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

jigsaw pieces with side hustle and extra income
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?

Late Starter to FI Series #36 – Catching Up to FI

image of headless medical people holding stethoscopes

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I did not discover FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) concept until I was 47. This was way later, I thought than others who seem to have it all together in their 20s and 30s.

Since I started to write about my own journey, I have discovered there are many more Late Starters like me, yay! It is such a relief knowing I am not alone. 

I want to share our stories, our unique perspectives and show that it is absolutely not too late for us.

So in this series, I particularly highlight those of us who start our FI journeys in our 40s, 50s and 60s. And explore questions such as ‘where do we start’, ‘can we still retire early(ish)’, ‘what are the specific challenges for us late starters’. We look at our past, not to castigate ourselves but so that you can learn from us.

Please join in the conversation in the comments below. I encourage you to share your story if you fit the profile of a late starter. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger or podcaster to share your story. 

Please email me at or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

And if you’ve missed any of the previous stories, you can catch up here – Late Starter to FI series


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image of headless medical people holding stethoscopes

I first came across Bill while listening to the Earn and Invest podcast by Doc G (Jordan Grumet) –  Episode 361 – The Consequences of Being Unconscious With Your Money.

A lot of what he shared resonated with me as a late starter – how backloading our finances is so much harder than frontloading it when younger. And the guilt of not being better with money earlier in life.

So I reached out to ask if he would share his story here. Thankfully he said yes!

You can reach Bill at two Facebook groups he administers – Catching Up to FI and Financial Literacy Project

And now over to Bill …

A little about me

My wife and I are reasonably high income physicians, in emergency medicine and psychiatry. We’re empty nesters now, in our late 50s and living in Tennessee after a long chapter in Chicago with our Aussie Labradoodles.

Lightbulb moment

I only woke up to the notion of financial independence at age 50. I’d been asleep at the financial wheel and almost crashed. It had been a 20-year Rip Van Winkle slumber. I realised suddenly that I had an irresponsible, unconscious and unintentional money mindset.
I could offer plenty of excuses, but they don’t make me feel better. Shame, grief and disbelief overcame me initially. At times, regret still haunts me. We had lost so much time without taking care of our future.
An acute financial depression ensued. I felt panicked and lost. Our financial realisation arrived simultaneously with family health issues, transitional job stress, downsizing and a growing awareness that I had a conflicted relationship with money.
The weight of all this nearly led to a mental breakdown. Yet my tale is an optimistic story of recovery, thanks to a dramatic change in our financial attention and direction.
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The early years

As is often the case, our relationship with money was forged in childhood. I grew up in a middle class patriarchal household. My mother was a nurse and then a stay-at-home mum. My father was a state-employed physician and sole breadwinner. My parents divorced for many reasons – money among them. We had enough, yet were led to feel like we lived in constant scarcity.
Neither my wife nor I had any constructive money behaviours to model. There was also an utter lack of formal personal financial education. We learned to care for others without learning how to care for our financial selves. Somehow, it always seemed there would be a time to take care of this “later on”.
We exited medical school in our early 30s. We had no idea how to allocate the money from our first real paychecks. I now know the recipe for financial independence. Start early. Insure your human capital. Increase your income. Spend less than you earn. Save the difference. Avoid consumer debt. Invest in a simple portfolio of low cost index funds. Let compounding work for you.
It’s simple but not easy. We didn’t know any of it at the start. Immediately out of our residencies, we started a family. We were blessed and overwhelmed with fraternal twin boys. One of them had significant developmental challenges requiring years of intense focus. Happily, in the end, our concerted efforts paid off.
We bought a big doctor’s house and new cars. We hired high-cost financial ‘advisors’, among them insurance salesmen. We established an inflationary lifestyle that led to a paycheck to paycheck existence. We spent first and saved the leftovers.
Who knew what dollar cost averaging was? There was a never-ending litany of distractions from our money managers. It’s scary for me to think how common our story is, especially among late starters to the financial independence movement.

Mistakes along the way

Our biggest mistakes happened during the Great Recession. We completely renovated our “forever” home in 2007. Housing money was cheap and plentiful then. By 2008, we were suddenly underwater on the mortgage and house-poor.
In addition to our paltry savings rate, we panicked and sold stocks. Committing a cardinal financial sin, we “de-risked” our portfolio at the worst possible time. We missed out on a significant portion of the subsequent bull market recovery. Our non-fiduciary advisor just let us do it. We had no idea what we were doing.
In the end, we emerged from a 20 year wind tunnel of spending with less than $1 million in savings. It was 2016, and we realised that our retirements loomed ahead. At age 50, ignorance was no longer bliss.
Luxury speed yacht near tropical island in Miami, Florida
Not Bill's actual boat!

First steps on the path to FI

I went down the investment book, blogging and podcast rabbit hole. Analysis paralysis set in for a time. I wished someone had created a personal finance education platform just for physicians.
Then I discovered it’d been done. Driven by his passion for giving doctors and other high income professionals a “fair shake on Wall Street”, Jim Dahle had already created The White Coat Investor.
With this knowledge now in hand, the race was on to take over our financial lives. We fired our financial advisor from the big private bank. We moved our investments from actively managed mutual funds to passive index funds at Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group.
We left only our checking accounts at the bank. We opened a high yield savings account at Ally for our emergency fund, and created various savings funds for the intentional needs and wants that we’d identified as still worthwhile.
Our gains were still punctuated by mistakes. Fortunately, we had exited a whole life insurance policy and purchased term life insurance. Unfortunately, we had used the proceeds of the whole life policy to pay cost overruns on our home renovations. Fortunately, we moved from Chicago to lower cost Tennessee. Unfortunately, we’d build our own house there.
Mistakes are best made when you’re young and have time on your side to recover. We certainly made mistakes, but now our time to recover was dwindling.
We finally realised how leveraged our lives had become. To get out of debt and reverse the tide, we shoved our savings rate from the single digits to 35% to 40% of income. We saved as much as we could without eating rice and beans. Painfully, in 2019, we downsized from our costly custom home.
We kept shedding our materialistic weight, including selling our pleasure boat. Appropriately named YOLO – you only live once – it described our old way of living.
Lifestyle inflation was insidious and easy. Lifestyle deflation is much, much harder. Yet, amazingly, our overall quality of life isn’t much different than before.

Can you wake up too late to catch up?

Sadly, I think the answer is yes.
It’s never too late, however, to take control of your financial life. If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.

Our relationship with money has changed

We just don’t let money slip away any longer on the mindless consumption promoted by our culture. Those dopamine hits are short lived. The Joneses may appear rich, but they probably aren’t wealthy.
We’ve chosen to enjoy the present, but not sacrifice our future to it. I know that’s not assured, however. From my work in the ER, I know that planning on those future golden years can be an illusion.
Lily and Rudy

Will we reach FI?

Today, we’re well on the way to financial independence. The goalposts still move a bit, but right now, 63 to 65 is our target retirement age.
Critical to achieving this goal is following our formal investment policy statement and an intentional life plan. Even with all our progress, our current phase of mindful living can still feel like the hardest part.
Why? The problem lies with our late start.
It’s hard to stay on the straight and narrow when we’re surrounded by a community of early starters and early retirees. We have some ground to make up, while our peers can be more relaxed with money now.
We’ve amassed roughly 3.5 times our net worth since 2016. Our home’s value makes up 20% of this total. College for our twins is paid off. Thanks to a modest windfall, we paid off the last of our debt a few years ago – and treated ourselves to a hot tub.
A debt free life has brought extraordinary peace of mind. The hot tub is good for our aching backs. Our nest egg still needs to grow a bit to meet our anticipated retirement spending. We are works in progress, but now it feels like we can get there in time.

What's next?

Stay the course. Stick to the plan. Which is easier said than done. We have less time to recover from mistakes, and yet we still make them.
The question I often ask is this:
While late starters like us are probably the predominant demographic in society, why do they make up such a small part of the voices in the financial independence community?
We’re the silent majority and should speak out to help others that come after us. There’s no better time than now.

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you so much, Bill for sharing your story.

“Lifestyle inflation was insidious and easy. Lifestyle deflation is much, much harder.”

This is so true and is a hard lesson for us late starters to learn. After years of living above our means or constantly upgrading our lifestyle because we’ve worked so hard to earn our money, it’s a shock to the system to have to tone it down.

Staying the course now is hard, I agree. Especially when you see many others in the community who are much younger retiring early. But I firmly believe that your time will come too. You’ve already made so much progress and being debt free will free up so much more to shovel into investments and savings.

I look forward to listening to your new podcast with BeckyCatching Up to FI. If there are any readers who’d like to participate in the podcast, please reach out to Bill. The more we share our stories, the more we spread the message that it’s never too late to take control of our finances and save for retirement.


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