Your Side Hustle Won’t Save You

Your Side Hustle Might Not Save YouHere’s the thing: side hustles are omnipresent in the personal finance world. Consumer debt, bad. Side hustle, good. I get it. You get it. We all get it.
But if you don’t have a purpose for your side hustle, your side hustle won’t save you. 

Long before I ever stumbled across a personal finance blog, I decided to pick up a side hustle. I am a private tutor. Visit any public library after school ends on any given weekday (or weekend – if a student is really swamped with homework or majoring in procrastination), and you’ll see us. We’re the people balancing 17 different books, three bags, a laptop, a tissue box, and maybe some form of family-approved bribery* in desperate search of a place to sit. Even though we might look a little haggard after a full day of teaching and supervising extracurriculars, we slap on a smile and get down to business. Since we’re almost always occupying the exact same spot at the exact same time with the exact same student every week, the private tutoring community is fairly close knit. We know each other. And I know that at least one of my Kleenex-offering, flashcard-making, paper-editing comrades-in-arms is wasting her time. Here’s why:

Treat Yo Self Mentality

There’s been a lot written about lifestyle inflation that happens after a promotion or a bonus at work. Sadly, it’s easy to get caught up in the “spend more” mentality once your side hustle takes off. Case in point? One of my fellow tutors.

She started tutoring in the afternoons because her middle-school daughter is able to work on her homework with help from all the resources the library has to offer while Mom earns some extra money for the family. It’s actually a brilliant plan. The problem is they both show up with venti Frappuccinos from Starbucks and assorted dinner items from Chipotle, Potbelly, and the like. I figure this sets them back an easy $20-$30. So what? It’s an afternoon pick-me-up, a convenient meal on the go, and she’s making money.

Or is she? Most tutors in my area earn $30-$50 an hour. This particular tutor sees one or two clients an evening. While I don’t know her actual rates, my hunch is she’s pocketing anywhere from $30-$100 a night. That means she’s spending anywhere between 30% and 100% of her side hustle before that money even makes it to the bank. It’s certainly fine to splurge on yourself occasionally, the biggest way to treat yourself is to do your future self a favor by opting to save, not spend.

Mindless Earning

Here’s where every personal finance blogger in a hundred-mile radius lets out a groan. I started side hustling to pay for my wedding shoes. I know, I know. I’m awful. But I had made up my mind that my dad and Jimmy Choo were walking me down the aisle, so I devised a plan to make it happen. And it did.

What’s even more silly than side hustling for shoes? Not side hustling for any reason in particular. The aforementioned fellow tutor has remarked to me on multiple occasions that she doesn’t even really know what she’s doing with the extra money or where it all goes. The problem with not knowing what you’re doing with your money is that not only are you more likely to not spend it wisely, but you probably also don’t even know how much money you’re making to begin with.

Even if it’s inconsistent income earned on the side, it makes sense to have a plan for your money. In addition to spending one month wedding-shoe-hustling, I’ve used my side hustle to fund more sensible short-term goals like:

  • Education
  • Travel
  • Home repairs – Let me tell you. Side hustling for Jimmy Choos is way more fun that side hustling for a new AC unit.

Now, I’ve decided to reroute that income once more. This school year, I’m going to put all of my side hustle money towards paying down our mortgage. After all, it only makes sense to want to own the closet free and clear that those Jimmy Choos live in.

*Stickers or Jolly Ranchers, anyone?

**Hello, Pot. My name is Kettle.

So Tell Me…What do you do with your side hustle income? Can you think of any other mistakes people make with their side hustles?

Your Side Hustle Won’t Save You

23 thoughts on “Your Side Hustle Won’t Save You

  1. As usual for your posts, this is spot. on. I (try to) only take on freelance work when I have a purpose in mind for the money, especially since when I’m spending my weekends stressed out writing website content for people, it’s time that I’m not spending with loved ones and my dog. That time is valuable to me, so it has to be worth it!

    And re: your shoes, I think if it was worth it to you, it was worth it! Plus, it’s not like you said to yourself “I deserve these Jimmy Choos, let me just get my credit card…” You worked hard for them! Serious kudos are deserved on that one.

    1. You’re too sweet! You are so smart to be selective with freelancing gigs. Having extra income is huge, but time with family and friends (and dogs!) is invaluable. And those shoes are probably a separate post in themselves one day. 😉

  2. First question: They let you bring food into the library??? 😉 Second question: Okay, there isn’t really a second question. 🙂 I’m glad you raised this because people are just not intentional enough about where all of their money is going, not just side hustle earnings. In our case, we actually realized our side hustles were holding us back at our main jobs, and so our best choice was to ditch them (at least for now), and focus on maximizing earnings at work, which has paid off in a big way. As for your fellow tutor, what she’s doing is fine if she genuinely loves tutoring, would do it for free anyway, sees it as a plus that it forces her daughter to do her homework rather than watching TV, and then as a bonus gets these splurge foods she wouldn’t otherwise buy because the tutoring pays for them. Maybe that’s her situation, maybe it’s not. We have no judgment if people are spending according to what they value, though of course lots of people are not that intentional about it. And no judgment on the Choos — we had our own wedding splurges, which we justified to ourselves by having a super small (but very high cost per head) wedding.

    1. It’s a mad, mad world. I was floored the first time I saw people eating in a library and getting away with it! As for my fellow tutor, I can’t tell you how many times she’s complained to me about bills and how expensive things are. It’s always just in passing, so I don’t know the whole story, but I really get the impression that she convinced herself if she started a side hustle, she’d fix all of her money problems. But you’re absolutely right, I don’t know her values. 🙂

  3. Jolly ranchers pleeease. 🙂

    It’s one of the things that gets me super pumped about personal finance… that it’s not really about the money at all. It seems like ‘more money’ would be the solution, but if you haven’t done any of that good ‘soul-searchin-goal-makin-good-times’ then more money just become… mo’ problems? (sorry about that one)

    You can do all the right things with budgets and side hustles, but unless you’ve taken the time to figure out what it is you really want… it ‘won’t save you’.

    Thanks so much for writing this! (and you can just email me those jolly ranchers whenever you get the chance)

    1. I’ll work on the Jolly Rancher email this week. Come to think of it, how motivated would my students be? Do your homework, I’ll send you candy. Brilliant!

      And I really love your point about doing what you love…even as a side hustle. The truth is, I would (and have) teach and tutor for free. So I’m right there with you.

  4. I totally agree with this I think it is super important to treat side hustling like a proper business (and that means book keeping and everything else that goes with that). That way you have a business mentality when you spend the money (or save it ).

  5. You are totally right. My side hustle has actually been my primary income for the summer and since it wasn’t dedicated to one specific thing, it’s just seeped away in ways it never has before. When I’m working full time, then side hustle money almost always goes right into a savings account or is set aside for a trip or something specific.

  6. This is so accurate! I had a side hustle this summer that was solely devoted to remodeling our bathroom. Having a purpose in mind makes it so much easier to work hard, because money itself isn’t a motivator for me; having a new bathtub that doesn’t leak and isn’t bubblegum pink from the ’80s is! 🙂

  7. A great point you have just made here. I believe side hustle should only be for a purpose and not just a way of life as it can be really exhausting, especially when you do not have something to show for all you efforts. Otherwise, we just end up living from pay check to paycheck.

  8. I try to invest all of my side hustle money, obviously some gets lost in the shuffle. It was funny, I had a goal of 5k and then we would remodel the bathroom… I got to 5k faster than I thought and we instead invested the money 😕 not sure when that bathroom will get a face lift! Nice insight!


  9. My only “side hustles” are my blogs, and if I was expecting them to pay for anything I’d be waiting for a long time. However, when I work substantial overtime I try to spend that money all in one place for some treat, so I can see that it has been worthwhile.

  10. Right now, I don’t earn enough side hustling to put it to use. It sits until it is useful. However, my plan is to direct it to index funds after a down-payment.

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