How Erika Made $20,000+ In Her Spare Time — And You Can, Too

How Erika made $20,000+ in her SPARE time
You can summarize the answer to almost every financial problem in two words: Earn more. 

Snag extra work on the side. Save every dime of this extra income. (After all, you don’t “need” the money. You’re already living fine without it.)

Boom — you’ve instantly super-charged your savings.

When I wrote that, a few readers said: “Sounds great in theory. Let’s see it in practice.”

Touché. Let me introduce you to Erika, who earned an extra $20,000+ in her spare time last year — while working full-time and attending graduate school.


Erika is a typical American. She lives in Orange County, California — the “home of the Real OC,” she describes.

She has a traditional, 9-to-5 day job in an office. Last March, she enrolled at California State University and began pursuing her Masters in Public Administration.

Her husband is an emergency medical technician, or EMT, who advanced to the level of firefighter this month. They married three years ago, and “the first couple of years (of our marriage) were REALLY hard financially,” she says.

Typical storyline, right? Office worker and EMT/firefighter fall in love, get married and struggle financially. We’ve heard stories like this a million times.

But Erika’s story takes an unusual twist.

The “normal majority” would either:

  1. Resign themselves to a low-income fate;
  2. Rely solely on the hope of a raise/promotion;
  3. Bury themselves in credit card debt, then convince themselves that being in debt is normal.”

But Erika is a rebel. She chose a different path. She devoted every spare hour to hustling for extra money.

She started with small wins:

“We held a garage sale, and made like $100 bucks or something,” she says. “And then (I tried) mystery shopping. The money was paltry, but I was willing to try everything.”

Then she expanded into freelance writing:

“I looked for writing jobs on Craigslist. A lot of people need writers for their small businesses, but just don’t have the budget for big PR companies. This was my target. I ended up working for some start-up companies, as well as religious organizations. I even managed social media accounts.”

Notice her strategy — she defined a target client profile. Then she began visiting the forums where that type of customer hangs out. That’s savvy.

And she didn’t sell herself short.

“I never bothered with Odesk and eLance,” she says, “because I knew I could not compete (with low-paid workers based overseas.) I did not want to work for $2 an hour … I set a standard and I never worked for free.”

She snagged her first small once-a-week writing job. Then she found another one. And another one.

“It’s not like I get a deluge of freelance offers everyday — I would say more like one every couple of months or so — but I hold onto those relationships and build more,” she says. “I’ve also been referred by people I currently work for, and that has led to more opportunities as well.”

One of her clients asked her to become the Content Manager for their website. This now accounts for between 30 – 50 percent of her side income.

She also began monetizing her blog, and advertising on her website accounts for another 50 percent of her income.

How did her results grow?

  • In 2011, she earned $1,820 in extra money.
  • In 2012, she earned $10,566 in extra money.
  • In 2013, she earned $20,000+ in extra money.

Her hourly rate, she says, is around $25 – $35 per hour. She celebrated a major milestone last year, when her “side income” topped $20,000.

“It is SO unreal to me that I was able to pull this off this past year,” she says. “I am just a regular, normal person. I work a full-time 7:30 am to 5 pm job, I go to graduate school full-time, and I bust my butt on weekends and nights to freelance.”

Wait — when does she find the time to work this hard?

“I’m in an accelerated program through California State University that is designed for full-time working professionals,” she says. “I attend class on Saturday mornings twice every six weeks on campus, and then I have weekly classes online on Monday evenings.”

In other words:

  • She works her “day job” Monday through Friday, until 5 pm.
  • Monday nights, she attends class.
  • Tuesday through Friday nights, she hustles.
  • Saturday mornings, she attends class.
  • And for the remainder of the weekend, she hustles even more.

Somewhere in the mix, she manages to study, run errands and exercise. Wowza!

Let’s crunch the numbers: If her payrate averages $30/hr, and she earned $20,000 last year, then she worked approximately 667 hours.

There are 52 weeks in a year, which means she worked about 12.8 hours per week, on average.

So let’s reframe it this way: She works a full-time job for about 45 hrs/week, plus “side gigs” for 13 hours/week, and attends grad school classes two days per week. This adds to a workload of about 70-80 hours per week … which is a typical schedule for many professionals, like doctors and executives.

I mean that as a testament to Erika. She holds high-caliber, top-performer work-ethic.

It’s a demanding schedule, yes. But millions of people work this type of schedule.

An extraordinary life requires extraordinary effort. And that effort yields real, tangible results that radically change your life.

In other words: Awesome is achievable. And Erika is living proof.

It’s not easy. Escaping the ordinary isn’t rewarding because it’s “easy.” It’s rewarding because it’s worth it.

What has Erika done with the extra $31,000+ she collected over the span of the past three years?

What advice does she have for Afford Anything readers who want to start hustling?

“I’d encourage people to spend some time — especially when they’re trying to establish themselves — to really research and network as much as possible,” she says. “I became vocal in (my) community that I was open to freelancing.”

Her goals for this year? They’re twofold:

  • Save $30,000 towards the down payment on a house.
  • Enjoy some of her awesome extra income — now that she’s finally debt-free.

“I want to go out to dinner … I want to go to concerts,” she says. “I want lifestyle inflation, people!”

Thanks to Erika for getting interviewed for this article. You can read her blog, Newlyweds on a Budget, here.


  1. says

    Love this post. Erika is actually one of the reasons for why I started with my side hustles (which then eventually led to me focusing full-time on my business). I remember finding her blog and wondering if I could do the same. She then introduced me to other hustling bloggers and I just knew I had to get on it as well!

    • says

      @Michelle — It’s such an inspiring story! When I heard about Erika’s success, I knew I had to share it with the Afford Anything rebels. Like she said: She’s a normal, regular person. If she can make $20,000+ hustling on the side, then the rest of us can, too …

  2. says

    Inspiring post, when I first read about earning more. I realized I needed a second job to speed up the process of being debt free.

    Currently I work for the navy and at a japanese restaurant. Thank you Erika for sharing your story and Paula for posting it here. Now, I will definetly look at other markets to expand my own hustle.


  3. says

    I needed this inspiration. Too often we think we have to invent the next Apple and we let that stop us from starting a side hustle. And too often we expect extraordinary results from ordinary or subpar efforts. No more. Time to start a hustle.

  4. says

    Erika’s story definitely inspires me, as a new blogger hoping to make it into a side hustle. However, I still view this is a “one in a million” success story. I’m reading “Mindset” by Carol Dweck currently to change my perspective, but it’s great to hear that it does happen! Such a great story!

  5. says

    I love this! I am just getting into side hustling online and she is a big inspiration! She really makes it seem possible. I’m getting into writing, and looking for ways to increase my side hustle income online. I want to pay off my debt, increase my savings and travel! Thanks for sharing Erika’s story.

  6. says

    Wow, the timing of this post is funny. I just published a blog post yesterday about someone who worked 2 full-time jobs and studied full time, all at once. She managed to visit 32 countries in 5 years with her savings. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you’re willing to put in the time and effort!

  7. says

    “I am just a regular, normal person. I work a full-time 7:30 am to 5 pm job, I go to graduate school full-time, and I bust my butt on weekends and nights to freelance.” Wow! Now there’s no excuse for anyone.

    Thanks for posting this story Paula, very inspiring!!

  8. says

    Wow! What a story. Erika really put in the time, though. As I was paying off my mortgage, I worked an extra 10 hours a week on top of my full-time job. I made the justification that a lot of people work 50 hours per week their entire careers, so I certainly could for the short-term. Sounds like Erika has a similar mindset and it’s paying off!

  9. says

    Great job Erika, Maybe you could forget the masters degree and focus on this full time, I believe you could make a heck of a living!!

  10. says

    That’s an awesome story. I hope she continues to increase her rates so that she doesn’t have to work MORE to keep increasing the extra income. I love stories like this. This is how I got started online and I can never give up the little extra money that I get from it.

  11. says

    Inspirational indeed. I’m going to remember Erika on the nights when I’m just too exhausted and want only to slump in front of the TV. This is my year to go for broke on raising the side income and Erika’s tale has just given me some juice!

  12. says

    Yes, inspiring! However, I also have a lower-middle office-job income, and getting freelance sidework actually shoved me into another tax bracket where (long story short) the debt I am carrying now also includes a few thousand in taxes and penalties because I didn’t pay quarterly estimates while I was earning. I am so frustrated…. this results in getting to keep LESS THAN HALF of what I earned on the freelance gigs. So is this chick getting paid under the table? I feel like that’s the only way it’s going to work.

    • says

      @yesgrrrl — I’m self-employed, so I’m (unfortunately) way too familiar with quarterly taxes. Here’s my advice:

      #1: Save 1/3rd of every freelance paycheck for your self-employment taxes. (And pay quarterly). There’s no reason you should pay “less than half” — if you earn $87,850 to $183,250, your top marginal tax rate is 28 percent, and if you earn $183,250 to $398,350, your top rate is 33 percent.

      #2: Keep two folders (one physical, one digital) in which you track every business expense — your printer, your memberships, attending conferences, etc. You’d be amazed at how many expenses you can legitimately write-off.

      Hope that helps!!

      • says

        A few others include your cell phone, your internet connection (at home), your laptop and/or tablet purchases (if used for business), some of your vehicle and travel expenses if you include business on even your personal trips, etc.

        I know of folks that buy $25 gift cards for clients and promotional items (expense-able) and then use them for their own lunches, etc. Not legal, but difficult to prove.

        Let your conscience be your guide… and keep good records.

  13. says

    Awesome and inspiring story! I’m living the exact same lifestyle… Working a full time job in IT, going to grad school to finish up my MBA, baby on the way and also providing guided fishing tours on Arizona’s finest lakes. It’ll all be worth it in the end!

    Keep grind’n everyone!

  14. says

    This is really great inspiring story. There are lots of freelance work someone can do from house or from their computer. But I always wonder, I am a technical/Engineer. I have to go to manufacturing environment(Companies) to earn money, and I am not good with writing or other computer related work.

    What are other freelance work possible to do for such people?

    • says

      @Nilson — A few ideas:

      #1) Consulting. Your technical expertise means you can command top-dollar.
      #2) Publish tutorials or textbooks. The more “niche” and specific your topic, the better. You won’t have mass appeal, but you WILL have incredibly targeted appeal to an audience segment that needs the ultra-niche, ultra-specific topic that you’re covering. (Example: Create tutorials or e-books on how to work with Arduino microcontrollers.)
      #3) Write for industry publications. For example, if you’re a civil engineer who specializes in roadwork, you can pitch articles for Roads & Bridges Magazine.
      #4) Tutor college students who are struggling with Calculus 3, Differential Equations, or other advanced courses.
      #5) Create a product and sell it online. Use a fulfillment service to streamline/automate the distribution.

    • says


      I think Paula’s got it spot on here. I’m an engineer too and there’s a lot of skills that we have that are desired out there in the marketplace. I’ve done a little tutoring here and there and one day I’d like to do technical consulting on the side too.

      Recently my wife and I were contemplating what we could do to supplement our income and as someone who analyzes everything I was looking for the “optimal” part-time work solution. In the end I just decided to go for something, so I recently got a job delivering pizza at night, which I’ll be starting soon.

      As technically-minded folks we often get caught in “analysis paralysis”. Sometimes you just have to go out there and take action. Once you get started doing something on the side you’ll probably get more ideas of what to do from there.

  15. says

    This is really inspiring to read. I’m currently trying to freelance outside of my day job and have been attempting to bid for work on Elance. I’m definitely going to give Craigslist a go after reading this!
    Hard work really does pay off. :)

  16. says

    Erika, proves that a person with a dream and a strong drive can do great things. I wish millions of people would read this and follow her lead, they could change their lives.

    Thanks for sharing this and other great stories, it keeps my fire burning.


  17. MISS ELOQUENT says

    Bravo! a very Motivationl post. i am indebt nd also in sch b nt married nd lukin 4 hw 2 hustle so dat i can fix d debts. i nw kw i nid 2 do more dan eva.

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