I suppose my work life has always been kind of strange. Sure, the whole movie theatre management job wasn’t that out there (although getting paid to screen movies is fairly unique), but I ended up leaving that job and becoming a paid extra in films and TV shows for several years after that. It was during this time of irregular and low pay that I finally learned how to actually manage my money to support my bizarre lifestyle instead of just spending every dollar that came my way. I carried these habits with me when I transitioned into freelance writing, not only blogging about personal finance here but also writing for a Disney fan site, Dyer News, and other outlets. As a result, my wife and I have been able to remain financially stable on a relatively low income and still get to experience some of the things we love most, such as traveling.
When I started this site, those were largely the principles I was starting from: living debt free, avoiding frivolous spending (or, to steal a phrase that’s been heavy in the American consciousness lately, not spending on things that don’t “spark joy”), and saving up funds for the future. While all of these are still just as important to me now as they were when I had my first “financial awakening,” lately I’ve been thinking about how I can further my goals of mastering money and living the life I want.
Enter Tanja Hester’s new book Work Optional, which I just reviewed for Dyer News. Subtitled “Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way,” the book serves as a practical guide to achieving financial independence and building a nest egg large enough that the need to work is removed. However, it turns out that the advice Tanja supplies isn’t just helpful for those pursuing early retirement but can also be of great service to people like me who want to achieve a work-life balance. In other words, while work isn’t quite optional for us, my wife and I have been able to limit the amount we need to work in order to accomplish our financial goals and enjoy life.
After reading Tanja’s book, I think I’m ready to reach for a couple of different “money milestones” that I hadn’t completely embraced until now. By adding side hustles to the mix and upping our investment game, I believe we can take the life we’ve already established for ourselves to the next level. With that, let’s take a look at these two big ways to master your money — including how I plan on putting both to work this year.
Making the Most of Side Hustles
As I somewhat alluded to, up until this point, my wife and I have focused mostly on ways we could save money through such tactics as moving to a lower cost of living area and being mindful of what we were spending on. Obviously this has been successful for us but we are leaving out the other half of the equation: making money. Sure, the very term “side hustles” has been severely overused in recent years, but it turns out there’s good reason for that as there are now more opportunities than ever to make extra money in your spare time.
Okay, even just saying “make money in your spare time” makes me cringe a little bit as it sounds like something you’d see on one of those flyers taped to light poles, complete with the slits of paper you tear off. That distressing comparison aside, there’s no question that there are plenty of legitimate ways you can supplement your income. From some of your “classic” side hustles like driving for ridesharing services or selling your crafts on Etsy to, say, starting a blog, the list of options only continues to grow.
Turning to myself for a moment, as I said, I enjoy the work-life balance we currently have… but I could certainly be trying harder to monetize what I’m already doing. That’s why one of my big goals for the year is to build up my side hustles — starting with this blog. While I’m proud of the content I’ve produced for this site so far, it admittedly hasn’t been a profitable venture just yet. Thankfully that tide is starting to turn now that my YouTube channel has been accepted into the Partner Program and has already started generating some revenue. Now it’s time to double down on what’s working on that front while also looking to other successful bloggers for new ideas of what to try. That said, I made a promise to myself when I started this site that I’d remain true to my vision and not sacrifice my integrity to try to make a buck. Thus, if I don’t think a certain blog monetization strategy is right for me, you won’t be seeing it here.
Speaking of blogs, last year my wife and I bought the domain ExploretheVerse.net. The intent was to not only offer travel tips and recap some our travel adventures but to also highlight our adopted city of Springfield, Missouri — which you may recall we chose to move to after taking on online quiz. Unfortunately, we’ve been really bad about posting to this site, allowing it to fall into the trap I warned about just a few weeks ago. With a big trip to Hong Kong coming up in March, reviving Explore the ‘Verse is another one of the goals I hope to accomplish this year. This also includes launching another YouTube channel that can hopefully prove as successful as my Money@30 has been.
Aside from these already-in-the-works efforts I need to nurture, I’ve also taken an interest in learning about different side hustle opportunities to take advantage of myself and/or present to Money@30 readers. This actually started as I wrote about the Parallel Profits program a couple of weeks back. Right now I’m in the process of checking out a couple of other recommended gigs, so I’m definitely looking forward to continuing that series here on this site.
Investing and Passive Income
While side hustles and bringing in additional earned income can certainly have a positive impact on your finances, it’s actually passive income that can really help you achieve the work-life balance you desire. What is passive income? As the name implies, these are funds you receive without actively having to work for them. I think I actually prefer Tanja’s term for passive income that she uses in Work Optional: “Magic money.”
Now, if the “make money in your spare time” phrase called to mind light pole flyers, the concept of passive income surely sounds like some Publisher’s Clearinghouse promotion. That’s why it’s important to note that most passive income opportunities do require an investment of time and/or money to get started. This could mean anything from buying real estate that you then rent out to inventing a product that you then license to another company to make. Similarly, the “sharing economy” has also made it possible to monetize items you own but aren’t always using.
Among those many innovative passive income opportunities, there’s also the option to invest your money (in the stock market or elsewhere), allowing you to grow your funds for the future. More specifically, there are those who purchase what are known as “dividend stocks,” which are companies that are known to pay out generous bonuses to their shareholders on a regular basis. These dividend payouts can be reinvested or serve as your passive income/magic money/bonus loot. Of course, this is just one of several investing strategies that can not only produce passive income but also help you achieve a financially stable retirement — or even early retirement.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve understood the power of investing. Yet, as an adult, I’ve been hesitant to try much of it myself outside of our retirement accounts. That started to change a little when I purchased a handful of stocks on Robinhood but it’s still clearly not enough.
Beyond just the adversity to risk that I seem to have, a big reason why I haven’t started investing more methodically is because I didn’t really know where to start. Luckily Work Optional included an entire section dedicated to assessing different investment options and strategies that really got me thinking. What decision did I come to? Well, I don’t have an exact plan mapped out yet, but I do intend on investing in an index fund and setting up recurring monthly transfers to keep my account growing.
As for what other passive income opportunities I’ll be looking out for, that too has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, expect to hear much more about my adventures in investing and seeking “magic money” throughout this year and beyond.
Learning to rein in your spending and grow your savings are undoubtedly great ways to help build a financially stable lifestyle for yourself — and ones that have worked wonderfully for us. However, through side hustles, investing, and passive income, it may be possible to not only maintain a positive work-life balance now but also potentially attain a “work optional” life in the future. With so many options in each of these categories, I look forward to exploring all of these topics for myself and sharing what I’ve learned with all of you.
This article was first published on Money@30.