other great reasons to do things than for the money.
For instance, if you spend all day employing one set of skills, side hustle can be a great way to learn something new. Those skills can be a new challenge or a release to help break up your day-to-day routine.
Those different activities can also be targeted in preparation for early retirement or downshifting. You can try different things to ease your transition out of your career. Additionally, because the side hustle is just on the “side”, you can start to taste the freedom and flexibility of doing things for the simple pleasure, not for the money, not because you have to. You will be “part-time” FI- financially independent.
Two arguments I hear against the stoic benefits of side hustle come from 1. people wanting to dedicate more to their careers 2. people already overwhelmed with just their main job. If you’re Group 1, career focused and would rather be dedicating spare time to work, I still suggest side hustle as a contingency option (just in case life plans change). If you’re Group 2, if your job has you stressed and feeling zapped of all productive juices, I refer you to the previous paragraphs about preparing for early retirment and breaking up the stress of the job. With focus, you can still prioritize just enough spare capacity to start trying a few new things.
My Side Hustle
My side hustle started as a self-examination of activities I enjoyed overlayed against activities convenient in my area. Without really knowing what a get-a-life tree is, I had started one. I love hiking. I grew up surfing, fishing, and paddling on the water. So first, I started considering outdoor, active pursuits.
Since I moved to a major urban center after college, the availability for most outdoors activities has diminished. I tried hiking when I and exploring nearby parks by purchasing an annual state parks pass. I found most of the parks backed up into people’s yards and were little more than wooded golf cart paths. Growing up, I loved kayaking, but I found the kayak I brought getting used mostly in glorified subdivision retention ponds. I even tried scuba for the first time; however, I learned the costs are high, and that I can jump back in at essentially any age. I considered surfing but found the joy and purity of the activity to be best left untainted by money (nevermind that burning gas to drive an hour to the beach every time would kill any potential margin). Finally, I briefly considered fishing. Realizing that fishing was really my dad’s passion, not mine, left me to throw that idea back.
With all my outdoor interests exhausted, I turned to other options. I like math, science, and playing instruments, so I posted ads on Craigslist. Unfortunately, my town is pretty homogeneously filled with engineers so the demand for these skills is pretty low (without significant networking).
Then I thought, well, what do I like to do when money is not a consideration? What do I like to do on vacation. That’s when I came up with … beer. I like to go to breweries and talk beer. On multiple occasions, I’ve been asked if I’m applying for a job. And, while my urban environment limits, well, the environment, beer on the other hand flows aplenty. Beer is, of course, delicious, but the chemistry and processes of malting, brewing, fermenting, hopping, bottling, kegging etc. are equally appealing. Much of beer science is the same as what drew me to chemical engineering in college. As for convenience, our first brewery opened over 20 years ago, and we now have close to a dozen around town. I have 3 breweries within 10 minutes drive of my apartment ad 2 more about to open. Given these bountiful opportunities and alignment of interests, I decided to contact breweries about volunteering.
As it turns out, our biggest and oldest brewery has the best process and website for hiring volunteers. I emaled, and the volunteer manager was responsive and quick to schedule me for an interview. During my interview, I found out 1. they were the only brewery doing tours in a climate-controlled facility (very important in the southern US) 2. they would let me drink on the clock 3. they would let me pick my job and shifts with complete flexibility 4. I would get paid.
That’s right. My only goal when initiating this “hustle” was to learn a few new skills and gain more in-depth knowledge of beer. In fact, I would do that AND get paid- a solid deal all around!
After completing training to become a licensed server (another new skill, score!), I took my first shift on black Friday. It was busy and I absolutely loved every minute! Since then, I’ve work about once a month and the experience has been great! I meet interesting customers, talk to brewers, and get secret tours of the barrel warehouse. It turns out that handing people free beer tends to make them very happy, so I generally get to spend my day with extremely friendly patrons, as well.
Another cool aspect which I came to realize over the last 6 months, the volunteers come from all walks of life. Some are engineers and professionals, similar to the (friendlier, more work/life balanced) coworkers in my office. There are also teachers, deliverymen, a biochemist, retirees, and lot’s of other people. Without realizing it, this diversity was something I had come to miss since moving to an office full of smart, driven and congruous personalities.
Over time, I’ve found this joy to be amplified in my life. At the job, I inexplicably find myself pushing the envelope, mixing beers and flavors, working with customers and brewers to build better brews. I have customers ask for my name (to pass along positive feedback to my manager) or to take their picture with me (to take back home from their vacation). Although the job offers complete flexibility as to how much and how hard I want to work, I find myself asking for additional responsibility. My next schedule will include and jobs beyond the bar such as “tank farmer”, a volunteer who helps run the actual plant tours!
Outside of work, I find myself better able to relax and enjoy my regular job. I feel better calibrated and more appreciative of people around me, and really just happier and richer in general.
Looking back, I never knew what to expect. I made the slightest of proactive efforts and the result has been great experiences contributing to my life in ways I never would have expected. Hopefully, this example encourages you to try your own side hustle (with little or no expectation at the outset). It doesn’t have to be anything special, you won’t know exactly what to expect until you get into it, but it is always up to you to take that first step!