People have always found ways of making extra money on the side, whether that involves throwing Tupperware parties, braiding hair, or putting in shifts at a restaurant. These days, the emergence of apps and other digital platforms that connect people to part-time jobs has made it easier than ever to cobble together extra cash.
Some ventures are entrepreneurial in nature, whether it involves running an online shop or developing passive income revenue streams. Other gigs are more random — a simple matter of finding stuff to do online whenever there’s time. Then, others are a mix of the two — think Uber and Lyft drivers who may spend hours scouting out passengers.
According to Finder.com, the average American with a side gig (a reported 69.8 million people) makes $3,075 per year. Millennials make slightly more, $3,677. That might not seem like a ton of money at a glance, but a few thousand dollars can put a big dent in student loans, credit card debt, or savings goals.
Curious what that looks like IRL? Refinery29 talked to three women — married, engaged, partnered, recently out of school, or gigging full-time — about their side gigs, and how they make them happen.
These interviews have been condensed for clarity and length.
Being extraordinary is about living a life of purpose. The Unconventionals is our celebration of extraordinary women who know there is no right way to follow your dreams, and are creating their own roadmap for success. These women recognize that progress comes from the urge to stir up the conventional in order to change the world.
Location: Denver, CO
Occupation: Administrative Lead
Marital Status: Engaged
Tell us about your side gigs.
“About two years ago, right after my boyfriend and I became serious and decided to move in together, he lost his job. We decided that I was making enough money to support us on one income, while he made the choice to turn his side hustle of photography into a full-time freelance thing. I started taking on jobs on the side to make that work for us.”
How did you pick the jobs you have?
“Dog sitting was easy. My office at the time had apartments above it, so I met people in the building. I was there all day in the building while they were gone, so I started walking their dogs on my lunch break; it was pretty easy and surprisingly lucrative. After doing that for a while, I signed up with Rover, the dog-sitting agency, and started taking on clients all the time. Now I have about seven regular clients, and I’m not accepting new ones.”
How did you decide how much to charge?
“I charge $43 per night for dog sitting, and I no longer offer walking or drop-in services. I only do overnight visits now, and I offer my services in the clients’ homes. I have a dog and my roommates have dogs, so I don’t bring dogs back to my place. A lot of people like that because they want their dogs to be comfortable, instead of going to a stranger’s home where they don’t know the environment.
“I got a lot of advice from a friend who is a veterinary assistant and also dog sits on the side. She helped me create my profile and figure out my pricing structure. I thought it would be a good idea to charge slightly more for my services than some people around me, and that’s definitely helped me get more serious, more respectful clients — the kind of people who are willing to pay a little big extra for experienced sitters.”
Since you charge a little more, how do you show that you can provide an elevated level of service compared to someone else?
“I have a lot of experience dog sitting at this point, and I have a lot of experience volunteering with animal advocacy groups, like a farm sanctuary and an emergency foster care agency, so that helps. I also have a dozen reviews and repeat customers, so I think when people see the elevated rate, my profile kind of backs up the experience that I have.”
Tell us about the elopement ceremonies you perform. What does that involve and what do you do?
“Oh my gosh, this is my favorite thing. My partner is a photographer, and everybody knows the best way to make money as a photographer is to primarily do weddings. He has been very interested in doing elopement ceremonies — kind of small, intimate weddings — and an elopement company in New York and New Orleans reached out to him for photos, and asked if he could recommend an officiant. I had done a few ceremonies for friends, so we sent them a video that someone took of me performing a ceremony at a wedding; they liked it and hired us both on as their primary vendors in Colorado.
“They secure clients for us and then pass them our way, and we coordinate our services with them. Anyone can be ordained online. There are programs you can go through to be a celebrant versus an officiant, and that’s a little more involved. As an officiant, I offer advice on writing vows, where to perform the ceremony location-wise, and I also give a lot of tips for planning, coordination, and logistics.”
How did you learn what advice to give these couples?
“The first couple of times, it was off the top of my head. I jumped into it thinking I would just figure it out as I went along, and that is exactly how it worked out. My partner and I are getting married next year, so I thought about all the weddings I’ve been to, what works or not, and how I would write vows. I try to give people advice like I’m their friend. My official title is reverend but I don’t really use that — although it helps check the box if people have a religious family member. That isn’t something that usually comes up for me and the families I work with, though. I try to not give people spiritual advice. It’s more like I’m their cool aunt.”
How many of these ceremonies do you do per month?
“The officiation thing is new, and we got 10 in the fall, and already have a handful of booked out in 2018. The sweet spot for booking these tends to be about three months out versus a year out for a traditional wedding.”
“I’M SUPER SECRETIVE ABOUT MY SIDE JOBS AT WORK. MY BOSS AND MY COWORKERS HAVE NO IDEA.”
How did you figure out how to set your rate?
“I saw that people who do this as their full-time career and offer well-rounded services in addition to officiation charge about $350 to $500. Since I’m kind of new at it, I figured less than that would be a good place to start. I live in Colorado, so a lot of the couples who come in want to get married in the mountains; that can be anywhere from a 45-minute to three-hour drive for me, so we charge per mile for travel fees for the two of us, and for the company I’m working with, everything is sort of all-inclusive.
“All told, I make $400 to $2,000 per month, for about two to six elopements. If I were to book a wedding on my own outside of this company, I would charge extra fees to attend the rehearsal dinner, or if I needed to meet with them in-person or meet with their families, or if they needed extended help writing their vows, etc.”
“With dog sitting, I make a base of $300 per month for a regular client, and I usually take one or two overnight weekend gigs on top of that; it just depends on the time of year. In September, I made about $600. I make more money over the holidays because I don’t travel.”
You said that you and your partner initially decided to do this because he got laid off. What would be the impact of you not doing these side jobs anymore? Do you still need the money?
“They’ve enabled us to make some lifestyle changes we couldn’t exactly go back on. I had an hour commute before and now the commute to my office is only five minutes — but that came with increased rent and utilities.
“The extra money I bring in from doing side gigs has also enabled us to make some investments in ourselves. We’re putting more into our retirement and emergency funds, and we’ve gotten health insurance and things like that. At this point, we’d be kind of screwed if I lost my job or couldn’t do these other side jobs for whatever reason. My fiancé is doing great and is earning more all the time as a freelancer, but if that happened, he would have to take on some sort of steady income. It would be a shame because he’s worked super hard to get where he is in his freelance career.”
How do you balance your side gigs and your full-time job?
“I got really, really lucky with my full-time job. My boss is committed to being a ‘cool’ boss, and he doesn’t really make me stick to particular hours. I’m not expected to be at my office at any certain time. I usually come in at 9:30 a.m. and having a lot of time in the morning to myself to have breakfast without rushing out the door helps me to stay sane. I manage my own workload and my own schedule, so I could go walk a dog, or do a ceremony on a Friday afternoon, and it’s fine. I’m busy a lot, but I’m kind of a busybody anyway.
“It is a little stressful sometimes because I’m super secretive about my side jobs at work. My boss and my coworkers have no idea. I had to tell my boss one day that I was officiating a wedding, but I made it sound like it was for a friend. I don’t want anybody I work with to question my commitment. Or, if I say I’m really busy and I don’t have time to take on a task, or that I need to bump something to the bottom of my priority list, I don’t want them to be confused about the way I prioritize my full-time job versus the way I prioritize my side jobs.
“I think I’m pretty good at keeping them separate, but it is kind of stressful closing my door and hoping no one hears me talking to a bride on the phone while I’m at my office. Also, something I’ve been increasingly worried about is one of my full-time clients seeing me on Rover and thinking that my job doesn’t pay me very well or something. I would hate for them to browse through, looking for a dog sitter, and then see me and think, I guess they don’t pay her enough so she has to get a second job.”
What would you say if it came out? What if someone asked you about your commitment to your primary job, or whether you make enough money?
“I would do my best to reassure them that I am totally committed to my full-time job, and that I constantly keep track of my schedule and workload to make sure that I’m not shortchanging one in favor of the other.
“I’m very appreciative to earn what I earn, and I don’t think I would be able to replicate it if I left this job. My boss always talks to me about being compensated fairly, and when I discuss compensation with him, I try to think about it as if I’m a single person, or someone with a dual-income household. I consider my level of experience and education, the cost of living where I live, and similar salaries across my field — I don’t take into consideration that I would totally love more money. I try not to let my personal situation impact the business transaction that is my compensation.”
If you got paid more, would you quit your side jobs?
“If my partner were suddenly able to make up the income that I make dog sitting, I would quit that in a heartbeat. Dog sitting is great money if you don’t have to worry about your time and could just use an extra couple of bucks here and there to make ends meet. But now that I have so many different things going on, it’s starting to not be a worthwhile use of my time for the money I’m making.
“I GET A LOT OF CONCERN TROLLING FROM PEOPLE I KNOW.”
“I love hanging out with dogs, and it’s nice to be there for people and be a trusted person that comes into their house, but it’s not good money for the time I put into it. I try not to think about it hourly because that would be ridiculous. Instead, I assign it to an expense. Like, if I take this gig this weekend, then I can buy a plane ticket to go visit a friend, or I can pay off my car payment or something like that. I’d love to phase that out for sure — except for some of my very favorite clients.
“Working in the wedding industry is cool but everyone always wants to get married on Saturdays and when the weather is nice. My partner and I want to have a regular wedding just like everybody else does, so we’re going to have to take out a week of our schedule to make it happen. We can’t take any weddings the whole week of our wedding, and we won’t be able to take a honeymoon until next January because we can’t afford to take two weeks off in the middle of fall or summer.”
That’s the hot season for weddings.
“Yeah — spring, summer, and fall. Especially since we’re still establishing ourselves in this market, we can’t afford to say no. But I think we’re going to try to monetize our honeymoon by taking destination clients with us. Say we go to Iceland for a week; we would book our trip and try to advertise as hard as we can that we’ll be there offering these services if you’d like to book with us.”
What do you like about the work?
“I love being of service to other people. People find me trustworthy and that they can rely on me — that’s the thing that dog sitting and elopement services have in common, weirdly enough. There’s a stressed-out person, this is a big deal to them, and they want to count on you to show up and do a good job. It’s your job to make them feel better, so they can get married and enjoy their wedding day, or go on vacation and not have to worry that their dogs are not being taken care of. I’m good at that, and I like being there for people. I’ll check in with photos of their dog, and it’s nice to know that I’m making their day better.
“I once had a neighbor who didn’t realize I was a dog sitter hire a stranger. The stranger faked an injury — like the dog bit her — and then tried to sue. It was not my fault at all, but I felt so bad because that’s the kind of thing that happens out there. I’m glad people are hiring me and not insurance fraudsters!
“When it comes to elopements, I’m still getting my feet wet, but so far it’s been so fun. The job can be challenging, but I get all the best parts. I get to talk to people about their hopes for the future and why they love their person so much. Maybe one day, I’ll become jaded and it’ll all blend together, but I’m really enjoying it so far. I burst into tears the other day working in a coffee shop because one of my brides asked me to review the vows that she’s making to her new stepchildren. It was so sweet.”
What do you think people misunderstand about what you’re doing?
“It’s not related to the work itself, but I do get a lot of concern trolling from people I know. They’re delicate about it, but they try say, ‘Why are you working so hard and taking on three jobs just because your fiancé doesn’t have a job?’
“I appreciate that people are looking out for me, but here is the deal: He had a great opportunity to get out of a career he hated, and do something he’s really passionate about. I figured, I love this man. He’s my partner. I can make this happen. I can choose this because I want it. I think it reads as unfair to some people, or like I’m being taken advantage of, but it kind of comes down to our personalities.
“I’m totally a workaholic and feel happiest when I’m busy and being useful. He tells me every day that he is living his dream life, and that also makes me happy — and he’s working super hard, too. The biggest misconception is that I’m his sugar mama, and he’s just playing around on his camera. In reality, we work together. I help him with his social media and to double-check photos and talk to clients, and he’ll help me with all the weird stuff I’m up to. He’ll drive me to sit a dog when I’m too sleepy, take me to Ikea to buy furniture for my new office, or help work out a spreadsheet.
“The way we look at it is that we have a certain amount of work to do as a couple. His work is working on his career, learning stuff all the time, practicing, and taking on as many clients as possible. My work is separate from that, but we help each other get everything we need to get it done.”
Location: Roseville, CA
Occupation: Stay-at-home Mom
Marital Status: Married
Tell us about your side hustles.
“I do a couple of different things, mainly mystery shopping, product reviews, website reviews, and selling clothes on eBay. I started mystery shopping and writing product reviews in 2005, and I started selling clothes on eBay in 2006.
“For eBay, you need to know your brands. I do research online by following people on Instagram and reading blogs on Pinterest, just to see what’s in style, and what’s selling or not. I followed people for about a year and a half before I started selling some of my clothes. Then I found a couple of good thrift stores nearby that sell inexpensive clothing. I stop by a few times each week to see what’s available, and then list the things I buy.
“For mystery shopping and product reviews, there are different ways of doing it. The sites I use most often for mystery shopping are iSecretShop, FieldAgent, and EasyShifts. SurveysOnTheGo also has mystery shopping jobs, display checking, and surveys. Sometimes you’ll have to go to an apartment and review the performance of whoever is selling the apartment. Other times, you have to go to a store, check out the displays, and take pictures. It varies from place to place.”
How long do these jobs take and how much money do you make from them?
“With mystery shopping, you have to check the apps daily to see if any new jobs have popped up, and then complete them on time. On some apps, you can schedule the mystery shop two or three weeks in advance. Other apps like FieldAgent, you might have a two-hour timeframe, starting from the time you reserve the job, to complete it.
“The amount of money you make varies. With mystery shopping, the two-hour job assignments pay anywhere from $3 per job to $15 per job; FieldAgent requires two or three photos. EasyShifts gives you 24 hours to do the assignment, but for most jobs, they require 50 or 60 photos, and they pay about $5 a shift on average. Some are a little bit more, maybe $6 to $8; others are lower — $3.50 or $4. It depends on how many displays you find or other little things. If you do a mystery shopping job where you go to a store like Costco to evaluate a display, you get paid a little bit more, about $20. An apartment check is about $40 to $50, for about 30 minutes of work, sometimes even less than that.
“With another app I use called Dscout, you apply for missions by answering certain questions. If you’re accepted and accept the mission, you create 30-second to two-minute videos answering whatever additional questions they have. They pay really well — $20 to $150. That one’s my favorite because sometimes for 15 minutes of work, you get $150. It’s not a stable job, but a couple of big jobs like that throughout the month do help.
“Overall, in a decent month, I could make $300 or $400 [from all of the apps] — enough to pay a couple of bills. The possibilities are endless depending on how much time you put into the work, and how many jobs you have available in the area you live in. I work for about five, six hours a month doing this, and I usually make $300, $400 for that. Not too bad.”
How intensive is the work you have to do for the video reviews on Discount? Is it literally like you putting your phone on selfie mode and doing a video?
“Yeah, that’s all it takes, so I’m surprised it’s not more popular. In the app store, there are so many negative comments about it, like, ‘Why do they want a video?’ You’re submitting a 30-second video on smart appliances in your home and how you wish they were different, or what you like about them. That’s it! And they pay you $50, $60, sometimes up to $150 for very simple tasks, and you don’t need any special equipment.”
Do you think people feel weird for privacy reasons? Do you feel weird about showing your face?
“Yeah, in the beginning that was a bit weird. I’m not this confident person who goes around saying, ‘Look at me!’ But I’ve been doing it for about two years, and I honestly don’t care. There are times when I do get concerned. For instance, I did a job where they wanted to see how my daughter plays with toys. I didn’t show her face; I recorded her from behind while she played with her dolls. When my kids get involved, that’s a bit concerning privacy wise. But they paid.
And nothing weird happened.
“No, nothing weird has happened.”
You said you were surprised Discount isn’t more popular. How did you find out about these apps? eBay is obviously a big deal, but what about the others?
“Mainly from Pinterest. Also, there are blogs that have a whole list of apps that are available. I would download maybe 10 of them and see what worked for me.
“ALTHOUGH I DO HAVE AN EDUCATION, I DIDN’T WANT TO BE AWAY FROM MY KIDS, SO THIS IS A WAY TO PAY BILLS.”
“My criteria were jobs that have a cash payout, PayPal, or checks. I didn’t want gift cards. I also needed something that was easy to do. I found opportunities for product reviews through Instagram, but I mainly checked Pinterest and blogs to see what’s available.”
Overall, why do you like this work? What appealed to you about these jobs, especially as a stay-at-home mom?
“Flexibility is the main thing. I have three kids — a nine-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old. When I first started doing this, I had a newborn, and I really needed extra cash. While he was sleeping in my arms, I could do all sorts of things on my phone. Instead of wasting time on social media, I could earn money for bills or gifts for my family from a different source than my husband’s income.
“At that time, I was looking for a way to add a little extra income to our household because we were struggling. I couldn’t get a regular job — I had a newborn, two other kids, and paying for a babysitter would have been too expensive. Although I do have an education, I didn’t want to be away from my kids, so this is a way to pay bills. We’re in a better place now, but I still do this and keep all the money in PayPal. Whenever I do need it, it’s there.
“I also like the different kinds of work. There have been times when we’ve gone on vacation, and I would go on the app and see if there were any jobs nearby. I can get them done anywhere I go.”
Anything you dislike or find difficult about the work?
“The main thing is that the income is not consistent. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get accepted for the video jobs, or that somebody else won’t take a mystery shopping job; it’s not a guaranteed paycheck. Even with surveys, it takes a lot of surveys to earn any money. Some companies pay good money, other companies require 40, 50 pictures, but they’ll pay you $4 or $5. When you’re desperate for money, and you’re already in the store, it’s like, okay, I can do the jobs fairly quickly, and they don’t take that much time.
“I think having kids is one thing that helps me. If I’m taking pictures in a grocery store, I think I’m less likely to draw attention. EasyShifts has an online forum, and there are stories of people getting kicked out of stores because they were taking pictures in places that have a no-picture policy. Or sometimes, a tiny gas station in the middle of nowhere will get suspicious. You might be required to take 30 photos of the same display — can you imagine a person just standing there taking pictures?”
What do your friends think when you tell them about what you do?
“None of my friends are doing mystery shopping, although a few of them do product reviews. I think a lot of people think it’s a scam. I tried to get into mystery shopping about 10 years ago, when there was barely any information and it seemed kind of sketchy. Now, it’s a whole different market with apps, so it’s a lot more reliable.”
Location: Dover, OH
Occupation: Full-time Side-hustler
Marital Status: In a relationship
Tell us about your side hustles.
“I started two or three years ago, first with babysitting, and I also do a lot of online freelance things like transcription, surveys, and research studies. I started because I was a full-time college student, and I needed something flexible that would work around my schedule. It wasn’t going to work for me to do a full-time job.
“After I graduated, I kept up with it because I couldn’t find a job in my field. I went to school for medical administration, and [employers] required so much experience that I didn’t have yet. I’ve been looking to volunteer instead, but in the meantime, I’m sticking with the whole freelancing thing.”
What platforms do you use?
“For transcription websites, mostly TranscribeMe, and for survey panels, Swagbucks — that’s the site I’ve been with the longest and that I’ve made the most profit from.”
How did you find out about these sites?
“Basically Google and word of mouth. I would look up ‘ways to make money on the side.’ I also keep an eye out for things on Craigslist to see if somebody’s offering X amount for doing random things. A lot of my help comes from Reddit, which is the most reliable source, I think, because it’s from real people.”
How much money do you make from all of this?
“It just depends. It’s not per hour, it’s how much time you put into the website itself, and I spend a lot of my time — most of my day and all my free time — doing this. It can pay anywhere from $5 to $50 [per task]. With Swagbucks alone, I’ll make $100 or more per month. Total, I make $300 per month.”
How did you land the babysitting job and how did you set your rate?
“Luckily, it’s through a friend of my mom. It’s the most consistent gig I do, but it depends on how busy she is. There are times where she doesn’t need me for a while because she’s not away as much.
“Since she is a friend of my mom, it’s more like I’m doing her a favor, and she pays me a fixed rate. If I have the kids for the whole day, she’ll pay anywhere from $50-$80. If I have them for a few hours, maybe like $40.”
How did this money help when you were in school?
“It helped me pay for food, books, and things like that. I took out student loans, but I basically had to pay out of pocket for living expenses. What I make doesn’t necessarily help with any big spending, I’ll be honest, but it takes the load off.
“MOST PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH TIME GOES INTO DOING ALL THESE GIGS.”
Could you survive financially without the jobs?
“I would not be able to spend on the little things that I am now — a new pair of pants, or a new pair of shoes.
“I still live with my parents. I’m trying to save up, and I do pay for most of what I need on my own. My dad helps me out a little, giving me $300, sometimes $400, each month.”
What do you like — or not — about the gigs you do?
“I like the freedom to basically make my own schedule and work when I want. What I don’t like is that it’s very tedious. I have to put in much more time than I would in a regular job because I obviously don’t make as much as I would be if I were doing something more consistent. Sometimes it eats up my time from doing other things I want. Like if a friend asks me to go out to dinner, I might have to finish up a survey or panel instead because those things will time out, or they’ll need their desired respondents in a certain amount of time.”
Is there anything you think your friends don’t get about what you do?
“Definitely. Some of them aren’t working, or are in school, or have their own thing going. Others have traditional jobs and a 9-to-5 kind of schedule, and I have to explain it to them. They either think there’s no profit from it, or that I make more than you do. Most people don’t understand how much time goes into doing all these little side gigs.”
This article appeared in Refinery29 on October 27, 2017.