Military family support organizations have noticed a trend sprouting up since the battle against COVID-19: a growing number of service members and spouses turning to “side gigs” to bolster their finances.
“While the military supports your basic needs, there is no such thing as a rich military family,” said Jaime Chapman, Army Reserve veteran and co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce. “A working spouse and a dual-income family is almost a requirement in 2021.”
A side gig, or hustle, is either a second job for the military member or one the civilian spouse can complete around their duty station, dependents’ needs, and schedule. It is almost always flexible and often self-started.
“Flexibility is the number-one draw of a side gig. You’re able to work around your family life and full-time jobs to earn additional income when you want to,” said Lacey Langford, Air Force veteran and accredited financial counselor. “With a side gig, you also have the chance to pick one that works best for your life, like driving Uber versus running errands for others.”
Chapman, whose organization offers military spouse-owned businesses the chance to become “enterprise certified,” said that approximately one-third of the Military Spouse Chamber’s businesses were created during COVID.
“The pandemic forced a lot of military spouses to take a risk and start the business they’ve always dreamt about,” she said.
Those businesses can get pretty creative, Chapman said, including a woman who designed and sold a better mermaid fin for aquatic performers. She herself has written resumes, taught LinkedIn courses and offered career counseling — all things at which she naturally excelled and could charge for. Langford, meanwhile, has seen everything from a military spouse selling branch-specific art to a nurse becoming certified to give Botox injections on the side, to an active-duty member pressure-washing on the weekends.
Active-duty service members must have their command’s approval before taking on a money-making second job. Thankfully, Langford said, it’s usually easy to get, as long as the side gig doesn’t interfere with the military commitment.
“As long as you’re to duty on time and doing your job, there aren’t problems,” she said. “In some cases, commanders will encourage a side job to help meet your financial obligations when a service member has taken on debt beyond their means.”
Look & leap
Molly Simon is a Marine wife on the West Coast who had always sewn her husband’s uniform chevrons. In 2015, she saw a post on her base’s social media page from a Marine looking for a speedy seamstress. So, she offered her services.
Word of Simon’s stellar work soon spread, and within a year, she was swamped with uniform and ballgown alterations requests. She now sews out of a storage closet in her home and works as many as 40 hours a week during military ball season.
It’s a perfect set-up for her family, Simon explained.
“I homeschool, so I can’t exactly go get a ‘normal’ job. And if I don’t want to work one week, I just don’t take any appointments.”
Besides flexible scheduling, variety in jobs is another hallmark of side gigs, Langford and Chapman said. Military families can earn extra cash through rideshare programs, freelancing, virtual assistance, online course creation, digital marketing and selling products or services on e-commerce websites such as Etsy and Spouse-ly. A successful side hustle means identifying a need and charging to solve it, whether starting a business from scratch or finding an already-established company.
Langford has seen her clients make anywhere from $50 to $5,000 a month with their side gigs. She pointed out that what starts “on the side” often grows into an exciting full-time income.
“Now’s an excellent time to consider a side gig because there are many opportunities to find [one],” she said. “COVID has opened the doors to more remote work and working less than part-time hours.”
Looking for more financial readiness tips? Download our complimentary 2021 Military Money Guide.