Should I Get a Second Job? Consider These Hidden Costs First

second job
Penny Hoarder writer Lisa Rowan works recently in St. Petersburg, Fla. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re short on cash and long on bills, getting a second job probably seems like the best solution. You put in a few extra hours each week and earn some extra cash… how hard could it be?

About 5% of Americans have a second job. We’re having it all, right?!

But making a considerable income from a second job is tougher than it sounds, not just in terms of your body and mind, but when it comes to your wallet, too.

If you’re committing to hustling for that second paycheck, I commend you.

Here’s what to watch out for, and how to make your efforts worthwhile.

The Worst Part-Time Job I Ever Had

After graduating from college, I was lucky to get a full-time job with a decent salary — but it wasn’t enough to cover my car insurance, personal debt, student loans and my other costs, like rent and groceries.

The idea of paying the minimum on my debt for the next umpteen years made my stomach turn.

My roommate and I lived modestly, but I still felt desperate to take on a second job to close the gap between what I was making and what I needed to truly make ends meet.

I had retail experience, so I searched for clothing stores seeking sales associates. I was lucky to get an interview — and then a job offer — from a sister store of a chain I had already worked at in college. I would be folding solid-color T-shirts during all my nights and weekends.

My hourly rate was $9.25, which checks out with typical retail wages for the year 2009. I worked between 12 and 15 hours each week, usually three or four hours in the evening followed by one weekend shift of six to eight hours.

I earned a commission on some sales, but it took some time to actually see that cash on my paycheck — and if a customer returned their items, you lost your commission on that sale.

In a typical week, I worked 12 hours at my second job and earned $111 before taxes.

I earned bonuses less frequently than typical pay, but they averaged out to about $5 per paycheck because I was not good at upselling. They were also taxed separately, so I’m going to leave them out of the equation.

How All My Money From my Second Job Went Away (Sort Of)

Let’s subtract taxes!

In place of my pay stubs, which I’m sure I shredded about three moves ago, I used a take-home pay calculator. In 2009, I lived in Maryland and had one federal exemption as a single lady.

Social Security, Medicare and state income tax added up to $12.38 — so more than an hour of work went straight to taxes. My weekly gross pay of $111 turned into a net pay of $98.62 per week.

Let’s keep subtracting.

I had to drive to work, four miles each way. If I worked four days in one week, I drove a total of 32 miles.

Gas cost about $2.20 per gallon that summer and a gallon covered me for about 20 miles. This meant I spent an extra $3.52 at the pump each week to make sure I was covered for those trips.

I’m down to $95.10 for 12 hours of work.

Then there’s the food. When you’re working about 12 hours per day between two jobs, when do you have time to eat, let alone cook?

I relied on frozen microwave meals, at an average price of $3 each. I’d gobble down four of these each week for dinner, while leftovers and PB&J sandwiches made up my typical lunches.

$95.10 – $12 for easy meals = $83.10 earned per week.

Here’s Some Extra Spending I’m Not Proud of

Then there was my caffeine habit. I know, this isn’t a fun one to admit, because every money-saving book out there starts with cutting your latte habit.

But I had a weakness for Frappucinos. And during a long shift, a Frappucino really hit the spot.

Let’s subtract $8 per week for two trips to Starbucks, which I counted as a little perk that made my life better when I was feeling dead on my feet.

I’m down to $75.10 for 12 hours of work. That means I only actually profited $6.26 per hour from my second job.

Look, my life was still pretty easy. I went from my comfortable office job to my relatively calm retail job without having to ride public transit for an hour each way. I didn’t have to work crazy late-night shifts, or get asked to work late at the last minute.

It was tiresome, sure, but it was a routine I settled into well enough. That $75.10 added up, week after week, and the extra $300 I earned each month paid all the expenses for my car, from insurance to gas to tune-ups.

Wondering, “Should I Get a Second Job?”

If you’re feeling desperate and want to pick up a second (or third, or fourth) job, here are five practical tips for doing it right.

1. Get a Job as Close to Home as Possible

It might mean a less-cushy gig — maybe making movie theater popcorn instead of selling handbags — but a short commute will make juggling two jobs a lot less stressful.

Remember, you’ll need to leave your day job with extra time to battle rush-hour traffic.

2. Don’t Go Bonkers on Your Second-Job Wardrobe

An employee discount at your new job might be tempting, but you’d be better off stocking up on black pants and solid-color polo shirts at the thrift store.

If you’re required to wear a certain shirt or other uniform component, you may have to pay for it at work.

But if it’s a matter of wearing a certain kind of “regular” clothes you don’t already own, go the cheapest route you can.

3. Avoid “Money Leaks”

“Don’t squander your additional paycheck by adding in money leaks like extra meals out or runs to Starbucks to make up for added stress,” David Galloway explains on Lifehacker. Where was this guy to look over my shoulder in 2009?

“Sure, you might feel you deserve it, but you’re working multiple jobs to achieve a goal and these little money leaks add up to keep you away from becoming debt-free, buying a house or going into early retirement,” he writes.

4. Plan Ahead to Make the Most of Your Money

It might mean less time with your friends and more time in the kitchen on Sunday nights to prep meals for the week.

But any extra money you can avoid spending around your second job means more money in your pocket, even if it’s just a little bit.

5. Don’t Lose Your Mind

Looking at your schedule for the week or month might make you want to cry. You might actually cry.

But think of your second job as a short-term solution, not something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life.

Give yourself a time goal, whether it’s a year or three years, and then get out if you can afford it.

And then, figure out what you’ll do with all your free time.

Your Turn: Have you ever lost money working a second job? What are your tips for saving money while you’re moonlighting?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s always had at least two jobs. Old habits die hard.