Finance Friday: How We Write About Side Gigs

Good weekend, readers! Today I’m going to talk about side gigs. If you read financial blogs and forums at all, you’ve seen this phrase. The gist of discussion tends to go like this: lower your expenses as you will in order to better your savings rate (or whatever), but at some point you can’t (or won’t) lower any more. At that point, assuming you want a better savings rate or more money for your ferret farm or whatever it is you’re up to, you need to increase your income. Get a side gig–a second job, generally less intensive than the first. But how we frame the concept of side gigs carries class and sex assumptions that need unpacking.

The Gig Economy

In America, we increasingly have a “gig economy” wherein people freelance for work. This has occurred for a couple of reasons.  One, because of lack of choice, and two, because the nature of the work people want to do can necessitate that kind of self-employment. (Plug for universal health care to make self-employment and gig living easier goes here–it would be infinitely easier to be working gig-style or as an entrepreneur if you didn’t have to worry about medical expenses, dammit). The phrase “side gig” can be related to this economic situation. It is not necessarily reflective of broader, more long-lasting trends in America’s employment and economics scene, however. Greater complexities are missing, and their absence is troubling.

Class

One piece that is missing in many discussions of side gigs is that the concept itself assume a middle-class status. It assumes you have a primary gig, the one that pays you reasonably well and likely gives you health benefits, maybe a retirement plan of some kind, paid sick days and the like. It negates the fact that for many people, two jobs was a way of life, with poverty the consequence of missing either. Plenty of people for decades have worked two jobs to make ends meet; neither of those jobs would be side gigs, neither secondary to the other. They’re necessities.

This assumption of middle class status-shades a lot of finance blog writing, including mine, but I want to own it. I know I’m often making that assumption. I fully understand there’s a difference between side gig for added savings and a person working two jobs to put food on the table, and that the latter are often trapped in jobs that don’t come with benefits or decent hours. America loves to point fingers at those people, laying responsibility for their situations to poor choices when the reality is nearly always far more complicated. In any case, while I get why we talk about side gigs (I have a badass one, myself), we need to at least be cognizant that two gigs is the norm for a lot of folks.

Sex

Another issue with the way we conceptualize side gigs is sex. Here are my thoughts, generally malformed and in need of work:

Women chronically earn less than men. The wage gap persists. If we talk about pursuing side gigs as a way of rounding out the primary gig, are we abandoning to some extent the real problem–that primary gigs don’t often pay enough, particularly for women? That there are penalties for time to raise kids, but that putting them in day care can cost the mother’s near-entire salary (which is one reason why moms tend to stay home more than dads–it’s the patriarchy reinforcing financial traditions that then reinforces social ones).

Here’s a fun link, btw: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/upshot/the-gender-pay-gap-is-largely-because-of-motherhood.html

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but there’s something there I can’t yet put my finger on.

So, Anyway

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a lot of baggage with the concept of the side gig. It comes with assumptions about class, and I think what I’m leaning towards is that it comes with assumptions of (masculine) gender. What are your thoughts? Should we modify our conversations about side gigs, and if so, how? What are our assumptions and our own baggage in these conversations?

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Finance Friday: FREE Downloadable Budget and Spend Spreadsheet!

Is this you? The Street reported this week that as female breadwinning grows, so does financial anxiety. They report that women tend to a) earn less than men and b) worry more about money than men and c) worry about retirement more than men. It would appear that money–duh–is gendered, or at least sexed. Nine out of ten women, they say, are the main support of their families at some point, and many women support themselves alone. Having some sense of what money you have, where it is going, and where you might change those paths to meet particular goals (so long, student loans), brings at least some sense of calm. My free Budget and Spend Spreadsheet is here to help.

I am the primary breadwinner in our household and my husband has fluctuating income as an adjunct professor (we should talk about labor exploitation in academia some other time, as well as women-as-breadwinners ). We’ve had some hefty expenses over the years—hello, front steps needing replacement; sick tree in front yard; kitchen reno we sloooowly did ourselves—but we never quite seemed to be getting ahead. Mind you, we are very, very fortunate; we’ve been extraordinarily lucky to live comfortably since I started my job in 2008. Even so, I was surprised that every year our balances seemed to be exactly where we started, and our credit cards were constantly in use, creating high monthly balances we paid off.

Where did the money go? I expect I’m not alone in my wonder here. Many Americans don’t keep track of their funds, and the stuff they buy—little and big—add up over time (google the “latte factor” –the idea that buying expensive coffee frequently is a money pit). Many Americans don’t budget, either. I was one of them, even after my financial adviser suggested doing so. Budgeting seemed like a pain to do, and it could bring up some painful truths I did not want to face. So I ignored her.

But ignoring my advisor’s advice and my own internal monologue telling me something could be better meant that I wasn’t making my money work for me. Spending it with no plan is fun sometimes (buying new front steps less so), but it came with an opportunity cost—that money might be put elsewhere, better used. I had no real way of knowing. Those Target runs might have added up to something more consequential.

Good thing I like spreadsheets.

I built this one originally for me in a much simpler form. This version features all the bells and whistles I’ve added in five months of working on and with it. William Buffet (evidently) once said that what you spend is what remains after you save (thanks, feministfinancier.com!). So let’s get a handle on what we’re actually spending. And maybe—if we’re feeling brave—consider a budget, so as to better save.

spreadsheet snap
Spreadsheet snapshot

This Budget and Spend Spreadsheet allows you to do both. It’s set up with pre-build categories for both expenses and income, so you can just punch in some numbers and get rolling. It’s also got blank spaces for new items. That’s just the main sheet. Subsequent sheets are set up for each of those expense categories; you just punch in the number you allowed on sheet one at the top of each subsequent sheet and enter your expenses in that category as you go. For example, there’s a sheet for dining out. Say you allot $5k/year for that (you crazy minx, you)—you put that number in at the top and fill in the rows as you go and it does the math for you, allowing you to see what you have on balance to spend.

I like spending down. Beats spending up.

piggy bank
Feed the piggy.

If you run out of rows, you can always add some with the edit function. Then copy the last cell that contains a number derived by the formula (that is, the last one that math-ed correctly), copy it, and paste it into the new boxes below. That’ll keep your math going.

The very last sheet is a net worth sheet. This is a fun little element that lets you track your net worth over time. Net worth, simply put, is assets minus liabilities. On my own personal sheet, for example, I have our house as an asset with its approximate value (somewhere in between Zillow and the town’s recent revaluation) and what we owe on it as liability. The difference between them isn’t just equity, it’s part of your net worth. There are areas for 401k balances, bank accounts, student loans, car loans, the whole kit and caboodle.

The sheet is entirely editable, so if you want it to have different themes, different topics, or math in different ways, you can adjust it for your own consumption. It contains a number of comments that will help you fill boxes in. Feel free to send any questions along to me as well at admin@tenaciousfeminist.com.

benjamins
Knowing where these go means (hopefully) keeping more of them in your accounts.

If you talk about this spreadsheet—and please, talk about it, on your blog, your twitter, your instagram, whatever!—please link back. It’s creative commons copyrighted to me.

I’d love to hear about your progress! Let me know how the Budget and Spend Spreadsheet works for you.

Just a reminder: I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISOR. You can take whatever I say with a grain of salt. I’m sharing what has worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. I am not responsible for any action taken based on my posts.

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