Are Side Hustles Necessary to Achieve FIRE?

This week at work, as of the initial drafting of this post, someone commented on how tired we all look. It’s been a stressful five months for everyone with some things that have been going on and it’s taken a toll on all of us. Then I was listening to a recent How to Money Podcast (Overcoming our Idiot Brains #674, insert link) which helped get me thinking about this. Both of these events got me thinking about how we have these immense pressures to always be productive and how we’re in some ways trained to feel bad if we do take some time just to slow down.

Whether it’s learning a new skill, working a side hustle, or some other form of productivity, there is a huge pressure that you are always using your time to make money. If you’re seeking FIRE, in some ways this pressure to maximize your earnings may be even higher than it would be for others. This week I thought we’d talk a bit about my thoughts on why you may not want to take on a side hustle.


Frankly, at the end of the day, we all need some time to recharge. I’m not going to say how long that is, it varies from person to person and time to time. How you recharge is different too, for me, it’s laying on my couch listening to history podcasts. For someone else, it may be going for a walk (I envy those of you who can use physical activity to recharge, for me, it’s work. Even if I do love a good runner’s high).

I’ve even known some people who seem to recharge from their job. Which just baffles me, but if it works for you go for it.

Without a way to recharge you can run out of steam and it leads to burnout. This could impact your performance at both your main job and the potential side hustle. Being burnt out could lower performance and overall earnings. Although, if it works for you and you can still cut out enough time to recharge, then go for it.

Not Everything has to be Monetized

It’s been well documented, with a quick Google search, that just about every human activity has been monetized. Plus there are countless hours of content about how side hustles are good and every spare minute can and should be traded for cash. I think it’s added pressure to make things you enjoy doing into side businesses even if you don’t enjoy the business side of it.

Before I launch into the rest of my thoughts, I do want to note that if you do enjoy a hobby you turn into some form of extra income even after you do so there’s no problem. But the focus on these activities should be enjoyment first.

Speaking completely anecdotally, I’ve seen how not enjoying the business side can suck the enjoyment out of a hobby. My mom spent a few years running a yarn store in our town. She was an avid knitter at the beginning of it. After she got out of the business it took her a few years before she started to knit as much as she used to. From what I noticed, the business side of running a yarn store sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of what had been a rather productive hobby before, that didn’t make money (although it probably saved some money).

If my blacksmithing skills ever get to the point where I make a knife actually worth selling, I don’t plan on actually making it a side business. I do it because I like to hit hot metal with a hammer and create things. Maybe I’ll sell stuff here and there, but I don’t plan to let it become the focus.

I also think this should go into hobbies you plan to pick up. Since I’m a firebug, I’m planning to pick up glassblowing at some point to add to my repertoire of skills (I have several hobbies I plan to try out between now and when I kick the bucket) after I achieve FIRE. If I ever become a competent glasssmith, will I sell some of my stuff? Maybe. But the intent when I learn will not be to earn money, it’ll first be to try something out and, if I enjoy it, expand it into another hobby.

What About When Working Towards FIRE?

When you’re working towards FIRE it’s not uncommon to at least ponder a side hustle or second job. Yes, this will speed up your path to FIRE, assuming you could already save with your current job you’d be able to completely save the income from this second source of income. If you’re looking to boost your savings rate by increasing the income side of the equation this is one way you can do it.

Other than two jobs I had for a little under a year (once in high school and again in college for a single semester), never really had to juggle work and something else, be that school or another job, so I’m probably not the best to comment on actually working these. I’ll leave this to others who actually have experience in the area. But I thought I’d talk a bit about why I haven’t taken the plunge.

The job in college didn’t have a huge amount of demands. It was mostly running the 3D printers for the design teams for the department and some other miscellaneous tasks. I think it was maybe 20 hours a week during the busiest weeks. But it was still an extra drag on my time and energy and I didn’t have a lot of juice left, it got in the way of other important activities like studying.

So for me now with a much more intensive and demanding job than I had when working through school, I don’t think I have the energy left to really pursue a second job (I’m usually done for a week if I have to do any meaningful amount of work for my job on the weekend). I use that time to recharge even if it means that I am making less money than I could.

Of course, I think I know the question that will be on the front of everyone’s mind as they read this; “Couldn’t this job be considered a second job?” While yes, you could make that argument, I treat this more as a hobby. Spending an hour or two every day working on these posts doesn’t really take too much out of me. Plus, I don’t make any money off of this blog. If a post (or posts) flop or blogging is relegated to the dustbin of history like newspapers and radio I’ll still be typing these posts up. I’d be lying if I hadn’t ever thought about what number it would be before I would run ads on the blog, it would have to be in the 1000s of views a week before I’d start seriously considering monetization.

It Isn’t Always Worth the Effort

Sometimes it also isn’t worth the effort compared to how much money you need. I’m a huge fan of comparing how much additional return you’ll make to the actual effort involved. For instance, I’d probably make more money if I bought houses to rent out than if I continued to invest in stocks and bonds. But being a landlord is a lot of work compared to the return that you make on the effort you put in. I’ve set up my plan so that additional income isn’t necessary. Sure it would help hit my goals faster, but I don’t need it to achieve my goals. If your side hustle is something like ridesharing or some of the other popular side hustles on the internet, your return on effort might be very low.

For me, I’d say that a 1%+ boost to my income per hour expended would be about the right ratio for me, assuming I can easily control the number of hours.

Wrapping Up

This post is starting to get longer than I like to make them; so I think it’s time to wrap up. I think that it’s perfectly fine to not be productive or work all the waking hours of the day. If you are able to do that and you can find a side hustle or second job that doesn’t leave you drained, suck the enjoyment out of the activity, and gives a return on effort that’s worth it I think you can go for it.

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