How 4 Women are Getting Ahead with Side Hustles

A version of this article was originally published in O, The Oprah Magazine

Nothing has provided me with more financial runway in life than earning some extra cash on the side – and putting it to work.

In my 20s, I moonlighted as a babysitter and freelance writer. Those few extra hundred bucks per month, when added to my 9-to-5 salary, helped me crawl out of debt and build a nice savings cushion in just a few short years. And more than that, I began to see money as this thing of abundance. As long as I was willing to put in the work, I felt more confident than ever that I could find ways to earn more.

Today making more is a real need. Hourly wages have been at a near standstill since the 1970s, all while the cost of living – everything from housing to health care – has increased dramatically, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

It has many of us seeking additional income streams in the pursuit of a better life.

The good news is, it’s never been easier (or faster) to boost your bottom line, thanks to the myriad websites, apps and companies linking us to paid opportunities.

I connected with several women across the country, each earning $500 or more a month to help pay down debt, save, give back or just enjoy life a little more. Here’s how they’re making it work.

Get Crafty

Since Etsy arrived in 2005 as the go-to destination for buying and purchasing handmade goods, the online marketplace has grown to a community of over 1.6 million active sellers, many like Connie Weller who’ve yet to quit their day jobs.

Weller, 43, is a full-time corporate trainer who’s earning about $500 a month on the side selling inspirational tees. The extra money offers her family a financial cushion and a means to give back. Ten percent of her sales go to support the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation.

How she does it: Before opening the Etsy shop, Weller taught herself how to screen print by watching free videos on YouTube once her kids fell asleep. She also joined a screen printing group on Facebook to build a support group. Weller, who lives in Timonium, MD, then invested $200 in materials like paint and shirts and set up her “Kindness Tree Movement” shop on Etsy this past May. There she sells her tees for $18 to $26 a pop.  (While the online shop was free to create, Etsy takes a 3.5% sales cut.)

In the first month, the extra cash provided security while her husband joined a strike at his company. The family lost its medical benefits for four weeks. “It made me more determined to work late through the nights and try to make a difference,” says Weller.  

Bank on Your Car

A car may be a depreciating asset, but it can also be used to make money.

GaNeane Lewis, 45, is a surgical technologist in Elk Grove, CA during the weekdays and Lyft driver on the weekends. She makes about $200 a week driving folks around in her 2011 Ford Fiesta. She started working part-time with the car sharing company (and mobile app) last summer to emerge from living paycheck to paycheck.

The best part – besides the money – is the flexibility, she says. “I can do it whenever I want to for however long I want to. If I need a lunch break, I just turn off the app, go grab food and then turn it back on when I’m ready.”

The cash gives Lewis, a mom of four, some breathing room in the family budget, especially when unexpected expenses – like replacing a lost cell phone –pop up. “I can drive five hours and have [the money] in my wallet that week,” she says.

More about Lyft: The car sharing service generally takes a 20% commission on every ride. Drivers receive a free vehicle inspection and are also covered by Lyft’s $1 million liability policy when driving on the Lyft platform.

Become a Flexible Entrepreneur

Student loans, credit card debt and the high cost of living right outside Washington, DC (followed by Seattle, WA) led 33-year-old Pheniece Jones, a PR consultant, to take on a side gig. She craved a simple, flexible job that fueled a passion and discovered that in becoming a stylist with Stella & Dot.

It’s an accessories company that offers what it calls “flexible entrepreneurship” for women.

How it works: As a Stella and Dot stylist, you pay $199 for its “business in a box,” which incudes marketing and training materials, as well as credits towards buying display products for in-person trunk shows. Stylists can also sell products online using a personalized site provided by the company. Products ship directly from Stella and Dot so there’s no need to keep any inventory at your house. You take home 25% to 35% of sales. According to Stella and Dot, stylists that average 3 to 5 hours of work each week can earn up to $400 per month.

Jones’ $500 in monthly commissions combined with her full-time income, has helped her completely pay off her $3,000 credit card balance, knock 40% off her student loan bill and take a trip to Paris. “I’ve set a goal to travel more,” she says.

Run Errands

To help save for a place of her own and pay off roughly $38,000 in combined student loans and credit card debt, Heidi Hall, 30, bought a vacuum. The Bethesda, MD data analyst began moonlighting as a housecleaner earlier this year through TaskRabbit, a virtual marketplace that connects freelancers with locals who need help with everyday tasks like cleaning, moving and handy work. She makes anywhere from $400 to $700 a month working evenings and some weekends.

TaskRabbit freelancers must have a background check (which costs $5) and attend a 90-minute orientation session before onboarding. Gigs pay an average $35 per hour. If you are especially skilled in a task you might want to check out, a somewhat similar site which boasts paying an average $40 per hour.  

Cleaning houses has made Hall, who is a full-time data analyst, appreciate money in a new way, she says. “All day I sit in front of a computer and don't interact with people. It doesn't even seem like work…But when I scrub someone's bathroom floor for $30, that $30 means a lot more to me.”

Farnoosh Torabi