Should you take a second job?

Right now is actually the perfect time to take a second job. The holiday season is gearing up in most retail stores, and chains everywhere are hiring seasonal workers. Whether it's stocking shelves, mopping floors, filling displays, or selling goods, the shopping season is ramping up and now is the time to locate and nab that those holiday gigs. 

If you, like most Americans, are deep in credit card debt, you might be wondering how exactly you are going to pay it off. Or maybe you're not in debt, but need to make some extra cash to put a down payment on a car or condo, or start your own business. Maybe you just want to buy your sweetheart (or cat) something really special this holiday season.

Basically, you need more money, and you need it soon.

I've manage to get myself into and out of debt a couple of times (I'm talented like that), and the way I always clamor out of crushing credit card totals is by taking an extra job on the evenings and weekends. It takes a little extra planning to make everything go smoothly, but the rewards of quickly making additional income are not to be underestimated.

Some things to consider when taking on a side job:

Don't overdo it

There's no point in working yourself to death. I don't mean that there is anything wrong with being tired for a couple of months, but don't overextend yourself to the point that it effects your health or your current job performance. Also, no one needs your exhaustion-induced erratic highway driving during the holidays.

Can you organize your life around the busy schedule?

It's important, when faced with a tough and busy schedule, to downgrade other areas of your life. You might have to skip holiday parties if you are working nights. Lunch may become Cup O'Noodles until crunch time is over. While there's no need to deprive yourself entirely while working 60+ hours a week, you need to be careful to let yourself work.

Is it worth your time?

I'm unmarried and have no dependents, so childcare isn't an issue for me. If spending time away from your family is an impossibility, then this might not be an option for you. It does help to calculate how much money you expect to make during the time that you plan to hold a second job, but the earnings should always offset the costs. For instance, were I to take on a second job right now, I would likely need to hire someone to walk my dogs once a day. This would cost me approximately $60 a week, and my earnings would need to easily absorb this expenditure and leave me with enough money left over to make the additional job WORTH it.

I've often heard job experts warn that you should never take a lower salary for a side job than you earn at your day job. I disagree, for several reasons. First, many white collar jobs involve collaborating with other team members, and they can't  expected to stay up until midnight working on a grant proposal with you because that's when YOU want to work. Given the wacky hours that an additional part-time job might entail, it can be unreasonable to demand the same hourly wage that you make during the day. I'm a tech writer - it would be tough for me to say to a potential hiring manager "Yes, I expect to make as much as I do during the day, but I won't be available for daytime meetings or phone calls." I'll either have to charge less because I'm inconveniencing the employer with my weird hours, or I'll have to find a different type of job.

Moonlighting can also be a risk because of your current employer's rules about who you can and cannot work for on the side.

Will it affect your taxes?

If you already exist on the edge of a tax bracket, earning additional income might bump you into a higher economic stratus, which could result in the government taking a LOT more of your income through taxes than previously, thus eating up the additional money that you made by working a second job. This is definitely something to consider beforehand.

Will you keep at it?

The whole point of starting an extra part-time job is to make money, but it doesn't hurt to make positive network connections, if possible. There's no point in taking on a second job if you are just going to quit a week later. Not only will you not make the money you need/want, but you might alienate new coworkers or bosses who will have to scramble to hire someone to replace you.

Is it interesting, comfortable, or easy enough?

I work at a desk all day. As a result, when I look for a second job, I never seek employment that will have me physically in the same position for an additional 25 hours a week. Instead, I may look into waitressing (hard work, but great exercise), dishwashing (at least I'm standing), housecleaning, yard work, babysitting, or something - ANYTHING other than my current job. The change of pace is nice for me. I don't think I could waitress full time, as I have a decided lack of patience for humanity, but on a short-term basis, it's a great change-up from my normal isolated work environment.

I also don't look for anything that is particularly intellectually challenging. If I'm going to be working late into the night, my brain cannot be trusted to maintain logical or rhetorical abilities. There's no way I could make any extra money tutoring people for the GRE, but there are some people who thrive on constant intellectual stimulation.

If you don't have the luxury of being free to leave your home (say you're a stay-at-home mom), you might consider offering holiday childcare services, either during the day or in the evenings. People with enough disposable income might welcome a break from the kids for a holiday party or for holiday shopping.  

Are there any side benefits?

If you can find a temp job in an industry that you are fascinated by, you're lucky. But even if you don't LOVE washing dishes, there can be benefits to working in a restaurant. I worked in one all through college and got free Chinese food every night. Some retailers might give employees (even temp employees) discounts on products or services or even give our free product samples. While this shouldn't be a primary consideration when looking for a side job, it certainly can help sweeten the pot and make the extra effort well worth it.

I'd be interested to hear from Wise Bread readers who have held temp jobs over the holidays - what kind of work did you do? How did you make it work? Did you have to balance work and family? Where did you find the job? (I always find mine as a walk-in or on Craigslist).

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Guest's picture

Anyone with a decent background in (professional) cooking or baking can usually pickup some extra work around the holidays with catering companies. You may even be able to talk your way in if you're just a really experienced home cook, but some professional kitchen service is better. Caterers are super busy from Thanksgiving to New Year's, and often willing to accommodate weird hours or short hours. It may help if you make it clear that you're not looking for a permanent position. They may only want the extra help for that short term rush. I did this several times when I was younger.

Guest's picture

I looked at a home based business as a second job, but decided that frugality would be my second job. I started to do my own home maintenance, I took time to shop more carefully, etc. For me, that was more enjoyable that a job. There's no stress and it can be done on my own schedule.

Guest's picture

This is a quick and easy way to make some extra cash that most people often overlook. I have a few different small side gigs, myself. Just remeber to keep it simple.

Guest's picture

Taking on a second job is not the answer.
Guys, Never before in the History of Mankind has it been easy to build wealth. The Economy is bad….so what not for me and thousands of others. What it takes is a clear plan, a burning desire and system that will transform your life. I am not talking about getting rich quick. We all know that is a lie.
What I am talking about is finding a Global Mentor and having them assist you in building your financial future. Millions of people all over the World are saying ENOUGH. You can too.
If you do not believe me that it is possible….then you will always be stuck where you are. If truly believe that you deserve more out of life…then contact me and I will prove to you that you too can have a better life.
Wishing you the best,
Patrick Spielmann

Guest's picture

I agree with Mr Spielman. Why work another job, when you can become a global super-villain! In fact, if your current day job isn't Fraud, quit that one too.

Andrea Karim's picture

I've been trying to become a super-villain for years, but even on a contract basis, most places aren't hiring.

I'd remove that post, but now that you've snarked it, Wilson, I have to leave it up. :)

Guest's picture

I think taking a second job is a great motivator to make you start thinking about what skills you have that could be marketed from your own home. You do not have to join an MLM company to start a home-based business.

My best friend from college is a PE teacher, but he started a lawn-mowing business 25 years ago. One man, one mower. Now, he has two crews and 210 lawn accounts. He nets $150K each year. He also still teaches.

Prior to starting his lawn business, he delivered pizzas and refereed basketball games on weekends to supplement his teaching salary.

Another friend paints addresses on curbs. He charges about $20 per house. He's now started installing peep-hole hardware in front doors.

I started out as a PE teacher too. Now I run an Internet business.

Guest's picture

Nice article. I thought I would clarify a matter that there seems to be some confusion about, though:

While it's true that you should consider the tax consequences of a changing annual income, it's not true that if you make more money and get knocked into a higher tax bracket that you will in any sense "lose" the money you've earned to higher taxes. The key point to understand is that the tax brackets are marginal, that is, up to 25,000 ((or whatever), which is the first tax bracket, you get taxed at 15%, and for the amount you earn beyond that and up to the next bracket ceiling of $35,000, for *that portion only* do you pay a higher tax rate. So, while a portion of your extra earnings could potentially get taxed at a higher rate than your existing earnings, it's not true that *all* of your income is taxed at the higher rate.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the clarification, Steve. I got hit with what seemed like ridiculous taxes after taking a part-time job for about six month. While I didn't lose all the money I had made, I ended up owing the government about $3K, which sapped all the savings that I had set aside. My tax accountant didn't explain what I was being taxed on. I just saw the final bill. :) Much appreciated on the clarification.

Guest's picture

Excellent article.
And I appreciate the comment from Wilson--my thoughts, exactly!

Guest's picture

As someone who is working a retail job, I can tell you that our holiday hiring is pretty much done. Other retailers may still be hiring, so move quickly if you're considering this at all.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the mention. I appreciate it. Great post. Nice to see someone point out the childcare and burn out issues.