Episode Transcript:

Welcome back to the Meadowsweet Money podcast! I’m Mimi Cirbusova, a Certified Financial Education Instructor and shame-free money mentor. This podcast is all about walking alongside you on your personal finance journey – because, like the old saying goes, if you want to go far, go together.

Side note: that quote is often cited as being an African proverb, but the origins of the phrase are actually pretty fuzzy. The meaning is awesome though.

I am here, recording and sharing this podcast because I believe personal finance is one of those things that we have been taught to be secretive about by systems that wish to oppress us. And my way of fighting back against those systems is sharing stories and ideas with you. Bringing the subject of money into the light. Money doesn’t have to be taboo or scary. And for something that touches pretty much every aspect of our lives, it really should not be.

Today we are talking about a topic that I think can be rather polarizing, and that is side hustles. Some folks say that everyone should be working and grinding your way to greatness. Then there’s folks that say side hustles are a scam. So I want to share a slightly different perspective as both a financial educator, and someone that owns multiple businesses and has had a few side hustles in their time.

Thanks for being here.

As I mentioned, I have a few ways that I personally make money – some more profitable than others. And on more than one occasion, I have been asked by friends to list all the, quote, “things I do” as they count along on their fingers. It’s just the reality of being a multipotentialite.

I’m going to share a few of those things here with you, but I also talk about what I’ve learned along the way.

Most of the time when I hear about someone wanting to pick up a side hustle, or find a way to make some extra money, it’s because there is pressure on their financial resources. They’re needing to pay down debt faster, or trying to save up money in a pinch, or they just aren’t making enough in their day job to meet all of their needs – which is a major problem of capitalism, and is a whole conversation for a future episode.

When we are looking at our financial resources – meaning, our income or other assets (like savings and investments), versus our financial obligations – like our debt and expenses, the goal is to have some kind of gap. Some breathing room, right? If we’re bringing in $3000 a month, but it costs us $3500 a month to live, well, then there’s a big problem. But if we’re bringing in $3000 a month, and it only costs $2700 a month to live, well, we’ve got $300 of breathing room. Which isn’t a whole lot, but it’s better than being in the negative.

The goal of side hustling, second jobs or gig work, or what have you, is to widen that gap by providing more income.

The alternative method of widening the gap would be to cut back on expenses, but the caveat is that there is only so much you can cut. Tightening our belts to the point we cut ourselves in half certainly isn’t an option. Obviously, today we’re going to be talking about making more money through side hustles, but I wanted to lay out the logic behind it.

Besides my business of Meadowsweet Money and providing workshops and mentoring and lots of other services as a financial educator, I have some other ways that I can bring in a little extra income.

The first being working as a dresser for our local union Opera for the months of February and March of each year. My job is to basically get opera singers in and out of costume, do some hand sewing if there are urgent repairs, and make sure everyone goes on stage looking like they should. This is a little side hustle I really love doing and I am great at it. It doesn’t make a ton of money, particularly if I only work a couple of shows, but I love it.

In 2023, I earned just over $2700 in this job, which sounds awesome! And it was great money. But this job also costs me money too.

To start, this job is at a union theater, which means I have to remain a member of the local chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (also known as IATSE) to even be considered for the position. Power to the unions, by the way. Thankfully, that is only $20 a year to remain a member.

Now I am expected to come to the job with all black clothes – shirt, jeans or pant, and closed-toed shoes, all black – as well as a stocked apron of supplies that might be necessary to help me do my job, like scissors and a neck light (which is very handy when you’re trying to quickly close a row of snaps in the dark of the backstage).

To also do my job, I buy a parking pass for the public garage behind the Opera House, which makes it a lot cheaper than paying each night I’m there. So for two months of parking, that’s $40.

Then there’s little hidden costs. The gas to drive to-and-from the Opera House. Snacks to have on hand because a lot of performances go late into the evening past dinner time.

Then there’s the time tradeoff. While I’m working in the Opera, I can’t do anything else. I’m not working on my other businesses because I can’t be on my phone or my computer. Sometimes I’ll bring an embroidery project, but that’s for fun and to keep my hands busy while folks are on stage.

I should note here that if you’re thinking about starting a side hustle, especially if it takes you away from your home, you have to consider drive time as part of the costs of doing that job. It takes me about 15-20 minutes to get to our Opera House, plus another 5 minutes or so to get a parking spot and get into the building. Then the time it takes to get dressed and ready. It all adds up, and it’s all time I can’t dedicate to my primary source of income, which is Meadowsweet Money.

I love the work I do for the Opera House, but I need to be really clear about why I am sharing this with you. The fact is that it costs money to make money. Period. In this case, the amount I earn from this very seasonal side gig far exceeds the obvious and hidden costs of taking it on. But that’s not always the case.

Before you take on a side hustle, or try to start a side business, or whatever it is you want to do to increase your income, I want you to consider the following costs:

First, will you need to purchase a uniform or other clothing to do the job? Maybe you need to get new shoes or clothes that are workplace-appropriate.

Secondly, what about transportation? Will you be using public transit, a personal vehicle, or ride-sharing to get to and from this side hustle? You might need to think about the cost of gas, vehicle maintenance, and your time spent commuting.

Third, what about technology or equipment? When things shut down during the pandemic and my employer at the time moved us to nearly 100% work from home, suddenly I was using my personal cell phone to receive work calls. The internet and electricity my husband and I personally pay for became critical to my ability to do my job, and is critical now because I have a full-time, entrepreneurial, working from home situation.

Next, food costs are something else to consider. Schedule changes that impact your ability to cook at home, or losing precious time to prepare meals can negatively impact your grocery and take out budget. You might have to get creative about how to keep the costs of food down while earning more with a side hustle.

Also, consider the impact of your mental and physical wellbeing, and the costs of childcare or pet are.

And of course, you need to remember that everything you say “yes” to means saying “no” to something else. Opportunity cost is a real thing. The hours I spend at my side hustle means fewer hours working on my business or resting. The time I spend commuting means less time for working out, or spending time with my husband, or pursuing hobbies.

The point of this episode is not to bash side hustles or other means of earning a little extra income. What I really hope you get out of this episode is to help you weigh the cost of these income-boosting efforts with their benefits.

This is why knowing your real numbers is so very important. If you factor in all the costs, you might realize that the side hustle someone on social media is promoting as a quick way to bring in extra cash isn’t really worth it. Or you may realize you need to focus on negotiating more money at your day job, or it might be worth more to cut back on extra expenses.

At the end of the day, my friend, only you can know what’s right for you.

But part of that knowledge is being able to take off the blindfold and really look at the numbers. Being able to say, with confidence, that every dollar you earn in your side hustle is worth the energy and hours of your life that you are putting into it. It’s being confident that your side hustle is earning you more money than it’s costing you.

So that’s my take. If this resonated with you, please be sure to leave a review so other people can find this podcast. Not only would it mean the world to me, but it does actually people to see this show, and you know, get what they need out of it. I do read every review too, by the way.

Alright. We haven’t done an “Easier and Better” segment in a while, so let’s do that next. And stay tuned because at the end I’ve got a “Mindful Money Moment” for you.

This is the Easier and Better segment of the show, where I share something that is making my life easier and better, and you might enjoy it too.

It’s no secret that I love sending and receiving snail mail. I participate in something called Postcrossing, which is a very cool project where you can mail postcards to people all over the world and receive postcards in return. I also volunteer for Postcards to Voters, which is a cool grassroots organization that gets people like me to send friendly, pre-approved, handwritten reminders to targeted voters all over the United States. In 2022, I sent 350 postcards for that. I’m hoping to send 600 postcards to voters in 2024, so wish me luck.

Anyway, something that makes my life easier and better is the USPS “Informed Delivery” emails. This is not sponsored, I promise. I get a daily digest email every single morning that shows a little preview of the mail and packages that are scheduled to arrive in my mailbox. It’s really neat! The easiest way to sign up is by going to USPS.com and clicking on “Informed Delivery” at the top. It’s completely free too. Even Amazon or other packages that get sent using the postal service will show up. It’s really a great service.

Ok, I’m not going to geek out on you any more. Let’s get to our Mindful Money Moment.

How you doing, friend? Are your shoulders up by your ears? Let’s wiggle ’em out a little bit.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I talk a lot about regrettable and forgettable spending – the idea that if you’re going to cut back, it might as well be stuff you don’t actually care about, right? Cutting out the stuff that makes you think, “gosh, I wish I hadn’t spent money on that”, or “what on earth did I spend $170 on at Target?”

When we are first starting to address overspending, waking up to the areas that we tend to go overboard, I think it’s important to bring mindfulness practices into the mix. And one mindfulness strategy is that of spending speed bumps. These are questions that help us to slow down and make more conscious decisions in the moment.

The spending speed bump questions I’m going to share work really well if you have a tendency to overspend on tangible stuff. Things like clothes, home decor, makeup and skincare, craft supplies, online shopping…that kinda thing. In a future episode, I’ll be diving more deeply into dealing with hunger spending triggers, which I know many of us struggle with, including myself.

If you’re not sure what areas you tend to overspend on, there’s a couple ways to figure that out. The first, and most effective way, usually is the one people are most scared to do. And that’s going back and looking through your bank and credit card statements. Where are you making purchases, and how much are you spending? This isn’t to punish or embarrass you. The goal really is to get curious about where your money is going and flowing.

If the idea of going through your bank statements truly freaks you out much too much, don’t worry, I’ve got two more places you can look. First, walk around your home. Look through your drawers, cabinets, closet, vanity. Everywhere. What do you notice? Do you have a lot of duplicates of any items? Do you have a lot of unopened, or barely used products? Maybe it’s the box of nail polish where you used the colors once or twice and haven’t touched it again in well over a year. For me, it was the sunscreen graveyard.

The next place to look won’t apply to everyone, but if you do this, I bet you’re going to chuckle a bit when I say it. Look around at your doorknobs. If you have a shopping bag with the items you bought still inside and it’s hanging on a doorknob of your home… you need to look in that bag. It’s gonna give you a lot of information. Maybe you have craft supplies in there, or books, or goodies you picked up at the thrift store, or whatever. But, friend, I am telling you as someone that used to have the shopping bag on the doorknob – that bag is a strong indicator that you have some spending triggers you have not dealt with yet. It doesn’t make you a bad person; it just means you need to bring some new awareness to your shopping habits. By the way, if online shopping is more your thing, the boxes of stuff you still haven’t opened, or haven’t put the items where they belong in days or weeks prior might be your version of the shopping bag on the doorknob.

So what do we do? When you’re shopping, I want to get you to slow down and really think before just adding to cart – both in person and online. I’m really talking about unplanned purchases, but you can ask these questions about any purchase really. Here are four questions you can ask yourself to help you slow down and get mindful:

  • Number one: Would I still want it if I had to wait until tomorrow to buy it? If you had to schlep yourself home, and then come back tomorrow, or remember to log back in to this website to finalize your purchase, would you still want or need this thing?
  • Number two: Where will I put it when this item enters my home? Really think about this. Is there a place for this item to live once it gets through the front door? Are you willing and ready to find a dedicated space for this item to be if you don’t have a place for it already?
  • Number three: Where will it be one year from now? Will it be in the landfill? Sitting in a drawer? Collecting dust on a shelf? Loved and used, and well-worn?
  • Number Four: How many hours of my life does this cost? If you make $20 an hour, and that fancy face serum costs $80, well that is 4 hours of your working life to buy it. If that feels good, awesome. Go for it. But if it gives you pause, then maybe it’s time to take a step back.
  • Number five: How does this purchase support my vision of a joyful and fulfilling life? This question obviously means having a clear vision of what makes you joyful and fulfilled, but I’m going to tell you now, this question made me realize that having a collection of fancy shoes I wore once or twice because they were gorgeous but hurt like hell to wear drastically changed my shoe-buying habits. Yes, I like wearing sexy heels, but I like my knees and my feet a whole lot more.

So there it is. Five questions you can ask before you make an unplanned purchase.

Remember, you’re asking these questions without judgment. They’re here to bring a new mindfulness to your spending. You can even write these on a sticky note and put it near your computer, or put it in your wallet.

Last thoughts on this. If you are really on the fence about an unplanned purchase…like, you are super tempted to buy it but it doesn’t really work with those questions, consider taking a picture of the item on your phone. I do recommend moving the object away to another shelf in the store, because product merchandisers spend a ton of time and energy grouping products together to make them more appealing to purchase. So if you see the cute candle on the shelf with all the other cute candles, move it over an aisle or two. This is a good way to help you be more objective.

I hope that was helpful for you. And remember my friend, you’re doing great and I am so proud of you. Until next time.