Finance-Side hustle number 3: The first “gig” that started it all

I have been procrastinating writing this post. I usually do that for two reasons. One, I don’t have an exact plan of what I’m going to say and I have so much to say and don’t know how to organize it. Two, I have difficulty expressing my emotions verbally. Let’s give it a shot.

I moved to Framingham a year after graduating to get out of the hectic city and save a little money. I realized how big of a burden my student loans were to buying a house, or virtually anything I wanted. It became my mission to pay off my student loan debt for that reason and because that debt is essentially meaningless- there’s no collateral. It’s the worst debt you can have. When I graduated I had $25k in student loans, so I was one year in to a eight year payoff I think.

My job, thankfully, allows me plenty of flexibility and as long as I work 8 hour days I can do it whenever I want. To avoid traffic I became an early riser and worked 6am-230pm every day. This left a lot of time for a second job. I wanted something low-pressure, which I accepted meant low-paying, flexible, and fun. After brainstorming, I decided that I could work at the YMCA less than ten minutes from my house.

I applied to work at the front desk and was hired. I had to work one weekend shift and one week night. The computer skills were a steep learning curve but nothing a millennial can’t handle. My co-workers were about what you’d expect for a minimum wage job.

I can’t remember exactly how much I made during my three years there, but I remember one year my W-2s reported around $6,000.

Looking back, I could’ve tried to find a higher paying job like waitressing or something. Here are the benefits you may not be able to put a price tag on:

  • Flexibility- While I did have two shifts a week, I could easily get them covered (although I rarely ever did). I also picked up so many shifts to cover for other people. If I ever wanted extra money (read: I always wanted extra money) I picked up another shift. There was certainly not a lack of them considering the lack of ambition of my co-workers
  • Opportunity cost- With my non-work hours from 3-4pm on, I would probably have been going out with friends or spending money somehow. Since my life was sometimes spent at the YMCA working, I wouldn’t be spending money elsewhere
  • Perspective-I didn’t understand poverty until I worked there. I didn’t understand the financial impact kids have on your life. I didn’t understand you have to find somewhere for them not only for the summer but for snow days, professional days, holidays. I didn’t understand how mature kids from immigrant families need to be to deal with translating. I really didn’t understand how sensitive of a topic money could be for some people.
  • New friends-I found a good companion or two that I could talk to while on shift to get some perspective on life situations. I learned a lot about peoples’ different walks in life and how those shape their views.
  • Customer service-This was huge. Even on my worst days, feeling tired or worn out or having to help someone swipe in for the fiftieth time, I had to have a smile on. I wasn’t perfect, but I overcame a lot of tough situations. I learned not to broadcast peoples’ financial situation to the rest of the world as best I can. That if they’re angry at you it’s mostly a reflection on something they’re angry about.
  • Community-I enjoyed seeing the same members come in often. I enjoyed seeing “my kids” grow up. Seeing the same members come to my classes. One of the members died and I really missed him. The kids always come in with their smiling faces and start to get to know you. Many of the members saw me losing weight and kept complimenting me. They would often tell me how cheery I was and helpful. I tried to reciprocate when I saw members getting in consistently.
  • Work benefits-I had a free gym membership with my employment. So maybe I didn’t have the best pay, but I did have a $56 a month membership at a gym ten minutes from me. There was also free food often.
  • Professional/life growth- This was the single biggest benefit this little “gig” gave me. It started as a front desk job, but I took a spin class and fell in love. The teacher I had was phenomenal. I think if I had been to a different teacher I would not have fell in love. I asked the group exercise director if I could get certified to teach so there could be more classes. She said yes, so a mere three months later I was certified. That doubled my hourly pay. (Keep in mind it costs money to get certified, so you start in the hole, like college). Now I had the opportunity to make more money and work more AND get a workout while getting paid. I lost another 10lbs due to switching up my workouts and spinning so often. Then, a new fitness director started. She approached me and asked if I wanted to work at a different gym and I said yes. I know what you’re thinking, but think about how badly I wanted to pay my student loans off. I started at this other gym and guess what? Doubled my pay again. Over Christmas time when people take a lot of vacation there was one two-week period I made $550. While at that gym, the fitness directors there were looking for more personal trainers. Becoming one was something I toyed with for a long time, but it was never good timing and it was expensive. I emailed them and asked what it would entail. They were piloting a new program-expensing certification for new trainers for a one-year commitment! God is so good. So I took the training, passed the exam, and became a certified personal trainer-in exchange for a one-year commitment to the gym. I also became certified in TRX through them and can renew my license through them. All of this because I started at the front desk at the YMCA.

Downfalls:

  • Relationships- Thankfully I have really great supportive friends that stuck with me. They never saw me and I would explain to them my mission to pay off my loans and the thing is they all understood. They all hate their student loans too. After paying off my loans I have connected with the ones that matter with my time and we are back to being really great friends. There was a period in time where I was lonely. This could’ve been other factors, though. Like my best friend leaving to becoming a Nun and my other leaving because she got a boyfriend.
  • Exhaustion-There were many times I’d work 3 different jobs in one day. There were times I’d work until 10pm at one and wake up and work at 545am at another. Despite all that I had an ego and said that I’d take every opportunity I could to work. Do I regret that? Sometimes. But truly I don’t remember what negative consequences came of that, except maybe some emotionally charged attitude issues at work. At some points in my life it was work, eat, workout, eat, work, sleep for day after day. I don’t regret it.
  • Engineering growth- Sometimes I wonder if I had done things differently-like went back to school part time, take a course that advances my engineering discipline, took a project management certificate, would I be further along in my career long term. Maybe. But I have always been one to spread myself wide. Maybe that’s what’s putting me behind and I should get over it. Or maybe I’m happy teaching spin. Maybe I’m happy that I have different skill sets and that if anything happened to my engineering job I’m in a position I could survive with my gym income. Maybe I’m happy that having the gym job keeps me in shape.
  • Money direction-If I could do it all over again, I would’ve directed this money into a separate bank account and worked on living off of what I made in engineering. Mixing the money was not a good idea. I made it work, but I think I could’ve done it faster re-directing it.

I don’t regret working at the YMCA. At the time it was the best decision for me. I don’t regret for a second working my ass off to pay off $25k in three years. Now I can relax a little and set up a game plan for my next financial goal-buying a two family.

You should go for that side gig. If it’s something you enjoy, if it’ll bring you other benefits beside financial, go do it.

I’ll end with a bittersweet picture of the TRX and spin room-where my fitness instructor journey began- on my last class I taught there.

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