How to Find Real-Life Side Hustle Ideas That Aren’t a Waste of Time

Real-Life Side Hustle Ideas That Aren't a Waste of Time

You’ll never guess how my mom made an extra $600 last month. I’d asked her what she had been up to lately, and she beamed through the FaceTime screen, “I caught 100 fish last night!”

She panned the camera out. There was a bucket filled with iridescent fish. Then she stepped out of the frame. Matte fish hanging from a drying net. Fish, dusted with seasonings, sealed in bags on top of a scale.

She and my uncle catch the fish, dehydrate them, then sell them to her friends as snacks. My mom has a LOT of friends.

On any given month she makes an extra $300 to $700, which covers most of her rent. But she doesn’t side hustle for the money. She does it because it’s FUN. It’s totally different from her day job as a factory worker, and let’s face it, as a strong-willed woman, my mom loves being the boss for once.

But this post isn’t about my mom. It’s about how side hustle ideas are everywhere. You just have to look through the cracks to find the gems.

Like my mom, maybe you want to engage your entrepreneurial side. Or maybe you’ve maxed out your salary at your job, and want more money to throw at your debt. Or like me, you just want to buy fancy stuff without wrecking the rest of your money. Whatever the reason, side hustling can help make serious headway on your financial goals.

There are tried-and-true side hustle ideas like Airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, or jumping on your bike and doing deliveries for Postmates or Instacart. No doubt those can work great for some, but they aren’t things that just anyone can do. I wouldn’t mind doing deliveries, but I had to sell my bike because we didn’t have storage for it. Other “easy” side hustle ideas, like taking never-ending surveys, end up paying pennies per hour after everything is said and done. I’m not going to talk about those side hustles, because other articles cover them just fine.

Instead of listing ideas (which I will do plenty further down below), I’m going to show you how to think about finding side hustle ideas that work uniquely for you. The best side hustles are the ones that don’t feel like work at all. And that’s going to be different for everyone.

Side Hustle Ideas Are Everywhere

One of the biggest barriers to side hustling I hear is, “I can’t think of what to do.”

If you look around you, I mean, really look, I bet you can start to notice all the side hustles happening in your everyday life. Take me for example:

A few weeks ago, I bought a $9 chicken bowl from a girl who sells homemade lunches at work. Every week when she feels like it, she’ll email the menu for each day, and if you see something you want, you fill out the form and Venmo her the money. Hey, if she’s already meal prepping her own lunch, why not make a couple more for extra money?

My husband’s friend is fluent in seven languages and posted on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in lessons. At least a handful of people enthusiastically replied yes.

An old acquaintance used to work in advertising, but always loved to bake. One year she got an ice cream maker as a birthday gift, and started messing around making her own flavors, using friends as taste testers. People started placing orders. She’d get on her bike and deliver ice cream pints to friends…and then at farmers markets…and then to restaurants. Eventually she did a career 180 and got a job as a pastry chef.

Right now, my husband and I are going through the same conundrum pre-vacation: who will feed our cats while we’re away? Our old standby moved away and we’ve been relying on friends and neighbors close by. A couple friends told us they use a cat sitter who will not only feed your cats, but will take cute pictures of them and post them to Instagram. By the way, Instagram is a fantastic tool for creating a brand and promoting yourself.

When I wanted to make a wallet for my husband, I first went onto Etsy and looked for a template I could buy and download. I ended up making my own pattern, but I thought, what a great idea: this seller uploads a PDF template once, and doesn’t have to make or ship anything when someone buys it. Genius!

Recently I’ve realized my Pinterest presence for the blog is sorely lacking. But I haven’t prioritized the time to do anything about it. Then I had a lightbulb moment: my best friend is design-minded and knows my taste. Why don’t I pay her a few hundred dollars to make the pins for me? Sometimes it’s just easier to pay to make a problem go away.

I once went to a craft fair and bought handmade marshmallows as a Christmas gift. The marshmallows cost at least $6 per bag, or two for $10, and I remember thinking at the time, damn, I bet this seller has amazing margins.

And to all you art school kids who thought you’d never make money, I paid an illustrator $500 an hour to sketch portraits of our wedding guests.

If you really look, everyone has a special skill that they can monetize. If you still don’t believe me, my husband’s aunt makes a living by training dogs to sniff bed bugs. You might chuckle now, but the super niche ideas can often be the most lucrative.

All the Random Ways I’ve Earned Money

When I was younger, I’d never heard of the term “side hustles,” but I did know that there were more ways to make money than showing up at a company and putting my time in. Instead of waitressing or folding shirts at the Gap, I spent my college summers trying to work for myself.

One time I was shopping at TJ Maxx when I saw some nice Free People sweaters on the clearance rack. I wondered if they would sell on eBay for a profit. So I bought one and put it on eBay, and it sold for double what I paid. Then I went back to TJ Maxx and bought all the Free People sweaters. I did the same thing with a pair of leggings I found on clearance from The Children’s Place.

Another summer, I decided I would sell my own creations on eBay by reconstructing a bunch of thrift store T-shirts. Even though I didn’t make a huge profit from this, it amazed me that people would buy these Frankenstein-ed T-shirts.

Post-college, when I was in between jobs, I designed and coded (poorly) a website for a flower shop my sister worked at.

A few years back, my best friend and I created an Etsy vintage shop together. We don’t update it or promote it anymore, but we’ve made about $3,000 without much hustling at all.

Did you know that creating a budget is a skill? I didn’t for a really long time. But people have paid me to build them a budget based on their money goals.

And while I didn’t start this blog as a side hustle, it does make money every month now.

For me, side hustles were about freedom and creativity. Not having someone telling me what to do and when. And while most of my ventures made little money or failed, I wouldn’t have gained an immeasurable amount of knowledge and skills without them.

Four Ways to Find Your Own Side Hustle

I’ve given you an idea of everyday side hustles I’ve seen in action, and ways I’ve made money myself. But let’s not delude ourselves: side hustles are a time suck. Yes, even the “easy” ones. The time you spend on your side hustle is time away from loved ones. Or reading books. Or working out. That’s why it’s important to come up with an idea that really aligns with you to make it all worth it. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to spark up your own ideas:

  1. Can you do your day job outside of your day job?
    This is one of the easiest ways to start up a side hustle–applying the same skills you use during for your day job, just after hours. When I moved to New York, I didn’t have a full-time job lined up. But I did have freelance work from companies I used to work at. This is also usually the most profitable method. At one salaried job, I was making about $21 an hour. When I did freelance work for them? $40 an hour. Other examples I see a lot are designers who pick up outside design projects, or English teachers who do editing at night.
  2. What do you do for fun?
    When you have free time, what do you do? For example, I could spend all day browsing thrift stores, taking pictures and writing, so flipping things on eBay is a natural fit for me. If you love dogs, maybe something like Rover could be a fun gig that doesn’t really feel like work.
  3. What are you good at?
    Next, assess your skills. What comes easy to you? If you can’t think of anything, ask your friends. I bet they’ll come up with answers you probably never thought of. Things like, “You always dress well.” If so, maybe you could style people on the side. Or, “You always have the best foodie pics on Instagram.” What about putting together some kind of foodie walking tour? It’s scalable, too. Besides asking friends, realize that there are so many “easy” things we do that we take for granted. Like, if the technical aspects of setting up a blog was easy for you, then recognize that’s a skill you have. Lots of people have trouble customizing their blog or navigating Google Analytics. I imagine some of them might want to pay to not spend hours of their lives fighting with a language they don’t understand.
  4. What are some problems you or people you know have had to solve?
    This one’s my favorite, because it can unearth so many hidden ideas. What is this article without yet another example? I had the absolutely hardest time finding wedding signage that was modern and design-y. I didn’t want the fake calligraphy fonts (nothing against them, they just aren’t my style), but that’s all I found on Etsy. Eventually, I gave up and designed my own signs. But I thought: what if there are other brides like me who want minimal decor, too? Imagine a whole suite of modern wedding signs you can just download and print yourself. Solving a legit problem is often the key to innovative ideas.

Favorite Side Hustle Ideas from Instagram

I asked my Instagram friends what they do to earn extra money, and here were my top favorites:

For More Inspiration on Real-Life Side Hustles

Here are a few blog posts from around the web I found that detail the nuts and bolts of some really great side hustle ideas.

Let’s hear it! Do you side hustle? Why or why not? What are some interesting ways you’ve made money?

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