What I wish I knew before I started my side hustle

October 10, 2019

Once I graduated high school and was accepted into university, I thought I had the trajectory of my life fairly figured out. I’d work hard to get my degree, apply to 100 jobs in my field, get a job in a fancy building and get a $1.99 frame from the dollar store to put my $35,000 degree in for my office wall. I’d work Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 and spend too much money at hip restaurants on the weekends.

I’d use my salary to pay off debts I had incurred throughout the duration of my student life and at the same time save for:

  • down payment for my first home
  • car (to avoid relying on public transit)
  • new furniture for my new apartment
  • soon-to-be wedding
  • bucket list travel fund
  • retirement savings plan (to be honest, I still haven’t started this one)

While saving for all the things I was told I should be “working towards,” I also was using that income to pay for the not-so-fun things, like:

  • rent
  • groceries
  • loan payments
  • gas
  • new clothes for my new job
  • likely a bunch of other boring things I can’t think of

Though I was making more money than I ever had in my life (as my past employment opportunities were working part-time as a cashier at Walmart and organizing clothes at a sporting goods store), somehow I had never felt more broke.

Can you relate?

Woman in front of field looking down at camera

Deciding on a Second Career

Living in the world of part-time Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, wedding cake decorators, influencers, and the list goes on… what could I do to make extra cash? What was the best way to make (and save) more money?

“I have a degree, maybe I could tutor, but I don’t really like kids.”
“I don’t own a home, so I couldn’t be an Airbnb host.”
“I’m allergic to most animals, so I can’t be a dog walker.”

How could I make more money to sustain a lifestyle I am “supposed” to want (owning a home, being debt-free, having a pile of money to retire on)? While also doing what I really want (travelling the world, trying new restaurants, and yes spending $7.99 on a fresh-pressed juice that comes in a pretty glass bottle with a quirky name)?

How could I make more money on the side and still enjoy the activities I love, all while being lumped into a category of an “entitled and lazy millennial”?

Being born in the early 90s, I am no stranger to social media and often wasted hours scrolling my life away (I know, so typical of my millennial self, right?). I started to notice many people I follow on Instagram posting about their “side hustle” product and services. All these people had diplomas, degrees, and MBAs yet they were advertising their cake decorating and DJing services. I quickly realized I could take my photography hobby I had enjoyed since I was a kid and turn it into a secondary income.

With the right captions and branding, I quickly started booking family and couple photoshoots through Instagram direct messages. I would do photoshoots after work and on the weekends and most of the time I was working 6-7 days a week.

This secondary income from my side hustle allowed me to pay for my wedding, buy new furniture for my apartment, and pay off debt. Not only does it allow me to pursue one of my passions and be creative, it helps pay the bills too.

Tips for Starting your Side Hustle

While it seems like I have my side hustle all figured out, there are some realities I wish I knew when I was getting started.

Open a separate bank account for your side hustle. Like, now… go do it.

Having a second source of income is fantastic, but if you have goals of what you want to do with these funds, make sure you get yourself organized. If you lump the money from your side hustle into your daily chequing account, you’ll quickly realize you don’t know where it went. That money you wanted to save for your bucket list trip or to pay down your car faster has gone to rent payments and over-priced coffee. I am speaking from experience here!

Open an account to save your money and give it a name like “Thailand Trip,” “New Car,” or simply “Side Hustle” if you’re not sure what you want to do with that money yet.

Another side job tip – get a separate credit card for your side hustle expenses. Keeping everything as separate as possible will benefit you as you save money for your goals and for when tax season rolls around!

Give yourself boundaries to avoid burn out.

It seems like a great problem to have: you’re so busy with your side hustle that you can’t keep up. You see that account growing and you want to keep going. I can promise you, you will burn out if you say yes to everything. Soon this coveted side hustle you were passionate about turns into something you begin to resent and you won’t do your best work. I’m also speaking from experience here.

Give yourself boundaries. You don’t have to say yes to every side job opportunity as much as you might want to. Your mental health will thank you and your boss from your 9 to 5 will too.

Value your services.

When you’re first starting out with your side hustle, your friends and family become your best customers. And they will happily be your customers as you’re likely giving a hefty discount or even working for free! I totally understand and have experienced this myself but do not make this a pattern. You have a side hustle to earn extra income and if you’re working for free, beyond the creative outlet, what’s the point? Know your worth and charge accordingly!

By Sarah Folkes-Fergusson