I Earned $44,358 From My Side-Gigs in 2020…and I Could Have Earned More

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on December 21, 2020 in Gig Economy

Here at the end of the year, I have a number to share with you: $44,358.

That’s my total, pre-tax haul from all my various freelancing activities in 2020: financial columns, writing walking tours, editing screenplays, the screenplay for which I sold the rights, microstock photography, income from an e-book I wrote, a bit of travel writing. Though a few days remain until 2020—mercifully—passes into history, whatever last-minute assignments pop up will not show up as official income until 2021.

So it is, then, that this year’s freelance effort is now set in stone.

And I have to say…I’m happy.

I earned all of this income—nearly $3,700 a month, on average—in my downtime, when I wasn’t pursuing my main gig writing for The Savvy Retiree and International Living. Every dollar was purely side-hustle income, the kind of income I write about all the time in these weekend missives to you.

I openly share this highly personal financial data for reasons of transparency. I read scads of stories through the year from writers talking about their forays into the gig economy—the high-dollar side-hustles, the lifestyle stories on the road as a digital nomad. And they’re all fine for what they are. But rarely do any of them ever share their true earnings.

The person claiming it’s possible to earn five figures a month selling coffee mugs on Etsy…the nomad living large in Bangkok and insisting you can do the same…the e-book writer extolling the six-figure income possibility. Maybe all that is true. I certainly see how it’s possible; it’s 100% why I am active in various corners of the gig economy, and why I am always exploring and testing other options.

Yet, I also know that people with an agenda can stretch the truth about their own lives in order to beautify whatever point they’re trying to make. Thus, I share with you my honest income, so that you can gauge for yourself a bit of my reality.

Like I said, this was truly side-hustle income, since I cannot devote my days to these projects. Most of this work happens at night, or on weekends. Prior to COVID’s travel smackdown, some of it was happening on planes, trains, and automobiles…and on a ferry in the Bosporus, just off the coast of Istanbul.

Had freelance been my full-time pursuit, I’d estimate that my income would have been between $75,000 and $85,000—possibly more.

Several of my gigs didn’t start bringing in money until later in the year. I didn’t start editing screenplays on Fiverr, for instance, until July. I didn’t start uploading photos to microstock sites until early fall. I didn’t start writing thrice-weekly financial columns until early August.

And then there are the many opportunities I missed out on for lack of time: I didn’t write a couple of e-books under my name that are still on my plate. I had to turn down requests on Upwork to ghostwrite a few e-books for other people. I didn’t apply to write several romance novels that were offered to me (my profile notes that I write rom-com scripts, so it’s similar). And I spent no time at all pursuing some niche projects I’m interested in, and which I’ve mentioned previously, such as designing T-shirts and coffee mugs based on my art.

But that $44,358…it goes to show that real income is truly available in the gig economy. It’s not just a bunch of hype.

I’m not saying it’s easy money, to be sure. If you’ve read these e-letters across the year, you’ll know the hours that I put into many of those projects. I’m certainly not complaining about that. I’m just saying that in the gig economy, there are streams of truly passive income (such as microstock photography and e-books after you’ve written them) and there are streams of actively earned income (such as freelance writing and script editing and such).

Frankly, I hope to build a bigger stream of passive income in 2021, and that will be part of my focus in the new year. But I will continue to focus on a few specific skills: writing financial columns, editing scripts, and continually adding to my portfolio of microstock photos. Based on the gigs I know I have at the moment, I project that those will earn a combined $3,750 a month, give or take, a level of side-hustle moola with which I’m pleased. Anything above that is, as we say where I grew up in south Louisiana, lagniappe—a little something extra.

But here’s my other hope for the year: That you’ll play along with me.

I hope you find a little motivation in my part-time, $44,000-per-year side-hustles. And I hope you think to yourself, “I can do that, too.” We have so many chances to pursue so many income opportunities online these days. Though I’ve spent the past year writing about many of them, I know there are so many more that exist. So in these final weeks of 2020, take stock of your skills and begin to consider how you might turn those into a meaningful stream of money. Maybe this time next year, you’ll have your own $44,358 to talk about.

By Jeff D. Opdyke