“I was relaxing in my backyard,” recalls Amy Conrad [and her husband Randy] “and [my friend] turned to me and said, ‘My ex-husband rented somebody’s backyard to have a pool party for our kids. He spent $500! You should do that! You could make bank!’”
A few months ago, I received one those scam message from a fake Instagram account. The user photo depicted a grinning, bearded man wearing a puffy vest. He looked like someone who owned a cabin in Aspen, someone who fly fished in his free time. “He” asked if I was interested in becoming his sugar baby, promising a $700 a week allowance, shopping, and vacation benefits.
“I’m mainly looking for romantic conversation,” “he” wrote.
I laughed at the absurdity of it. I admit to wondering how the scam worked — probably, they’d request my bank info and social security number, so they could pay me for my sweet nothings — but not enough to reply. I blocked the account, and screenshot the message to share on my friends’ group-chat.
“Send him your Venmo!” my friend Kelly joked.
“I can write romantic emails!” my pal Cori added.
Nicole wanted to know, “What kind of vacations?”
Amber asked, “Does he need five sugar babies?”
Ha ha — but seriously, $700 a week would be pretty sweet. With gas prices hovering near $5 a gallon, a dozen eggs going for $7, and my SDG&E bill exceeding $500, the idea of a fake sugar daddy was, well, not exactly tempting, but intriguing. In recent months, I have needed to pick-up less glamorous side-hustles to pay the bills. I nanny, I write, I resell thrifted clothing bought from the Goodwill bins.
I am not unique in my industriousness. Outside of San Francisco, the San Diego housing market is the most expensive in the nation. As of January 2023, the median home listing price in San Diego was $924,900. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has soared to $2320, with studios reaching $1895. And according to a WalletHub study, San Diego has seen the fourth-highest rise in inflation in the country. I spoke with locals to find out what they are doing to help pay the bills — and more importantly, if they still think the sunshine tax is worth it.
Feet Pics or Plasma?
Occupation: respite worker/full-time student
“I think about selling feet pics all the time!” Julia Andrews says with a laugh. We are sitting in a East County Starbucks. A gentleman one table over swivels his head, glancing down at Julia’s tennis-shoe-covered feet as Andrews continues: “When stuff sucks [and I am running low on money], I wonder, should I do that? How much do I charge? I asked my boyfriend, ‘Babe, do I have pretty feet?’ He was like, ‘I don’t like feet like that.’ What do feet people like? Do I need to paint my toenails? Do I [post] on OnlyFans? Is there a feet section on there?”
Julia Andrews on selling feet pics: “When stuff sucks [and I am running low on money], I wonder, should I do that? How much do I charge? I asked my boyfriend, ‘Babe, do I have pretty feet?’ He was like, ‘I don’t like feet like that.’”
I shrug, because I am also not a foot person. In response, Julia shakes her head, causing the curls framing her face to bounce, “But, I just can’t do it. I don’t like the idea of some random Joe having pictures of my feet. It’s icky.”
Instead, to make ends meet, Julia sells plasma. “The [center] by my house has a first-time deal. New donors get $100 each donation for their first five donations. You can donate twice a week. After that, depending on your weight, you make around $65 for your first donation in the week, and like $55 for the next one. It ends up being around $100 a week. It’s hard for me to do. I have school and work. I can only donate on my days off. But, if you do it consistently, you can make around $400 a month.”
There are many months when Andrews struggles to keep up with her bills. She currently rents a bedroom in a Spring Valley home shared by six people. “I have been trying to get my own place for years, but it has always been too expensive. I pay $700 for my room. That’s low, because I am renting from a friend. Anywhere else, I would be paying much more.”
Despite the overwhelming cost of rent, Julia doesn’t want to leave San Diego. “I grew up in San Diego. I love it here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. But I can’t really enjoy it. I can’t just go to the beach on my days off, because I do side hustles. And I can’t just focus on school because I have a job. Thankfully, I don’t have student loans. I was able to get FASFA and a few other scholarships from being a native from my tribe in Oklahoma. I am so thankful for that. It’s helpful because I feel like eventually, I have an out. I mean, I don’t think that four years from now, rent will be at a place where I will necessarily be able to afford [living here], but I think it will be a lot easier for me. I can envision a better opportunity in my future. But here’s the thing: a million-dollar house isn’t even on the beach anymore, it’s on the border of South El Cajon.”
If we did not have this, we’d be hosed.
Occupation: Heart Academy campus lead
“Between my husband Ted and I, we have eight jobs!” Jolie Brent declares, her voice rising an octave — as if she’s realizing for the first time how hard they have to hustle to maintain a roof over their heads in San Diego. “I tell my kids, ‘If you don’t learn a work ethic from Daddy and me, you’re crazy, because all we do is work!’”
She rattles off their combined jobs: pastoring, teaching, serving as a college department chair, online editing, working as a campus lead, multilevel marketing gigs. But the bulk of the Brent’s side-hustle cash comes from their home staging business. “It’s been a funny little business that has helped us so much with the extra money we need here in San Diego. If we did not have this right now, we’d be hosed.”
Jolie Brent’s side-hustle cash comes from their home staging business. “It’s been a funny little business that has helped us so much with the extra money we need here in San Diego. If we did not have this right now, we’d be hosed.”
Brent fell into the work serendipitously, after lunching with a realtor friend of hers. “I said to [my friend], ‘I need a side hustle. We live in San Diego, and we have a mortgage. But, I don’t want to drive for Uber!’” Luckily for her, her realtor friend needed a home stager. Hers was retiring, and she knew Jolie had a talent for decorating. It was the perfect fit. Introductions were made, and Brent began shadowing the soon-to-be retired home stager. Before long, she and her husband began working with other realtors, staging empty homes on their own.
“You would laugh, because originally, we charged $350 for a stage. And at that time, we were still having to buy stuff, like art and plants.”
The Brents raised their price to $700. Then to $1000. Now, they charge $2000 for an empty stage. “That is still a great deal. Professional stagers charge $5000-$7000. We take those lower paying jobs because $2000 to us is a lot! We’ve gotten two [listings] in the same week; $4000 is good income for two little side hustle people!”
This particular side hustle came with some hefty expenses: they had to purchase furniture and home décor. They also bought a $7000 8×28 container in which to store it all. “We did not take out any loans. We were profitable within the first couple of months. We bought our furniture from HomeGoods and anywhere that had nice stuff discounted. I didn’t want to get crappy furniture. If we want realtors to pick up our cards and use us, we need to have a really nice stage. We use our own furniture, too. Sometimes we won’t have a coffee table or I’ll have to drag my girls’ bean bags downstairs because we have to use our things for a staging.”
Homebuyers frequently ask to purchase the home with the Brents’ furnishings. Sadly, inflation has made that possibility out of the question. “We need to keep all the furniture that we have. We can’t replace it, because everything is so much more expensive now.” But they do provide links to similar items. “We only charge $100 for that. I think we need to raise that. I don’t think we realized in the beginning all the different ways we could monetize.”
Brent acknowledges their side gig is physically taxing. “Between the two of us, we load stuff up like the Beverly Hillbillies. We need a box truck. We need another storage container. But those are big business expenses. Still, driving 20 miles down the freeway behind my husband’s truck, hoping nothing falls out, can be a lot. And then we unload everything. I am turning 50 and Ted is turning 53. We are still active, but in ten years, we are going to be tired. We are trying to enjoy it now while we are able, and sort of just shell away as much money as we can.”
While the Brents’ four children are well versed in the work ethic needed to survive in San Diego, she still worries that her children will struggle with the inordinate expenses of Southern California living. “Our oldest wants to move out on his own. We have been talking about getting him a tiny house on our property. He is looking at all these rentals. A bedroom in a house goes for like $2800. He can’t afford that! A tiny house costs about $100,000. We are working on trying to get [one].”
For one person to make San Diego money is a big task
“It is so expensive to live here,” Linnea Harrington tells me. “I don’t know how people do it without a side hustle. I have needed to up my hustle in the last couple of years to survive.” She is sitting in the parking lot of a thrift store that is having a 50 percent off sale. Harrington popped in before our interview to see if she could score deals to add to her vintage booth at Sea Hive Liberty Station. Her main gig is five days a week, 9-3, caring for two toddlers in Point Loma. But on the side, she collects and sells vintage items, and does professional photography and photo editing. She scored her current day job while side hustling: “I got my job when I did their labor and delivery photos. They were looking for a nanny. They asked if I would do it until they found someone else. That was four years ago. It brings in decent money, but not San Diego money. For one person to make comfortable San Diego money is a big task.”
During covid, Harrington’s nanny hours were cut, due to both parents working from home. As a single mom, she struggled making her mortgage payment, so she started buying cheap vintage items and reselling them on Facebook Marketplace. “I started doing garage sales too, when everything was shut down. I didn’t really put out a ton of vintage stuff because I didn’t think people would buy it for what I was asking. It was mostly my kid’s old shit and crap from around my house.
Linnea Harrington: “One of the benefits of having my side hustles is that I have always been able to figure things out. I can sell something quickly online or I can contact someone and see if they need photo editing done. I can pull something out of my bag of talents if I am short that month.”
“Then this weird guy came to one of my sales. He was one of those people where you aren’t sure if they are homeless or like a super wealthy hipster. He had a beat up BMW. He started putting all this crappy stuff into a pile that he wanted to buy. He asked if I had any vintage men’s shoes. I went inside and took a box out with some shoes in it and other vintage items. At the bottom of the box were scarves that I had held onto for years. I looked them up online, and they were worth $200. When he saw them, he wanted to know how much. I was a little hesitant to say. I wasn’t sure he could afford them.” Turns out the man was not homeless; he bought $900 worth of Harrington’s scarves. “I bought those scarves for a couple of bucks each. In total, he ended up spending like $1500 at my garage sale!”
Once covid was over, she began selling at flea markets. “Recently, I opened a spot at Sea Hive in Liberty Station. I also sell at the second Sunday vintage market in their parking lot. Sea Hive is open seven days a week. It’s a collective. Included in my booth rental are employees. They help customers. They spruce up and keep my booth nice and run the register. They take care of my taxes, credit card fees, and all of that. It’s basically passive income, because once my stuff is in there, they take care of it.” Her biggest month of sales at Sea Hive was December 2022. She made $1800 after fees.
Even with money coming in from her side hustles, Harrington has lean months. She sometimes worries she won’t have enough to cover bills. “One of the benefits of having my side hustles is that I have always been able to figure things out. I can sell something quickly online or I can contact someone and see if they need photo editing done. I can pull something out of my bag of talents if I am short that month.” Still, she is taking precautions. “I am in school right now for medical coding. After covid, things got kind of scary. I just thought, ‘Well shit, if my legs break or something, and I can no longer do physical things, I need [a back-up].’ I don’t have medical coverage or disability or anything, so I want that security.”
Harrington is thankful she bought her La Mesa home when the market was low. “One of the benefits of being an old person is that my house was $279,000 when we bought it 16 years ago. I don’t know how young people afford it here. My kids are probably going to have to live with me forever. If I had to rent a place in San Diego now, I would have to live in Santee with a roommate and still need to do side hustles.”
My side hustle became my main hustle
Occupation: concert merchandise vendor
During the summer of 2022, James Schwartz found himself struggling to survive financially in San Diego. “I was cleaning pools, making $18 hour. I wasn’t making enough money. All I could afford to do was drive to work and come home.” He was, and still is, renting an apartment in Santee. “In 2020, I paid $1100 for rent. Because of inflation, it increased to $1650 after everything. I live with a roommate in a two bedroom. We pay $3000 in Santee before [utilities]. Rent has gone up exponentially. It’s insane! I mean, we live in Santee because this is where we could afford in San Diego.”
James Schwartz kept his pool job until he started getting offers to work weekday shows with Happy Belly. “My side hustle became my real job because I was making more money.”
Last summer, Schwartz decided he needed to take on a side gig. His friend Ryan was making good money working as a vendor with the event company Happy Belly. When they found themselves short staffed one weekend, Ryan invited Schwartz to work a couple of shows with him. “I worked a show in NorCal, and two shows in Irvine, Friday-Sunday. I called out sick [from work] and made more money in those three days then I did working 3 ½ weeks with overtime.” He kept his pool job until he started getting offers to work weekday shows with Happy Belly. “My side hustle became my real job because I was making more money,” he says.
On average, Schwartz makes around $400-500 selling stuff at stadium shows. It is not uncommon for him to make $1000 in a weekend. It beats cleaning pools. “It is most fun I have ever had in a job. I am not college educated, but I can do stuff, if you just tell me how to do it. To be hands on, make decent money, see free concerts, and hang out with my friends — I couldn’t ask for a better job!”
Schwartz looks down at his watch. “I am meeting with a friend to play disc golf,” he says. “At my old job I couldn’t meet up with someone in the middle of the week like this!”
Golf balls and free margaritas
Ages: 32, 34
Occupations: Physical therapists
[Note: Names, locations, and a few other minor details have been altered to protect the interviewees’ identities out of fear that others at their place of business will either prohibit or steal their side hustle.]
Trina Anderson, Jenna Lingol, and their coworkers have a monthly after-work happy hour tradition. Recently, with the price of menu items increasing, colleagues started bowing out. Happily, the group came up with a solution to combat the rising cost of getting together.
During their lunch hours, the ladies take to the trails surrounding their building to search for wayward golf balls from the nearby course. They load their pockets and purses, dumping their daily findings into a bucket in the break room. When the bucket reaches 200, they take it to the golf course next door and re-sell the balls for 60 cents apiece. The money is pooled to cover their happy hour bills.
“We’ve gotten competitive with it. We have a leader board,” Anderson says, shaking her head.
Adds Lingol, “It has gotten to the point where if one of us sees the other one outside walking during lunch, we run to get to the golf balls quicker. We are digging them out of the ground. We are fishing them out of trees.”
Anderson clarifies, “No, not we, just you! Sometimes I wonder if Jenna brings a shovel out there with her. She comes back with balls that look like they have been buried in the dirt for years.”
Lingol laughs. “We go across the street in the median or down the hill to find them. Once, I picked up a snake egg by mistake. That was not cool.”
Anderson’s face twists into a concerned look. “There is a median in the middle of the road nearby. To get to it, you need to Frogger across traffic and hop a guardrail with cars whizzing past. Someone is going to get run over.”
Lingol agrees that it can be dangerous, “I trespassed onto a construction zone behind our building one day. There were dozens of golf balls back there. A man working there yelled at me saying that what I was doing was a safety hazard. I didn’t want to explain that I trespassed because I was competing against my co-workers in a golf ball challenge, or that we used the money we made selling them for happy hour. Instead, I told him that we were collecting the balls for a good cause. It was partially true. We did adopt a family over Christmas to buy gifts for. [The construction worker] gave me a $100 bill and the golf balls. We used that money, along with our own donations, and our golf ball sales that month, for our adopted family. That motivated us to step up our game. Presently, most of our golf ball money goes to charity. People really need it right now. We do still put some aside for happy hour. The risk is worth it, mostly. Though I did run across a snake the other day, curled up next to a golf ball.”
Anderson says that snake was actually a condom, but she knows that Lingol’s fear makes sense. “When my coworkers got intense about the golf balls, I went on Amazon and bought a pack of fake snakes. I plant them on top of golf balls. Everyone in the office has conspiracy theories surrounding said snakes. Sometimes they think they are real, other times they think people who work in our building are trying to deter us so they can take over our side hustle. They have no clue it’s me.” She lets out a maniacal laugh, thoroughly pleased with her prank.
Rent my ratty beach towels for $25
Occupation: public relations
In August of 2022, Amy Conrad and her husband Randy began renting out their backyard through Swimply to turn a quick profit. Swimply is similar to Airbnb, but instead of renting out your entire home, you rent out your pool for a few of hours.
“I was relaxing in my backyard,” recalls Conrad, “and [my friend] turned to me and said, ‘My ex-husband rented somebody’s backyard to have a pool party for our kids. He spent $500! You should do that! You could make bank!’ At the time, we could really use extra money.” Before she knew it, Conrad was filling out an application and uploading photos of her El Cajon backyard to the Swimply website. “Swimply has you list how many patio sets you have, lounge chairs, and tables. They ask if you want to rent out amenities: floaties, towels, your barbecue, and your spa. It’s hilarious! I straight up charged $25 for people to use my ratty old towels.”
Conrad raided the clearance section and her local Albertsons, purchasing floaties at 75% off. “I was like, ‘If you want to use our floaties, you need to pay 25 bucks.’ You can even charge for Wi-Fi. I didn’t go that far though. At my house, you get free Wi-Fi.”
In total, the Conrads hosted four parties to get over their financial hump. “It did not take a lot of effort. We would blow off the patio, wipe down our chairs, and put up our umbrellas. I washed our towels if they were rented. And my husband Randy would blow up the floaties. That was it. Initially the pair charged $45 an hour, with additional charges for amenities, plus a $35 cleaning fee. They later raised their hourly rate to $50. Randy Conrad was not in love with the idea of renting out the family’s yard, but he came around during their first rental experience, when a chubby 6-year-old ran up to him and announced, “This is the best day of my life.” After that, says Conrad, “Randy was all smiles.”
Alas, that feeling was short lived. The Conrads listed their yard as an alcohol-free zone, but that didn’t stop people from bringing booze in. “The second time we rented our pool was for another kids’ party. I am not exaggerating when I say these people must’ve brought five coolers of Dos Equis to our house — for a kids’ party.” At first, the guests tried to hide their imbibing, but as they began to get drunk, well — “[Guests] came inside our house to use the bathroom, and they kept offering us beer!”
Still, they stuck with the Swimply hustle, until “this chick rented our pool for her 30th birthday. I came outside to check on things and our entire ping pong table was filled with shot glasses. They got totally drunk. They blared their music. They started singing and chanting so loud! Next thing we knew, they were holding the birthday girl up in the air on one of our patio chairs, passing her around like it was a Bat Mitzvah. It was embarrassing. Cars parked up and down our street. Drunk people loitering out front. I thought our neighbors would hate us, and it wasn’t even our party!”
Ten minutes before the event was set to end, no one was leaving. “I went outside and said, ‘Hey guys, this party is about over.’ [The renter] asked, ‘Can we rent it for another hour?’ I said, ‘Nope! Absolutely not!’ That was the last one we had. We made close to $400 on that party, though.”
Gus Grimm has been scouring thrift shops to resell clothing on the popular website Depop.
I am never going to be able to afford a house here
Occupation: grocery store worker
“I get paid $16.50 an hour,” says Gus Grimm. “It does not pay the best. So I have been working on side hustles”— scouring thrift shops to resell clothing on the popular website Depop. And more uniquely, selling custom handmade rugs. But Grimm admits that “it’s hard to turn a profit doing that. It costs roughly $50-60 for materials, and it takes around 10-15 hours to complete them. I charge around $120-$150. It’s a lot of work. But it’s nice to have a creative outlet become a side hustle. I am not turning a huge profit, but I really enjoy it. I got started doing punch needle [rugs] using an embroidery hoop. I saw people on YouTube use tufting guns and it’s way faster. I wanted to give it a shot, so I invested in one. That cost me around $300. They are not cheap.”
Right now, Grimm mostly sells his custom rugs to friends and family. “People who stumble upon my Instagram reach out to me too. I have done a few commissions that way” — though recently, he sold a rug to a new customer, and the post office lost it in transit. Fifteen hours of work for nothing. It’s tough, because unless the rug gig takes off, he doesn’t see how he’s ever going to be able to get his own place. “I feel like I’ve hit a pay ceiling. I have considered going back to school or doing a Google certification. And as much as I want the rug thing to happen, I would need to commit full time to doing that, because it is so labor intensive.”
Because of this, Grimm is thinking about leaving San Diego. “I want to get out on my own. March of last year, I moved up to LA. I had five housemates and paid $700 a month. I was working a couple of different jobs. After a few months, my car started breaking down and my jobs started falling through. I had to retreat back home. Getting that taste of freedom and [losing it] was kind of rough.”
The experience left him with the impression that “San Diego is becoming a secondary LA. Successful people from other places are flocking here. The natives are getting [priced] out. I feel like there isn’t a future for me here. If I want to raise a family down the line, I am never going to be able to afford a house here. I am strongly considering trailblazing to some city in the Midwest. It’s gonna suck — nothing will compare to San Diego. But at least its affordable and I can live comfortably and not have roommates. It’s a stark reality, but it is what it is.”