How I increased my income at 51 with a perfect side hustle

jigsaw pieces with side hustle and extra income
The principles of reaching Financial Independence and Retiring Early (FIRE) are simple.
The key principle is to spend less than you earn.
Then invest the difference between income and expenses wisely.
That’s it. Simple. But not easy.
It follows then, that the bigger your gap between income and expenses, the more you’ll have to save and invest.
And the more you invest, the quicker you’ll reach financial independence.
So my goal since discovering FIRE at age 47 has been to increase the gap between my income and expenses.
There are two ways of doing this – increase my income and/or reduce my expenses.

Working less to combat burnout

At the time I found FIRE, I was NOT interested in working any more hours at my job. And side hustles? No way! Where would I find the time? I was on the verge of burnout and I could feel the flames getting closer.

So I transitioned to a less stressful role & my income was reduced. It seemed counterintuitive if my aim was to reach FIRE as quickly as I could, seeing I was already starting so late.

But my mental wellbeing was more important. What’s the point of arriving at FIRE, burned out, resentful and not in the mental space to enjoy the accomplishment?

The less stressful role was working fairly well when Covid hit in 2020. My stress levels went back up. Being a frontline health worker and managing other frontline health workers took another toll.

In 2021, I flirted with working 9 days a fortnight or taking a day off every month. But no one, including me, respected those days off. Anytime we were short staffed, I’d end up working.

So in February 2022, I decided to work 4 days a week, every week. Keeping it consistent. There was so much anxiety around this decision.

Initially I had a lot of long service leave and it covered the day off. This meant no loss of income until August when my long service leave entitlements finally came to an end.

I was lucky to pick up some evening shifts at another business for 2 months so that supplemented the 4 day/week income.


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Living on a reduced income

At the very outset, I gave myself until the end of the year to decide if I would want to continue working 4 days a week indefinitely.
I wasn’t sure I could adjust my expenses to survive on the reduced income.
Technically, I’m at Coast FI. I”d calculated that even if I didn’t invest another cent into my superannuation (retirement account), I’d reach FI at 60. Coincidentally, 60 is the age when I can access my superannuation.
But because I want to retire at 55, five years before I can access my superannuation, I have to invest outside of superannuation in order to fund those 5 years.
And this is where the reduced income from working 4 days a week impacted – I could not invest as much as I wanted to plus replenish my emergency fund and save for other goals such as travel.
If I didn’t need to invest outside of superannuation ie if I wanted to retire at 60, the reduced income would be sufficient. But I do really want to retire at 55.

Working less gave me space to heal

I do not regret working 4 days a week, despite having less income for a few months. Not even for a minute.
The extra day off gave me time and space to rest and heal from burnout.
I read and napped on my couch for the first few months. I shopped for groceries and scheduled hair cuts, medical appointments etc on that day. Walking around the neighbourhood in the middle of the day was a novelty. I could help my Dad navigate the aged care system for my Mum and schedule any appointments for home visits on that day.
I also worked on the blog and learned how to create online products to help other late starters start their own FIRE journeys. I enjoyed having time to connect with other online entrepreneurs in Masterminds. So I was learning and building new skills.
As the year was nearing its end, I wasn’t specifically looking for extra work but I was open to opportunities.

The perfect side hustle for me

One of my roles at work is to ensure we follow certain standards as set out in a national program for our industry. Every two years, the business is assessed against these standards. If we pass, we achieve accreditation and all is well.
In November, I came across an email asking for expressions of interest in being an assessor for this national program. The role was advertised as requiring 15 hours per week.
Prior to Covid, assessors visited the businesses and spent up to a day looking at various processes and standards. But since Covid, the assessments moved online.
And this is the aspect that really appealed to me – that I can work from home.
I also figured that I knew the ‘content’ really well, having implemented policies and procedures as per these standards ever since the program started about 20 years ago.
So I replied to the email, expressing my interest in the position.
It was nerve wracking creating a resume. My last job application was 30 years ago!
Anyway, a few weeks later, after one phone call and a video call in which I embarrassingly had technical issues (I couldn’t see their faces but they could see mine), lo and behold, I got the job!
I’ve joined the ‘other side’ 🎉
The funny thing was when I told my colleagues that I got the job as a side gig, they all said it’s the perfect job for me!

I won't lie ... anxiety kicked in

But then self doubts and anxiety crept in.
Will I be able to the job? How can I fit it all in as well as perform at my current job? What if people are not available to take my call on Wednesdays when I have the day off?
What if it gets too hectic and I have to give up another day from my main job? What if they say I can’t keep my car if I go down to 3 days a week? I don’t have enough money yet in my Future Car sinking fund.
And so on and so forth.



In December, I completed an online Lead Auditor course plus another online training session with the company. It was hectic, trying to finish training sessions before Christmas and having family from overseas staying with me at the time.
In January, I started shadowing an experienced assessor – I learned how to do the job while observing how she did it. And had her shadow me while I assessed the first business. Thankfully, I passed!
The new skills I learned while blogging and connecting via Zoom with fellow bloggers in other countries were invaluable. It would have been even more daunting had I not known how to use Zoom.

What does the job entail?

So I’ve been assessing businesses on my own now. I’m happy to report that I’m loving it so far and managing well with the current workload, although it was a slow start in January. I’m grateful they didn’t overwhelm us with a full workload from the start.
Essentially, for each business assigned to me, I have to make 2 phone calls and a video call via Zoom plus assess uploaded ‘evidence’  – the whole process takes place over three weeks.
I understand there is always an element of unpredictability (which keeps the job interesting) within the process. For example, it will take longer to assess the evidence if the evidence is not ‘compliant’.
Or if the person coordinating the program at the business is not available when I ring them for the first call. And I have to take time out in my main job to catch up – which then means I have to stay back to make up the time.
At the moment, I’m using Wednesdays to schedule phone calls and perform Zoom calls while assessing evidence on the weekends or 2 weeknights.
Currently, the assessments take on average 2 hours to complete. My hope is that I can improve and reduce the time I spend per assessment while still doing an excellent job.

Being a subcontractor

The company that has been contracted to conduct assessments subcontracts me to perform the role.
I am assigned businesses to audit every 3 months. I have no idea at this stage how many I’ll get for the year. I was warned that the first six months of the year are much busier than the second half. So there is no guarantee how much I’ll earn from this side gig.
I do know how much I’ll be paid per business. Therefore I can predict how much extra income I’ll receive for the next few months.
I learned how to use Quickbooks to issue invoices. They have a strict timeline so if I want to be paid on time, I have to submit invoices on time.
I opened a business account to keep my money separate. And worked out with my accountant how much to set aside to pay tax and expenses from my gross income. He advised that 35% would be a prudent figure. Working from home will mean I can claim some minimal tax benefits too.
I’ve never been a subcontractor before so all this is part of a new adventure!

How I will allocate the extra income

I will be paid once a month for work completed the previous month.
Looking at my current schedule, the number of businesses assigned to me differ each month. Therefore my income will be different each month.
I will be using percentages to allocate this extra income according to my 2023 goals.
Initially, the extra income will pay for my financial advisor’s fees.
Then I will allocate 30% to investing into my shares portfolio, 30% to my home maintenance sinking fund and 5% to my Invest in Myself sinking fund (essentially my Splurge account which doesn’t get much love).
I will not use this income for living expenses. My current stable income from my main job will continue to take care of living expenses plus saving into other sinking funds as it has done for the past year.

Impact on retirement timeline

I am reluctant to extrapolate and project how much increased income I’ll receive from this side hustle because it is very variable. And therefore I will not speculate on how it will affect my timeline to retirement for now.
There is also the possibility that the role will require travel and being physically at the businesses to conduct face to face assessments in the future. And if this happens, I will have to decide if I can continue doing it in conjunction with my main job.
It is also not passive income. I have to actively invest my time to perform in this job. So, as long as I can cope with the increased workload over time, I’ll be ok. But if I can’t, then I’ll have to decide if I choose to reduce the number of businesses I audit per week or reduce my days further in my main job.
I will say though, that it is the type of job that I can envision myself doing even after I’ve retired from my main job. Especially if I have the flexibility of requesting one or two businesses to audit per week.
So right now, I’ll just enjoy the extra income and put it to good use while I can.

Final thoughts

My overarching goal is to reach financial independence and retire early at 55.
Therefore the more I invest, the quicker I can reach FIRE.
But I was not in a position to increase my income.
Until now.
It’s taken me nearly 5 years of pursuing FIRE and at the age of 51 to significantly increase my income with a perfect side hustle.
Better late than never?!

How have you increased your income?

12 Replies to “How I increased my income at 51 with a perfect side hustle”

  1. How fantastic! I’ve concluded that with side hustles (among other things), when the right thing comes along, you’ll know it. Almost instinctively. Also, from my personal experience (and I know from others as well), opportunities have a way of presenting themselves—pre- and post-FIRE—with at least some regularity. Some are more lucrative than others, but opportunities they are nonetheless. The great thing about pursuing, or being at, FIRE is that you can choose those ones that you know are the right thing and turn down the rest if you so choose. It’s a fantastic position you’ve put yourself in.

    Also, big ups to you for reworking your work week and, now, finding another desirable revenue stream to keep you on track or accelerate you on the path to FIRE.

    1. Thanks! You are right about opportunities presenting themselves. I also know that I wouldn’t have been open to this opportunity if I hadn’t rested and was in the mental space to jump at it.

  2. I’m glad you’re using the extra income for the extras rather than just pushing it all into the general living expenses. It makes working those extra hours so much more rewarding.
    Good idea on keeping it going once you pull the pin and retire, too. I’m teaching this term and using the $$ for my big holiday to celebrate a big birthday later this year. 🙂

    1. I’m too conservative to give it all up! I like having Plan B 🙂 And in my industry, there’s continuing professional development points to keep up with each year, registration, insurance, and minimal hours of work … which I’ll probably continue until I can access my superannuation. We’ll see!

      Oooh, looking forward to hearing about your big plans!

  3. I love this post! Us old dogs can indeed learn some new tricks. “Woof! Woof!”

    I spent 30 + years in Tech which was great. Until it wan’t. Until it was utter hell. I too used Quickbooks when I was running my own local Tech company and when I was beyond burned out on the Tech, I moved over into finances. I did independent bookkeeping for a few years and now I am relaunching again..

    1. Haha! We certainly can still learn some new tricks!

      Yeah, I’m surprised I lasted this long but a lot of my colleagues have been in the profession for much longer than I have been. Maybe that’s rubbed off on me. But it’s certainly getting harder and harder.

      Good luck with the relaunch!

  4. It sounds like this is a really good job that suits your skills perfectly! I look forward to reading how it works out for you over time.

  5. Is great that you can compartmentalise, knowing the side hustle is for a different purpose than general living expenses. Very smart.

    1. Thanks, Daniel! This is my sixth year of pursuing FIRE – if I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned about what’s important to me and what’s not. And once I know that, it is easier to prioritise where my money goes.

  6. Thank you for sharing this! I loved reading about how you got this side gig and how it’s been going so far. It sounds ideal for you, and I’m so thrilled you found it!

    You’re clearly very in-tune with the balance you’re seeking in your life, and that self-awareness is paying off. Well done on following through and making such big changes in your life!

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