The Side Hustle Snowball: How to “Erase” Your Expenses with Extra Income Streams


This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

I want to introduce a concept I call The Side Hustle Snowball.

If you’ve heard about Dave Ramsey’s “Debt Snowball” framework, this may sound familiar.

Here’s how The Side Hustle Snowball works:

You itemize out your expenses and then aim to come up with side hustle income to cover them, starting with the smallest and working your way up.

Once you reach the bottom of your list, you don’t need your job anymore!

The reason I like this framework is setting out to replace your income with a side business can be a daunting task. The Snowball approach breaks it down into mini-victories and lets you celebrate your progress along the way.

And just like a real snowball, it picks up steam, size, and momentum as it gets rolling.

Let’s look at some real-life examples of how you can make extra money. What follows are some of my actual monthly expenses*, and how we mentally zero them out with job-free income.

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1. Cash Back Apps: $2-10/month

The first expense on my list is Dollar Shave Club. Gotta keep this dome smooth and shiny!

It’s around $7.50 every 3-4 months, so let’s call it $2 a month on average.

shoulder rides

Like father, like son.

It’s easy to erase small expenses with cash back apps. My personal favorite right now is Pei, which gives you an automatic 1-10% cash back boost at over 100,000 locations after you link your card. Plus, at press time, they’re dishing out $10 sign-up bonuses. Here’s my full Pei review for more.

OCT 2021 UPDATE: Pei kind of sucks now. Buggy, no support.

The other cash back apps on my phone are:

  • Fetch Rewards – Scan receipts with this app to earn rewards and cash in for free Amazon gift cards (or other stores). Join through my referral link for a free $2 bonus.
  • Ibotta – Check your grocery receipts for special cash back offers. I’ve gotten as much as $5 back on single items so it pays to check!
  • DOSH – Works similarly to Pei but doesn’t seem to have as many participating locations.

Related: Here are a few dozen more money making apps to try as well!

2. Dividend Paying Stocks: $10-50/month

Netflix has gone from an entertainment luxury purchase to pretty-darn-close-to-a-necessity for keeping kids occupied. Don’t judge.

They charge us $13.99 a month. We’d pay more.

One easy way to mentally cover small expenses like this is to buy shares of dividend paying stocks, like AT&T. With a current forward dividend yield of $2.08 a share (annually), it would only take around 80 shares to cover your annual Netflix habit.

Go Curry Cracker calls this the “free coffee for life” plan, and it’s easily my most passive income stream.

If you don’t have a brokerage account, M1 Finance is a great (and free) modern platform. Alternatively, Robinhood lures users by giving you a free share of stock (up to $225) when you join.

Looking for better yield? Here are some interesting alternative investment options.

My latest “dabble” here is BlockFi, which pays strong yield on cash/stablecoin deposits. (I learned about BlockFi from Chris Hutchins at AllTheHacks.com; here’s his interview with the founder.)

3. Resell Old Items: $15-100+/month

Even though I fully trust Bryn will be just fine financially without me, I did set up a small $14/month life insurance policy before our first son was born.

One rule I try and live by is “one-in, one-out,” as in every time Amazon shows up at the front door, an equal or opposite sale or donation needs to happen out the back. Over the years we’ve sold books, cooking supplies, clothes, furniture, toys, other baby stuff, and even a standing desk.

What could you resell? Do you have something collecting dust in your closet, garage, or attic? I bet you could find something worth at least $14 to someone on Facebook Marketplace or eBay.

Flipping products can be a full-time income stream as well. For more check out my interview with Stacy Gallego on how she sources profitable inventory to flip, or this chat with Jessica Larrew on reselling on Amazon.

4. Fiverr Sales: $20-100+/month

The next expense on our list is our cell phone bill. We’re paying $20/month per line with Mint Mobile.

I cover this with a few different gigs on Fiverr. For me, it’s mostly digital products I created years ago. Every sale is incremental revenue and 100% profit, less the 30 seconds it takes to sign-in and deliver the file.

The freelance marketplace is a great place to test “micro offers” and see what sticks.

Browse through their categories for inspiration to see what you could sell. Demand is always shifting, so even though the platform is crowded, you could be an early entry into a new category or specialization.

5. Market Research Studies: $50-150/month

My next couple expenses are car-related, and the first of those is gas. I’m grateful to work from home so this isn’t a huge budget item for me, maybe $50 a month. (Or $100 if we include Bryn’s car too.)

One fun way to earn extra money is with paid research studiesFor example, I recently earned $50 for an online conversation about my video editing process.

Easy, interesting, and profitable.

My top two choices for these types of online focus groups and remote research studies are User Interviews and Respondent. I have full reviews of both platforms on this blog:

6. Print on Demand: $50-200/month

Car insurance costs us around $90 a month for our two cars.

Side note: if you haven’t compared car insurance costs lately, check out our partner Insurify. Super quick and easy to use, and they don’t sell your information to 3rd parties.

The side hustle that erases the car insurance in our house is print on demand, primarily on Merch by Amazon and Redbubble. How it works is you upload a design (mostly t-shirt designs in our case) and create a product listing. After that, everything else is hands-off. When someone orders, Amazon or Redbubble handles the the printing, shipping, fulfillment, customer support, everything.

And you earn a little royalty on the sale.

merch by amazon earnings 2021

Merch has paid us between $50 and $400 every month this year, and what’s kind of fun is now Bryn has a reputation for doing this among our friends and family so she’ll get custom requests. Definitely a fun little hobby that makes some money and helps erase some expenses.

7. Freelancing or Local Service: $75-500+/month

People like to hate on Comcast, but they’ve generally been pretty reliable as an ISP and I depend on them to be able to run my online business. We’ve got the basic cable package and Internet service for around $75 a month.

One way to cover this would be to write a freelance article or two. I don’t do a lot of this, but have been paid $75 per article for freelancing writing in the past.

Could you do something similar?

Could you do something local? We’ve had members of the Side Hustle Nation community share the scoop on their businesses in mobile detailing, knife sharpening, pet waste removal, cleaning services, pressure washing, and more.

Maybe it’s time to learn a new, in-demand skill. Maybe the loan signing agent gig is worth a look.

8. Self-Publishing: $150-500+/month

We pay $150-250 a month for utilities like water, electricity, and garbage. I try and erase this expense with one of my favorite income streams, self-publishing.

I’ve got several titles and have now earned $66,000 over the last 9 years as an author. How cool is that!

estimated author royalties

Alternatives to consider:

Or you could take your knowledge and create an online course on a platform like Udemy.

9. YouTube Ads: $200-1200+/month

We spend $150-200 a week to feed our faces, mostly from Costco and Trader Joe’s.

I’m not quite there at the moment, but I’d love to cover this with YouTube ad income. My recent earnings have been around $500 a month, but have been as high as $1200.

estimated youtube earnings

And what’s crazy is that this video content sits out there and continues to rack up views and revenue without any effort at all. It’s definitely encouraging to try and prioritize a more concerted YouTube effort!

10. Podcast Sponsorships: $1000-5000+/month

Forget saving for college — saving for daycare is a much more pressing need for new parents!

For us, that’s been around $1200 a month lately for a couple days a week of preschool for our two boys.

Old pic, back when there was only one:

daycare expense

I’m extremely grateful to be able to cover that with podcast sponsorship on one episode. But it definitely didn’t start out that way! Yes, you can monetize a podcast, but if you need income quickly, I’d definitely take a different path.

11. Affiliate Marketing: $2,000-10,000+/month

The last and biggest expense in our Side Hustle Snowball list is rent. And your rent or mortgage probably tops your list as well.

But everybody’s gotta live somewhere, and even though there are some creative house hacking strategies to reduce your housing cost, it’s always still there.

For us, it’s $2300 a month — which might seem high or low depending on where you’re at. For us, it’s a steal and hard to part with.

make rent disappear

On The Side Hustle Show and on this blog, you’ve heard dozens of ways to earn $2300 a month or more, including:

The common denominator is all those business models is they help other people in some meaningful way. 

If I’m trying to get to the $2000+ per month income level today, and I need to do it quickly, I’m thinking about high value service businesses like consulting or the “software with a service” model we talked about with Brad Rice.

If I’m OK with a longer time horizon, I’m thinking about the drop-servicing model we talked about with Anthony and Jhanilka Hartzog. I’m thinking about starting a newsletter, a YouTube channel. I’m thinking of starting a new website.

In my case, I’m really grateful to cover the rent with affiliate marketing. This has been my bread and butter of side hustle income going back to before I even quit my job.

Affiliate Marketing Examples

Affiliate marketing is a fancy way of saying “helping other companies sell their products or services online, and helping customers find the best product or service for their needs.”

Check out these episodes for examples of entrepreneurs doing really well in this space:

They answer questions online and help customers make decisions.

As an example, I wrote a post years ago promoting Udemy’s New Year’s Sale, and have updated it several times since. It was a pretty blatant affiliate play, which I openly admitted, yet I had people thanking me in the comments.

Why? Because it was helpful to them!

But I didn’t call it “Udemy’s New Year’s Sale”; I called it the much more clickable and content-heavy “The 101 Best Udemy Courses for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Side Hustlers.”

That one post is responsible for $30,000-40,000 in affiliate commissions. 

But here’s the thing. I don’t know if I could have pulled that off on a brand new site without two and a half years of Side Hustle Nation under my belt.

The projects that cover my rent took months and sometimes years to build. The good news is they’ve been really fun, inspiring, and educational to work on.

Wrapping Up

Again, that’s just what my Snowball looks like. Yours might be bigger or smaller or feature entirely different expenses or income streams.

In fact, for the sake of simplicity, you might be able to cover ALL your expenses with ONE business. But don’t aim to bite off the entire expense list all at once. Celebrate covering the little costs and work your way up to the big ones.

I hope you can make use of The Side Hustle Snowball framework along your own journey to financial freedom.

Your Turn

Did you find this post helpful? If so please consider sharing it!

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*Sticklers will note that I’m paying for these expenses with after-tax dollars, so really would need to earn a bit more to pay for them. But you get the idea.

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46 thoughts on “The Side Hustle Snowball: How to “Erase” Your Expenses with Extra Income Streams”

  1. Such a unique way to look at it – it takes a scary and unattainable-looking amount and breaks it smaller, manageable goals.

    Reply
  2. I really love this concept, Nick! I also try to think of my spending in terms of side hustles. One expensive dinner might equal one more freelance article I have to write or a few weeks of social media consulting services. It’s helped me even out some of those pesky impulse buys!

    Reply
  3. Chock full of goodness is this article, Nick. You know I’ve been dancing around the edges of blogging and affiliate sales for more than 10 years now. I’m familiar with the snowball idea, just getting that first few dollars a month coming in is critical towards getting started for real and for building momentum.

    Yet even thinking I have a good grasp of what’s going on I have to admit I completely missed the idea over the years of piggybacking on a sale like your Udemy success story. What an eye opener. Thanks for that.

    And for those before tax and after tax wanna be CPA’s, think about this. Instead of living in California (or some other huge tax bite state), one could always move to the Philippines, like me, reduce monthly costs drastically and eliminate ALL state taxes and shield the first $100k of earned online income from the IRS … legally.

    It’s always a profitable thought, guys and gals.

    Reply
  4. Great post! Let’s assume that you live in an area where things like Gigwalk, Airbnb, Uber, etc are not viable ways to earn income, and you’re just starting out. You have no blog and no readers to promote to. Then what would you do?

    Reply
  5. What a neat idea! I don’t do things quite like this, but I do have a daily income goal that I want to meet in order to make sure I pay all the bills each month. It helps me to break it down into a daily goal.

    Reply
  6. Awesome Nick! I haven’t thought about breaking down my monthly expenses this way but I’m definitely going to do that now. I’m working on a side hustle to sell on Amazon and a private chef service too. Thank you for introducing me to The Side Hustle Snowball, Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Nick, this is really inspiring and so well explained! Great to hear that the podcast is now holding its own! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  8. Loved this post! Thanks Nick for sharing. Have been a constant listener of your podcast. I gotta get started with this side-hustle snowball. Such a good way to encourage us to start small.

    Reply
  9. I LOVE this idea. I am trying to start more side hustles, I have three, but I keep getting bogged down with the amount of money I need to cover expenses. This way of looking at it is perfect!
    Enjoy all your posts btw!

    Reply
  10. This is great! I realized that my small pots of passive income are actually worth something. What a difference a mindset can make! This may just be the push I need to start another side-hustle. I don’t need to make it big, just big enough to cover a few of my bills!

    Reply
  11. All the little ways we can tackle our needs in life. Thanks for writing this. It really does take years to build up the snowballs you need in life, but, once you have them, they maintain themselves so nicely.

    Reply
  12. Wow! Great, resource-filled post. We are using side hustles to pay off debt right now, but this is a perfect way to think about our future. We plan to semi-retire in a few years, earning just enough to pay for our low living expenses (no debt) and let the 401k grow. We’re going to use flexible and part-time hustles to cover expenses just like you’ve outlined above. It can be done!

    Reply
  13. Interesting. I’ve always been looking at ways to increase passive income via dividend stocks, rental real estate, etc. I hadn’t considered this mental mapping of income to expense.

    It does make the final accomplishment feel more attainable, and make you more aware of adding any new expenses. But with a non-sleeping baby at home, this kind of overhead will have to wait til we’re both getting more sleep!

    Reply
  14. Love the article and the concept of showing how easy it is to cover the costs of each individual expense by side hustling. It shows that a little hard work or hustling on the side can make a huge difference and can result in covering a lot of your expenses! I just clicked searched fieldagent.com to check out the potential hustling opportunities!

    Take care and thanks for taking the time to write this!

    Bert

    Reply
  15. Awesome article! I’ve applied this same approach when I look at my total dividends each quarter. I basically say, hey, this payment covered X, Y and part of Z. It is a surreal feeling to see more and more of my small bucket items be covered by an automatic portion of my portfolio.

    More recently, I’ve truly created a side hustle and its crazy to see how within 4 months I’m generating more on this than in the ~4 years it took to develop my portfolio. Building that dividend was sloooow compared to the results I’m seeing today.

    Thanks for putting this post together!

    Reply
  16. My blog. Not sure I’d consider it a business yet, or more of a healthy outlet so my girlfriend doesn’t have to hear me talk about personal finance all the time. :)

    Reply
  17. I have been reading your blog for a long time but somehow missed this post. This is a wonderful post and I am looking to do this but a bit different. I recently lost my rental home due to it being sold and was in the middle of starting my freelancing business so I had no money to get another. So, I moved into an Airbnb and am selling a lot of my possessions. I am going to be adding expenses as I afford them instead of trying to find income for expenses that exist. Obviously, I do have some small expenses but I am starting over in many ways.

    I just to have to say – $2200 for rent? Where do you live? $2200 rent or mortgage would get you a half million dollar house which is huge. The house in that picture would be half that here in Kansas City.

    Reply
  18. I love this way of looking at earning a second income. It also makes it more concrete than when people say they’re aiming for six-figures or they want to retire (but have no idea of what they need to retire on).

    Reminds me on the Your Money or Your Life book principles.

    As for me, I’ve got quite a few income streams including Udemy (similar income to yours), ongoing affiliate income and a few others. One funny one is a bookstore (not Amazon) where I signed up to their program more than 5 years ago and my link must have been picked up by a library because they often have orders of $500+ and I earn 5% on the sale. This happens weekly and is a little blessing when I get paid each month.

    Reply
  19. Thanks for a great show Nick! I’ll give this a try starting with my smallest expense. I buy about one postage stamp per month, which costs 58 pence. That’s about 75 cents. Do you have any suggestions for how I can find 75¢ per month?

    Reply
  20. This was a good re-frame for me. I’ve been tackling the biggest expenses first.
    Stacking up small wins leads to huge gains.
    Thanks, Nick!

    Reply
  21. Thanks Nick. I’ve often looked at one off purchases being something that I need to fund (or partially fund) from a non-salary source. That’s generally been by selling stuff we don’t need – which also helps on the ‘reducing stuff’ front. But I’d never really considered it from a recurring spend angle. Great perspective.

    Reply
  22. This is really inspiring episode. I started a small blog (in Finnish) with the idea of finding small income streams to finance the costs of a house. (especially on that is not used 100% all the time)
    So far I´ve talked for example about renting driveway, garage, extra rooms for storage. Even parts of the yard for allotment garden for local people without the opportunity.

    Lately I´ve been writing more on the maintanance and economics of a house for first-time buyers etc, but this episode lit the original spark to find new potential dollars/euros for covering the taxes, water, garbage etc.
    I wonder if there are any blogs like this in English.. Or would it be worth to start one even not in my own language..

    Really enjoying your podcast!

    Mikko / http://www.talonvahti.fi

    Reply

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