When Diane Davis realized her retirement income would fall short of the amount she needed to afford small luxuries like cable television and bowling, she turned to side hustles to address the shortfall. Now, the 66-year-old retired school teacher earns an average of $400 to $500 per month by dog-sitting and by helping people with organization and elder care.
“I have no idea how I’d get by if I didn’t have the ability to get these extra jobs,” Davis says. She’d thought she had retirement planning whipped. But she realized too late that the Social Security Administration has special policies for some retirees with government pensions, drastically reducing the Social Security benefit she had expected.
The curve that struck Davis affects millions of teachers, first responders and other government workers. But retirement income planning is tricky even in the best of circumstances. That’s because there are so many unknowns, says Dan Doonan, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security. You don’t know how long you’ll live, what your investments will earn before or after retirement, or whether you’ll suffer some costly disaster after you leave the working world.
The COVID-19 pandemic added to the uncertainty as companies launched cost-cutting initiatives to cope with shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. In the end, roughly 1.1 million older workers were pushed out of the workforce, according to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. And although the pandemic was unexpected and extraordinary, retiring earlier than planned because of emergencies, illnesses or layoffs is not at all rare, Doonan says.
“Working longer is a good way to shore up your retirement resources, and a lot of people plan to do that,” he adds. “But your ability to work is not always in your hands.”
Side hustles can help in several ways. The extra income can fill in regular budget gaps, as they do with Davis. Or picking up gig work can create a short-term bridge from an unexpected early retirement to a full retirement date months or years later. That can enable individuals to delay taking Social Security, which boosts their monthly benefits.
“If you lose your job and gig work allows you to delay taking Social Security for a few years, that can have a significant impact on your retirement income for the rest of your life,” Doonan says.
And in bad investment markets, seniors can pick up side hustles instead of selling distressed securities.
There is a variety of flexible and well-paid side hustles likely to be attractive to older adults. These include pet-sitting, consulting, tutoring and virtual assisting.
Davis charges $40 to $50 per night to watch pets in their owners’ homes. When the animals are likable and the home is nice, Davis says it feels more like a “staycation” than a job.
“It gives me my animal fix, and enough extra income to satisfy my budget,” Davis says. “You’d be amazed at how many people need a pet sitter.”
Davis sits for friends and acquaintances, so she never needs to search for work. However, websites such as Wag and Rover can help you find dog-walking and pet-sitting jobs in exchange for a commission. Dog walkers typically charge $15 to $20 per half-hour; overnight pet sitters generally charge $35 to $100 per night.
Retirees who had professional experience in such fields as law or logistics can also find well-paid consulting gigs through dozens of online platforms. The right platform for you depends on your area of expertise.
General-purpose platforms such as Gerson Lehrman Group, Zintro and Maven have you detail your skills. They contact you when an assignment falls into your area of expertise. Pay ranges from about $25 to more than $300 per hour.
Those with engineering and project management experience can search the job board at SMA, which has a “talent on demand” feature for high-end project work. Tech experts can sign up with Braintrust, Catalant and Toptal.
Teaching and tutoring
Dozens of teaching and tutoring websites enlist freelancers to do such work as helping elementary school kids with math and science or teaching Chinese kids English. Most jobs pay $15 to $40 per hour.
Some of the better options? Outschool is a site that allows you to come with imaginative ways to teach just about anything and set your own rates. Juni Learning has tutors help kids with computer science, math and English. Lessonface connects music and dance teachers with students.
Virtual assistants provide office help remotely and handle such things as email, travel scheduling as well as research and updating social media accounts.
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of money-making opportunities in the gig economy.