Gig Tales: The Math

Let’s get one thing straight: Gig apps, like traditional staffing agencies are far more lucrative for those who run them than for those who work for them. This is perhaps true of all businesses, but I think most business have a bit more skin in the game than staffing agencies/gig apps who are middle men in the truest sense of the expression. While the idea that someone else is offering my labor for up to 40% more than they are paying me certainly bothers me, in this instance, it is the “cost” of doing business. For that reason, it is really important that I treat gig work like a business. Unlike my work at University B, gig work is not a career, there is no room for advancement, not benefits, no personal or professional development, and no other perks beyond the occasionally free staff meal. The relationship I have with the gig app is entirely transactional and it is important that I do my best to determine the ongoing value of the transaction on my end as they endlessly do for their end.

When I decided to join the gig apps, I initially created this gig tracker. I wanted to track the projected shift vs. the actual shift (this helps with determining whether or not to accept a gig if a client consistently cuts staff early), the rate of pay, billed hours, the distance from my home to the event location, and the actual payment. I then planned to use this information to determine my vehicle costs (billed to myself at the IRS rate of $0.50/mile), uniform costs (if the requested uniform required a piece of clothing I did not already own), and taxes (most gigs hire workers as 1099 independent contractors and do not take out taxes; however, Instawork in particular has quite a few clients for which W-2 documentation is required). I would then use these “costs” to determine whether or not it was worth it to accept a gig.

It took me exactly four gigs to figure out that long term this level of tracking would become both tedious and discouraging. However, that realization did not give me the right to not account for these costs (reread spiel up above about me evaluating my gig work like a business). Instead, I have decided to withhold a flat 30% of my gig earnings to account for these costs. While this is perhaps an overestimation on the tax side of things (I always receive a tax refund and it is likely that my refund would cover any taxes owed), I still want to play it safe. Further, the wear-and-tear on my car is a real cost and this money will help build a sinking fund for things like oil changes and tires.

Moving forward, I plan to do a Gig Work Income Report each Friday that accounts for money earned from the previous Friday through the immediately preceding Thursday. You can check out my Gig Work Income Report for the week ending 7/23 here. This explanation should help make it a bit more clear as to why I reported earning $113.26 at my first gig but only making an extra student loan payment of $79.28.

Gig Tales: The Apps

For some reason, my 2nd Blogiversary post lit a fire under me with regard to stepping up my efforts to earn additional income. Perhaps it was seeing that I was going to fall short of the goals I had set out for myself at the beginning of the year? Whatever the case may be, I sat down and did the math and realized that if I could make an extra $800.00 each month, I would stand a real chance of paying off Private Student Loan 4 (PSL4) this year and making it below $90,000.00 in student loan debt.

Over the past two weeks, I have been incessantly investigating how I could make additional income in a manner that was not wholly stressful when balanced against the temporal oddities of my work at University B. Eventually, I landed in a place that I should have landed a lot sooner: gig apps. Gig apps have existed for just shy of a decade now but have only recently begun to get significant press coverage as many of them have moved out of regional markets to become fully developed national staffing platforms. What is a gig app? A gig app really isn’t that much different from a traditional staffing agency. The app has clients who are seeking independent contractors and laborers for short term (with some recurring) gigs in a swathe of industries. While most apps tend to specialize in one industry (food service, warehouse/light industrial, etc.), several have opportunities across industries.

I completed my first gig Thursday, July 22nd (and was offered a permanent part-time job by the manager) and will write more on that in another post. If you are someone who only reads my blog for the numbers, that post will be up later today. The remainder of this post will be a cursory overview of stuff I could only find out once I joined the apps that seems pertinent to an understanding of my use of the apps to increase my income. (You know, the nitty-gritty stuff I wanted to know prior to joining but couldn’t find a blog where someone had written about their experience).

The Apps: Qwick, Instawork, and Tend

Enrollment/Profile: For all three of the apps I am using (Qwick, Instawork, and Tend), you have to complete a standard application with information about your schedule, gig interests, and experience. You are generally required to upload a photo of your state issued ID and a professional profile photo. The approval process for new profiles can be as long as seven (7) business days, however, across all three apps mine was approved in less than four (4).

Orientation: Qwick and Tend require you to attend a 5-minute Zoom based orientation prior to your first gig. With Qwick this can be incredibly frustrating as after your profile is approved, the app will begin sending you “matches” (gig opportunities based on your experience, interest, and availability) but you will not be able to accept gigs until after you attend the orientation. Because orientations are 1:1 and with Qwick employees, there are only so many offered each day and it can be several days before you are scheduled for an orientation. The orientation was essentially just a way to make sure you are the person you purport to be in your photo. The Qwick employee with whom I met asked me one question, asked me if I had any questions, and then told me I could begin accepting gigs as soon as the next day. In reality, I booked my first gig for the same day as my orientation. I have not attended my Tend orientation yet. It too will be with a live person, however, it does seem as though I can accept some gigs prior to attending. Instawork does not require an orientation with a live person but instead has you watch a two-minute long video (I cannot explain how badly produced this video is).

Certifications: Qwick requires you to have a food handler’s certification and an on-premises alcohol certification. You can complete both of these online, each training taking about two (2) hours. If you don’t have these certificates when you sign-up with Qwick, they will encourage you to enroll with Learn2Serve (360 Training) via their app. I would encourage you to do your own online search. I ended up enrolling in the certificate course with Learn2Serve after an online search of other training platforms, and enrolling directly through the Learn2Serve website earned me a 15% discount on both course (making them less than $7.00 each). I joined Instawork and Tend after joining Qwick and both seemed to accept the Learn2Serve certifications.

Expected Pay and Hours: Prior to signing up for a shift, the apps will show you an hourly rate, any bonus on the hourly rate for accepting the shift, the projected shift length, and the projected shift pay. I used the word “projected” because shift length can vary significantly if the work is completed faster than expected or if the event becomes overstaffed for any reason. Qwick has a shift minimum of four hours if the event is scheduled for four hours or longer. This means that even if you are sent home early, you will be paid for at least four hours. You also get paid for four hours if the client cancels the staff request less than 24-hours prior to the start of the event. This is obviously a double edged sword for all those involved. For my part, I generally decided whether or not a gig is worth accepting, even if the expected income was to drop to the four hour minimum, prior to accepting. This is an important consideration as some events are further away and require drive time (my time and wear-and-tear on my car) and once you have accepted a gig, you are no longer in a position to accept more lucrative gigs that may pop-up at the last minute.

Uniforms: Uniform request vary widely based on the client. The most common uniforms are bistro white and bistro black. Other requests have included polo shirts, jeans, brown dress shoes, etc. Generally, I do not accept a gig if I have to buy more than one item to meet the uniform standards. And even then, I give some consideration as to how difficult it will be to track down that piece. I cannot begin to explain how much more difficult it was to find a black short-sleeved polo than I was expecting… Custom uniforms can be be costly so if am unlikely to wear the requested clothing at other gigs or during my off time, I do not accept the gig.

Getting Paid: Like most things, this varies slightly across the apps. Qwick’s embedded payment platform is Stripe. You have the option of being paid “instantly” (30 minutes after the end of your shift) via a linked debit card for a 3-4% fee of your earnings. Or, you can be paid via a linked bank account in 1-2 days for free. As this money is strictly used for debt repayment, I obviously elect for free transfer and don’t have a linked debit card. Instawork pays every Thursday through a direct deposit. I have not yet been asked to enter payment of banking information by Tend and can update this post once I know more.

Ratings: Most apps require you to check-in upon arrival with the specified gig manager; some gigs will have a check-in approval code that the manger will have to give you prior to you being able to clock-in. At the end of your shift, you also checkout with them. At that time, they have the ability to rate you, and you have the ability to rate them, on a five-star scale. With Qwick, a QwickScore is generated once you work ten (10) gigs. The QwickScore is a reliability and professionalism metric and it is important because it factors into the apps algorithm for the order in which workers receive gigs. The better your QwickScore, the higher up you are in the ranking to be offered the best paying gigs. While the ranking and feedback workers give businesses also matters, Qwick is less explicit as to what scoring would result in a business being removed from the app. Instawork takes it a step further and and in addition to giving businesses a ranking, they also allow workers to post “feedback” or “advice” about the gig that can be seen by other workers. As you can imagine, this advice oscillates between being useful for gig evaluation to petty grievances often tied to worker (under) performance.

Gig Snipping: I know, snipping isn’t just for eBay. As explained above, the higher your rating, the earlier you get to see premium paying gigs before other workers. Unfortunately, most of the apps require you to work a certain number of gigs before your rating begins to affect the gig availability algorithm (although negative behaviors affect it immediately). This means you don’t see gigs until after well rated workers have already gotten to see them which means by the time they get to you, you have to be VERY quick as to whether or not you want a gig. Unfortunately, there have been times where before I could even scroll to the bottom of the post to see where the gig was located it would already have been accepted by another worker.

My impression thus far: At some point, some long time from now, I will do a brief update post about the peculiarities of each app and its utility (for me) in generating additional income. For now, I will say that they seem to be as much as advertised. Like any other job, if you show up, and work hard, then the apps work well and it seems like a convenient way to earn additional income.


Gig Income Report (Earned through 7/23) – $113.26

Okay. I am putting the cart way before the horse on this one (aren’t idioms fun?) and I have a lot to explain but I didn’t want to get a backlog of posts to write and then start procrastinating writing. The short version is that in an effort to pay off Private Student Loan 4 (PSL4) this year, I have decided to venture into the world of gig apps. In another post(s), I will explain all that entails and what my experience has been thus far, but for now, I just want to get a past due income report up. Yea, okay, that needs an explanation as well…

Briefly, work through gig apps is generally paid within 1-2 days of the end of the shift (however, there is one app that pays weekly on Thursday). In an effort to keep myself motivated and to drag you all along for the journey, I am going to post a weekly gig income report each Friday that includes money earned the previous week (so Friday through the immediate preceding Thursday).

For the week ending 7/23/21, I worked one (1) shift on Thursday, June 22nd (the day I worked my first gig on any app) and earned $113.26, resulting in an extra student loan payment of $79.28. In another posts (I know, but I already mentioned I needed to write this above) I will further breakdown things like my average hourly rate, the type of gigs I’m working, and why the amount of my gig income is different from the amount of my extra student loan payment.

For now, that’s it.

Today, I quit.

Yea, that title is a little…dramatic. But this is a blog, and I gotta keep it interesting.

The title is also little…inaccurate. I began writing this post more than two weeks ago when I sent my letter of resignation to my part-time employer. I had been wanting to do it for some time, for a confluence of reasons, which I share below…

So, I quit.

(Technically, I allowed them to keep me on the payroll in case someone calls out in the future but that’s not quite as dramatic).

I kinda know what you must be thinking. “Really, chick? You quit a part-time job that was moderately inconvenient while still in -$112,707.46 of student loan debt?” I sure did, and I mostly don’t regret it:

1) My wage was decliningMy wage continued to decline as the site I worked at underwent renovations, and the hours available decreased based on the construction work.

2) The work became increasingly laborious – The work I was being asked to perform continued to stray significantly from the tasks for which I had been hired, and were increasingly labor intensive. (i.e. Moving office furniture and cleaning up after construction workers). I don’t think there is anything wrong with this work, but the people who perform it generally get paid more than $10.00/hour. The new construction also previewed that in the future it was going to be a lot harder to complete the tasks I was usually assigned. I had been “making due” with a less than ideal site since I started and my employer had stated that he was looking for a solution to some of the challenges the site presented but despite being a very nice man, he was a very bad communicator. Because I was responsible and completed my work with little oversight, he would often not visit my worksite for several weeks at a time. I would tell him about the changes and what it meant for our work and he kept promising to stop by but never did. He finally showed up this past week, my final week at the site, and realized how much harder it would be once the construction was finished and why he should have been to the site much sooner. He apologized, but for me it was a bit too little, too late.

3) Increased commute – My commute time slowly creeped up from about nine minutes to about twenty minutes, each way, in traffic. Admittedly, some of this was most certainly due to holiday shoppers on the road, but some of it is was also due to the fact that I live in a city and more folks have slowly returned to working in person.

4) Cut into my evening availability/Time tradeoff – The increased commute time in the evening, after my primary job, was tough because I have been pursuing consulting work (I landed some and will be paid in January this month for a recently completed project). The more I looked into it, the more I realized that with a bit more effort, that the consulting work could be pretty consistent. Ultimately, the last project I completed took me two full work days (16 hours) and a couple of meetings to complete, and I was paid more than I made in a month in my regular part-time role (80 hours). The work is very “hot” at the moment and each consulting project is also good for my resume.

5) Wage stagnation – In the past, I mentioned that I covered another site for a coworker. What I didn’t mention was that I actually spoke with them when we met to exchange site and access information. While I was speaking with them, they mentioned that they had been working for my employer for almost five years. I was quite frank and asked them how much more they were making now as opposed to when they started. They were very forthcoming and told me they were currently making $10.00/hour. I was kinda blown away. Even in retail you get a $0.25, $0.50, or $1.00 bump after each year you are employed.

For all of these reasons, I decided that it was best for me to be a bit more aggressive in my pursuit of consulting work and to let go of the part-time gig. While I appreciate the additional income earned and the experience, I owe it to past and future Afro Penny to make sure that the investment and sacrifices for my education and personal development are used in the most strategic (and lucrative) way possible.

So, how do I think this will impact my ability to accomplish my financial goals for the next year? I’ve done the math and to achieve my somewhat audacious goal, in addition to my monthly minimums, I need to pay an extra $1,500.00 on my student loans each month. At least $900.00 of that is scheduled to come from my monthly paycheck, which means I really need to pay an additional $600.00/month or $7,200.00 over the year. That seems like…a lot. And it is, but I think it is the right kind of stretch goal.

In my first post of 2021, “2021 Financial Goals” I will break down my 2021 financial goals, and how I plan to achieve them.

The cost of earning more…

I still love my part time job. It’s mindless and I’m pretty good at it. And my bosses treat me like a rock star because I show up and do my job. It’s a low bar for sure and I’m nailing it.

Unfortunately, the place/worksite of my part-time job is undergoing significant renovations so the work has been scaled back a bit. While previously I could count on being on site between two and three hours a night ($20.00-$30.00), the renovation means that I am often only on site for between 45 minutes and an hour. However, the company I work for guarantees a two hour minimum, so even when I am only on site for 45 minutes, I still earn $20.00. Not a bad hourly rate. Unfortunately, consistently earning this minimum would result in an overall decrease in my paycheck when compared to what I was earning when I was putting in two and a half to three hours an evening, which is why when the company asked me if I would cover someone else’s shift at another site, for $15.00/hour and a guaranteed three hour minimum ($45.00), I agreed. Because all I could think about was the few extra bucks I could hastily put into my emergency fund so that I could return to paying off debt.

But there were things I didn’t think about, like the extra half hour of commute time in traffic. While my usual gig (worksite) is only nine minutes from home, this second gig (worksite) is about a half-hour a way with traffic. (Not to mention the associated increase in fuel costs). I also didn’t think about how much those extra hours, in addition to the first gig and my full time job, would cost me in terms of scheduling anxiety. My role at University B often results in evening obligations and I have been juggling like a mad-woman all week. It also just makes for a pretty long day/week. I am…tired.

I agreed to cover the second site through next Friday so I am just going to tough-it-out until then. However, this has reminded me that I need to think about the total cost of earning more.

Note: In many ways, this blog serves as an outlet for me as I go about my debt repayment journey. However, I also realize that at some point in the future, some other person, perhaps on a similar journey, may read it. For the sake of that person, and anyone else who might read it, I want to be honest about how I feel at different moments along the journey. Yes, there is the elation of pay days and huge debt repayments. But there are also moments where you are just a bit tired, sad, and wish you had made different financial choices. I think it’s important to be honest about those moments too.

Income Update/Am I saving enough?

I know, I know. The same woman who was so impatient to get back to debt repayment that she made a post about it, is now asking, “Am I saving enough?” I will address what led me to ask this question momentarily. First, an income update…

Part Time Job

As I shared in an earlier post, I picked up a part time job. And…I actually love it. It’s usually two and a half hours per day (a minimum of two hours and a maximum of three hours), Monday through Friday. After I wrap up my day job, I get changed and head over to my evening gig. As of the this post, I have been there about six weeks and I have only encountered two other people, both of whom were wearing masks and who spoke to me from across a room. I go to the site, I complete my tasks, and I head home. I don’t think about it before I show up or after I leave. It’s mindless and when I first started I was listening to music, but recently, I have begun listening to personal finance and business podcasts…

So…umm…what’s the downside? The pay. I am currently earning just $10.00 per hour. While that isn’t a terrible wage, given the cost of my education and professional experience, it seems like my time could should be spent earning a higher wage. And I’m working on that. But for now, the additional income is very much appreciated. For the month of September, I earned the following:

Paycheck (9/11): $195.28 (I, thankfully, did not have to work on Labor Day…)

Paycheck (9/25): $237.23 (I covered someone else’s shift.)

Given how modest my income is relative to the size of my student loan debt, this consistent, additional income will meaningfully help me along on my debt repayment journey.

Additional Responsibilities

At my full time job at University B, I recently took on some additional responsibilities. While this is often an unsaid expectation at colleges and universities (that faculty and staff will perform uncompensated labor in service to the university), due to the nature of this role, I will actually receive a very small stipend. While this labor is significantly more intellectually and emotionally taxing* than my part time job, I was interested in the role because it is in-line with my long term career goals before I learned it came with a stipend.

University B pays us on the first of each month but the HR payroll portal allows you to see your pay stub about a week before payday. I logged in today to discover that the monthly stipend is $200.00 which after taxes and 403(b) contributions (which are a percentage of my salary), resulted in a net increase of $129.85.

While this stipend isn’t life changing by any means, it does represent a very modest improvement in my ability to pay off debt…or save…

*This job requires I work a couple of evenings, during one week, every two months.

DIY Money

Above I shared that while at my part time job, one of my favorite things to do is to listen to podcasts while I work. Currently, I am listening to DIY Money. Hosted by Quint and Daniel, it is straight-talk about personal finance and investing presented in a super accessible way. The show’s outgoing message sums the show up pretty well: “The key to wealth is simple: Live on less than you make, invest the rest, and do so for a very long time.

They have over a hundred podcasts and I have just made my way into the double digits but one of my favorites thus far is, “Like a Roth to a Flame.” In this podcast, in addition to learning a ton about Roth IRAs, one of the key takeaways for me was, “You don’t get time back.” As I went about my tasks, I began to think about my financial journey and where I want to be in five years. Not to be Carrie Bradshaw but, “Is being debt free enough?”

As I progress through even more of the DIY Money podcasts, it is clear that Quint and Daniel are not in complete agreement on this question. Quint believes there are three categories of debt: 1) bad, bad debt (credit cards, store cards, rent-to-own agreements, pay day loans, etc.), 2) bad debt (student loans or automobile loans), and 3) debt (mortgage). He believes that one should only have category 3 debt or a mortgage remaining before one begins to invest. This perspective is pretty Ramseyesque. Daniel agrees that category 1 debt must be eliminated, but thinks investing is possible with category 2 debt remaining depending on individual circumstances (interest rates, stage in life, overall portfolio, other obligations, etc.).

Looking Ahead

I know she has to be tired of me name-checking her by now, but one of the things that stuck out to me the most about DDSW’s debt free post (Double Debt Single Woman Has Paid Off Over $142,598 and is Officially Debt-Free!) was that not only was she out of debt but that she also managed to amass considerable assets along the way. (Note: I am confident I make significantly less than DDSW, so I am not worried about having as much as she has at the end of my journey. Instead, I am looking at it as a model for potentially doing both debt repayment and retirement savings.)

Another somewhat recent addition to my blog reading list is Millennial Mayday. Despite starting off with an enormous amount of student loan debt ($200,000.00), Avery seems to have done everything right. While they have received some support from their parents, they were smart and took on this kind of debt for a six-figure profession (pharmacy), hustled to pay it back, moved back in with their parents, refinanced where appropriate, and invested and saved like a beast. Which is why it’s not really surprising that less than three years into their journey, Avery already has a positive net worth. As I was reading through their debt update posts, I noticed their repayment slowed a bit and Avery explained that with just under $50,000.00 in student loan debt remaining, they have decided to invest even more

For all of the reasons you can imagine, the DIY Money podcast, DDSW’s post, and Avery’s blog have me really thinking about my long term financial goals and what I need to do now to get there…

P.S. I know I was super vague about exactly what my part time job is. That was obviously intentional. However, unlike secrets I plan to keep, like my identity, this is one I will give up once I’ve paid off my debt. I am sure there will be other secrets along the way, and at the end of this journey, I plan to divulge a few.

That time I almost signed a $1300.00 apartment lease but got another job instead

This post has been in the making for quite some time but it was only after a post over at Double Debt Single Woman (if you don’t already read her blog, you definitely should) that I finally sat down to write. Okay, that and the job thing…

Living in a not-so-great apartment, in a not-so-great area, sucks. And it probably kinda sucks in your twenties but at least then you have all of the excuses for why you live there. The, “I’m saving up…,” “This is my first place…,” “This is my starter home…,” “I’m a student…” excuses. In your thirties, you generally don’t have those excuses anymore (although, you might be a student). What you do have is, “I made poor financial choices.”* Hopefully it’s, “I made poor financial choices so this is what I have am willing to do to have a better financial future.” Hopefully it’s that. And on most days, you are able to remember that, and make peace with where you are, and look toward the future. But other days…other days it just sucks and it is all that you can do to resist the sweet, sweet rental and real-estate sirens.

Their call has always been there, softly singing in the background. You are usually able to resist them but then something happens, like your apartment building is suddenly dealing with a pest issue as a result of a filthy tenant moving out, or you have a roommate or landlord making your living arrangement a bit more precarious than it once was. And you think, “What could it hurt just to see what else is out there…” So you look. And your rent is only $682.00 with ALL utilities included so you look to see what else is out there around the same price point. Nada. So you ratchet up your range to $800.00 and maybe you’re suddenly looking at apartments in a bit nicer area. But as long as you’re willing to pay $800.00, $850.00 doesn’t seem that bad, and so on, and so on, and eventually you are in the $1000+ range. And at that point, if you are going to pay upwards of $1000.00, you might as well get what you really want and at least consider that gorgeous $1300.00 apartment, that is giving away a month’s rent, and in a super nice area, convenient to everything…by foot.

Yea, or so that’s how it went in my head. And, how I found myself sitting across from a leasing agent, completing an application for a $1300.00 apartment while justifying that it was really only ~$1200.00 per month because I would get a month’s rent free and that the value was really higher because the apartment rates had been temporarily reduced due to the pandemic.

However, as I was writing out that blog post in my mind, for how I was going to have to explain this choice to you all (or considering abandoning the blog altogether out of shame…just trying to keep it real) I decided to reach out to a frugal friend who I thought might be able to talk me off the ledge. And she did, but she ultimately left the decision up to me. At this point, I realized that I was too far gone for the gentle approach and knew I would need someone a bit harsher so I called another friend. He was much…harsher. He spent several minutes explaining to me (almost patronizingly) why it was a poor financial decision and why if I was going to make such a decision in my financial circumstances (he knows of the student loan debt but not even the full extent) that I should at least buy a home so then I had an asset. Once it was apparent that I understood what I had to do, but was just a bit sad, he was a bit more gentle with me and told me that if I really was unhappy with my apartment, that I could consider investing one months’ difference in rent on upgrades and repairs to my current apartment ($1300.00-$682.00 = $618.00). Yea.

But he is right. The goal shouldn’t just be to get by or  survive. If I am going to be able to climb out of my massive student loan debt before I am 40 (I’m currently 34), at my current income level, then cheap rent has to be a part of the equation. So it is worth it to invest up to $618.00 to make my apartment more habitable IF it means I am willing to stay here until my debt is gone. For now, this is the plan. It’s official. My lease ends on July 31st, so I will call the leasing office tomorrow to re-sign for a year.

In less shocking, or shocking but different, news…today I finally got a part time job. It’s an evening job and only for about three hours a night, five days a week. And the wage isn’t great. But it’s more than I’m bringing in now, there is a possibility for more hours assuming I want them, it doesn’t interfere with my day job, it won’t leave me exhausted, it doesn’t require additional contact with humans, and if it is something I like, I could eventually turn it into my own side business.

Being an adult a financially responsible adult sucks.

*I understand there are circumstances that create cycles of poverty that result in peopling living in fraught living conditions regardless of what choices they make. I am not speaking to this but about my relatively privileged experience.