A Little Game of Catch (Up)

The first month of this fabulous year is now over and if you’re like 80% of Americans, so are your New Year’s Resolutions. Thankfully, we didn’t make any for ourselves. Instead, we created a bucket list of fun things we wanted to do this year. Had we made any resolutions though, we would not have kept them. I know this because I made a chart at the beginning of the month to track our income, dumpster finds, and hikes. The only word on that chart right now is “oranges”.

So, if we weren’t hiking or rummaging through the dumpster in January, what were we doing?

I experimented with a few new side-hustles. Scrolling through Indeed.com one afternoon led me down a rabbit hole to a world of new side-hustle services for retail merchandisers and mystery shoppers. Yes, mystery shopping is a real thing and no, you don’t have to pay to get in on it. Just check out 8 Side Hustles That Really Pay. The new companies I found don’t all have apps but they do pay well. I earned $95 doing 90 minutes worth of work for a company called Customer Impact and $60 (without ever leaving my house) on a job I found on Presto Insta-Shops. I also signed up with a service called Set and Service Resources (SASR) that allows you to choose the jobs that you want to work. Most of these jobs are 5-8 hours long and pay an hourly wage. I completed my first one last Friday – a grocery store reset just 2 miles down the street from my home. I have another scheduled this week.

Angie experimented with a few new recipes. The Mexican Lasagna was out of this world! She even made the tortillas and the enchilada sauce from scratch. My mom, who usually balks at every vegetarian recipe we create, loved this one just as much as we did.

We cancelled Misfits Market. We received only one additional box after I wrote about our experience. Why? Because the 2nd box was a mistake, a misappropriation of our grocery budget. They obviously misinterpreted what we asked for and included a few mispicks. We also didn’t like the fact that some of our items suffered a mishap (they were broken in half!). We now consider this whole experiment a misadventure. See what I did there? 🙂

I painted my mom’s kitchen ceiling (and subsequently thought I was having a heart attack). When one has not used their shoulder and pectoral muscles in a long time and then spends an entire day holding a pole with a roller attached to it, the pain it creates is so similar to the symptoms of a heart attack (as described in the pamphlet my mom once gave me) that it’s downright scary. Thankfully, my resident exercise guru (Angie) was there to inform me that it was only a muscle strain.

Angie blew up our $4 bread machine and set the oven on fire. In her defense, the breadmaker was 21 years old (and it did make a dozen loaves of bread and some awesome pizza crusts in the short year that we owned it). The last bread came out looking like this:

And the oven. Well, that happened on Friday. Angie was preheating it to bake a potato when she saw flames through the window. The coil had burned in two and the control panel was fried. Maintenance brought a replacement stove that same afternoon but they neglected to bring a clean one, so we spent the afternoon cleaning someone else’s ketchup and grease off of our “new” stove. It could have been way worse, I suppose.

We found a bit weaponry. Who on Earth would leave a cache of weapons just sitting by the dumpster of an apartment complex full of children?? Crazy people, that’s who! We don’t actually have a need for these things, nor will the Goodwill take them, but in the interest of not finding our neighborhood children bleeding to death in the parking lot, we put them in our garden shed.

I filed our taxes (incorrectly). It’s been a minute and a half since I filed self-employment taxes so I’m still getting back up to speed. Luckily, I just left out one form and that can easily be remedied by amending our return.

Angie’s mom gave us the most amazing laundry ball we never knew we needed. We finally used up all of our DIY laundry soap and got to test the laundry ball that Angie’s mom gave us last year. I was super skeptical. How could a ball full of “bio-ceramic elements” clean clothes?? I still don’t know the answer to that but I do know that it works. My mom is forever picking on us for using homemade laundry soap that has no smell. Sometimes she even sniffs my clothes – with me in them! I washed our jackets with the Wash Wizard and in the middle of giving me a hug, my mom burst out, “You must have run out of that stuff you call laundry soap. This jacket smells clean!” And actually it did. With a shelf-life of 1,500 washings, I love this laundry ball.

And we put a few puzzles together.

How was your January?

Since the title of this post contains the word catch-up, Angie says that I should also include the fact that she made fermented ketchup this past month. Unlike her fermented onions, which smell like feet, the ketchup smells and tastes just like store bought ketchup. She got the recipe from Off Grid with Doug and Stacy.

Unique Jobs = Unique Experiences

A few years back, I wrote a post called My Great Big List of Little Jobs. It was a compilation of the various income producing activities that I’d had throughout my life, from voice-over artist to landscaper. While some folks might look at a list like this and see what amounts to a piecemeal resume, I look at it with great fondness. I’ve had some great experiences (and of course, some not so great ones too) and I was paid to do them!

Since that list came out, I’ve added a few more interesting hustles to it, ranging from the normal stuff (like freelancing as a grant writer) to the ones that make people say “someone paid you to do that??”. I believe it was last year that Angie and I got a gig cruising hotel parking lots after dark to write down any business names found on the cars parked there (like Joe’s Construction or Sally’s Interior Designs). I’m pretty sure the hiring agency was trying to put together a list of businesses to reach out to for their travel discount program. Regardless, we made more than $600 for the 4-day project and we had fun doing it.

Which leads me back to the present…

Back in August, I answered an ad on Indeed for a Field Researcher in the metro-Nashville area. The job was a quarterly gig that involved driving around new neighborhoods to gather information about the homes being built there. It didn’t pay much in an hourly wage but it sounded like fun and something Angie and I could do together, plus it paid mileage. I was hired. (Side note: The more unique the gig is, the better your chances of getting hired. Why? Because most folks pass over these really part-time opportunities because they are looking for “career jobs” or at least, traditional part-time employment.)

We completed our first route in September and were soon asked if we’d like 2 routes this time. Of course, we said yes since we’re 100% relying on gig work to support ourselves now. This time, we had part of Williamson County, TN – home to everyone who has ever thought themselves a country music star. Don’t believe me? Just Google “celebrities that live near Franklin, TN” and you’ll get a list that includes folks like Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw. But I digress…

We spent 3 full (8-hour) days in the car cruising neighborhoods under construction. Angie drove while I filled in maps and forms. Yes, it was exhausting but it was also fun. We had a car picnic for lunch every day, got to see some really unique Christmas decorations (including two reindeer in a very compromising situation), and viewed some of the most ridiculously humongous monstrosities ever to be called houses.

When I interviewed for the job, the hiring manager told me that most folks love the job because they get to look at all the new houses. Some folks even used the job as a way to find a new place of their own. Us…well, we love to look at the new houses too…but for a different reason. Perspective. Every time we entered a neighborhood full of 4,000 square foot homes on tiny lots with 3 car garages, we noticed one thing – no one was home. Not even on Saturday. I don’t know where they were but the one thing was certain, they weren’t there enjoying their big, fine home. Seeing these huge empty homes reminded us why we are minimalists, and it made us appreciate (once again) the many perks of living in an apartment (from not having a huge mortgage to being able to call the landlord to fix the AC). But mostly it served as a sort of inspiration, if you will – an inspiration to be even more true to ourselves, our goals, and our beliefs than we already are.

I’m not knocking big homes (okay, maybe I am), but bigger is not always better. A 4,000 square foot home for a family of four essentially means that every member of that household has an amount of space equivalent to the size of home that our parents and grandparents (and some of us) were raised in. It’s an amount of space larger than your average apartment. With that kind of space requirement per person going forward, at some point, we as a society are going to run out of…well, space. And resources. And land to grow food. And on and on I could go.

I don’t envy the big homes I see. I feel sad for the occupants. I may be out cruising their neighborhood on a Saturday for a few bucks an hour but at the end of the day, I get to curl up in my 700 square foot “nest” knowing that this little gig is all we need to do this month to pay the rent. It’s a peace that I wouldn’t trade for any amenity a “planned development” neighborhood could offer. No great room or even a great-great room can compare to the great feeling that comes with freedom.

Aside from starting a discussion on housing in America today, the real point of this post was about alternate income streams. Money can come from so many sources besides the traditional “9-to-5” job that it’s almost a challenge in itself to find them. At least it is for us. I understand that a life of never knowing what the next gig might be may not sound like fun to you. I understand that because for a long time, it sounded downright scary to me and I refused to go all in with it. Being a minimalist. Being debt-free. Being frugal. These things make it so much easier to pursue a non-traditional income-seeking path. We are these things and right now, we’re having fun with work for the first time in a long time. Will we feel this way 6 months from now or when we have to dip into our reserves to pay for something? I don’t know. For now though, we’re going to ride the wave and see what other unique experiences we can add to our list.