I walked up the path, double-checking I had the right address on my phone. A dog on the other side of the front door barked madly as it hurled itself against the glass.
The hound gnashed and growled, as the app on my phone had warned me he might. The notes told me he only sounded terrifying, but he wouldn’t attack once I got inside.
My Side-Hustle: Wag!
I was using the dog-walking app Wag! as a side-hustle. This was my very first walk, so I diligently read through each instruction and struggled to get the lockbox open. The impatient pup threw its staunch body against the glass, which shuddered on impact. I was sure a neighbor would call the cops on me as the booming barks echoed down the street. Finally I got the key, slid it into the lock, and opened the door a fraction to avoid letting the dog out.
Just as the notes had promised, the dog did not viciously rip my arm off as I wedged myself into the small entryway. However, with a stranger in its house and the promise of an imminent walk, the creature was in a full-blown frenzy. I tried to calm him with a soothing voice as I reached for the leash, petting his head.
When I bent down to clip it to its collar, the dog launched itself upwards to lick my face. Its thick skull whacked my jaw, the type of impact that brought tears to my eyes immediately. I reeled back against the wall, eyes shut, holding my mouth as the pup wiggled in pure excitement, apparently unaffected.
I collected myself after a minute, carefully clipping the leash and shutting the door behind me before the dog yanked me up the sidewalk. Little did I know that this little experience would come back to haunt me half a year later.
The Rise of the Side-Hustle
From driving for Uber, delivering food via DoorDash, or hosting people through Airbnb, the side-hustle can be a fantastic way to make some additional income. In fact, 4 in 10 Americans have a job on the side. If you have the time and the resources, it can be a no-brainer way to rake in a little extra dough.
However, opponents of the side-hustle gig economy pose an important counterpoint: the cost of a side hustle may outweigh the income deposited in your bank account.
My Side-Hustle Compensation vs. Cost
Wag! was a phenomenal way to make money on the side. I go for daily walks anyway, and I love dogs, so an app that pairs people with dogs that need a walk was a perfect match. Overall, I made $315 by putting in a little effort of downloading and setting up my profile in the app. Not too shabby for time I would have spent walking anyway.
Yet even that simple side-hustle had a significant cost.
Remember the dog-skull vs. human-mouth face-off of 2018? Apparently, trauma to the face can kill the nerves in your teeth, resulting in damage that requires a small surgery. For me, it meant an endodontic appointment for TWO root canals.
Given the fact that one tooth runs anywhere from $900-$1,100, I was looking at a bill of $1,800 to $2,200 as a direct result of dog walking on the side.
The Costs to Consider
Of course, it was an unlucky circumstance that is (hopefully) unlikely to be repeated. It was my very first time walking an unfamiliar dog, and being new to any side hustle introduces a bit more risk. With more experience and more time, the dividends might begin to outweigh start-up costs (or surprise medical bills, in my case).
However, the shock of the bill is a good reminder to keep costs in mind when starting up a side-hustle. Don’t forget to consider:
- Maintenance costs (think of the wear and tear on a vehicle while driving for Uber).
- Damage to the residence (Airbnb).
- Burn out.
- The opportunity cost of working on a side hustle compared to your full-time job.
- Dogs that use their heads as battering rams
To be quite honest, that bill would not be enough to stop me from continuing to walk dogs in my spare time. (I did stop using Wag!, but only because the app didn’t switch over properly to my new phone). However, the bill was a wake-up call to remember that sometimes extra income has its own cost.
The Cost To Your Main Hustle
The main argument against a side-hustle is that the energy you put there might be put to better use at your main job. As Maurie Backman writes in the Motley Fool:
“If you’re so focused on your side hustle that your performance slips, you might lose out on raises or promotions that boost your primary income stream.”
If your performance doesn’t slip, then keep on keepin’ on! But that time might be better spent focusing on your main job. Better performance at work might mean a large raise worth more than the extra few hundred you might have made otherwise.
The Costs We Forget
There are often obvious upfront costs to a side-hustle, like setting up a website or, in the case of Wag!, paying $20 for a background check. However, there are other costs that are easy to miss. For example, Uber drivers ostensibly earn $24.77 per hour on average, but that is far from the amount that actually ends up in their bank account.
The total is cut in half to $11.77 after factoring in commissions, gas, and car maintenance. If we take into account the cost of health insurance for a full-time driver, the take-home pay drops to just $9.21 per hour.
Someone might enjoy driving for Uber to meet new people, explore their city, and earn a little supplemental income, but it is important to remember that the income we see is not always the total we reap.
Does the Benefit Outweigh The Cost?
Some side-hustles make sense. If you want to explore your city by bike, try delivering for Postmates. If you are passionate about statistics, tutor on the side and fulfill that itch. Plenty of people find fun and engaging ways to stash away some pocket money.
It is perfectly viable to monetize the time you spend away from your day job. So embrace a side-hustle, but be cautious about hidden costs. It is possible that your side hustle could be at the expense of your time, your energy, or more drastically, your dental health. Much like a dog, a side-hustle may seem fun and easy to care for, but if you are not prepared, the reality may come back to bite you.