Side Hustle: Turning Hobbies Into Money

Most of us have hobbies that we find fun, relaxing, or a welcome distraction from life’s responsibilities.

While we don’t generally get into hobbies to make money, some of them can actually become a stream of income.

With more time to commit to creative pursuits, and free from the same financial restraints that limit their younger counterparts, retirees are in the perfect position to undertake artistic endeavors, and to earn from them.

We spoke to five people who have turned their own hobbies and passions into cash.

Get Paid to Travel

The internet has changed the world of travel writing. You don’t need a master’s degree in journalism to get paid to share your observations, recommendations and insights with readers. And you don’t need to work full-time, either.

While the traditional travel writer provided a vicarious read, giving readers a way to escape their regular lives and “travel” somewhere they would probably never go, today’s travel writer aims to inform and share insights about destinations their reader might well visit.

Best of all, to be a travel writer you don’t need to be a seasoned professional, you just need to have a passion for sharing your insights, highlighting your favorite finds, and using whatever knowledge you have to shine a light on any small aspect of travel—whether it’s to an overseas destination or in your own hometown.

Chuck Warren, for instance, had an interest in writing since he was 13, but he didn’t really take it seriously until more than 30 years later. In fact, it was the experience of traveling that opened that door for him. He can recall the exact moment it happened. “When the last leg of a Caribbean cruise took me through the Panama Canal, everything changed,” he says. “Traveling opened the door for me to write, giving me subject matter I was passionate about and the desire to share it with others.

“I began to document my journeys, creating CDs full of photos to send along with a hard-copy report of my most recent adventures. My family kept asking for more, giving me the incentive to write for readers and not just myself. That experience also made me look at writing as an income and not a hobby.”

In 2016, Chuck made up his mind to try writing professionally. Since boats had been a life-long passion, he felt it would be the best place to start. Focusing on a niche meant that he would stand out from the crowd and corner a part of the market that he was familiar with. Having lived on his own boat on Lake Michigan, he had plenty of subject matter to draw from.

“With more than 35 years of experience at the wheel of boats as big as 150 feet in length, I found just enough self-confidence to approach two of the magazines I often read myself: Lakeland Boating and Michigan BLUE.

“Still, I was very surprised to find they were willing to work with a new, unpublished writer, and my first and second submissions were both accepted. One was even the cover story for the publication, and both paid me more than I expected.

“I was pretty shocked by the experience, but even more so when each of them gave me a second assignment. Nearly three years later, I’m still working with both magazines, which have published more than 25 of my articles each.” Chuck has since branched out into other physical and digital publications, but he credits his initial success to his strategy of focusing on well-read but regional magazines.

“I felt I had a better chance of getting something accepted locally than by a bigger, national publication. I have since developed strong relationships with both editors and continue to get assignments from each. Since I often write about boats and related subjects, I am asked to cover some really fun and interesting topics.

“One of my favorite assignments to date was to cover the story of the Schooner Huron Jewel, a 78-foot sailboat built completely by hand on an island off the eastern shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The boat was beautiful, but the people who built her were even more fascinating. And after the article was published, the boat’s owners invited me up to go sailing with them for three days in Lake Huron’s beautiful North Channel.

“That is the writer’s life I pictured in my mind when I was younger. Using the power of words to teach readers something they want to learn…often after first getting to enjoy that experience for myself.”

Turning a Passion for Food into a Retirement Side-Hustle

The locavore movement—a trend toward serving and eating locally produced ingredients and foods—is global. And it’s something boomers can tap into, whether it’s producing jams for sale at a farmer’s market to dishing up local fare to tourists eager to become more familiar with what local living is really like.

Jeff Opdyke, editor of The Savvy Retiree, is an avid foodie traveler. Last year he took a trip to Beirut, Lebanon. While there, he signed up for a cooking class. “Now, I’ve taken such classes elsewhere… Costa Rica and Thailand, in particular. They were fine, if perfunctory.

“So the last time I went, I signed up through a company called Traveling Spoon that connects travelers with local hosts to learn the secrets of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. I was paired with a woman named Tania and her retired parents (adorable mom; very funny dad). Tania took me shopping for ingredients she and her mom buy for a typical family meal, and back at her south Beirut apartment, the duo taught me to cook daily-style Lebanese.

“Better yet, they gave me utensils and ingredients and made me do some solo cooking. It was a fabulous immersion into the deep end of Lebanese cuisine. I learned the secret to the best tabbouleh I’ve ever eaten (a dash of sumac), and shared an incredible meal with a local family.

“I tell you this because Traveling Spoon is a side-hustle for Tania, and side-hustles are the 21st-century version of moonlighting: Just about everyone’s doing them, just about everywhere in the world. And because of the internet, you can work from anywhere you’re happy. Your potential customer base is essentially any one of the billions of people with an online connection somewhere on the planet.”

Growing up in California, Margalit Chu was surrounded by all things gastronomical. Her mother taught Chinese banquet cooking, and her best friend’s family grew gourmet coffee and edible flowers.

Crafts Can Create Cash Online

Retired accountant Andrew Tarver found his slice of online success after discovering the e-commerce platform, Etsy, which hosts thousands of handmade craft sellers.

Despite being a wood-working enthusiast, he found little time to embrace his interest while still working full-time and raising two girls. In fact, it took him a couple of years, stealing a few hours here and there, to complete the construction of a single canoe.

“The major change after retirement was having the time to pursue my hobby properly,” he says.

However, discovering Etsy made the real difference. “I started researching it and decided I would start my Etsy shop, PopsWorkshopCo, with a couple of products and see what happened. My first product was a framed pegboard that folks can hang in their crafts room.” Despite not making sales right away, Andrew saw that people liked his work and that encouraged him to add more listings.

“The idea for my next product came from a former co-worker’s wife asking me if I could make a personalized dog bowl stand. Together we came up with a design and she bought the first one, and that became my top product for the first few months,” he says.

Within six months, Andrew was already in the top 20% of sellers on Etsy. “I have yet to get a bad review because I do my best to communicate with customers and do what I say I’m going to do. I also do a lot of research trying to improve my listings so they will show up on the first page of a search. There is a lot to learn about how the algorithms work.”

Andrew admits that he gets a lot of satisfaction from the process. “I love building something from scratch and seeing the finished product. When I was working in accounting that part was missing. We closed the books every month and would start all over again the next month. I rarely had the chance to start from scratch and create a finished product.

“I told my wife today that this could end up being a full-time job. I’m not looking to grow this into something big but if that is where this leads us, we will give it a try.”

Turning a Sports Passion into Income

For five decades, Bob Herb has had two great passions in life: scuba diving and underwater photography. So when it came time to retire, he knew exactly what he wanted: a waterfront home on a Caribbean island where he could indulge these pastimes regularly…and maybe even get paid a little to pursue them.

Bob, 70, had visited islands up and down the Caribbean Sea for work and pleasure during his professional career, so he had several contenders in mind for a retirement destination. Battling it out were Aruba, Bonaire, Cozumel, and Roatán off the northern coast of Honduras. Ultimately, he decided on Roatán for the phenomenal visibility of its surrounding waters.

Having first visited Roatán in the 1980s, Bob was sure that he would enjoy island life. He was less convinced, however, about his ability to make money from his dual passions. That changed when he ran into an old colleague at an International Living conference in Las Vegas. There, he learned that his former coworker had completed his dream overseas move to Mexico and now runs a successful online consulting business from there.

“That persuaded me that I could use my background and hobbies to make a successful career anywhere I wanted to live,” recalls Bob.

Not long after Bob moved to Roatán in 2016, he called in to Subway Watersports at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort. “The manager asked if I’d relocated and was ready to start work. I agreed to start the following Monday,” he says.

Bob was hired as a diver relations manager, responsible for communicating and diving with the resort’s local and international English speaking guests. (English is widely spoken on Roatán, a legacy of its historical links to Britain.)

“I eat breakfast with guests so we can discuss the dives. Then we head out to do what I love best, scuba dive and photograph the beauty of the ocean,” he says. “When I explain to friends what I do, I’m often told it’s the best job a person could have, and I agree.”

Getting paid to dive every day means Bob has more time and opportunity for his side hustle, underwater photography. Since he’s capturing more photos than ever before, he’s started hosting an annual underwater photography competition and selling his pictures online through Fine Art America.

Spending each day doing what he loves is just one perk of island life. With the affordability of life on Roatán, he’s able to rent a condo with a private marina and sea views. But the biggest benefit, he says, has been to his health.

“The one thing island life has done for me is that I’m healthier and stronger than when I came here. I used to be on multiple medications, and now I don’t need them anymore,” he says.

Looking back, Bob says the move worked out better than he could have anticipated. “Now I love meeting new people and telling my story. I love inspiring people. I ask them, ‘What is it that you love?’ And I tell them, ‘Start now. Don’t wait until you’re retired.”

Create a Side-Hustle with Artistic Flair

When Matthew Dibble graduated from art school in the late ‘70s, he found himself in a full-time construction job. Although he worked as a professional roofer, he continued to paint whenever he could, developing his abstract art. He got married, started his own business, had a family, and painted in the off-season.

“I did not sell much work, but I progressed as an artist and was able to keep the business and the artwork going for many years,” says Matthew.

Once retired, Matthew turned to painting full-time. In 2009, he posted his work on Facebook and began to attract some attention. It was there that he made his first online sale, to a collector in France. Social media gave him a global reach that he had never found before. “I had a lot more time to promote my work, found an audience outside my region, and it began to sell,” he says.

Later, he started Pinterest and Instagram accounts, and there his work really started to get noticed. “I find the ‘big pitch’ to try to promote yourself doesn’t apply anymore,” he says. “People want to discover you. Keeping your sites updated with new work and projects allows the right people to see that you’re active and they’ll reach out.”

With over 18,000 Instagram followers, Matthew now has a massive base from which he can promote his work. He sells his pieces through art advisors and brick-and-mortar galleries but has had the most success with the online art market, Saatchi Art. There he has displayed more than 600 of his paintings, ranging in price from $880 to $9,600.

Despite his success, Matthew views his artwork no differently than his construction work. “I don’t feel retired; I’ve just shifted from construction to fine art. Whether putting on a roof or working on a painting, I try to do it well. I find meaning in doing things to the best of my ability.”

Matthew is one of many retirees making the most of new online platforms. In fact, artists over 50 make up a large number of the artists represented on websites like Artsy.net, Artnet.com, and Ugallery. Such services provide a simple and easy way to turn a hobby into a supplementary retirement income.

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