Side hustles bring in holiday spending money

Kyle Arnold
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — The holidays have become a hustle for Julie Wilder.

The DeLand-based restaurant consultant carves out as much time as she can between October and December for her side business, selling astronomy calendars she designs on Etsy, the online selling platform for handmade goods. The calendars track how planetary bodies and constellations interact.

“It’s my side hustle,” said Wilder, who said she made about $15,000 in 2016 selling calendars. “And this is my big season where I spend at least some part of every day packing and shipping.”

The holidays are the busiest time of the year for many of these side jobs and part-time gigs in the Orlando area. Companies say locals are looking for extra cash at a financially demanding time of year and businesses that offer contract work say there is also a need.

“The holidays and tax-time, really any time there are significant outlays of cash, there is a lot of interest in side jobs,” said Diane Mulcahy, author of “The Gig Economy” and an entrepreneurship lecturer at Babson College near Boston.

Millions of Americans: The government does not track how many people work contract jobs or do part-time, temporary work during the holidays. But a July report from financial education website reported about 44 million Americans have a “side hustle” and about a third of those make more than $500 a month doing it.

Side jobs also gained wider acceptance since Uber, Lyft and even Airbnb were founded about eight years ago, Mulcahy said.

“Side gigs are only going to become much more commonplace,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense today to rely on a single source of income.”

Uber, the ride-hailing company that relies on contract drivers, sees a 10 percent increase in drivers in Florida in November and December, many of whom drop out in January.

Extra workers: Uber needs the extra workers as riders need transportation to holiday parties, shopping and family events, said Kasra Moshkani, Uber’s general manager for Florida. It accounts for about a 30 percent increase in total trips in state during those months, he said.

“A lot of drivers do start this time of year and then stop when the holidays are over,” Moshkani said. “We need those drivers and they anticipate the demand.”

Tania de Jesus of Apopka started driving for Uber in July, but said she ramped up her work significantly as the holidays approached.

“Every little bit counts right now,” said the 56-year-old woman, who is also studying to get her bachelor’s degree. “I have grandkids and family to buy presents for — and it’s my birthday.”

Mystery shopping also has a lot of work available in December, said Rich Bradley, the Orlando-based chief operating officer for Ath Power Consulting.

“Some of our regular mystery shoppers are often busy in December, so there is a little bit of extra work available,” Bradley said.

Professionals: While many side-job companies rely on unpaid labor, the newest generation of “side hustle” platforms connect companies to professionals with skills in graphic design, web design or even style consulting, Mulcahy said.

She encourages more people to pick up side jobs to have a second source of income in case of job losses or to expand into new fields.

After Wilder’s five-figure income from Etsy in 2016, she taught a class on finding extra work at East End Market in July.

“It was a lot of women, a lot of people looking for a second source of income or for a new career,” Wilder said. “There were also a lot of people trying to make it without stepping into the corporate world.”

Wilder started selling the calendars when she was a co-owner at Dandelion Communitea Room. She uses a local printer to make the calendar and used her skills from a college degree in graphic design to make the calendar.

With sales growing, Wilder hopes to dedicate more time to the business next year.

“Maybe restaurant consulting can become my side gig,” she said.