How to think about your side hustle income

Originally published at Millennial Money Guide:

It’s no secret that millennials are a generation of hustlers. Many of us have, or are looking to develop, side hustles to supplement the income from our main jobs. But how should you categorize your side hustle income? Make sure every dollar has a purpose with these 4 strategies.

1. Don’t double count your earnings

I recall my first non-wage side hustle income. It was the simplest introduction possible: I started selling my old stuff on eBay. My primary motivation wasn’t even the income, but rather the decluttering that selling my stuff would facilitate. I was looking to ditch dead weight, and focussing on physical clutter seemed like one way to begin. But, when the sales actually began hitting my PayPal account, I began thinking of all the things that new income stream could offset. And I do mean all the things. I was full of excitement about how that $75 I earned selling a handbag could cover my groceries for a week! And half a plane ticket to Vegas! And a nice restaurant meal out! I needed to slow down and realise it might offset one of those areas of spending, but not all. And that it ultimately represented a net loss anyways, given the handbag probably cost over $200 new.

Once your side hustle income starts flowing, check that you’re not allocating it to more than one area. Give each dollar a singular purpose, be it covering day to day spending, bulking up your emergency fund, or investing.

2. Don’t spend it before you earn it

Closely correlated to the above, be mindful about adjusting your spending upward, especially before your side hustle income really starts materializing. My preferred way of looking at it is, earning side hustle income is not a good reason to spend recklessly, or in a way you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

An example of this is income earned from Airbnb, particularly if it’s only when you travel. I list my apartment on Airbnb when I travel, but I only do so for trips I would’ve taken (and would’ve been able to afford) anyways. If I started taking trips just for the purpose of earning more Airbnb cash, I’d want to be very mindful of the overall cost of that travel, relative to the potential income generated. The same could be said of buying items to flip, which is a really interesting area to look into. Just be conscious that the inventory you bought doesn’t represent actual cash until you’ve successfully flipped it. And it should go without saying, but please don’t go into debt chasing side hustle income.

3. Budget for taxes

Depending on the character of your side hustle income, you may need to report it as self-employment income. One way or another, in most cases it will ultimately end up on your tax return. One exception would be when you have a loss on the sale of personal-use property, such as your car, home furnishings, or clothing (i.e. that $200 handbag I sold for $75), which is not reportable, as it’s not a deductible loss. In general, any source that has paid you more than $600 is required to issue you a 1099, which is reported to the IRS, and is then your responsibility to report on your tax return. For a broad overview, the Turbotax blog provides a summary of what to think about. You should consult a tax professional for the specifics on this as related to your personal circumstances.

4. Enjoy the process while you develop your hustle muscle

I’ve found delving into different side hustles to be a really fun process. Even just those first few eBay sales started building up my entrepreneurial drive. My side hustle muscle, if you will. It’s remarkable how different it feels earning your first independent income, versus getting the same old paycheck you’re used to. I’ve found, and have noticed in others, that it tends to spark the desire to do more, to seek out new opportunities, to optimize other areas of life. As millennials, we’ve tapped into the power of developing multiple income streams, and we certainly love the freedom and flexibility that allows. Keeping a few key concepts in mind as we do this will serve us well as those income streams grow and change over time. Whether your goal is to replace your day job income, pad your savings, or fund your next adventure, thinking more like an entrepreneur is going to get you there faster.

Three things I’ll keep doing after I’ve left my 9-5

I’ve considered the pros and cons about quitting my 9-5, and I’ve given my 1 month notice. Now, besides counting down the days, I’m thinking about what habits I’ll keep once I’ve embarked on my journey into self employment.

For a long time, I didn’t have very good habits regarding structuring my workday/week. I was constantly reacting, and thus constantly felt overwhelmed and out of control. Over time, I’ve tried to address the primary pain points as much as possible, and while I haven’t always been 100% successful, there are a few habits I’ve developed as a longtime cubicle dweller that I plan to carry over into my new work scenario.

Three habits I’ll keep up after I’ve left my 9-5

  1. Planning meals in advance.

This is one area that does get talked about a fair bit, especially in frugal circles. But I really do find it such a good discipline that has a profound knock-on effect into other areas besides merely saving money. Of course, by planning my work lunches in advance, I’ve saved many, many thousands of dollars/euros over the years. It’s also far healthier, encourages fun and exploratory grocery shopping excursions, and provides a nice weekly discipline. It also means I know what I’m going to be eating, and thus don’t mindlessly snack, or succumb to impulse buying of “convenience foods.” (Scare quotes are intended on both the “convenience” and “food” claims.)

I anticipate with having more time and mental bandwidth, I’ll be able to branch into even more interesting recipes and ingredients. And if I happen to be based in a new place for a while, it should provide just the sort of steadying routine to help me feel settled. 10/10, will keep doing post- 9-5.

2. Walking before and after work. 

This is also something I’ve been consistently doing for years, both when I lived in Seattle as well as here in Ireland. It goes with the territory of car-free living, that the daily commute involves moving around outdoors for a little while before and after work each day. I reserve the right to minimise this on the days where the weather is truly dreadful, but honestly, it’s a good discipline too, and a little rain never killed anyone. Getting outside for a little walk is a nice way to signify that the workday has begun and ended. I’ll continue doing this both to bookend my day, as well as to keep that bit of daily activity when I no longer have a walking commute.

3. A long walk at lunchtime.

This is a new habit. I’ve only been doing this ever since I realised the 1 hour lunch break is a non-negotiable at my current company, and my tendency to work through it was neither helping me stay on top of email, nor being valued especially. It’s just not in the culture here, which is fine. I’m an adaptable gal, but I also cannot fathom a universe in which it takes me 60 minutes to each my little packed lunch, and I also get hungry well before the designated lunch hour of 1-2pm.  So I started taking a 1 hour walk each day, usually listening to podcasts.

This habit has become one of my favourite parts of the day. It’s nice, gentle exercise (great for keeping that step count up!), it’s a lovely way to explore the adjacent neighbourhoods, and to take a little mental break in the middle of the workday. I’m also keeping up with more podcasts than ever before, which I really enjoy. I find I come back less stressed, more creative, and more productive. In a perfect world, if it were up to me, I’d still allow people to forego the rigidity of the forced lunch hour, and arrive later/leave earlier if they preferred. But I’m grateful that the policy caused me to develop this beneficial habit. I’ll definitely keep this up in one form or another. It just may not be at exactly 13:00 on the dot every day. 😉

No-Spend Work Week: Status update

As a follow-up to my previous post, my no-spend work week challenge has been going brilliantly. I love setting out on my daily walk with no cash or cards on me, and I love coming straight home from work, or post-work yoga, without having to consider whether I’ll pop into the shops. My bank statement reflects this simplicity. There are far fewer transactions and they’re all deliberate, mindful ones, that I don’t regret. I even find I have less food waste, because I know I’m only buying it once a week, so I buy only what I’ll eat that week. My fridge is all but empty by the following weekend. I take that as a good sign of both a lack of processed foods, and a lack of food waste, both things that are important to me.

What habits have you developed that you’d continue, even if the structure of your work week changed?

The Secret Superpower of a (Relatively*) Low Salary

When I accepted the job that allowed me to move to Ireland, I was acutely aware I was taking a pay cut. Cue the shock and disbelief! How could someone who prides herself on being financially responsible, on the path to financial independence, voluntarily accept less money?

One of the common threads I note in the financial independence community is that, for basically all of us, money is far from the most important thing in our lives. Instead, we simply agree that mastery of money is one of the best ways to give those things that are the most important to us the time and attention they deserve.

Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to have another expat experience, which has always been one of my goals, I took it, and decided not to worry (at least not too much) about the lost savings potential. Life’s too short, #YOLO, and all that. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and here’s why:

The Secret Superpower of a Low Salary

  1. Keeping expenses low is a superpower

If you can live within your means on a low salary, it means you can budget, find the best deals, and eliminate the unnecessary. That makes you a badass who can demonstrate immigrant hustle when called upon. This is a good muscle to develop no matter your income, but it really shines in situations where income is limited, or taxes/cost of living is higher than what you might be used to. You’re proving to yourself that you can survive, thrive, and be happy, while spending very little. This is a necessary precondition for the next step.

  1. Determination to save, no mater what, is a superpower

I consider saving money a non-negotiable. When you are living far from home, it’s especially important to not be spending every cent you earn and thus have a cushion to fall back on. It’s just a good practice that will serve people at any income and with any lifestyle goals. But when you can take a relatively modest take-home salary and decide how much of it absolutely must be saved, no matter what, you’ve just levelled up your superpowers and are ready for the next, most crucial phase of this process.

  1. Low salaries aren’t that difficult to walk away from (or replace)

And here’s the kicker, the biggest secret superpower of a low salary: no golden handcuffs here! You’ve proven to yourself that you can be happy, and save, on a fairly modest amount. Now you can start doing the math, and figure out exactly how much you’d need to replicate that lifestyle. Playing around with the numbers in lower cost of living areas is particularly fun, for example. But the important thing is now you know the income amount on which you can continue your totally satisfactory and financially responsible lifestyle without changing a thing. And you may find that it’s not that daunting to try and replace it.

If you’ve mastered these superpowers, the real secret is you’re already free. You can take the leap into self employment, entrepreneurship, alternative income streams, or side hustle work. You can happily walk away from the salaried job, with its stress and demands on your time.

Being debt free is the foundation that makes it all possible

It’s really much easier than perhaps many people think to keep expenses low, but I feel the need to caveat that it’s made possible by having no monthly non-negotiable expenses. Yeah, none. Most notably, no debt payments. Everything else can be optimised and adjusted, everything else is just a fun variable to plug into our calculators (what does it look like if I spend €50 less on food? What about €100 less on housing?). Debt sucks, I’m extremely grateful I don’t have any, and I’m vigilant about guarding against acquiring any debt in future. Being debt free, combined with being even a little flexible or creative in your other must-haves opens up the entire world to you. Quite literally, as I’m about to find out.

*One important note. I’m being a bit flippant about the comparatively lower salaries on offer in Ireland vis-a-vis the US, combined with high cost of living and high taxes. I’m very, very aware that my salary here is above the local average and is certainly enough to live comfortably while making very few real sacrifices. I’m very grateful for that and am conscious that being in a position to walk away from any salary is a huge privilege. But, with that being said, it is a privilege I think more people could get closer to, if they wanted, with just a few changes in mindset and habits.

Damn the man. Start investing.

When you hear the word “investing”, what comes to mind? Do you think about old, rich, white guys talking about mysterious (and possibly shady) things involving acronyms? Or does it start to sound like the grownups on Charlie Brown are droning on again? Hold that thought.

Now, what happens when you think about socially aware, even radical, ideas and causes? Does an image of the noble, penniless activist pop into your head? The idealistic dreamer who has far loftier things to think about than something as unpleasant as money?

Money occupies an uneasy place in our culture. The oft-cited cliché that money isn’t the most important thing is, of course, true. But it’s still a major factor in how our lives play out. It dictates, to a large extent, the amount of time we have to dedicate to the areas that truly are the most important things to each of us. Things like family, travel, community service, political activism, art, creativity, and personal development. All of these are best served when we have the bandwidth to focus on them, both financially and in terms of our most valuable resource: our time.

Money is something we all grapple with; it flows around us and weaves its way through our lives. And I’m going to make the case that one of the most radical, woke things you can do, dear reader, is more than just get your finances together. And no, it’s not only to get out of debt and start saving, which everyone (correctly) advises we all do. But instead, it’s to start investing, doggedly and with determination, both for your freedom and to advance the freedom of others. And in dedication of your loftiest ideals. Here’s why.

Breaking down mental barriers:

To many people, perhaps especially millennials, investing can seem not only out of reach, but somehow perhaps even incongruent with our values and beliefs. But the image we may have of being broke as some kind of noble condition is unnecessary and outdated. A more accurate picture would be to conceptualize that the forces that many of us oppose want us to stay broke, stay in debt, stay mindlessly consuming. And that our act of educating ourselves and taking control of our financial future is an act of rebellion against the status quo.

Getting rid of the taboos and breaking down our limiting beliefs about money is a necessary first step. Not talking about money doesn’t serve us. And buying into the false belief that investing is for the elite and the privileged, doesn’t make us any freer. Depending on the backgrounds we come from, we’re all carrying around different inherited and received ideas about money. And for those of us coming from less economically privileged backgrounds, the very idea of increasing our wealth can make us feel like class traitors. We need to validate and acknowledge that feeling as normal, and then systematically dismantle it.

Self-education:

Historically, one of the biggest barriers to financial literacy would have been access to information. But we no longer need to belong to a wealthy family in order to learn about investing, nor do we need an expensive financial advisor to get us started. There’s more and better information online, and a plethora of low-cost options out there. The barriers to entry have become all but nonexistent, with the exception of our own (totally normal and understandable) fear of getting started.

I’m not a financial advisor, but low-cost index funds seem like a reasonable place to start, for example. We should all do our due diligence and read about why they’re a good option, and then actually take the steps to open the account and contribute to it. Once you do, you’ll be doing the same thing Warren Buffett has instructed be done with his own estate. What could be more democratic than your money sitting there alongside the money of one of the richest men in the world?

If you are living within your means and building up a surplus, you’ll eventually need to put it somewhere. Interest rates on savings accounts are essentially zero, and that’s no way to build real, life-changing wealth. To do that we need to invest, and whether that takes the form of simple index investing, real estate, or otherwise, we need to do more with our money to allow it the chance to really grow. Investing is for everyone. You deserve to benefit from economic growth as much as anyone else. Don’t shortchange yourself.

The benefits of financial freedom:

Once we’ve tackled our limiting beliefs, and taken the steps to educate ourselves and take action, how is investing going to impact us in a way that really matters? We all care about more than the bottom line, or on numbers on a spreadsheet. I think there are three ways that increased financial freedom benefits us as individuals, in ways that we can align with our values and beliefs.

Firstly, when we choose to save and invest our money, we are necessarily making a choice that involves less reliance on consumer culture. Every dollar we earn has potential and possibilities. It could be spent on consumer goods, and with that the attending questionable labour practices, environmental waste, and dodgy ad campaigns we may not subscribe to. Or it could be invested in our future wellbeing, and that of our loved ones and communities.

Secondly, increased financial freedom means less reliance on jobs that may not align with our beliefs, or at the very least take our time away from the things we truly value. If we’re going to be trading our time for money, as the vast majority of us do, we should demand a better return on investment. If we don’t invest a portion of our earnings, we’re not getting any closer to free with each passing year. No matter how much you may like your job, think about what an impact buying an extra year of your freedom could have.

Finally, when we are financially secure, we have increased ability to make a positive impact on our communities and spheres of influence. Similar to putting on your own air-mask first on a plane, the idea is to get ourselves right so we can more effectively help others. That doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about, talking about, and organising around the systemic issues contributing to inequality and injustice. Far from it. But as individuals, taking concrete, deliberate action towards our own financial freedom is powerful. Think about the positive impact it can have on generations when the first person in a family goes to college. I think the same can be true of opening the first investment account.

The knowledge and ability to invest no longer needs to be shrouded in mystery, or the province of elites. It can and should be for everyone, and is a powerful way to better serve our communities and our goals. We now have unprecedented access to information that allows us to democratize and de-mystify investing, to normalize it so it’s no longer solely the inherited, protected knowledge of the wealthy and privileged. So if you’re progressive and pissed off, take the radical, counter-cultural step towards freedom. Damn the man, start investing.

Five things I WILL miss about my 9-5, and why I gave my notice anyway

In the interest of being balanced, I’ve been thinking about what I will miss about my job when I switch over into the world of self-employment. Or will I say I’m a freelancer? Or an entrepreneur? Oh dear, let’s hope this isn’t another case of expat/immigrant/digital nomad. (Although, it appears it’s about to lean more towards the nomadic in the near future.) But, I digress. Onto a list, and then, an announcement.

Gratitude (or: an aversion to printers and printed things)

I’m incredibly grateful for the way my career has gone thus far. I’ve had a chance to work with amazing professionals and clients, and to develop a niche skill (namely, US expat tax) along the way. When I started out, I certainly didn’t have the foresight to plan how nicely that would dovetail with my eventual expat inclinations, so that’s down to luck. Or my subconscious directing me towards anything with the magical, life-giving word “international” in it. Anyways, it’s pretty neat that it’s brought me here.

While I’m 100% excited about my upcoming move into self-employment, there are certainly things I’ll miss after my last day in the office. Here they are, in very specific order:

  1. The people: Is it just so cliched to say this? None of my coworkers even know about this blog so I’m not even trying to flatter them, but real talk, I’ve worked with some terrific people over the years. I’ll miss having great people in an office next door to bounce ideas off of, or to commiserate with. I know I’ll encounter more great people as I move forward, but honestly? It’s been really nice having such easy access to a collection of them, all handily gathered in one place. Global mobility tax being a small, small, tiny world that it is, I hope and expect that many of our paths will cross again in future.
  2. The resources: Working for a big company has many perks, not the least of which includes access to high quality and expensive resources at your fingertips. I know I am facing a learning curve when it comes to finding the resources and tools that will work for me, everything from research tools, to software, to things I probably haven’t thought of yet. I think that now more than ever, there’s increasing ability for individuals or small companies to access world-class tools, but I admit it’s been nice having it all on a silver platter. But hopefully it will be even more rewarding to seek out and implement the right tools and resources that will work for me.
  3. The structure: This is probably a blessing and a curse. Having a rigid structure is one of the main things I’m looking to move away from, and yet there is something to be said for a bit of routine. Having a set schedule means I know exactly which yoga class I’ll be going to, for example. And forces me to plan my meals each week. Being aware of that will hopefully allow me to implement the elements of routine that work well and add value to my productivity, and jettison the pointless rituals.
  4. The free food (sometimes): Free food is great, and big companies are often very generous with it, which is lovely of them. There will be no more boxes of chocolate sitting out by the printers when I’m working for myself, for example. Although, time will tell if that actually turns out to be a good thing for my fitness goals…
  5. The ability to print things (sometimes): In my ideal future state, I’ll never need to print anything, ever again. Printers are hideous relics from a backwards, brutish time that can’t be too soon forgotten. I used to feel like quitting my job* every time I had printer drama, which was every time someone cruelly and sadistically compelled me to waste paper on what could so much more sensibly be conveyed on a screen. And yet. As long as Ryanair continue to add insult to injury, and taunt those of us who are EU-passport-deficient by forcing us to print our tickets and have them stamped, it’s been handy having a place to do that. I’ll have to print my Ryanair tickets elsewhere someday soon. (But seriously, Ryanair, do you think we sad, wretched non-Europeans haven’t suffered enough? Have you seen the non-EU passport queue? Take pity on us.)

*…So I quit my job

With all that in mind, I gave my 1 month notice this week anyways. I’m so excited for this next chapter to unfold. After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to try combining a lot more location independence into this experimental alchemy of lifestyle design. I’m still going to make financial independence a priority, but no longer at the expense of being free to roam, and to see all the amazing people and places I love around the world.

As I told different people the news this week, I got an interesting variety of responses. People are lovely and they want to know you’ll be alright, is my main takeaway point, I suppose. And making a slightly unconventional choice makes some people uncomfortable. But for the most part, there was a lot of support and excitement, even if I had to answer some version of “but what will you do???” at least 6 different ways.

I wonder if in the not-too-distant future, making this kind of choice will be so commonplace, that concern or outright skepticism will have gone the way of my nemesis, the printer. My hope is that my small example will add to the growing chorus of people living lives on their own terms, smashing printers and doubts (and the patriarchy, because obviously) wherever we go.

And yet I haven't aged a day

How is this movie 18 years old, and printers still suck?

 

Taking the leap into self employment: 5 things I won’t miss about my 9-5

One of my goals is to transition away from my current 9-5, salaried employment into freelancing and self-employment.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but had been stuck in the feeling of uncertainty. Much of that fear is understandable, such as wanting to ensure a steady income, and concerns about taxes, retirement savings, and health insurance. And, last but certainly not least, being an immigrant as I currently am: where in the world I’d be doing all this if (when) I’m no longer on an employer-sponsored work visa.

I can’t say that I’ve got all of those areas 100% figured out and optimised to my liking, but I’m working on it, and will write more about each area as I go. What I can say, however, is that when I allowed my focus to shift from what I’d be losing, to what I’d be gaining, I started to get really excited, instead of just scared. And for most of us, the amazing side benefit that comes with being excited about moving towards something, is that it inspires action. Fear breeds inaction, and it shuts down our minds to possibility and growth.

To laugh in the face of fear, here are 5 things I won’t miss about traditional, salaried employment:

 

  1. Asking for permission: This is far and away my number one reason for becoming a freelancer. I can no longer tolerate having to ask permission to go visit my family, or having a limited quota of days in which to fit travel to see family as well as travel to the rest of the world. There simply isn’t enough time, people!

  2. Silly rules: It’s the seemingly small things, so small they almost seem petty to complain about. And yet. For example, my current office doesn’t allow use of headphones at work. “Even if music really, really, honestly helps me focus and makes me more efficient on tough tasks?” I asked naively. Even then. I hate to say it, but failure to adapt to the needs of individuals is going to cause big companies to lose out on talent, especially in the millennial generation and those coming after us. The same is true of picky dress codes, and companies being unnecessarily inflexible on working hours and working locations. As it is, I look forward to optimising my efficiency by listening to music when I need to, once I’m working for myself.

  3. Interruptions: Now, I know interruptions will still happen once I’m working for myself. And I’ll have to be vigilant about my own productivity. But something I won’t miss is being in the middle of something requiring deep focus, and being interrupted by something less important, that will cause me to have to essentially start over. I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish when I can focus on and prioritise the work that truly adds value.

  4. Unhealthy habits: Health is one of the things I value and prioritise above most things. And I’m aware that it can sound ungrateful and tone-deaf to complain about the modern office environment, as compared to working conditions in much of the world and in most of human history. However, the fact remains that many offices today are not designed with health in mind. There’s too much sitting, and too much easy access to unhealthy convenience foods. I’ve gotten into a good habit of making my own lunches, but the hours of sitting are something I haven’t been able to successfully optimise my way out of in my current environment. When I am working for myself, I look forward to setting up a standing work area, or seeking one out if I’m working outside my home base.

  5. Limited income: When you’re on a salary, your level of work doesn’t really directly correlate to your income. Salaries are typically reviewed once a year, and individual employees might have relatively little say in their pay rises. In the face of that, many smart career ladder-climbers will of course job-hop. That’s never really appealed to me for some reason, even though I completely understand the benefits. But for now, after years of feeling like I had relatively little control over my income, I’m really excited about the fact that working more hours will equal more income. It all comes back to having a greater measure of freedom and control.

    Challenges and opportunities

I think in the near future, going freelance will be easier and smoother. I’m hopeful that the powers that be, on a global scale, will recognise that the gig economy is real, and will shift away from designing systems, from taxes to immigration to (most notably for Americans!) health insurance, solely with traditional employees in mind. The more of us that are out here, just doing it, will eventually have to shift the conversation.

Recently, a great piece on Levels.io made the all-too timely call for digital nomad work permits. Early retirement bloggers like Our Next Life write about the health care challenges for early retirees living in the US, and the exact same concerns are true for freelancers. Anecdotally, I have American friends who have specifically decided not to go into freelancing/self employment because of the difficulty and cost of finding non-employer provided health insurance. For now, the world simply isn’t set up for the solo-preneurs out there, and it certainly isn’t set up for digital nomads.

This is all to acknowledge that the challenges and uncertainties we face when choosing a path less travelled are real. But ultimately I’m optimistic about the possibilities and the freedom that will come with being self-employed. And I’m ready to take the leap of faith that I’ll be able to meet the challenges that come with it.