The Real Cost of Hustling

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Yesterday I was reading a millionaire interview on ESI, and the author of the interview, who is 35 and has two kids, wrote:

I didn’t start hustling until 2015 when my first child was born. I started driving for Uber after the child went to bed. I saved everything from that to build their 529. I continued until the 2nd came along and did the same but just ran out of energy to continue.

As for work/life balance, he wrote:

It’s ok right now as I don’t mind working until 6 pm. But since children entered the picture it has been difficult to complete the work needed and take care of the kids every night. Honestly I should probably be working on the weekends to keep up with my work.

Couple that comment with the fact that this weekend, Mr. ThreeYear and I watched Playing with FIRE, the documentary about Scott and Taylor Riekens. This couple embraced the FIRE movement and created a documentary about the experience (I got a link from Ally Bank to watch it for free so I was pretty stoked). There were several FIRE adherents featured, and one was a couple of teachers who talked about how much they hustled to earn extra money to retire early. They worked evenings, weekends, and summers–basically anytime they had free time– to supplement their incomes.

I didn’t think about these two comments again until yesterday when I was in my car, going to pick up my older son from school. His bus was late and it was raining, so he contacted me and asked me to please come get him.

For some reason, as I drove to pick him up, I started thinking about these two comments, and I got extraordinarily annoyed by the pervasive idea that hustling is such a great thing.

The idea of hustling is rampant in our society. Making extra money during our "non-productive" nights and weekends? No brainer! Or is it? #hustle #FIRE #chooseFI #freetime

Hustling, of course, is the idea that you’re using your free time in a money-making way. The idea originally came from the ghetto, according to Urban Dictionary, where the hustle was something you had to do to earn enough to make ends meet.

When Mr. ThreeYear and I followed Dave Ramsey’s method to get out of debt, hustling was an idea that he pushed hard. Ramsey recommended that you get extra jobs delivering pizza, driving Uber, or whatever else you needed to do to make extra money to pay off your debt.

Hustling has become an ubiquitous term in the FIRE movement, and in our modern culture in general. Of course, originally, the term had somewhat nefarious connotations. A hustler was, and still is, a shady con man, someone who forces what he wants by aggressive means. A hustle is a scam. Hustling involves strenuous effort, forcible persuasion.

Today, though, the term is more likely used in the context of expending energy to make extra money, to build a side gig, to earn some cash in your free time.

So what’s wrong with making extra money? Mr. ThreeYear and I have definitely hustled over the years. So why am I so bothered by the idea of hustling?

As I drove to pick up my son, I figured out what it was that rankled about hustling:

People systematically ignore the hidden cost of the hustle.

Hustling has a cost. If you use all of your “free” time to squeeze extra money out, you are not just being more productive with your time. We Americans love efficiency, so it may seem like using your nights and weekends to work more is an efficient use of your time.

But getting a second (or third, or fourth) job means you are leaving your loved ones–your kids, your spouse–and going somewhere else to use more of your energy in exchange for money. It means you are trading your downtime, the time you need to recharge, nurture relationships, make dinner, clean your house, read a book, make craft beer, in favor of another job.

In favor of the almighty dollar.

When you take on a hustle, you’re saying that making a little bit more money-on top of what you already make at your day job-is more important than having a life.

Because that’s what you’re giving up.

Your life.

When I lived in Spain, Spaniards always said, “Los estadounidenses viven para trabajar. Nosotros trabajamos para vivir.” Roughly translated, that’s “Americans live to work. We work to live.”

Of course that’s a part of our culture and our society that cannot be negated. Our most economically successful executives work more, rather than less, than their poorer counterparts. Their high incomes should, by all objective measures, give them leave to work less hours but they work more!

Why?

There are a lot of reasons, but I think that for many people in our modern culture, it has to do with identity. So much of our identities are wrapped up in the work we do. Working hard and earning money shows we’re “winning” at life in our society. How ironic, when we’re trading the very thing we’re working towards to somehow have or be more.

Let’s look at the most common reasons people start a side hustle.

The Hustle-A Necessity

As per Urban Dictionary’s definition, there are some people who don’t earn enough at their main jobs, or don’t have main jobs, who need to hustle to earn enough money to survive. I think we can all agree that this is a negative, especially for those with full-time jobs who still don’t earn enough to make ends meet.

In this case, hustling is a necessity. Let’s assume that our hypothetical hustler is a single parent. The costs are less hidden in this scenario. Mom has to get a second job to pay the bills, so kids stay home alone, or with a neighbor, or maybe a family member. They don’t get to see Mom very much. She can’t help with homework because by the time she gets home from Job #2, she’s wiped out.

This was Mr. ThreeYear’s childhood. His mom worked three jobs. He stayed with his grandmother, who luckily lived next door. His mom got home after 11pm each evening, so he didn’t see much of her. She didn’t have a lot of energy on the weekends to take him to extra-curricular activities, and there was no money for that, either.

Mr. ThreeYear didn’t see his mom a lot when he was younger.

His mom’s hustling eventually meant he could go to college, but the cost was huge. To this day he has abandonment issues that we’ve worked through with a counselor.

If this is your situation, which I very much doubt, given the unlikelihood of a single parent being attracted to this particular blog about location independence, there’s not a lot to be done. The best advice I have would be to get a higher-paying “day job,” but that’s not always possible.

The Hustle-a Temporary Help

Let’s examine the idea that the hustle, when used as a temporary measure, can help you get out of debt, reach financial independence faster, or otherwise improve your life when used as a stop-gap.

There’s no denying that earning extra income in side jobs has helped thousands of people eliminate their debt. Just listen to Dave Ramsey’s radio show and hear the Debt Free Screams. People have gotten side jobs to earn enough to get themselves out of sometimes large amounts of debt.

If you talked to these families, they would probably say that those second (and sometimes third) jobs helped them get out of debt much faster. But there’s no doubt that these jobs had a toll. Parents were away from their kids at night. They had less energy, after working two jobs, to be emotionally and mentally present.

The teacher couple who reached FIRE in their 30s is undoubtedly reaping the benefits of their hustle now. If they have kids, they’re able to be with them all the time. But how many years did they work nights, weekends, and summers to earn extra money?

In these scenarios, when the hustle is a temporary measure that you use to reach a specific goal, and the benefits are clear, then a side-job can be a beneficial way to change your family’s life. But I think it’s important to carefully weigh the trade-offs, and not assume that getting out of debt five months faster is the better choice if Dad or Mom has to be away from the house every evening for those five months.

The Hustle-a Requirement?

It is the idea that we should turn all the hours we’re not working into some kind of “productive,” money-making gigs that most gets to me.

Somehow, we’ve bought into the misguided notion that if we’re not earning money with a certain portion of our day, we ought to be.

“I mean, what else are you doing, sitting around watching TV?”

Well, yes, I am. I’m watching the Great British Baking Show with my kid. We’re talking about how hard it is to make cake and which dessert we’d like to bake together next.

My son and I made millionaire shortbread.
My son and I tried our hand at millionaire shortbread. Dangerously good.

“Your weekends can become productive time.”

I spend my weekends with my family. On Friday nights, I usually come home, collapse in a heap, and enjoy a special Friday night snack of potato chips. There’s usually book reading involved. The boys get to play electronics, after working hard in school all week.

On Saturdays, I take Lucy to the dog park. I chat with the other dog owners, and we talk about the state of politics in our small town of Davidson, North Carolina. Sometimes I’ll get good tips or discuss things I’m thinking about doing with the kids, and get advice.

Saturday afternoons might be spent with friends, or with my sister, brother-in-law, and my sweet little nieces. We might watch a classic 90s romcom.

Me and my sweet little nieces
Here I am with my sweet little nieces. Aren’t they precious?

On Sundays, we usually go to church. I sometimes (infrequently, I must admit) go on a long run. Mr. ThreeYear and I make food for the week and fold laundry. We play tennis, meet up with friends, take my son to youth group.

There’s a lot of stuff packed into weekends. There’s decompressing, relationship-building. Chip-eating, movie-watching. Time with friends, lots and lots of time with family.

Even if I “only” hustled an hour or two on the weekends, I’d have that hustle looming over me for the entire weekend. I’d think about it and dread the interruption of my time off.

The Real Cost

There is, undoubtedly, a place for hustling. Part of the idea of hustling is taking charge of your life and making a change for the better. If you’re severely in debt, if you’re wildly underpaid, or if you’re otherwise trying to make a change in your life and need extra money, by all means. We live in a remarkable time where the barriers to entry for many part-time jobs are low.

However, I want to make it clear that I think it is pernicious and wrong to give people, especially people with spouses, families, and/or pets, the advice to “turn your downtime into productive time.” Our downtime is productive, just in different ways than we’re productive at work.

We cannot ignore the cost of adding on more work. We pay for it physically, with a lack of energy after working more. We pay for it mentally, with a decreased bandwidth. We pay for it emotionally, with a higher stress level, and lower levels of well-being and relationship satisfaction.

It is not a coincidence that the majority of the countries with the highest life satisfaction are European countries where people work less. Having time off, having glorious time with no work in site, having time to visit with people you care about, practice your hobbies, nurture your relationships, that’s the stuff of life. Those are the house that are going to pay you the real dividends down the road–the time you spent with those you care about.

The Point of FIRE

Why are many of us hustling, anyway? To reach FIRE earlier? Sure, but let’s step back and think about why. What do we want that we think FIRE is going to give us?

More autonomy? More agency with our lives? The ability to do what we want, when we want to? More time with loved ones, family and friends?

So why are we tearing ourselves apart now to get to FIRE just a little earlier? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Vicki Robin wrote, earlier this year:

I soon realized that FIRE is actually not my tribe.

We applied the same methodology to money but it seems for different ends. For me, FI has simply been the freedom to pursue a higher purpose – to grow spiritually, to learn, to create and to serve. While I’ve met a lot of people reaching for relevance in their lives, not just independence, it’s not what people obsess about. They obsess about taxes and investments. There are probably tens of thousands more in my frame, but of necessity investing the majoring of their time and attention into the “getting out” part of the journey.

I don’t see financial independences as the ultimate goal. I see it as just a ticket to the greatest show on earth – the earth itself with all her beauty, complexity, critters and currently crises. The opportunity to ask the Mary Oliver questions: What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?

I’m writing this to invite you to look past the numbers to the meaning of life.

Vicki Robin, “My Life with FIRE”

Hustling, racing to FIRE, pursuing more money at whatever cost, is a mistake. Let’s be realistic about the cost of trading our time for money. We lose that time, that opportunity for life, and we don’t get it back.

I’m not saying people should never hustle again. That’s ridiculous. But I am saying that before you blindly accept that another side job is the way to go to reach your financial goals a little bit faster, take a hard look at what you’re giving up.

The answer is your life.

So make sure it’s worth it.

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

11 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Hustling”

  1. Yes! I love this. I completely agree. That’s why we’re on a more slow-FI path where we can enjoy life along the way and I pursue a balance life NOW for our family.

  2. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!
    Every choice we make in life means choosing not to do something else. Knowing what your values are is critical to making the correct choices.

    1. Thanks so much! It’s a complicated, fraught topic, so I tried to really figure out why it bothered me so much and it was a little hard to put down on paper. Glad it came out clearly in the post. 🙂

  3. Siiii. I live in Spain and have heard that “vivís para trabajar” so many times, and it’s true. I’m noticing a trend on social media (esp. LinkedIn) where people seem to think that every minute needs to be optimized for productivity and increasing earnings. I thought Spain had reformed me into a no pasa nada, trabajar para vivir kind of person, but I’ve fallen prey to the hustle advice quite a few times – most recently deciding I NEED to become a freelance writer on top of already having a full time job. I have no debt. I have more than enough to pay my bills. I often have to remind myself that money in and of itself is NOT a priority.

    1. Ok, first of all, how awesome that you live in Spain! We’re headed there for Spring Break and I am SO EXCITED! Yes-I think that is what has been bothering me so much, this idea that every single minute of your life needs to be optimized. It’s this subtle, pervasive thinking that is really dangerous to our society I believe. I feel like it’s become a trend to feel vaguely guilty about doing nothing and/or enjoying your free time, especially if you’re “still working.” Congrats on your financial situation and good for you for keeping your priorities straight.

  4. I totally agree, there has to be a balance between work and home life.
    I totally value my time off work, and totally need it to recharge. In the UK it is normal to have 25 days vacation per year plus 8 public vacation holidays.
    I have read that in the USA the vacations are lower than that. I can’t imagine how I would cope, I already feel burned out.
    Hope you have a fabulous holiday in Spain, I love it there.
    Though unfortunately, at least financially we love Disney, Florida and have spent far too much on holidays there over the years. Though saying that I don’t regret them as we loved every minute.

    1. They say you don’t regret spending on experiences, but I agree with you that Disney is very expensive-especially coming from the UK. My husband gets 20 vacation days which is a LOT for the US. As of April, he’ll start accruing 25 per year (plus public vacay days). Normal is 10. 🙁 I’m a teacher so I get a lot more than that in the summer, but only 3 days per school year, so I have to make sure to take vacations during the time we have breaks. I’m still learning to do that.

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