The Potential Pitfalls of a Side Hustle

We have all heard it, whether it’s from an online guru, the local news, or our favorite finance magazine. “Supplement your income with a side hustle”. It sounds great, the idea of not only providing ourselves with a supplemental income but also helping to insulate ourselves from being entirely dependent on a single source of income. Like investing, diversification of income streams is typically considered a financially wise decision. On top of that side hustles sound quite appealing. Work an amount that makes sense for you, and earn a little extra dough on the side doing something you hopefully enjoy. Well, let me tell you that side hustles have a more nefarious side, and that comes in the form of time.

To get started we are going to journey back to the year 2019. Me and my soon to be wife have just purchased a fixer-upper in a nice neighborhood, and while we both have decent jobs for our age and area, the renovations are coming along much slower than we had hoped. We opted to not take an additional renovation loan on our mortgage as a way to reduce our monthly out of pocket and long term cost. It sounded financially sound at the time, but when you are using an Ikea craft drawer as your silverware drawer, it becomes far less appealing. This was one of a plethora of hacked together solutions we were using to get us by until we were able to renovate each room in turn. After about 2 months of this, I decided to start a side-hustle. I went to school for biology, so no marketable skills there. Instead, I opted for the tried and true side-hustle of making t-shirt designs (original right?). I had seen on more than a few occasions, the success stories of people who had just invested enough time to get their t-shirt hustle off the ground and now made a substantial secondary income from it. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

It was August 2019, and with the upcoming holiday season, it seemed like the perfect time to be hopping into the game. I set up a Redbubble shop, Teepublic shop, and got accepted to merch by Amazon. Now, all I needed to do was come up with a few designs and I would be raking in the dough right? I set aside 2 hours after work each night, and 3 hours each Saturday and Sunday to work on, upload, and market designs. I have a background in graphic design and assumed I could get 3–4 designs completed and uploaded within that amount of time. After about a week I realized that if the designs were anything other than quirky sayings with some clip-art they would take me far more time than I had initially imagined, so I set aside another hour on weeknights, and on weekends. Total time invested weekly now came to 23 hours.

This went on for roughly 4 months. The holidays came and went, and I hit a few popular designs that brought in enough extra cash to get rid of all the old paneling upstairs and replace it with drywall, and even put down some new carpet in the bedrooms, not bad for a few months work it seemed. With the holidays in the rearview mirror, I decided that I would start marketing more heavily as a way to build an audience heading in the next year. I found myself a good scheduling program (LATER for anyone interested), and kept the same schedule for the time being. I was able to slowly begin building up a following and so decided that I would also open an Etsy shop where I would have some additional control over the process and the customers that bought from me. Being another potential source of income didn’t hurt either. In March of 2020, I opened an Etsy shop just as the pandemic got into full swing.

I was moved to a work from home position in March and so decided that I would commit the time I used to spend commuting to my side hustle (no time lost), about 1.5 hours on weeknights. My total time invested had now moved up to 30.5 hours, on top of the 40 hours I was working at my regular job. I had finally begun to get some traction on Etsy, and my social media channels were picking up steam, so my sales also saw a nice bump. This motivated me to continue on adding designs, which now numbered well above 500. This is when things started to take a turn I hadn’t expected.

In August of 2020 again in preparation for the holiday season, I began uploading as many designs as I could and adding hours to work on my hustle whenever I had a chance. I would skip dinner to get another couple of designs done, or maybe pull up my laptop in bed when I thought of something that might sell. I was forgoing the important things in my life, like relationships, and time with friends and family to upload more designs. Additionally, for anyone who has worked with t-shirts before they know that for every design that hits and makes a decent amount, 10 or more designs will sell nothing or very close to it. Also, anything related to current events quickly tanks in popularity the moment that event has passed. So, in essence, you are almost always chasing your tail to keep sales stable or growing. This endless cycle slowly started to create wear on my relationship.

As August turned to September and then October I kept pushing. More Designs. More Marketing. Get everything ready for the holidays. I was on the phone with my printers sorting out stock issues, working on Etsy doing customer service, or checking for sales essentially every moment I wasn’t either working or sleeping. I was investing well over 35 hours on a weekly basis now, and as the holidays approached that number ballooned with return requests, expedited shipping, and customer service issues. As Christmas approached the relationship was really suffering and I decided to take a step back and see what was actually going on.

Perspective is everything, and taking a step back allowed me to see something that was invisible when I had my head down. My “Side-Hustle” had become a full-time job and was not generating a full-time income. In addition, it had taken away some of the things that I hold most precious in my life like movie nights and home-cooked dinners with my wife. The stress had also made me put aside my physical fitness goals, and resulted in me packing on a few more than what most would consider holiday weight. At that moment I realized that not only was this side-hustle in the current state not worth it but the potential long term impacts (destroying my marriage, impacting my long term health), were simply not worth it. So, I stopped cold turkey until the holidays came to a close.

In the end, my shops are still live and generate a small passive income stream that pays for small renovations over time, and a nice dinner out here and there. I was able to find a programmer to help me automate some of the more tedious tasks, and I simply don’t upload as many designs as I used to. Now it’s actually a side-hustle, as in, something that you do on the side. If I have one word of advice for people looking into picking up a side hustle it would be this. Understand that a side-hustle is a great thing, and has the potential to make your life richer and your wallet a bit thicker. But, that same side-hustle can quickly turn into a time sink that isn’t paying you back for the time you are investing, while simultaneously damaging things far more important than a few extra dollars will be. Just make sure that your side-hustle, remains a side-hustle.

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