How I built an income safety net

This guest article was written by Kimberly Palmer. Kimberly is the author of the new book “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report. In addition, she is the creator of Palmer's Planners, a line of digital financial guides on Etsy.

A month after my daughter was born four years ago, as the fog of newborn sleep deprivation was at its height, I was overwhelmed by a terrifying thought: What would happen if I lost my job? Or what if my husband lost his job? I couldn't stop thinking through various scenarios, imagining what we might possibly do to avoid complete financial catastrophe.

My paranoia wasn't completely off-base; after all, I work in journalism, a field known for its job instability and lay-offs. And my daughter was born in 2009, just as our entire financial world seemed to be collapsing. I probably shouldn't have been so surprised by the crushing weight of parental responsibilities.

Palmer book cover

A few months later, after my daughter grew (slightly) more self-sufficient and started sleeping in more than two-hour chunks, I decided to find a way to fight back against my anxiety. I wanted to build my family a safety net — something that would save us if my fears did come true. That safety net had to provide us with a new stream of income, something outside of our day jobs, which would generate extra cash and be there for us if our primary incomes suddenly disappeared.

I came up with the idea for my Etsy shop of money planners after browsing around on the handmade-goods website and discovering an entire section dedicated to paper products. While I had purchased gifts on Etsy before and long admired the site, I had never imagined that I, as a writer, could become an Etsy seller myself. After finding products that included organizational calendars and digital files for shopping lists or other planning tools, I knew I had to join Etsy as a seller.

Within two weeks of that revelation, I had launched my first product, the Baby Planner, on my Etsy store. I wrote in a flurry, relying on much of my previous reporting for a book idea that had never found a publisher. I connected with a freelance illustrator through one of my favorite blogs, and she created a gorgeous cover for me for around $100.

The minute I hit “Publish,” I felt like a different person. I was officially an entrepreneur with an online business. I was taking control of my financial future and building an alternative to being entirely beholden to a single salary.

Of course, it took a little longer for my first sale to come in — about two weeks. But I quickly learned how to embrace the marketing side of entrepreneurship, and soon started reaching out to bloggers who I thought might be interested in writing about my planners.  After I generated some coverage, my planners started selling more briskly, and I quickly expanded my shop to include money planners, business planners, a money goals planner, and others. (Later, I added customized versions that come with a half-hour coaching session — the possibilities for expansion are endless.)

My shop now generates between $50 and $200 a month — income that comes nowhere close to paying for our mortgage, but that provides a nice cushion for non-essentials. More importantly, being an entrepreneur has shown me that I can earn money from my own creations, and if I ever need to, I can grow my shop into something larger.

The best part is that I know I'm helping people in the process. If I'm ever having a rough day, all I need to do is read through the “feedback” section of my Etsy shop to see how people are using my planners to improve their own financial well-being.

Recently, I've started helping people find ways to build their own side-gigs, so they can find that same empowerment that comes from bringing in an additional income stream. Some of them have launched online businesses like I did, but others rely on their talents, such as singing or stand-up comedy, or an area of professional expertise, such as graphic design or website building, or a service they enjoy providing, such as lawn care or babysitting. Almost everyone has a potential side-gig inside of them, waiting to be unleashed. What's your side gig?

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Justin @ Decisive Dollar
Justin @ Decisive Dollar
6 years ago

Congratulations on the awesome achievement! I’m always impressed when people take the initiative to do things like this, especially when they know it takes a while to figure things out and build momentum.

No side gig yet for me, just trying to build my blog. I’m hopeful that in the not-so-distant future I’ll be able to start generating an extra stream of income from it. Thanks for sharing!

Kimberly Palmer
Kimberly Palmer
6 years ago

Thank you, Justin! Blogging is awesome, and can end up leading to other ways to earn money, too.

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

Very inspirational. I too always feel anxious about my financial circumstances and look for ways to mitigate risk. I will definitely check out your store. thanks for sharing.

Snarkfinance
Snarkfinance
6 years ago

I have a few: 1) real estate, 2) blogging/writing, 3) consulting. Not getting rich here, and one aspect that I don’t like about those gigs (aside from real estate) is that they are “wither and die” businesses in that if I take some time off they croak. I am looking for a more product orientated side hustle. Now that you mention Etsy, I may need to look into that a little. Sometimes proving to ourselves that we can make money on the side–any amount of money–is the most important first step towards a project that has the power to change… Read more »

Matt Becker
Matt Becker
6 years ago

Nice work! Any amount of side income coming in is helpful. I’ve never really looked into Etsy, but I love the idea of creating a product that can continue selling itself. By the way, I love all of the illustrations on your planners! Very catchy and inviting.

Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
Jon @ MoneySmartGuides
6 years ago

I use real estate and my blog for side income. I don’t make a ton each month, but that few hundred dollars each month really adds up over time when you save and invest it.

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

As a professional actress, I’ve had every kind of side gig you can think of (with the exception of the creepy or illegal ones)… I’ve worked in restaurants, in service, as a tradeshow hostess, a personal assistant, and now as a freelance writer. My hope is to build up my writing enough so that I don’t have to do the other stuff- you’d be amazed how rude and condescending people are to me when I work those service gigs. It’s the ultimate motivation to build up my business where I’M the boss.

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Nice job Kimberly! Blogging / writing is my only current side gig.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

Congrats on the book and the side-gigging! I love the idea of having multiple streams of income…to me a huge part of feeling financially free is not being dependent on any single thing. How sound can a structure be if one loose brick can bring it down? I’m still thinking of ideas for side-gigs down the road but for now I am doing the typical stuff, working a part time job and rental property. My dream is to one day be a professional seasonal worker (if there is such a thing). I want to have a foot in all types… Read more »

Jen
Jen
6 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I love it! Dreams are good, there are the initial thoughts that spark an idea. All it takes is that one idea and it can change your world! You are amazing!

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
6 years ago

Right now I don’t really have a side-gig. I’ve made $10 of the blog, so that’s my winner right now! 🙂 In the past I’ve been a snowboard instructor, and an etsy seller. I loved being a snowboard instructor, and was very good at it. I’d do it again if the resorts weren’t so far from my house!

Kimberly Palmer
Kimberly Palmer
6 years ago

Thank you for all these awesome comments… I love hearing about everyone’s side-gigs. There’s so much opportunity out there it’s amazing and I always get inspired by hearing other people’s stories.

Heather
Heather
6 years ago

I’ve got a new side gig, I write (healthcare) and research (whatever looks fun) on elance.com as Allons-y. Payment guarantees, I can pick stuff that is interesting, and when life is busy I don’t look for gigs.

Emily
Emily
6 years ago

I too have an Etsy site. I make custom ornaments of pets.

The income isn’t consistent, and I usually end up making myself completely crazy during November & December, but I love it!

The hardest part is the marketing. So far I’ve done really well with just word of mouth & SEO searches.

Anna
Anna
6 years ago

My side gig is coaching volleyball. I coach a 15’s travel team and make $500-$800 a month for 6 months out of the year. The variation depends on how many extra clinics I help out with and/or how frugal I am with my per diem for travel tournaments. It’s a big time committment but because I love the sport it’s so much fun. Also it keeps me in shape.

Laura @ Rather Square
Laura @ Rather Square
6 years ago

I totally agree with this. My side gig is our blog (Rather Square), although it’s not very monetized yet, and I’m working on making it more so. It’s a labor of love, though – I really enjoy writing about our house projects and home design, as well as the web development and social marketing side of blogging. Hopefully we can turn this passion into some income for our own financial cushion soon!

Mike Collins
Mike Collins
6 years ago

Congrats on finding a side gig that you enjoy and has potential for profit! I think side gigs are important because they provide that safety net you mention in your post, plus they give you the feeling that you’re taking control of your finances rather than just enjoying the ride and hoping for the best.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
6 years ago

What’s your side gig?

Parenting. It doesn’t pay very well.

Juli
Juli
6 years ago

Right?!?! With working a full time job and parenting two active preschool boys, just the thought of trying to fit in a side gig makes me tired!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
6 years ago
Reply to  Juli

I’d rather just not have the extra money, honestly, especially if it’s only $50-200/month. My regular job pays pretty well, though. I don’t think “Sorry Katie, I can’t play with you today, I’m trying to make an extra $50 this month.” would go over all that well regardless.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I’ve got to agree with this. For a side hustle to be worth it to me, I’ve found that my magic number is at least $500/ month. Otherwise I would feel like I’m wasting valuable time that could be spent either making more money, or having more free time. I’d allow a ramp-up period for start-ups, but if I wasn’t making that within a few months, or having a huge blast doing it, then I’d probably cut the venture loose. I’m lucky that my hustles combined equals more than 50% of my day job salary, and while it’s not something… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I think the article was more for those who don’t have the option not to make the extra $50-200/month.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I don’t really think so. Anyone who has researched Etsy startups (unless it’s changed from when I last researched it) knows it’s probably not the best route to go if you desperately need money. Not only do you have to have the luxury of time to be able to craft the items you want to sell, you have to have the luxury to fail to make any money as well, as so many Etsy sellers do. The same with blogging. Luxury of time and luxury of failure without dire consequences. If $50-200 per month was make-it-or-break-it for me, I would… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I actually wasn’t specifically thinking of Etsy; I know you have to be skilled/talented, have some start-up funds available plus have time on your hands to succeed. My comment was more general. $50-200/month doesn’t have to be make-or-break but for some (of us), it does help, especially when you don’t have the capacity to earn more elsewhere.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
6 years ago

If you can make an extra $50-200, you seem to have “the capacity to make more elsewhere” by definition.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I meant in a traditional employer/employee situation.

Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt
Charlie @ Our Journey To Zero Debt
6 years ago

I don’t really have an active side gig. My friend owns his own video/website company. One time he did ask me for web development help where the company paid $400 to him to hire me as an outside consultant. And it took me less than 20 minutes to code! It would be nice if those opportunities came along more than once. I also like to do home woodwork (installing chair rails, crown mouldings, wall frames) and posted my services on Craigslist with a link to an album of my nursery for proof. Didn’t quite work out. I’m also earning money… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago

Just out of curiosity, when you say the business listed on Craig’s List didn’t work out, do you mean you just didn’t get any work or was there some particular problem with using Craig’s List?

Kimberly Palmer
Kimberly Palmer
6 years ago

I love hearing all these side-gig ideas! Thanks for sharing.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

Lately my side gig has been caring for my health and going to school, (just one class two days a week) heading towards my long-term goal of health and prosperity. Going though Herxheimer is no joke so my energy and time has been minimal as late.

With that said, I’m considering blogging again. Besides time, I’d have very little to lose and it would be something that won’t knock the stuffing out of me.

ETA: I do have an OLCC license (Oregon liquor) which I can try to utilize again in moderation.

I will check out your Etsy site!

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
6 years ago

My side income comes from craft fairs and pet-sitting. I would never be able to make a living off either, but some months it brings in $100 that I split between savings and a small splurge. It’s also nice to have a creative outlet that pays for materials for the next project, and hanging out with a dog for a night or two reminds me why I don’t have time for one of my own 😉

Aubrey Rose
Aubrey Rose
6 years ago

I started a side gig writing romance and self-publishing, as well as doing graphic design for fellow authors. I’ve built up sales to the point where I’m making five figures a month. Definitely a great way to try out other potential career fields!

Jennifer
Jennifer
6 years ago

Etsy for me too! Well, it started there. I make laser cut jewelry, made enough money to invest in my own laser (rather than renting time form someone else). With my own laser, the options on side gigs are amazing. My husband opened his own etsy shop, we get cutting gigs and together we are working on launching a blog about our laser projects – http://52lasers.com . It has been a blast!

Tasha Mckoy
Tasha Mckoy
6 years ago

I would love to have a side gig. Can any of you offer any suggestions for work-from-home sites were you can make an extra buck?

Rachel
Rachel
6 years ago

I had the exact same panic and anxiety when my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

I am still searching for another stream of income.

SAHMama
SAHMama
6 years ago

I started my side-gig in 2009 while I was working full time and the parent of 1 child who was 2 1/2 at the time. I began freelance writing for one client. I was miserable in my job and our line of thought was that if we had another child, it would be nice if one of us stayed home. As it turned out, the second child was born in 2010. I did stay at my job until late 2011, and then I left. By then I had two clients and then I added a third. We also added a… Read more »

Marie @ 4HWD
Marie @ 4HWD
6 years ago

Last year I was thinking to start an online business like selling perfumes, clothes and ladies accessories. Maybe I will start it by next month I need to plan it very well and to find a good supplier.

Gambling with Bitcoins
Gambling with Bitcoins
6 years ago

Very good article, it shows that when you want to earn money by yourself it is very hard! But when you have a regular job, you can’t realize it until you quit and try!

Olivier
Olivier
6 years ago

I am in pastry business
I will like to open some related this business any idea

A-L
A-L
6 years ago

Having a home where you can rent out portions can provide a good source of income while still providing ample time to spend with family (or whatever else you would prefer to spend your time on).

Where we live there is a basement apartment that we rent out, and we recently finished the last part of the basement and now rent that out as well. Between the two rent checks and the tax benefits, it allows us middle-income earners to live in a safe area of a HCOL area.

Grayson @ Debt Roundup
Grayson @ Debt Roundup
6 years ago

Any extra money on the side is good. It doesn’t matter how you get it as long as it is legal. I have a few side income streams, but like freelancing the best. I write and code for people and websites. It is fun and can do it when my family is asleep.

Lyn Bilodeau
Lyn Bilodeau
6 years ago

I love this.

I strongly encourage folks to think about what it means to be the CEO of You, Inc.

In my opinion, one of the most important things a successful company does is diversifies its revenue stream into multiple products, brands or even sub-companies. You, Inc. needs to do just the same. Sure, having a “day job” can be an important — maybe even primary — part of the revenue stream. But if it’s the only one, we’re at a lot of risk.

Good on you for helping people make side gigs happen!

Meg
Meg
6 years ago

Goes in fits and spurts but I have a knack for finding overlooked high-end designer goods at Goodwill etc and selling them on eBay… Invetory depends on what I find and I keep it small but I generally make a pretty good ROI… Am I quitting my day job – no. Am I earning a little extra $ – yes 🙂

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago

Any extra money is great, of course. But if the idea is to have alternate income streams in the event of a job loss, $200 or less a month won’t do much. Of course, if it’s on top of short-term unemployment and possibly a severance package, it would be nice to have that extra cash.

I don’t have any side gigs, but I’m fortunate to work at a job where overtime is usually available, even though I’m salaried. I’ve been working more overtime lately.

Jay
Jay
6 years ago

Great advertisement. Thank you for sharing!

Bee
Bee
6 years ago

No offense, but $50 to $200 a month isn’t much of a “safety net.”

Lisa
Lisa
6 years ago
Reply to  Bee

$50 – 200 might not sound like much, but small amounts can add up (I chuck my side gig money in a high interest savings account). Plus there is always potential for growth. However, the true ‘safety net’ value of a side gig lies in the skills you can learn eg entrepreneurship, marketing, product development, writing or other skills. I started a small online side gig back in 2005. A lot of my friends laughed at the small amounts I was making, but I was having fun, learning new equipment and buying new digital toys. Over time, I began to… Read more »

Natasha
Natasha
6 years ago
Reply to  Bee

$50-$200 is a FANTASTIC start – The key is to get started, grow, and duplicate…and not to give up.

$50-$200 multiplied by 10-15 solid products is a pretty good nest egg. Way to go for those who are accomplishing this.

John Schneider
John Schneider
6 years ago

It feels like we’re just getting started with our side gig, but we’ve actually been working at it for eight years. Trying to write a book while both of us were working full-time was challenging. Kudos to you for being able to do it in a couple of years while, also taking care of a newborn and running a side business. Now that we’re running full steam ahead, we’re making more progress than we ever thought possible. Someday we’ll make money. For now, it’s just exciting to see progress and dream of the potential.

Logicile de facturation
Logicile de facturation
6 years ago

If I have to advice books to anyone that want to launch its own business, this would be Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Lean Analytics by Croll & Yoskovitz and The entrepreneur’s guide to customer development by Cooper & Vlaskovits.

These are definitely the best readings to validate your assumptions and limit risk in launching your own business.

Morgan
Morgan
6 years ago

Congrats and great post! I had a very interesting experience with two side gigs that became south more. Initially I started with the same issues that you had – I just wanted to control how I make money, without relying on someone else. It started with blogging and three years after starting my blog was making $50,000/year. Then my other side business, buying and selling domains really took off and soon I was making more with my side jobs than my day job. I quite my day job in 2012 and my side jobs now allow us to pursue our… Read more »

Kimberly Palmer
Kimberly Palmer
6 years ago

I greatly appreciate all of these wonderful comments… learning about other people’s side businesses always fills me with hope about the possibilities in our current economy, even when things can seem dismal. Thank you for everyone who shared in the comments!

Susan
Susan
6 years ago

Thank you for this post. My husband is 14 years older than I am and will reach retirement age in about 8 years. So I’m always on the lookout for side gigs and passive income opportunities to make up for at least a small portion of cash flow when he does retire. So far, I have a baby doll business (DesignsbyMSusan) on Etsy and in local stores that nets enough to nearly cover my budget line items of kids’ clothing and occasional eating out, so I’m pretty happy with it. I admire folks who are able to renovate homes and… Read more »

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