If you’re a single mom trying to make ends meet, you may wonder if it’s better to focus on getting a job, building a career, doing some gig work or starting a side hustle. Each has pros and cons, and how to make money as a single mom will depend on your situation.
On the one hand, starting a side hustle can be an excellent way for single moms to bring in some extra cash. You can often get started with little investment of time or money, and there’s the potential to earn a lot more than you would from just working your regular job. Plus, having a side hustle gives you the flexibility to work around your other commitments, like taking care
First, a note on MLM (Multi-level marketing)
I was raised by a single mom who excelled in direct sales and supported herself and our family in it for decades. But, she is the exception, not the rule. Most people who join an MLM lose money or break even, and half of those who do make money make less than $5000. It can be an excellent option for single moms who already have retail experience or skills and are born to sell, but otherwise, there are better options. Thus, I won’t be covering it here.
Option 1: Join the gig economy
If you’re a single mom new to the workforce, like a stay-at-home mom, looking to make some extra cash quickly, there are lots of opportunities in the gig economy. 17% of American women have done gig work at one time or another, and for those who do, it significantly impacts their finances.
Gig work can be a great source of income for single moms in a transition (such as immediately post-divorce) or to add a few hundred dollars a week to your income while you try to stabilize a career or business or save money.
What is the gig economy?
Gig work is when you perform a task or provide a service for a company and get paid based on the unit of service. For instance, a delivery in the case of DoorDash, a task in the case of Taskrabbit, or a ride in the case of Uber. The gig economy is just a way to describe all those companies and the people providing labor to them. There usually isn’t guaranteed income, but there are many ways to maximize your earnings on the platform.
How does gig work benefit single moms?
As a single mom, gig work can be an easy way to make extra money without committing to a full-time job. You can often set your own hours, work just a few hours, hop on and off as needed, or work at weird times of the day. You can start immediately. It’s also an excellent way to get experience in a new industry while making extra money without a long-term commitment.
There are some downsides, though. Gig work is often less stable than a traditional job, so it can be hard to plan your finances around it. It takes time to figure out, and the responsibility for turning it into extra cash is on you. You also don’t get the benefits of a full-time job, like health insurance or paid vacation days, which can be important for single moms.
What is the difference between a gig and a side hustle?
A side hustle is usually a bit more involved than a gig. You’re often doing something to make money on the side of your day job, to eventually turn it into a full-time business. For instance, if you’re a web designer, you might start taking on design projects on the side and finally quit your day job to do design full-time.
The key difference is that a gig is usually just a way to make some extra money, while a side hustle is often the first step in starting your own business.
How to find gigs that fit your schedule and skills
First, if you have specialized skills, focus there as you’re likely to earn more. For instance, look for design gigs if you’re a web designer. If you’re a great writer, focus on writing gigs.
Second, consider how the gig will fit into your schedule. If you only have an hour or two here and there, look for something that doesn’t require a huge time commitment. For instance, driving for Uber or doing grocery delivery with Instacart.
Do your research before signing up for anything
Before signing up for a gig, ensure the gig is actually likely to pay and that you clearly understand how to make it profitable. The most profitable hours will vary from gig to gig, and different platforms have different ways to pay. Do a little reading, pick one that works for you, and don’t put any startup costs on your credit cards. A great thing will pay YOU first.
You should also be aware of any scams or safety issues. For instance, drivers for Uber and Lyft are much more likely to be victims of assault, and sexual assault than riders are. Make sure you’re comfortable with the risks and thinking about how to protect yourself.
The importance of networking with other gig workers
Because of employment law, many gig platforms are limited in how they can coach and train you to be successful. They cant require you to do the things that will make gigging profitable, like show up for work during surge times.
That’s where the community comes in handy. Join the Reddit subgroup, Facebook groups, and read the blogs specific to the gig you will do. A tiny community knowledge will get you up the learning curve to profit quickly.
Look out for gig work scams
A lot of reviews of online work opportunities are affiliate links that pay the blog every time you click and sign up. In contrast, Reddit, Quora, Facebook groups and other user-generated forums are great places to evaluate gig companies and the best way to find out if it’s a scam and will pay out.
Option two: Get a job
Working a regular job is how most people, much less single moms, make their money. It’s (usually) more reliable than other options, and you might even get benefits. The main downsides to having a job are that it can be inflexible and hard to find if you’ve been out of the workforce, especially with kids or other caregiver commitments.
How to find a job as a single mom?
There are a few things you can do to make finding and keeping a job as a single mom easier.
Get creative with your childcare
Childcare is extremely expensive and hard to find. It also presents a Catch-22 for single moms- you need a job to afford childcare, and single moms need childcare to work. Think outside of the traditional childcare box. Are there any family members or friends who could watch your kids so you can interview or do gig work? Can you take your kids with you? Or, what about bartering with another mom – you watch her kids a few days a week, and she watches yours?
Also, check out our post on how to document your childcare costs for child support and taxes.
Consider remote work
With the rise of the internet, more and more companies are offering remote work options. This can be a great way to get the flexibility you need as a single mom. You can often find remote jobs on job boards or by Googling “remote + your desired job title.”
Consider part-time work
Part-time work can offer more flexibility than a traditional job, and you can simultaneously do part-time jobs, several gigs or easy side hustles. The downside is that part-time workers are less likely to qualify for benefits. The upside is you reduce your risk: if you lose hours at one place, it’s A LOT easier to ask for more hours at your other job than to find a new gig from scratch. And even if they can’t help you with more hours, at least you have some income hitting your bank account while you look.
Take pride in your paycheck
We all want a job that feels effortless, pays great and meets your needs as a woman and/or single mom. But it is enough to find a job that pays, is safe and conforms to your childcare schedule, even if you hate it or feel ashamed. I mention this because many millennial women were raised with the idea that they should be an extension of their identity or reflect their values. And that is compounded by companies marketing jobs as a lifestyle or culture and recruiting people “who fit” and are “committed to the mission” of a random IT company.
It can also just be a job where you earn money. Hopefully, good money. I have worked shitty, boring, soulless jobs to make rent. It’s something to take pride in.
And also, especially if you are newly back in the workforce, your first job will not be your dream job or your forever job. It’s your 6-12 month job as you get your feet on the ground and build into something better. Don’t take your job personally. It’s not who you are, especially for single moms.
Network with friends and family – Turn on your Taxi Light
In a time before Uber, you knew a cab was available if the Taxi light was on. This is my metaphor for dating and recruiting – tell everyone your taxi light is on and what you are looking for specifically. Being specific about what you want helps them look out for opportunities.
You can get a job through cold recruiting, but networking is the best way to find a job. Ask friends, family, and acquaintances if they know of any openings that fit your requirements. People like helping single moms.
Do check out job postings online, but don’t just rely on that – apply to anything you’re 50% qualified for. The more applications you fill out, the better your chances are of getting hired.
And for the love of Pete, install Grammarly and spellcheck everything. Recruiters just delete emails and resumes with spelling errors. You won’t even get a foot in the door.
Three flexible jobs for single moms
There are a few traditional jobs (not side-hustles) particularly well-suited for single moms, because they have good hours and don’t require any certification beyond maybe a background check.
Teaching or education
You can be a teacher’s aide with a high school diploma, then get your teaching credential online. Teaching is flexible, you don’t need to be a computer wiz, the benefits are strong, and single moms can often work around their kid’s schedules. Terms to search for entry-level roles, if you’re new to education are:
- Teacher assistant / teaching assistant
- Teacher aide
- Recess Supervisor
- Classroom Assistant
Virtual customer service representative
Depending on your state, you might be able to work from home as a virtual customer service representative or salesperson. I used to run recruiting for a virtual call center, and here is how you know if this is a good fit for you:
- You can speak clearly, read aloud well, and touch type
- You’re solid with a computer and learning new technology
- You’re comfortable with basic computer setup
- You’ve got service experience (even waiting tables is excellent)
- You don’t get ruffled by crazy customers
These are not great gigs for single moms who hate their computers.
Virtual tax preparer
If you do your own taxes with Turbotax or keep your family budget in Google sheets, virtual tax prep can be a great remote job for single moms. Most tax returns “done” by accountants are actually done by “tax preparers” or “tax assistants” because tax prep is a lot of data entry. These jobs are incredibly lucrative during tax season when you can get almost unlimited overtime. You will need to use tax software, might need to work with clients, and be comfortable transcribing numbers accurately. Depending on the opportunity, you might need to spend $36 to get a PTIN.
Taxes are awesome. I personally love them and do them as a volunteer. (Taxes are also friendly to single moms, who get great perks from the US Tax Code.)
During the pandemic, we lost 100,000 childcare workers in America. Because single moms already have kids, you are inherently qualified to Nanny for other families. You can start your own Nanny business on Care.com, or look for a family to work with through Sittercity, UrbanSitter, or Craigslist. But if you want something more stable, signup with an agency. Look for families who live close to you – this will save you time and money on transportation. Be clear about your availability, how many kids you’re comfortable with, and your hourly rate.
Option three: Get a raise or promotion
If you already have a job and need to make more money, your first stop should be to ask for a raise or get promoted. Talk to your boss about your goals, how you plan to achieve them, and what additional responsibilities you’re willing to take on.
Can you advance your career in this job?
There are only two reasons to stay at a firm financially.
To start, investing now may pay off in the long run if your main job helps you develop skills that will help you earn more later (and raise your salary).
Second, if you’re at a firm with a salary-boosting promotion path that will lift you into a higher pay bracket and your employer (and their boss) is on board, stay.
If you don’t have a straightforward way to promotion, or if your employer isn’t supporting you in getting promoted, it’s time to look for a new job or focus on building your earnings and expertise with a side hustle.
Become “promotion material”
If you’ve decided to concentrate on your career, there are a few things you may do to get the most out of your day:
- Update your resume and LinkedIn profile: Make sure your resume is current and tailored to the kinds of promotions you seek. Your LinkedIn profile should also show your present job and any relevant side projects.
- Build your professional network. Attend industry seminars, join industry-related groups, and connect with individuals in your field.
- Take on new responsibilities at work, participate in committees and projects, and seek opportunities to learn new skills.
- Make your goals clear and get buy-in: Talk to your boss about your long-term goals and get their feedback on how you can best contribute to the company. Write it into your performance review and follow-up.
Know what you’re worth
Getting a raise or promotion requires you to know what the “market rate” is for your role for someone with your experience. Do your research on salary.com, glassdoor.com, or payscale.com. This will give you a ballpark.
But the best intel will come from hiring managers and recruiters at other companies. When you get a call from a recruiter, always take it, even if you’re not looking. At the end, ask, “so I can make sure we’re aligned, what’s the salary range for this role?” Additionally, you could network into relationships with hiring managers who are a step or two above you in your field. Since they are not recruiting, you can ask them point blank what you think “what is a market salary for X role?”
Practice your negotiation skills
Negotiation is a skill. And like any skill, it can be developed from scratch. Women have to be particularly careful because we still pay a negotiation penalty. Start small: your internet and cell phone providers must negotiate with you. And you can use the same tactics with them that you’ll use when asking for a raise. Forbes has some great tips for how women can gain an advantage in negotiation. My best suggestion is to practice in the bathroom mirror until everything is perfect – tone, word choice, facial expression. You can’t hide from yourself in that mirror. And finally, I loved Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.
Timing is everything in the promotion cycle
Managers can’t give you a raise in most corporate environments except during the review or promotion cycle. (This ensures all departments stay on budget.)
To make the promotion cycle work for you, anticipate it and plan. If you’re up for review in December, start prepping your boss in September. If you want to be promoted next year, start laying the groundwork this summer by asking your boss how you can contribute more and what skills or projects you should focus on.
Follow up, follow up, follow up
While there is a careful balance between advocating for yourself and seeming discontent, holding your boss’ feet to the fire is important. Ask for feedback on your progress, clear milestones they need to see, feedback on the milestones, and anyone you need to win over for them to get it approved.
Don’t think about it as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” because that doesn’t work for women. Think about it as equipping your boss to be your advocate and holding them accountable for that advocacy and guidance. If they prove not to be an advocate, your documentation of contribution will glow in an interview for a new role at a different company.
Stay positive, focused, and motivated
Promotions and career growth don’t happen overnight, so you have to think of this as a long game and shepherd your mindset. Write down your next milestone towards your goal. Invest in some education about learning how to set goals (SMART goals make all the difference).
Celebrate your accomplishments!
I dated a guy in college who was a nationally ranked athlete and had a small altar to himself in his room, at eye level. It really took me aback – pictures of him being his best self, doing things he was proud of, right in front of his face every day.
What I learned from him is that confidence is trained, not inherent. There are many big conspicuous ways to celebrate your accomplishments, but elevate the little ones as well. Put your training certificate or grades on your fridge or bathroom mirror. Put a pick of yourself crushing it at a work event where you can see it. Print out the excellent part of your professional feedback and keep the nice notes.
Option five: Get a better job
Well, let’s say your current boss or company is a dud, and it’s time to find a new role where you can make more money. How do you do that?
Get a mentor
A great way to learn how to get a better job is to have someone who has done it before help you. Look for a mentor who is a little bit or a couple of steps senior to you, in your network but not at your current company. Perhaps someone you worked for before or met through an interview you didn’t get.
The goals for your relationship with that person are to:
- frame up the next job or two up for you, so you have a clear vision of what you’re aiming for
- define your gaps in skills or experience to get it
- get you market intel on salaries for possible roles, so you can negotiate well
- help connect you with companies and people in their network
Why do mentors do all this work? Because they like you, other people helped them, and they want to pay it forward. Show gratitude and provide structure for the interaction to lessen the work on them.
Research jobs with career and earning opportunities
The first step is to get clear on what you want. What’s the title? What industry? What size of company? What geography? What skills do you want to use and grow? What is the second job that this next job will set you up for (even if you’re wrong or don’t care at this point, it’s a useful test to ensure you’re not dead-ending yourself.
Tailor your resume for the job you want
Now that you know what you want, very specifically, go get it! First, ensure your resume hits all the keywords for the role you want, so that when a recruiter searches or a piece of software scores you, yours comes up. For instance, if you want to be an event planner, and the job posting asks for experience with presentations and google sheets, make sure those are listed on your resume.
Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck.
Have people in your industry review your resume and take their feedback.
Build skills and experience
You might not have done the job you want yet, but how can you get closer? Build skills and experience outside of your day job. If it’s a job in event planning, start planning events. Reach out to volunteer organizations and offer your services for free. Document your contributions well and over-deliver as much as you can.
If your role is more structured, say you want to go from tax assistant to senior tax preparer, you will need to study and achieve certifications. The good news is, a lot of learning can now be done online (I studied for the CFP exam after my kid when to bed and on my phone in the bathroom). Seek out scholarship opportunities through professional organizations, many of which are trying to improve their diversity.
Make two little jumps instead of one big one
Let’s say you want to move from being a project coordinator to being a project manager. You might need to make two hops. You can look for a job one step up: a lead project coordinator or assistant project manager. Use that to get your foot in the door of the types of companies you want to work for, and then look for a job as a project manager within those companies.
The idea is that it’s harder to make one big jump, but if you can make two smaller ones, you’re more likely to be successful if it’s a significant change.
Option five: Start a side hustle
A side hustle is a great way to make some extra money while building a business. Like gig work, you can set your own schedule and carry all the responsibility for profit, but unlike gig work, you are not tied to a platform to earn extra income. Also, for a side hustle to work, you need some skills, whether that’s braiding hair, dog walking or hanging wallpaper.
Side hustles for single moms
Examples of side hustles that are great for a single mom include:
- Pet sitting, either in your home or theirs
- Dog walking. All those pandemic puppies need a firm hand.
- Wallpaper hanging. It sounds crazy, but wallpaper is hot right now, and no one has this skill. It’s cheap and easy to practice at home. There is one wallpaper lady in my county, and she makes good money.
- Blogging and freelance writing jobs
- Being a virtual assistant (I’m not that hot on virtual assistant work. There are a lot of people doing it)
- Social media management and other marketing work.
- Online tutoring or in person, depending on your schedule
- Graphic designer, freelance writer, bookkeeping, etc. if you have those skills
How do you choose a side hustle?
There are as many side hustle ideas as there are jobs, so the world is your oyster.
First, the easiest way to create money quickly is to focus on what you already know, even if it’s not “formal business.” Wallpaper hanging and hair braiding are great examples of high-skill hustles for single moms. Lots of women are making extra income selling online courses teaching skills they use in their day jobs.
Whether you’re making money online or in person through your business, it’s also important to ask how quickly you earn extra income? Doordash and Instacart don’t pay great ($15-20 per hour), but both are a lot more lucrative initially than your new YouTube channel. Your pet sitting business, social media manager or virtual assistant company may earn more two years from now, but that won’t be built in a week. You can do both in the meantime, or focus on side gigs that pay now.
The pros of a side hustle
There is a mindset needed for success with side hustles or entrepreneurship. It’s not just about having a plan and executing, but also staying motivated in the long haul. But there are some upsides!
Extra cash: A side hustle can provide you with an additional stream of income, which can help you achieve your financial goals, get out of debt and save money.
Income diversity: A side hustle can diversify a single mom’s income, so it’s not all coming from the same place, which helps to reduce your financial risk.
Flexibility: A side hustle can give single moms the flexibility to work around their other commitments, such as childcare or eldercare.
Career exploration: A side hustle can be a great way for a single mom to explore a new career or build skills in a new area.
Socialization: Jobs get you out of the house, particularly for single moms who care for young children. Some side hustles have amazing social networks built in, or bring you face-to-face with people daily.
Generational Wealth: Extra income from a side hustle can help single moms to build generational wealth, by getting you past “making ends meet” and helping you start working toward financial freedom and building assets to pass down to your children or other family members.
Passion: If you have a passion for something, a side hustle can be a great way to pursue it while still earning an income.
The cons of a side hustle
Side hustles aren’t always worth it. They also have some downsides you should consider before starting one up, because starting will take effort, if not actual money.
Time commitment: A side hustle can take up a lot of your time, especially at the beginning, which could interfere with other obligations you have, such as your job or family.
Financial risk: Some side hustles can be a financial risk, especially if you invest much money in them.
Stress: A side hustle can be stressful, even if it’s going well. It adds complexity to your life.
Tax complexity: A side hustle can complicate your taxes, especially if it counts as self-employment income, like much gig work. If you’re uncomfortable with the tax side of personal finance, you will need to level up.
What to Consider Before Starting a Side Hustle
There are a few things to consider before taking on a side job.
First, think about your goal. Do you want to supplement your income quickly, gain new skills, or pivot into something new? These are all great reasons to start a side hustle.
Clarity about what you want to achieve will help you make other important decisions, like what opportunity to pursue, how much of your attention or personal time to sacrifice, how long you’re willing to go before your side hustle is profitable, and how you will know it’s a fit.
A clear goal helps answer these questions. It’s not the same for everyone.
Ways for single moms NOT to make money
A few things aren’t worth it for single moms who want to make money. Here is what to avoid and why:
Multi-level marketing / Direct Sales
As I mentioned in the intro, the likelihood of success is low, but you may also need to pay money upfront. There is a risk there, so skip it unless you are great at sales and have retail experience. Sorry, Mom.
I have heard of people on Reddit who have made an extra income of $200-300 per month with online surveys. But at the same time, Nerdwallet did a test and over 50 hours of survey work earned about ~$2 per hour. So this might be worth it if you want to make a small extra income while you kill hours while waiting in line for stuff, but it’s not a winner for busy single moms.
Don’t work on spec
This means working for free or at very low rates with a chance of getting paid later. Several gig work online platforms have this built in as a feature – for instance, you write a blog post and if the client likes it, they choose it and you get paid for it. If they don’t pick it, you get paid zero.
Unless you are well-established in your career, this is a great way to spend a lot of effort and make no extra income. Some consultants will do preliminary work for clients as a “taster,” and some companies require projects or tests of applicants (especially in tech).
These are fine as long as they are reasonable – they can help single mothers demonstrate their skills against other candidates. But I wouldn’t do it unless I had experience or training in that industry, or I was just trying something out to see if I liked it and could make extra income in my spare time.
Final thoughts – my story
There is almost nothing more important for single moms than income. One of the best ways a single mother can protect her kids is to grow and diversify her income. It’s EXTREMELY hard with little kids.
My mom was not employed for the three years after her divorce with a pre-schooler and a newborn – she had worked with my dad in a family business. But from that point until she finally retired, she worked her buns off in various gigs and jobs, making money selling everything from in-home medical care to women’s clothing. It was never easy money, but she made her own hours and earned money as a single parent, and like most business owners, she did it without modern online platforms or blog posts from experts like me. 🙂
While this meant I was regularly picked up late, relied on friends and neighbors to take care of me after school, and often felt like the third priority, I knew I was the first priority. And watching her work after dinner on a card table in her bedroom, was a lesson that impacted me forever. And being an example of earning, hard work, and focus is one of the best ways for working moms to create generational wealth.