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Before You Take on a Side Hustle, Evaluate How Much Your Time Is Worth

Living costs seem to be on the rise everywhere. Whether you’re renting, applying for home loans, or exploring options to refinance a mortgage, you may have to allot upwards of one-third of your monthly budget towards living space. And then you have to see to food, utility bills, and other debt payments.

All of that assumes you don’t have elders to take care of or children to send to school. It makes budgeting a critical skill to master if you ever aspire to bring your finances under control.

While managing your budget is non-negotiable, you can gain some wiggle room by bringing in additional income streams. And the modern gig economy offers an increasingly convenient and accessible way of doing that.

This option can also accelerate your progress towards building wealth and achieving your financial goals. But when you take on a side hustle, is it all upside? Or could you actually be diluting your quality of life?

An incomplete equation

Let’s say you work on a regular 9-to-5 schedule and earn the median wage. In the private sector, that’s $29.47 per hour as of the latest available data. You’re never required to do overtime, report to the office on holidays or weekends, or take home any form of work.

Now suppose you get an offer to do a part-time gig that pays $40 per hour. It’s flexible, so you can work as much or as little as you want daily, as long as you meet a ten-hour quota each week.

That comes out to an additional $400 for an average of two more hours worked each day. Given that you’re not only earning more but at a rate of over 35% greater than your basic wage, the decision seems like a no-brainer, right?

Looking only at the math, all the numbers seem to make sense easily. This scenario, already made simple for illustration purposes, is still missing something from the equation. And that something is the cost of time.

The missing cost

In the Industrial Age, it was standard practice for employers to make their workers toil in factories for long hours under often unsafe conditions. Eventually, this led to growing protests and calls for employees to work only eight hours each day. This would leave them with “eight hours’ rest, and eight hours for what we will.”

We now celebrate this movement’s results every May Day and see its effects in operation among today’s labor unions and federations. Yet as modern times have seen the cost of living rise, employees often go against the spirit of these hard-won changes.

When we take on a side hustle, we’re going beyond those eight hours of work and cutting into either our leisure or rest time. Either way, it’s a sacrifice. And we have to compute the value of that sacrifice to factor it into our considerations.

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Re-evaluating your options

Now we can revisit the earlier hypothetical scenario. Assuming you took the side job, you’re now earning $1,571.80, working 50 hours a week. That amounts to a fraction of over $31.57 an hour.

But you also have two hours less time to rest and unwind in whatever manner you like. And the whole situation assumes you don’t spend any additional time on unpaid activities that are effectively required to do your job.

We shop for clothes and dress up, and commute to and from work. We can choose to prepare our own meals so that we don’t end up relying on fast food or vending machines for our daily nutrition.

Taking on these additional tasks is a form of shadow work. It makes our days feel far busier in practice than they appear to be on paper and leads to greater stress and anxiety. And many people deal with that by engaging in unhealthy practices or indulgent spending, neither of which is a good thing for your overall financial picture.

The example situation presented here is ideal in many ways. In reality, employment can require you to commit far more hours or carry a lot more stress back home with you. Freelance gigs also might not be as flexible or lucrative.

It’s possible that you could find a workaround or ways to improve, though. If you’re really good at both your day job and side hustle, you can breeze through both without feeling exhausted.

But in light of these considerations, it might be worth taking stock before you take on too much work. And perhaps explore your options for more passive revenue streams or outsourcing unpaid tasks to professional services. As long as your budget is under wraps, doing this might be enough to give you the time you need to make a life, not just a living.

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