Mastering the Gig Economy as Life Strategy

1 Aug

One of the defining characteristics of the FIRE lifestyle is having total autonomy and flexibility to run your own schedule. This means doing what you want, when you want to do it.  How one fills their time with such a lifestyle will depend entirely on one’s personal preferences and definition of happiness. With that said, in my personal quest for happiness in FIRE I wanted to do a lot of the typical fun stuff that a lot of people do such as travel and we’ve already done a fair amount of that. I wanted to devour some of the great classics in thought and literature which is an ongoing process. I also wanted to devote time to learning culinary skills which admittedly is a work in progress. However, I also wanted the option of being able to occasionally work part-time for a lot of reasons:  1. I genuinely love to work; 2. I want to have a safety cushion for unforeseen disasters; 3. If the stock market tanks I want to be able to instantly amp up savings to seize opportunity.   The job requirements I set out to find were fairly straight forward: 1.. Total schedule flexibility; 2. Total autonomy – No immediate supervisor or boss anywhere near me; 3. Mostly outside and far away from an office or cubicle environment.  I wanted to have 2-3 gigs lined up so that I could pick and choose which one to do (or not to do) on any given day. My goal was to have multiple streams of potential income which I could crank up or crank back as needed with no pressure whatsoever to be someplace.


Are such obnoxious demands possible to find?  I’ve certainly been told that I should “go find a good job.”  I’ve been called arrogant and a slew of other unflattering adjectives.  With that said, I’ve now accomplished my mission.  The first thing I found was a gig as a tour guide mostly focusing on Colonial Williamsburg which after two years has been everything I hoped it would be. I absolutely love the job and love the people I work with and I have a ton of schedule flexibility. It gets very busy in the Spring but then tails off a lot starting mid-June. I also found a gig as a private contractor working with an executive relocation service. That has been spotty at best and hasn’t really had enough work to make it worthwhile – time will tell. So after some more thought I decided to add to my gig portfolio and I’m kicking myself for not having done so 6 months earlier.  It’s too easy not to do!


As of last week, in addition to being a professional tour guide I now drive as an independent contractor for both Uber and Amazon Flex. After being accepted by both, going through the application process, and getting up to speed on their systems I’ve now done a few “work days” and can give my impressions on what it’s like doing these new gigs.


That’s right. With both Uber and Amazon private contracting the pay varies and it’s dependent on good old fashioned supply and demand. Both companies pay their contractor drivers depending on the ebb and flow of the business day. Let’s start with Amazon.


Amazon Contractors ready to load up

Amazon contractors earn $18 – $25 per hour here in the Richmond VA area. They’re pretty clear up front that you do not work directly for Amazon and that you are merely affiliated with them.  Amazon divides their deliveries into time-blocks of 3.0-3.5-4.0 hours each and there are multiple offers through the day and into the night. You are free to peruse the time-slot offers at your leisure and pick and choose what fits your schedule. If you change your mind about delivering on your time slot you can cancel so long as it’s within 45 minutes of the start time. As the day goes and other contractors cancel their slots the hourly compensation tends to increase (basic supply and demand). Each week they offer you a guaranteed time slot which you are free to accept or decline. What’s it like? You drive your car to the warehouse and get in line with the other drivers… then you drive into the warehouse and the associates give you a cart of your assigned route delivery boxes.  You scan each box with your cellphone camera and load your car. After that you proceed to your delivery area and go door-to-door delivering boxes and packages scanning each as you go. When done you can pick up another route if you feel like it (likely at higher pay) or return home. That’s it. I just absolutely love this gig for a lot of reasons.


Uber pay can be a lot lower than Amazon but it can also spike in areas of high demand. As with Amazon, you’re a private contractor affiliated with Uber but not a direct employee. Unlike Amazon, there are no restrictive time blocks and no danger of being late or missing your start time due to traffic or some unforeseen episode on your way to work. When ready you simply turn on the app and go. It is EXTREMELY flexible and an absolute pleasure. I find the driver app and the driver experience to be user friendly and easy to use. Ahhhh, but what about safety!? Here’s how I look at it: 1. Each rider has to have a smart phone (that means they’ve signed a contract and pay bills on time); 2. They have to be intelligent enough to use the Uber app which means higher IQs; 3. Drivers rate riders just as riders rate drivers so serial offenders would be reflected in ratings. On top of that, I don’t intend to drive at night. The result? Most all of my riders have been young, upwardly mobile professionals or families on vacation. I also get a lot of foreign students and visitors. I have yet to run across a drunk or an obnoxious passenger though that’s always a possibility.


Can you make a living doing this? Absolutely! If I wanted to I could crank this up to an annualized compensation of $45,000 to $60,000. A dual income couple could double that. On top of this, the miles you drive for work are tax deductible at the federal mileage rate which is .54 cents per mile. You can also deduct your work expenses including car washes, a home office if required, the portion of your cell phone bill used for business and treats for your customers. I’m hard pressed to see a scenario where a driver would pay income tax. I never had to submit a resume. What both Amazon and Uber do is conduct a background check and a check of your driving record. That’s it. Add it all up and it’s an enormously flexible and scalable means of adding additional income or optimizing your time.


So how do I use all of the above? I basically mix and match depending on the flow of our day and what I feel up to doing. I’ll use the last few days as a snapshot. The wife says “We need to do a grocery shop!!” I jump into the car and immediately go Uber live… on my way to the store I give a few rides… turn off Uber… then go shop. The next day I notice that Amazon is offering a 4 hour delivery block in the morning and I have nothing planned. Bingo! I go to the warehouse, load my car with packages and go knock out the deliveries… When done I go Uber live… do a few Uber customers…then return home. The next day I choose not to do anything. Our son has a dental surgery consult and I have a book to read. The day after that? I get a tour in Colonial Williamsburg then go Uber Live for two or three hours. That evening I see that Amazon is offering another 4 hr block the next day and I accept. I wake up the that next day and change my mind because I want to go fishing. No problem! I can cancel my time block so long as it’s within 45 minutes of my scheduled arrival.


Is it glamorous work? Hell no but the days where I cared about impressing people are long past. This was my ideal design when I set out to re-design my life|work model 2 years ago… plug and play… total flexibility… total autonomy.. and optimization of my time and happiness. For those inclined to bitch and whine about capitalism and say that the American Dream is dead I’ve got news for you. No it’s not dead. There are all sorts of opportunities right before your eyes. Can you attain financial independence on an income of $50,000? Absolutely. Not only that, but thanks to technology the tools are easily attained and available to just about anybody.  As a nudge, I paste link to  MrMoneyMustache’s excellent savings to freedom post:   If you can earn $50,000 without any credentials or college degree then no the American Dream ain’t dead.  You can be financially free.



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