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.