So when I look at my income and realize how little of it is "on the side", I feel a little left out. Just like in high school, I never got the invite to the party, and don't know what to do with myself after five on a Friday night.
Besides feeling a little left out, I am happy to not be hustling. The one exception to this is our rental income, which hardly counts since we're paying a property manager 8% to do all the work for us. Seeing how we just collect checks every month, the rentals look and act a lot more like our paper investments, like mutual funds, than a side hustle.
Still, once I get comfortable with our lack of income diversification, I no longer feel the urge to get a side hustle going.
One big reason is taxes. Despite our best efforts to shield our precious income from Uncle Sam, we're still in the 25% marginal tax bracket. Meaning that any new income we make from a side source (a second job, starting a business, or Mrs. Done by Forty gaining full time employment) will all be taxed at least 25%, and that's for just federal income taxes. Social Security, Medicare, and state taxes will be in addition to that.
The roughly 35%+ total tax rate we'd pay is too high for me to get that excited about putting in another ten or twenty hours a week after I clock out from my normal gig. (I suppose I could just view all our income as taxed at our effective rate, but I find it more accurate to view our optional income to be taxed at the 'top' marginal rate.)
When we add in the fact that additional income will almost certainly pay less than my normal 9-5, it's just not worth it to me. When our true take home would be in the minimum wage range, why bother?
This makes me seem like a rich asshole, I know. A better way to say it is that I'd rather have that time to spend with my wife and my friends than to earn, literally, a few extra dollars for an hour of work.
Suffice it to say that the dreaded second job that might pay $10 to $15 an hour pre-tax is probably off the table.
(Though in my younger days I might have enjoyed being an Uber driver and just cruising around town, listening to Phish cassettes and chatting away with a stranger all afternoon. Back then, I'd have thought it was crazy that someone would pay me to drive a car and hang out with nice people all day. These days, it'd be NPR on the stereo, and that formerly interesting stranger is just some annoying jackass tapping on his cell phone and giving directions from the backseat.)
If hourly jobs aren't going to cut it, the remaining side hustle is the sleek side business. The one that brings career fulfillment, and turns my passion into something that makes money, too.
Being risk averse, the side business does not inherently appeal to me. For one, a lot of new businesses fail. While there's conflicting information on just how many fail, the Bureau of Labor Statistics seems like a good a source as any. They estimate only half of new businesses survive the first five years, and only a third survive ten years. For optimists, those are encouraging numbers. For a risk averse ninny like me, I see a lot of money and effort being invested into something that has a coin flip's chance of even existing five years from now, let alone making sufficient profits.
But suppose I got comfortable taking that risk: the obvious side hustle is writing. The blog has a decent number of readers these days, and could make money, or so I hear. So why not monetize the blog? I could write some sponsored posts, put up some ads, and even write for other sites.
I tried something vaguely similar years ago, when I tried to turn something I really loved (literature) into a job (teaching English in secondary school). I got my BA, earned my teaching credential, and gave it a go.
The results sucked. The thing I naturally liked doing, reading literature and talking about it, ceased to be enjoyable at all when I turned it into a job. Go figure: forcing young adults to analyze and over-analyze literature day after day somehow took the shine off the apple. I learned what Joss Whedon sings about so beautifully: art doesn't have the same appeal when you make it your job to pick, pick, pick it apart.
After the teaching debacle, I stopped reading fiction altogether. These days I only read non-fiction, because if I pick up a novel, I have a hard time turning off the internal analysis. Instead of just curling up in a chair and enjoying a story, I find myself thinking about the themes the author is trying to weave, and wonder what this or that symbol means, and, sheesh, that metaphor seems a little on the nose, doesn't it? After a few chapters, I put the novel down. It's not fun anymore.
Lord knows I don't want to turn writing into that sort of thing. Right now, I honestly have no insight into the writing process at all. I open up a new page, start typing, and it all just comes. I like that I don't know how it works. And I like that, in the end, I've created something. Incessant consumer that I am, writing is the only thing I produce.
The best part of all is you guys: the people who bother to read and comment here. It's a conversation I don't get anywhere else in my life: being challenged and affirmed, and talking about things I wouldn't dare discuss with most friends and family. Do I want to risk changing all that that, with deadlines, clients to keep happy, and sponsors paying me to write a positive review? Who knows what impact the money will have?
Every few months, I think these sort of things over. In a blog about personal finances and early retirement, it seems reasonable to make some money off the thing. Lots of bloggers who are far better than me do exactly this. They are not selling out: they seem happy writing, even while they make an income from it. Maybe I'd love writing more if I made it my career. Maybe I'm scared of trying and failing.
That last bit is certainly true: I am scared. Being risk averse, I'm way more scared of turning this thing I like doing into something I hate doing, than I am tempted by a few extra dollars. Because I can always make more money. I'm not entirely sure I could make myself love writing the same way again, after the dreaded j-o-b gets its mitts on it.
**Photo is from Kevin N.Murphy at Flickr Creative Commons.