Mamasphere: Do the Side Hustle

How one mom boosts her bottom line ...

By Jonah Lisa Dyer // Illustrations by Stacey Walker Oldham

Selling Edible Arrangements over the telephone was not what I expected to be doing for Valentine’s Day last year. I mean, I knew we weren’t flush enough for a night at the Amangani, but two days of up-selling balloons and plush teddy bears to pair with chocolate-dipped fruit bouquets was not on my radar. But when you are a professional writer with all the accessories of a middle-class life—house, cars, kids, sports fees—sometimes you’ve gotta do whatever you can to cover the bills. So, when my high school friend Reva, who owns all the Edible Arrangements franchises in the entire state of Texas, asked if I wanted to make some extra money doing remote telephone sales during her busiest season of the year, I said, “Would you like ‘I LOVE YOU’ balloons with that?”

My phone rang non-stop starting at 8:00 a.m. each day, as I helped husbands and boyfriends weigh the merits of the Very Berry True Love Bouquet against those of the Pink and Precious Swizzle Berry Bouquet. I brought cash into the family coffers without ever getting out my flannel PJs.

Side hustles have always been a normal part of my working life. Making real money as a writer is a tough gig. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not digging ditches tough. I never break a sweat (unless you count flip-flop sweat from pitching new ideas to big producers); I’m never at risk of bodily harm (though I do sometimes get a nasty crick in my neck when jamming for a deadline); and I can clock out and watch Game of Thrones any time I want (I could stand to do a little less of this).

In many ways it’s a dream job. But it’s a cash flow nightmare! I regularly take on the kind of financial risk that would make most people curl up in a ball on the floor and weep. I ricochet from relative comfort to abject poverty and back again every two to four years. I frequently invest huge amounts of time and effort into projects that never return a penny. I can go a year, or more, without a paycheck and I’m never certain how long those paychecks will have to stretch. You get the idea—it’s hard out there for a pimp.

I think of personal finances like building a house. You need the big logs to hold the roof up, but if you really want to keep all the wind and snow out, you have to fill the gaps in between with mud and straw. I’ve chinked my financial house with freelance bookkeeping, gardening, CSA workshares, and office temping. In the 1990s, I was a fill-in secretary in the Asia Division of the United Nations. I can say, “I’m sorry, I’m just a writer.” in three languages. I’ve waited tables, fed pets, jazzed up websites, given lectures, and worked retail. (Though the days I spent selling wool at my local yarn shop were more like enabling an addiction.) I’ve even substituted as a middle school band teacher, despite the fact that I don’t play an instrument or particularly like large groups of eye-rolling preteens who think they’ve got a bead on how the world works. The article you’re reading right now is a side hustle!

Taking on small, extra jobs is what I’ve always done to get from one big gig to another. And I’ve gotten even better at it since I’ve had kids. Driven by the ever-increasing cost of their shoes, I’ve found that motherhood is like having a graduate degree in the kind of multi-tasking that makes whiplashing from one job to another a breeze.

I’m not alone. Second jobs aren’t new to people in this region. Because of the seasonal structure of the local economy, there have always been farmers coaching the basketball team, fishing guides hanging Christmas lights, and ski instructors selling bikes. People who live and play in the mountains know a thing or two about taking risks and weathering snowstorms, financially and recreationally.

But lately I’ve noticed that side hustles are on the rise for everyone. Now I’m no economist, but I think stagnant incomes paired with a rising cost of living are feeding this trend. Lots of people with typically stable, year-round jobs are finding it necessary to build secondary income streams. Those new income streams are often built around the ability to instantly connect with people anywhere in the world. We may be remote, but we’ve got crackerjack cellular and Internet service!

I have fully employed friends running Airbnb rentals, building killer multi-level marketing businesses, selling art and handmade goods on Etsy, and making money off their unwanted items through our area’s many Facebook garage sale pages. People are turning connectivity into cash. Myself included. In the past year I’ve sold a metric ton of quality, gently used goods online, including a clawfoot bathtub, leftover patio flagstones, outgrown kids’ clothes, and an entire Lego City block.

All I needed last February to make a fast, few hundred bucks on the side was a phone line, my computer, and gargantuan amounts of patience, as I used my well-honed mom skills to mollify people who’d left a Valentine’s gift until the last minute (in other words, half the men in Texas). I predict more and more people in this region, especially moms, will be doing the same.

Free Valentine’s Day Advice:
Guys, don’t fall for the teddy bear add-on. Grown-ass women don’t want a stuffed animal wearing a bowtie. I promise! Stick to the stuff we can eat, and keep the extra five bucks.