Side Hustles Usually Won’t Bring a Pink Caddy

Hey Paul: I am working out from under a fair amount of debt. My job covers current living expenses but not much to put towards paying down debt. I am looking into taking on a second part-time job and will devote the money to debt reduction. I am a single mother with two school age children. What suggestions do you have for side hustles?

I applaud your efforts to work your way out of debt. Usually people start by focusing on their spending habits and try to cut out the luxuries we too easily see as necessities. In some cases there are some obvious culprits – fast-food restaurants, the $5 latte habit, home-shopping-network “deals”, etc. But at some point we hit a hard limit on what we can or at least are willing to cut from our spending.

Assuming you’ve cut your spending to the core then boosting the income sources is the next option. The hope is that you can find a job that is fun, has flexible hours and you can make some good money. And, just for clarity sake, let’s assume legal. This job description matches various “direct sales opportunities” that may fit your needs.

Let me give you our brief experience with direct sales. My wife (with my somewhat hesitant blessing) has tried a couple of ventures – as a Mary Kay and “31” consultant. Startup costs are modest but not trivial and the potential sales commissions are huge. But you’ve got to find customers which is nontrivial.

My wife was always able to make some early sales and she always had one major buyer. Unfortunately from a business perspective that was also my wife. In the end she might have broke even with her commissions covering the “internal sales.” Probably the biggest lesson we took from these experiences is that despite the corporate promises, nothing sells itself. Be prepared to hustle and put in some serious hours to be the break-out sales woman in your niche. Who knows – maybe you’ll have a pink Cadillac in a few years!

I will add that I don’t like the idea of selling to “friends and family” things that are going to burst their budget. Part of the direct sales pitch is the social aspect of getting together with your girlfriends enjoying free samples and snacks. Ultimately you are providing an experience that brings people the opportunity to buy a good product from a friend. My dismissing of this advantage falls into the critique of economists knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

If direct sales is not looking like a good fit for you then taking a position “beneath you” may be a humbling but necessary step. You are a professional but you may have to deliver pizzas or clean homes to make that extra $10 to $15 an hour.   That’s not an easy path but it is a temporary arrangement that many people will respect you for including your kids.