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How to Start a Side Hustle After Age 50

From renting a spare room to freelancing, these gigs help you earn money

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​A notable number of Americans are working — and then working more. Nearly 2 in 5 adults (37 percent) have a side hustle, which means they’re working at something in addition to their primary jobs to earn money. For many, it’s a way of life.

Given inflation, rising interest rates and other costs, that sentiment may not be surprising. More than a quarter (28 percent) of “side hustlers” think they will always need to have additional sources of income to make ends meet, and 26 percent think they will always need a side gig for discretionary expenses.

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Those views surprised Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman, especially in the context of the current robust job market. “The unemployment rate is about as low as it can go. In fact, recently we hit a more than a 50-year low,” he says. “I do think it's kind of alarming that if this is the situation in a good job market, what happens if and when the employment sector takes a turn for the worse?”

Younger generations are more likely to have side hustles, including more than half (53 percent) of Generation Z (ages 18 to 26) and 50 percent of millennials (ages 27 to 42), compared to 40 percent of Gen X (ages 43 to 58) and 24 percent of boomers (ages 59 to 77). But there are some very good reasons for people age 50-plus to cultivate a side hustle, says Nick Loper, host of The Side Hustle Show, a podcast that explores the world of side gigs.

“You’re probably at the peak earning power of your career — hopefully — and that’s a good place to be, but maybe you need to make some catch-up retirement contributions and the window starts to narrow,” Loper says. “Maybe you need to help your adult kids or support them through college, or make home repairs. Life gets more expensive.”

How to choose a side hustle

Side hustles can take many forms, ranging from freelancing or consulting in an area of expertise to opening an online storefront to renting out your possessions — including the swimming pool in your backyard.

“Every week, we are just researching more side hustles. It’s such a vibrant market,” says Kathy Kristof, founder of Sidehusl, a website that reviews such moneymaking opportunities. The site has reviewed more than 450 opportunities.

Some people gravitate toward doing what they already know how to do to earn extra money, Kristof says. For example, if you’re an accountant or graphic designer, you might want to freelance on the side. But others want to spend their free time doing something other than what they do in their day job. Kristof created a quiz to help site users narrow down options that are right for them, whether it’s walking dogs or selling items at flea markets or festivals.

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Are side hustles risky?

Loper advises would-be side-hustlers to take a few steps to protect themselves as they get started. “You want to minimize the downside risk,” he says. First, determine whether people actually want what you wish to sell, rent or otherwise monetize before you start. “Take a realistic approach and minimize the up-front investment,” he says. That may leave out many multilevel marketing (MLM) opportunities, which often require salespeople to purchase items up front. AARP Foundation has published research about the realities of MLMs to help people be informed about them.

While some part-time gigs can turn into viable businesses, Loper also advises avoiding debt to finance your side hustle. “The sad truth is that the failure rate is still pretty high,” he says. Instead, test your idea and, if it doesn’t work out, move on to something else. “It may take a few different attempts to find something that works,” he says. After all, the goal is usually not to build a big business. It’s to bring in some cash for expenses or discretionary spending.

How much money can I make with a side hustle?

The Bankrate survey found that people who work side gigs earn $810 per month, on average, with 27 percent earning more than $500 per month and 15 percent earning more than $1,000.

It’s a good idea to speak with your accountant or tax adviser to determine the impact additional income will have on your tax situation, as well as plan for estimated quarterly tax payments and any other tax obligations you may have with the side hustle, such as sales tax.

Resources such as your area’s Small Business Development Center or AARP’s Small Business Resource Center can help you determine whether you need to file business paperwork, obtain permits or licenses, or meet other compliance requirements before you try earning money from your idea.  

One of the great things about side hustles is that you can be creative and have fun, Kristof says. Her site categorizes opportunities into work, rent or sell. Let’s say you want to explore renting what you have. Kristof did just that: She loves entertaining, and her home is suitable for it. She has earned as much as $1,455 by renting out her home for a one-day film shoot. Fees to use it for shorter events like birthday parties and baby showers bring in about $900 to $1,000 for the day. In addition to well-known home rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO, platforms like Swimply let you rent out your swimming pool, while and Vanly let you rent out your driveway.

Think about your experience, possessions and talents, Kristof says. And read about what other people have done as side hustles to see what interests you.

Loper says balance is important, too. Though you can spend your time off earning more money, keep the goal in focus. “It’s hard to dedicate your precious resource — time — to building something if you don’t have a really driving ‘why’ behind it,” he says.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to earn more and more money. But you also need time to recharge, strengthen relationships with loved ones and fulfill other dreams. Once you have fulfilled your “why,” then be sure to leave time for the things that matter most, too.

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