Increasing Income: Should You Side Hustle or Focus on Your Career?
You can increase your income with a side hustle, but you can also increase your income by focusing on your current career.
Within the financial independence community, starting a side hustle is often recommended as a way to increase your income and your savings rate, and rightfully so. If you look at the numbers to see the long-term impact of a side hustle, it’s quite impressive what’s possible if you’re saving and investing that money.
However, what’s often not mentioned is the fact that side hustling isn’t your only option. It’s also possible to increase your income by focusing on your current career. Taking this approach could allow you to have the same or even better long-term results if you’re saving and investing the extra money that you’re making.
Yes, making an extra $1,000 per month from a side hustle will have a huge impact on your overall finances, but what are we comparing that number to? A true alternative would be to dedicate your extra time to your existing career with the aim of advancing and increasing your income.
Improving your job skills and getting a raise, landing a promotion, or finding a higher-paying job may lead to an even better financial situation than what you could achieve through a side hustle.
Ways to Focus on Your Career
You may be wondering how you can work on your existing career outside of your normal working hours. If your job doesn’t allow you to work overtime (or maybe it’s more accurate to say if you’re not eligible to be paid overtime), what are your options?
Here are a few things that you could focus on:
- Education - Go back to school and earn a degree that will open up new possibilities and increase your earning potential.
- Certification - Work towards a professional certification that might make you more valuable and improve your job qualifications.
- Improved Skills or New Skills - Use your time to develop or improve specific skills that could help you to advance in your career.
- Improved Experience - Gain experience that could help you to do your job better or improve your qualifications for a higher-paying role.
- Professional Network - Expand and strengthen your network by connecting with people in your industry, which may lead to new opportunities.
Let’s take a balanced look at the topic so you can decide which would be the best approach for your own situation.
A Case for Starting a Side Hustle to Build Wealth
First, let’s look at some of the advantages of going the side hustle route.
Side gigs provide variety
One of the great things about starting a side hustle is the fact that you can get more variety in your work. After working full-time hours at your job, it can be refreshing to use your spare time for something completely different. Getting some variety in your work will often allow you to work more hours than you would be able to work if you were doing the same thing for all of those hours.
Not only can you get some variety, but many side hustles will also allow you to make money from a hobby. For example, if you love animals, working as a dog walker in your spare time may be a lot more enjoyable than what you do full-time.
Potential for Career Transition
Many people start a side hustle because they don’t really enjoy what they do full-time, and they would love to be able to turn the side hustle into a full-time income.
Not all side hustles will offer the potential to generate enough money to replace the income from your job, but some of them will provide virtually unlimited earning potential (especially the ones that involve starting a business).
In today’s gig economy, there are countless things you can do as a side hustle for extra money. Regardless of your schedule, the amount of time you have available, your skills, and your interests, there will be some possibilities for you.
Sites and apps like Fiverr, Upwork, and TaskRabbit are all making it much easier to connect gig workers with clients and customers. This takes one of the hardest elements of hustling—building a book of business—out of the equation, making it easy to get started.
It’s very possible to make a side hustle fit around your life, regardless of your schedule. Of course, not every side hustle offers the same level of flexibility, but there are plenty of options that allow you to work whenever or wherever it’s convenient for you, and as much or as little as you want.
Most side hustles require no significant commitment from you. If you try something and it winds up not being a good fit, you can move on and try something else instead.
Some side hustles will require a little bit of financial investment, which does lead to some commitment on your part, but those specific side hustles can be avoided if that’s an issue for you.
Can Be Continued Into “Retirement”
Another reason why side hustles tend to be extremely popular with people who are pursuing financial independence is that you could continue with the side hustle after retiring from your full-time job.
There are many different ways to define retirement, but many people who are pursuing early retirement do not intend to stop working altogether. A side hustle can allow you to still make some money in retirement and give you something productive to do with your time.
The Case for Increasing Income by Focusing on Your Career
Now, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might choose to focus on your career to increase your income instead of starting a side hustle.
It’s Much Easier to Focus on Just One Thing
While the variety that you can get from adding a side hustle is nice, there is also something to be said about being dedicated to one thing. Some side hustlers wind up doing a ton of different things to make extra money, but you may be better off with an approach that focuses all of your energy in one area especially if your chosen career has tons of room for upward mobility.
Master Your Strongest Skills
Generally, high-income earners have mastered something specific. In terms of income potential, you’re better off to be a master of one thing than to be a jack of all trades and master of none. It’s most likely your strongest skill that will determine your income potential, so why not maximize that one skill?
Hopefully, your career allows you to make use of your strengths. If you’re able to become even stronger in these areas, you could make yourself even more valuable and open up new opportunities.
Compound Income Growth
When you look at the impact of increasing your income at your job you can see the results of compounding. Every time you get a raise it will have a compounding impact based on the raises that you got in the past.
For example, if you have a salary of $50,000 and next year you get a 5% raise, that’s a raise of $2,500. But if you’ve improved your skills and you just landed a job that pays $65,000, the same 5% raise next year would be a raise of $3,250.
Over the course of your career, the impact of these types of raises can really add up.
Potentially Higher Hourly Rate
While side hustles come in all shapes and sizes and some of them certainly offer great income potential, there are plenty of side hustles that are most likely to earn you a low hourly rate for your effort.
Depending on your career, it’s very possible that you could wind up making more per hour in the long run by focusing on your career.
Extra Hours of Work May Be Temporary
Most calculations that show the long-term impact of a side hustle assume that you will continue to do the side hustle long-term. While that’s an ideal scenario, sometimes life gets in the way. It may not be practical to assume that you could continue your side hustle for 10 or 15 years.
By focusing on your career you may be able to dedicate time now that will allow you to make more money in the future. For example, you might dedicate two years to earn a degree or certification that allows you to become qualified for a higher-paying job. Once you have that higher-paying job, you may not need to work any extra hours.
How to pick the right strategy for generating income
As you can see, there are things to like about both approaches. Neither is the right or wrong approach. It really depends on your own personal situation and which approach would be the best fit for you.
If you’re trying to decide, here are some things to ask yourself:
Do You Enjoy Your Full-Time Work?
If you enjoy your current career and you’re just looking for a way to make more money, maybe you should focus on your career and find ways to advance your income with your employer or at least in the same industry.
But if you don’t enjoy your job, putting even more time or effort into it may be something that you should avoid. In this case, a side hustle could provide some nice variety that allows you to make money while doing something different.
Is it Something That You Want to Do Long-Term?
If you choose to focus on your career, it should be a career that you plan on sticking with for the long-term. If you think it’s likely that you’ll change careers with the next few years, or possibly retire, you’d probably be better off using your time for a side hustle.
As was mentioned earlier in the article, side hustles are popular with people who are looking for a way to transition to a different career. If you know that you don’t want to stay in your current career long-term, take some time to think about what you would like to do next, and see if there is a side hustle that could help with that transition.
Are You in a High-Paying Career or a Potentially High-Paying Career?
If you earn a high salary at your job, or if you have the potential to advance into a high-paying role, you might be better off focusing on your career than starting a side hustle. As far as income is concerned, you might be better off working to maximize your income from your career.
What Are Your Retirement Goals?
Is there something specific that you would like to do in your retirement? Do you see yourself having a side hustle after retiring from a full-time job? If so, you might want to consider starting a side hustle that’s something that you could see yourself doing even if you didn’t have to work full-time.
Is There Room for Advancement with Your Current Job?
If you know that you could potentially earn a promotion or transition to a higher-paying role, that may be something that you want to focus on. This doesn’t necessarily have to be with your current employer either. For example, if you’re an accountant, working towards becoming a CPA will go a long way in improving your income potential and opening up possibilities for you to consider jobs with other employers.
On the other hand, if your current job doesn’t seem to offer much room for growth and if you don’t see a clear path of potential progress in your career, maybe a side hustle would be a better use of your time.
What Training and Educational Opportunities Are Available to You?
Does your current employer offer tuition reimbursement that would allow you to get an advanced degree without paying for it? Are there training opportunities available that would allow you to earn a certification that could increase your earning potential? If so, that might be something that you want to take advantage of. You might not make more money in the short-term, but once you have the degree or certification you could see big results.
The Two Options Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
Although we’ve looked at two different options, keep in mind that it’s also possible to do both at the same time. While many gig jobs won’t help you to advance your career, there are many that would allow you to gain valuable experience or improve skills that make you more valuable in your field if that’s what you’re after. It just takes a little more forethought than downloading an app. Here’s how to use a side hustle to advance your career.
Of course, this is partly going to depend on the career that you have and the skills or experience that you’re looking to gain, but there may be some options available.
For example, if you’re a web or software developer, you could start a side hustle by creating your own website or software that allows you to learn a new coding language, which would open up more opportunities for you.
If you work in finance, you could start a side hustle writing for financial websites and blogs. The exposure that you get from your writing may lead to better opportunities or the name recognition that you build over time may make you more valuable to employers.
There is no right or wrong approach to increasing your income. Starting a side hustle and focusing on your career both have unique benefits that could be extremely effective for improving your overall financial situation.