In August 2017, after five and a half years of hard and dedicated work, my husband and I got laid off from our joint internet job. This job not only paid well, but it left us with enough free time to work our homestead, homeschool our kids (both now graduated), and other endeavors.
And then it disappeared. Poof, just like that. Gone.
When most people lose their jobs, they experience panic and worry. There are bills to pay, a mortgage to maintain, perhaps children to support through college, or car payments to make. How will they survive without their employment? Frantically they update their résumé and commence the often-disheartening round of answering want ads or blasting out their credentials on the internet, begging someone – anyone – to employ them.
But there are alternate ways.
How Our Freelance Lifestyle Began
Back in 1993 when we left our well-paying urban jobs and launched ourselves into rural life, we naively thought it wouldn’t be a problem to find employment. We were wrong. Forced to do something to earn money, we started a wholesale woodcraft business from scratch. Through sheer hard work and frugality, that business was the mainstay of our income for over 30 years.
But our earnings didn’t derive solely from the woodcraft business. Over the years, we’ve done many other things: freelance writing, managing websites, selling some farm products, writing ebooks, and engaging in miscellaneous other creative endeavors. We’ve built up these alternate sources of income alongside the woodcraft business. Collectively, I call this a “freelance lifestyle.”
The internet job started as a part-time gig and, within a year, segued into a full-time position which eclipsed all our other income streams. Ironically, because it was so steady and dependable, we retired the woodcraft business and let go of some other side gigs to concentrate on the online job. And then it ended.
But rather than panicking and frantically trying to find another outside job, my husband and I just shrugged our shoulders, tightened our belts, reopened the woodcraft business, fired up the other side gigs, and continued to live as we have for decades: frugally, but comfortably.
This illustrates what I call the “many irons in the fire” method of earning a living. The idea behind this is if one iron disappears, you have multiple other irons still sizzling. If you lose your job, you still have other income streams and won’t be left destitute. You can then concentrate on honing those other streams into larger producers, either until such time as you find another “primary” job or decide to shift permanently into multiple part-time jobs.
What Kind of Jobs?
I know this all sounds great, but the $64,000 question remains: What kind of jobs? What do you do to earn money?
Sorry, I can’t answer that for you. I have no idea of your talents, interests, education, skills, or work ethic. I won’t advise you on nebulous money-making opportunities involving stuffing envelopes or pyramid schemes.
But what I can tell you is this: Make money any way you can.
A modern misconception is people should earn money one way, through a single nine-to-five job. Sure, many do; but a staggering number of people wear many hats on the way to the bank.
We know one fellow who operates heavy machinery, flies helicopters, and raises bison. We know a woman who cleans houses, sells crafts, and substitute teaches. Yet another woman sells produce at farmer’s markets, babysits children for a working mother, and does desktop publishing projects for local businesses.
Laying multiple income irons in the fire is a matter of harvesting any and all experience, interests, potential, or opportunities you’ve ever done. Seize any (legal, ethical) means to earn money since you never know where it might lead. Give preference for jobs you can do from home (it’s amazing how much nicer rural living is if you don’t have to commute anywhere). The internet has transformed the ability to exploit your skills without ever leaving the house. People have done everything from remote teaching (foreign languages? music?) to becoming an online travel agent to website maintenance to moderating forums to operating ticket sales to freelance writing.
For a more hands-on approach, it’s again a matter of exploiting whatever skills or experience you’ve cultivated in the past. Have you waitressed? Fixed computers? Built crafts? Driven a truck? Tutored children? Babysat? Are you clever at organizing, baking, carpentry, welding, or painting? Seriously, all of these can be transformed into money-making opportunities. But here’s the kicker: Usually, these will not become full-time jobs.
Part-Time Work; Deal With It
Don’t fall prey to the notion these income sources have to be full-time gigs. Instead, view them as opportunistic. We knew a woman who made amazing cakes. She was never a “professional,” but her reputation among friends was legendary (she made our wedding cake, for example). Whenever someone needed a special treat for a special event, this was the lady to call. Working just whenever the need arose, she probably made around $500/month – and that was in 1990 dollars.
That’s the thing about many irons in the fire. Perhaps not many of these irons can supply a full-time income, but income from numerous irons can get pretty darned close – $500 here, $1000 there, and pretty soon, you’re earning a decent collective paycheck.
There’s another advantage to many irons in the fire: you’re never bored. Some “irons” might be more interesting than others, but since even the boring or less pleasant “irons” are only part-time, you move on to a more interesting “iron” when the boring or unpleasant one is finished.
It’s also nice to be your own boss. Sure, you might have deadlines, and sure you might have customers to please, but it sure beats working for someone you don’t like.
But I’m Too Busy!
What happens if your current primary job leaves you with very little spare time or energy to take on another “iron”? It’s more important to spend time with your spouse and kids, right?
Of course. Especially if you’re employed full-time, the trick is to find balance. You don’t want to work an additional 40-hour work week on top of the one you already have – that would only leave you stressed and frazzled. But that’s the beauty of adding irons to the fire: You work those other jobs only when you want. You might not really need them now, but if you lose that primary job, the other irons in your fire are already warmed up.
Besides, you’d be surprised how much time you’re probably wasting in a day. Do you window shop on your lunch hour? Do you watch television? Do you mindlessly surf the internet? Perhaps that time could better be spent forging another iron for your fire.
If you already work full-time, it’s best to develop any sideline income streams as very part-time, at least at first. Don’t overextend yourself, but don’t neglect to plan for the critical financial cushion of those other irons, either. You want to see stressed and frazzled? Then look at that stack of bills sitting side by side with your pink slip. Believe me, you will thank yourself for those alternate income streams if you lose your primary job.
Dealing with Financial Insecurity
A lot of people don’t like the financial insecurity of a freelance lifestyle because they prefer the security of a well-paying, dependable job. Believe me, I understand. There’s only one problem: well-paying dependable jobs aren’t as secure as we like to think. They can disappear in a moment. Been there, done that; it hurts.
But there’s no question a freelance lifestyle means your income is never, ever dependable. You don’t know from one month to the next how much you’ll earn. For some people, this acts as an incentive to keep searching for full-time work; others simply adapt and adjust their lifestyle (and spending) accordingly.
It’s critical to remember all part-time income is subject to taxes, but those taxes won’t be withheld automatically. You will have to declare all income on your taxes, and possibly file separate Schedule C forms when April 15 rolls around. You may also have to pay quarterly taxes. I strongly urge you to always be honest and above-board with all part-time income. The hassle of filing and paying taxes is far better than the hassle of an audit and fines from the IRS.
Twin Pillars of a Freelance Lifestyle
If you’re interested in embarking on a freelance lifestyle involving multiple part-time income streams, let’s make one thing clear: you must scale back your spending. It does no good to cultivate all these irons in the fire if you fritter away your earnings on frivolous, nonessential stuff.
A freelance lifestyle works best under the twin pillars of thrift (your day-to-day choices) and low living expenses (the big stuff).
There are reams of information on the internet about how to live more frugally, so figure out for yourself where your spending leaks are and plug those leaks accordingly. Your new thrifty purchasing habits might include everything from buying groceries in bulk to eliminating the daily latté.
It helps to adopt an all-cash (whenever possible) lifestyle. We did this several years ago and it has proven immeasurably helpful in curbing unnecessary spending. If we don’t have the cash for something, we can’t afford it.
The Biggest Obstacle to a Freelance Lifestyle
Debt is unquestionably the biggest obstacle to a freelance lifestyle. For that reason, I would advise moving heaven and earth to escape to shackles of debt before going freelance. That includes student loan debt, car payments, credit cards, and even the mortgage (if possible).
However, a freelance lifestyle isn’t an “all or nothing” prospect. Your regular job can pay your bills and freelancing on the side can generate income to pay down debt or save for the future. And having those freelance side gigs can be supremely important should your regular job dry up.
“Earn money at home!”
In the course of writing this article, I decided to see what the latest gimmicks for earning money from home were. I was appalled. Nearly every single online “income producer” involved suggestions like: “You can sign up for this app on your smartphone and earn $5!” or “Earn a $10 gift card for signing up with xyz!”
Folks, that’s not going to support you or your family. One-hit wonders that “earn” you $5 or $10 are well and good, but you can’t pay your bills with them. Instead, look to your own skills and resources and develop your own income streams, instead of grasping at gimmicky straws offered by others.
This means being flexible in what you’re willing to do, and utilizing the broad range of talents you undoubtedly possess. You’d be surprised how far intangible qualities go when it comes to picking up extra jobs, part-time or otherwise. A work ethic, showing up on time, honesty, dependability … these are assets everyone values. We have a neighbor who was hired for a superb job because he was the only one (literally) who passed the drug test.
On the other hand, you also have to make sure the alternate income stream is worth it. Something that pays fifty cents per hour is probably not worth your time. If you want to sell flea-market finds on eBay, but it takes you 20 hours to clear $100, is it worthwhile? You decide.
The Better Option
When we got laid off from our joint job, my husband and I were spurred to “heat up” our other irons in the fire and develop them into more steady income-producers. It wasn’t hard.
When we first left the city back in 1993, we had two major goals: To work from home, and to build a rural homestead. We could achieve these goals in one of two ways: We could either earn more, or we could spend less. We opted for the latter and never regretted it.
This freelance lifestyle wasn’t always easy or straightforward. We made some stupid financial mistakes in our younger days. However, we also learned the art of frugality and kept our living expenses low.
What we’ve learned is this: It’s better to have ten income streams each paying $500 per month than a single income stream paying $5,000 per month. Losing one iron of the former is an annoyance. Losing the one single iron of the latter is devastating.
How much of a freelance lifestyle do you have? Tell us about your “irons in the fire” or income streams.
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