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Is It Worth Taking a Part-Time Job to Pay Off Debt?

Last week, I wrote an overview of some of my failures (or lack of successes) on my way to finding freelance work which was both enjoyable and profitable. Then, over the weekend, Kevin at Out of Your Rut wrote an excellent post on his own experience taking a part-time job that didn’t pay off.

In his case, he took on a job that’s supposed to be a good part-time source of income: delivering newspapers. But the time, energy, wear & tear on his car meant it wasn’t worth the money he was making. It’s worth a read.

On the other hand, Jeff of Deliver Away Debt has had success with another part-time job—pizza delivery. From reading how Jeff and Kevin describe the work they do/did, I think that pizzas offer a lot more return on the whole, especially with good tippers. But in some areas, pizza delivery just doesn’t pay off either (more driving, less tipping, fewer deliveries, etc).

Back when I was working several part-time jobs and freelancing instead of one full-time plus freelancing, I tried to calculate the real cost of my PRN job. The other was easy enough, I had set hours, generally set commuting costs, etc. But some weeks the PRN (per re nata — “as needed”) job just didn’t need me there long enough to make up for the time and cost of commuting there and back. Unfortunately, to keep the job I still needed to come in on those days.

So Is It Worth Taking a Part-Time Job to Pay Off Debt?

I’d say that yes, it is worth it. My consulting money has been great for paying down debt (and saving for grad school). Jeff of Deliver Away Debt has made phenomenal progress on getting his paid off.

BUT I think a critical caveat is that while a part-time job can be worthwhile, it depends entirely on the part-time job, how much it pays per real hours spent working (Kevin’s story illustrates how important it is to include that in your calculations), how much it costs you to do the work (commuting costs, clothing, equipment), and how much it wears you out and affects your ability to do your regular work.

The first two can be measured objectively, the third is even more important and harder to measure.

My boss has a small side business a well, so she understands if I mention that I was up late last night because someone’s site got hacked or I couldn’t get some piece of code to work. BUT that doesn’t mean she expects anything less than my best at work because my full-time job always comes first. If I were chronically exhausted from working too late, if my behavior showed that I cared more about consulting than my regular work, then I know she’d sit me down and tell me to shape up and find my priorities.

If you lose your full-time job because of your part-time job, it’s going to hurt your financial situation a lot more than not having a part-time job would.

Freelancing is actually better than a regular part-time job in this respect, because you can turn down gigs and clients more easily. Of course, if you turn down regular clients and refer away too many people, then you may find yourself left without any work to do.

Can You Tell Up Front if It’s Worth It?

Unfortunately, the way most of us learn our limits is through trial and error. Sometimes it may be readily apparent that a job is not going to be worth the time and money you put into it. Before taking it, calculate commuting costs and any other foreseeable expenses to come up with an estimated real hourly wage.

If it still looks good after calculating the real hourly wage, then the only way to tell whether it’s going to work out or not is to try. For a part-time job, worst case scenario is that you have to quit early on because it’s affecting your life in unforeseen ways.

If you’re trying hard to pay down debt, taking a part-time job can make a huge difference in speeding up your repayment. Don’t be afraid to try, just go into it ready to evaluate its real earnings and real affect on your other job and your life so that you can decide whether it’s right for you.


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May 18, 2010 at 1:15 pm

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Mike - Saving Money Today May 10, 2010 at 7:56 am

I think a part time job can be a great way to pay down your debt, but you do have to be careful you don’t burn yourself out. I worked a second job in a retail store for awhile and I wore myself down. I had to quit and take a break to recharge myself a bit.
.-= Mike – Saving Money Today´s last blog ..Is Facebook Keeping You Poor? =-.

tiredofbeingbroke May 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

i have a part-time gig which has been worth it for the most part. Once I get 15 – 20 hours per week then it’s more than worth it. My commuting costs Mon – Fri are the same because I have an unlimited ride metro card.

January – March when it’s slow and you are getting less than 10 hours per week then it’s not worth it. Overall it has been more of a blessing that anyting else.

Financialbondage May 10, 2010 at 8:11 pm

it’s helped me pay off debt, or pay it down. But I guess it depends on how much money the job pays… if it’s a min wage job, it may not help that much.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut May 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Thanks for including my post! Even with the reservations expressed in my post, I think part time work is worth considering, especially if you have debt to pay or just need another income source.

I wasn’t trashing part time work, but rather raising the very real possibility that there are bad jobs out there that aren’t worth taking. But I also agree with you that you won’t know if a job is a bad one until you actually take the job. Also what doesn’t work for one person might be a dream situation for someone else.
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Some Jobs Are NOT Worth Having =-.

Funny about Money May 10, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Worked well for me. But I was lucky. When I proposed to teach two upper-division writing courses on the side, the university double-enrolled both sections. After I threatened to walk, they paid me for four sections. That was enough to pay off the second mortgage on my house, which was serendipitous, because five months later I was informed I would be laid off.
.-= Funny about Money´s last blog ..Line-drying the Laundry =-.

Jeff @DeliverAwayDebt May 11, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Thanks for including me. I’m all for a part time job, but it does need to be the right job. In the pizza business you have to have the right days and the right shifts. Not all shifts pay the same. I’ve worked my tail off to get to the “gravy” shifts (Friday,Saturday,and Sunday nights) I can make double the tips of the day/evening drivers. I follow other delivery people on twitter and most aren’t making as much as I am. I’m lucky to have found a nice little pizza niche, but I had to work hard to get it though.

I know you (Mrs. Micah) work very hard at your “part time” job. The cool thing about your job is you can get more by working more, not all jobs have that advantage.

I always recommend part time work to people who want to get out of debt or just get ahead. You may have to try a couple jobs until you find the right one, but when you do it’s GREAT.
.-= Jeff @DeliverAwayDebt´s last blog ..Friday Frugal Tips – Don’t Get Nickel And Dimed =-.

Mrs. Micah May 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

@Mike Yep, from having worked circ I know how customer service positions can really wear you down. Can’t imagine doing it on top of another job.

@tiredofbeingbroke Hurray for the weeks when it’s worthwhile! 🙂 I would be alternately hoping for quiet and less stressful days and hoping that I’d actually make money.

@Financial Bondage worth a shot anyway!

@Kevin it was great to see how you broke down that particular job, which is probably similar for everyone. Unlike pizza delivery, which can be so different for everyone.

@Funny that was really awesome! Especially given how it turned out.

@Jeff yes, an advantage of freelance is being able to build up work or limit it. On the other hand, you’re not guaranteed a number of hours or when they are, which can be frustrating.

2million May 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm

This is a great idea for people to take a hard look at. While I don’t have a pat time job to pay off debt, I would definitely consider it before I had a family. Now between by full time job and my family I’m swamped.
.-= 2million´s last blog ..Baby 2million Turns One – My How Time Flies =-.

Cath Lawson May 17, 2010 at 1:19 am

Good points to consider Mrs M. I thought about taking a part-time job, a while ago, when we were financially strapped. But by the time I factored in transport costs, lunch etc. it wasn’t going to work out well for me.

eemusings May 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

Great points. I’m not sure how my boss would feel about my freelance (there’s no conflict of interest, but I don’t think they know about it, and I know they’re pretty strict about freelancing on employees who are a level above me). It’s something I started right before graduation, and just before going FT at work, so…

My day job definitely comes first, but for now I’m trying to make the most of the side gig while I still have the time, because as I move up in my career I’m not going to be able to juggle both. It doesn’t cost me much – I do it from home – just the occasional phone call really.
.-= eemusings´s last blog ..Betting on the bank =-.

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