Surviving on an Insecure, Low Income
As a gig economy worker/freelancer/precariat worker and ABN holder in this brave new world of work, I do a lot of stuff to earn money so I can afford to exist. Because eating is good for health, and shelter is terrific! Some of that stuff is in the context of the regular exchange money for time or skills (like most wage earners), but a lot of it is simply just random. Random in that way people use the word ‘random’ these days, but also random by the literal definition: “made, done, or happening without method or conscious decision.” Very un-career like and more…
‘Get it where you can find it so you don’t have to be on the dole’-esque.
There is a baffling array of stuff a person can do for money these days. I mean, I ran my own business, but sure, I can blow a whistle to signal it’s safe to cross the road if it means I can pay my mortgage this month. Finding the work can be the tricky part, but thanks to an incredible amount of resourcefulness, having a broad skill set, and being a great networker, somehow I’m making it work for me…..just. For now.
But you know when you meet new people and they ask that inevitable question…
“What do you do for work?”
I hate that question! It’s very hard to answer concisely and in a way that won’t lead to you having to explain your life story to a stranger making small talk.
“We’re in the middle of a seismic shift, and we’re going to have to find bridgework to get us through. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime; bridgework is what we do while we’re trying to figure out what is next. Bridgework is also letting go of this notion that our worth and our value depend on our income and our titles and our jobs. [….]
Bridgework doesn’t mean that we don’t want to build on our past careers, that we don’t want meaningful work. We do. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime while we’re figuring out what is next.” I loved this TED talk from Elizabeth White who was bursting out some truth bombs about who is finding themselves in the gig economy these days. But I’m presuming you’re not here for my opinion about precariat work and what it means for us as a society.
So what are the ways I prostituted myself to earn a living in the last year?
By the way, it didn’t involve any actual sex work. Sorry, not sorry.
The Ways…in no particular order
· Vehicle delivery
I took the train to the countryside, picked up a brand new car, and drove it back to Melbourne. I got paid for the whole day, including the 3 hours I sat on the train reading and staring out the window.
The Money Honey: One day’s pay
· Content Creator
I love to write and I love my suburb, so when I saw a call-out from a major real estate website seeking submissions, I happily wrote an article about my area. They asked me to take some photos out and about.
The Money Honey: It netted me a $50 gift card
· Taste Tester
Companies create new products but before they go to market they pay people to eat them and give their opinions. That’s cool. I eat food. I’ve done this numerous times for all different foods.
The Money Honey: Around $30 — $50 a pop
Studying English abroad is a popular pursuit of rich Asian parents hoping their kids will be upwardly mobile. Throughout the year I run the activities program on these study tours, which mostly entails going to the zoo and other tourist sites, and making sure the kids don’t hit by a tram.
The Money Honey: I get paid either by the half or full day for between 1–4 weeks at a time
· Hospitality events
Hospitality is an industry that has endured casualisation and precariat work for decades. If you’re good at it, and you’re reliable, hospitality professionals can pick up work quite easily. I do functions for regular clients, or for example, host a private NYE party for people who don’t want the hassle of entertaining their own guests.
The Money Honey: Agencies take a huge cut of wages so I find my own work through my network and set my own rates of pay
· Lollipop lady
I used to think this was a volunteer role for retirees and stay-at-home mums, but it turns out it’s a real job! It’s easy and a little mindless, but school crossing supervisors perform an important community service, and that’s kinda meaningful. The only downside is the forced leave over school holidays.
The Money Honey: 2 hours per day, 5 days per week at minimum wage
So I do also perform actual professional freelance work, mostly in project coordination, marketing and admin. An international book tour, a major university project, desktop research, a launch event for a startup, process evaluation….it’s pretty varied.
The Money Honey: In most cases the work is invoiced by the hour but occasionally it’s on a project deliverables basis
· Data entry
Data entry is one of those tasks most people hate but in the age of data everybody needs. Enter: Someone who can type with speed and accuracy who doesn’t mind getting paid to tap, tap, tap away until it’s done. Not my favourite work, but I have picked up a few gigs entering data into databases or spreadsheets.
The Money Honey: Paid per hour, usually around minimum wage
I fancy myself as a wordsmith, and currently author three blogs and publish on LinkedIn. Earlier this year I signed up to Medium’s Partner Program to get paid for my articles. I don’t have a sizeable audience nor do I publish frequently, so I have earned a grand total of less than a dollar, but hey, who’s counting?
The Money Honey: F*** all! I am waiting on approval from an independent publisher for an article which pays between $20 — $60/1000 words.
· English Teacher
I’m a qualified English teacher — just another of my many and varied career paths. Every now and then I teach Chinese kids in Australia on English camp. Freelance teaching is very unstructured and it’s up to the experienced teacher to work out the curriculum on the fly.
The Money Honey: The per (teaching) hour rate is pretty high, but it includes prep work and lesson planning and often ends up around minimum wage depending on how original you are with content and resources. For me it’s a 2:1 ratio (i.e.: for every hour spent teaching I spend about two in prep).
Not that kind of escort! But I seriously have no better word to describe the odd job I had at the Royal Melbourne Show where I was tasked with shepherding a person wearing a giant bird costume so she didn’t bump into things, and forewarn her when people were approaching. For real.
The Money Honey: Got paid by the hour for a few hours per day over 3 days
Prospecting for gold
So the above can be considered ‘jobs’ (in a loose sense of the word) but as I said, I scrape together a liveable wage by supplementing my gig income with…well, with seizing opportunities.
· I entered a competition and won a pair of shoes (which I will sell because I don’t need shoes, as amazing as they are, but I do need cash.)
· Companies have Referral programs to get new customers. Get your mates to join type deal and you both get freebies. I got a cash payment from my bank (ING Bank: Use code BUD333 to get your free money when you join) and my power company gave me free electricity.
· The Victorian government is currently vote-buying while simultaneously trying to help people manage their ridiculous energy costs. If you go to the energy comparison website and run through the short survey (to see if you can get a better deal from another retailer), they’ll send you $50. Thanks very much Daniel Andrews!
· Journos need story sources and sometimes (though not often) they’ll pay for that. I’ve got a $100 gift card on its way to me right now.
· Market research has long been a way to earn a quick buck. I’ve got loads of opinions and recently a market research group compensated me with a gift card to talk about riding my scooter. $100 in my pocket for 90 mins of my time.
· When supermarket registers scan an item at higher than the advertised price, they’ll give it to you for free. It happens a LOT. Being attentive pays, so always check your receipts! You’re welcome.
The road to nowhere
Sometimes though, I can spend a lot of time or effort chasing an income stream that doesn’t prove fruitful, either because I got screwed over or it fell through.
Welcome to the world of the shadow economy.
· I auditioned twice for a TV commercial. The pay would have been the equivalent of two month’s income for a 1.5 days’ work so when they insisted I block out my calendar for shooting several weeks in advance I agreed. It all looked good to go but sadly they lead me on. I didn’t get the gig and they didn’t bother to inform me till just a few days before. Not cool. Not cool at all.
· Facebook illegally charged my credit card and I sought compensation for unauthorised use (which resulted in cancellation of my card and all the hassle that goes along with it). They didn’t pay me. They didn’t even respond. That can’t be right.
· I started down the path of participating in a medical trial, but got cold feet. Probably just as well. Good health is my most important asset.
· I helped out another couple of freelance writers as a source, including for a Big 4 bank and one for a major national newspaper. Both of them fell through and I never got paid, but to be fair, possibly the writers didn’t either.
· Similarly, I verbally recounted a story for a tabloid magazine which was meant to pay me $150. They dithered around with the contract, and wouldn’t pay out for almost 3 months after the fact. In the end I didn’t trust them to do as they promised. For all I know they printed the story and kept the money too.
· I applied for a full time role and after a lengthy recruitment process I was offered an interim/trial job instead, and not even the same type of work! Seemingly the position didn’t really exist. I declined the offer.
· I got offered another full time role and an hour later the offer was revoked. Not even kidding. FML.
· About a month ago I unsuccessfully applied for paid role I was definitely qualified for. No interview. Not even a reply. When I saw a volunteer role with the same organisation I applied thinking it might be a foot in the door. This time they replied within the hour telling me “You sound great”. Something felt not right about that whole scenario. Guess they figured why pay someone when we can use free skilled labour instead. #exploitation
· Market research companies often get you to answer long, intricate surveys under the guise of ‘pre-selection’. Basically they extract all your data, and you never hear from them again. Only fell for that twice! SHOW ME THE MONEEEEEY!!
Money Saving and the Free economy
And finally, there’s a whole free economy/gift economy/share economy (no, NOT Uber!) operating, supported by people looking for innovative (or sometimes ancient) ways to exist outside the formal, transactional, capitalist economy which seems to fail so many of us. Some do it to build community, some do it because they understand that humans are collective animals and it’s smarter to share resources, and some do it because they simply don’t have enough money to meet their needs.
Personally I participated in the free economy in the following ways:
· Dumpster Diving — supermarket food waste in this country is a national disgrace and ought to be illegal
· Rescuing residential hard waste and construction site waste — I donated items to friends and constructed a DIY worm farm and balcony garden with my finds
· Traded sewing lessons for food — check out Rough Trade Skillz to get in on that goodness
· Sharing (rescued) food with neighbours, and hosting open dinner parties — we have abundance and food brings people closer together
· Someone donated wrigglers for my worm farm and in future I’ll pay it forward with castings and worm tea, share my compost (see Share Waste) and donate surplus veggies from my edible garden (see Olio).
· Food freebies from others who have too much for their own household’s needs — no reciprocity required
· Urban foraging for lemons and olives mostly — better than falling on the ground to rot
This year I also started keeping a diary of all the unpaid labour I contribute (outside the home). In a market economy it has no value apparently, but that’s simply untrue. It’s a startling fact to some that many people who don’t work in full time jobs actually perform a lot of free labour! Certainly that’s the case for me. Volunteering, activism, community work and so on take up a lot of my time in between paid gigs. I love it. It enriches my life and adds to my skills and my network of connections. It’s just a pity I can’t pay my bills on goodwill.
Comment below if you earn money as a gig worker. How you make ends meet? Love it or hate it?