Pandemic Finance Diaries, Part 1: Gig Economy Pivot

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many people financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I am fortunate that I have been able to maintain my physical health throughout the pandemic, as well as continue working full-time.  However, I would be remiss to state that my financial situation has not been altered by the pandemic.

While I currently work full-time in the health care field, I also had several part-time jobs I would perform in the evenings and on weekends on top of my 9-5.  I started these part-time jobs in March 2019 after returning  from my five-month backpacking trip to South America.  Once I returned to working full-time in health care in October 2019 I continued with the part-time jobs because 1) I enjoyed them and 2) I took a $12k salary cut from my previous full-time job.  In short, the part-time jobs offered me a bit more financial stability.  [Side note: I don’t like to use the term “side hustle” to describe my part-time jobs because I find it a) minimizes people’s value of my work, b) leads to lesser tips, and c) makes it sound like these jobs are optional parts of my financial portfolio.]

My part-time jobs fell into the broader business categories of pet care and tourism.  However, since the pandemic began travel has come to an abrupt halt, meaning the tourism business has all but dried up.  This also holds true for pet care, as most people are only in need of pet care when they’re travelling or working outside of the home; the pandemic has essentially negated both of these conditions.  As such, since March 2020 I have seen my average monthly income drop by 15%.

Realizing I had to pivot my financial mindset and change course, I pursued a number of other opportunities to make money.  Spoiler alert: I didn’t do so great.  It was an interesting, albeit a bit stressful, experience.  Once again, I’m fortunate that although my monthly income has decreased significantly I knew my full-time job in healthcare was fairly stable and I could survive on that salary alone.  And while my partner, B, and I keep our finances almost completely separate, he is also working full-time so I knew that if I were in a financial pinch I wouldn’t find myself going hungry or struggling to pay the rent.

During my attempt to pivot my financial strategies I received much of my inspiration for part-time gigs via Kevin who writes at Financial Panther; his monthly side hustle reports are drool-worthy.  In searching for part-time work my criteria was such: no human contact.  As someone working outside the home in healthcare, I wanted to essentially negate any further contact with others, as I felt I was already being placed at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 while simultaneously not wanting to put anyone else at risk.  This immediately ruled out the side hustle phone apps which were seeing a business boom – those such as Uber Eats, Shipt, Instacart, DoorDash, and so on.

Here’s an outline of my financial journey from March – May 2020.

Electric scooter charging

After the food/household goods delivery apps, electric scooter charging seemed the next-best option, as it requires no contact with others and I live in a densely populated city with multiple scooter companies that have taken up residence.  To sweeten the deal, B and I don’t pay our electricity bill, as utilities are commonly included in DC apartment rental contracts.  This meant that whatever minute increase I would expect to see in our electricity bill by charging scooters wouldn’t cost me any money – this seemed like a win-win!

While DC was home to Skip, Spin, Lime, Bird, Lyft, Jump, and several other scooter companies, only a few have independent contractors charging their omnipresent scooters.  Since my phone’s operating system is bordering on ancient, I was further limited by the applications that were compatible with my phone.  In the end, only Lime fit the bill.

Lime calls their scooter chargers Juicers (cute, isn’t it?).  I went through all of the legal forms and the sign-up process to become a Juicer and have my profile reviewed by Lime.  After a couple of days I was approved, so at that point all I had to do was purchase a few scooter chargers (I believe these were previously provided free-of-charge by Lime to Juicers, but this is no longer the case) and get charging!  I started looking for Lime chargers secondhand on eBay and Craigslist, but figured before I actually spent money on this endeavor I should talk to B since we share a small studio apartment where I would be charging the scooters.  It seemed only fair to get his go-ahead since he would be sharing the apartment overnight with the scooters and me.  After a long argument between the two of us healthy discussion about how this situation would benefit the both of us (it wouldn’t), it was ultimately decided that B did not feel comfortable with me charging scooters in our apartment, so my Lime Juicer dream became no more.  On to the next thing….

These partially charged scooters taunt me now.

Income: $0

Survey Phone Apps (Google Opinion Rewards/1Q)

Not to be deterred, I pivoted again, turning to survey phone apps like Google Opinion Rewards and 1Q.  These two seemed to net Mr. Financial Panther the most money on a monthly basis and were (luckily!) compatible with my phone.  From my understanding these apps track your location data and send consumer surveys based on who they believe their target clientele to be.  As you can imagine I wasn’t moving around much during the pandemic, only going to work and the grocery store once or twice weekly.  I experimented with leaving my GPS on at all times, as this was suggested by the apps to receive the most surveys.  However, my phone’s talents don’t stop at only being incompatible with many useful apps; its battery is quite old, which means the battery would die in less than a day if I continuously kept my GPS on.  This might be okay for some, but I tired of having to plug my phone into its charger multiple times a day, so I nixed that option after a week or so.

All in all, neither were very fruitful – while I “earned” $1.09 with Google Opinion Rewards one must wait until one reaches $2 for a payout, meaning I still haven’t received the money and therefore won’t count this amount in my totals.  With 1Q users are paid immediately, so I netted a whopping $0.76.  Dream big, my friends.

Income: $0.76

Market Research (L&E Research/User Interviews)

While these companies perform research on various user markets in much the same way was the above mentioned apps, these are more in-depth focus groups than the two-minute questionnaires one might get on 1Q.  This option seemed a more hit-or-miss than others as user selection was strict; if a user qualified for a survey – great, but it was very likely a user wouldn’t.  However, I was excited about the opportunity to monetize my opinions.  These market research opportunities had transitioned from in-person sessions to computer webcam/phone sessions during the pandemic, so I signed up for both L&E Research and User Interviews.  I built my profile on each and filled out about 50 pre-qualification surveys…. and was contacted for zero.  Right, then.

Income: $0

We Go Look

After reading some of the more recent Monthly Side Hustle reports by Financial Panther I noted he said he had found a number of outdoor, no-contact Looks with We Go Look, a platform that allows its users (called Lookers – they cute, too) to verify claims and validate other information.  A sample job might include taking pictures of a car for an auto inspection.  I wouldn’t mind any outdoor, no-contact gigs so I eagerly submitted my application and was told I’d hear back in three business days.  Seven days later I followed up, only to receive the below message.

We Go Look

Well, that was disappointing.

Income: $0


TaskRabbit was something I didn’t sign up for until May, but once I considered its opportunities for being lucrative I decided it was worth the effort. TaskRabbit, while likely best known for connecting those who need small home repairs and Ikea furniture assembled with amateur handipeople, has a range of other services available for hire.  The data entry, personal assisting, and writing & editing skills particularly appealed to me because they could be done online and without contact with the client.  After debating whether paying the $25 fee for a background check was a smart move, I went ahead and paid the fee.  Spoiler: it wasn’t.  I am sad to report that even now, in July, I have yet to receive a single task request.

Income: -$25 (that’s a negative net, folks)

Selling Trash Finds

Fear not friends, for I have saved the best for last!  Limited in what we could do and where we could go on our own two feet (we’re car-free) B and I began taking daily walks around our neighborhood during the pandemic, which led us to frequent some neighborhood apartment buildings’ dumpsters.

Don’t judge!  These dumpsters are behind some swanky-ass apartment buildings and I have found some amazing things – 90% of which are placed next to the dumpster because the person putting them there does not actually want to throw out the items but is instead hoping someone like me will walk by and take them.  I swear.  I plan to write a whole separate post about dumpster diving, but one of the craziest things I found was a packable down jacket that retails for $85.  In my size.  And actually there were two.  In two different colors.  But more on that later.  B and I frequent these dumpsters so much we’ve named them – their names generally originate from their most impressive finds.

An example dumpster space.

Between March and June I was able to pick up several items and sell them online, mostly through Craigslist but also a couple through OfferUp.

I have a fairly simple strategy when looking for trash finds:

  • It should be something in my style – I can’t sell something I myself wouldn’t buy
  • It requires minimal, if any, flipping – I don’t have the time, money, or patience to flip things
  • Always wall art – this was a rule I recently learned; wall art sells like hotcakes.  I’m not sure to whom or why, but Craigslist people love them some wall art

During the period of March through June I sold a wall shelving unit, a trash can, wall art (obvi!) and two random Dyson leather cases for hair dryers and straighteners.

Income: $65

Are you ready to see the grand total of all the money I was able to rake in during 50 days of the pandemic in the U.S.?  Please hold firmly onto your jaw and prevent it from dropping to the table, because my total earned income is a doozy.

Total income from March 13 – May 31: $40.76

Needless to say, $40.76 wasn’t quite what I was hoping for and nowhere near replaced what I was making before the pandemic.  However, as I write this we’re currently in mid-July, and I’ve changed my money-making strategy a bit as I’ve been able to test out what avenues work best for me and as my city slowly begins its re-opening from the pandemic.  Yet as a public heath professional I remain realistic about what re-opening means; the case spikes we’ve seen throughout the Southern US demonstrate how volatile this situation is and I don’t believe we’ll be seeing the end of this pandemic and a return to normal anytime soon.  I hate using the term “new normal” to describe where we are now since I yearn for some of the normalcy of February 2020, and yet I also have to come to terms with the fact that my side-gig business plan must, indeed, shift from what worked so well for me pre-pandemic if I want to be able to recoup my losses.

Stay tuned for Part 2

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