If bills continue to chew through your budget after you cut back on household expenses, it may be time to think about a second job. Moonlighting can be a good way to tuck a little extra money in your pocket, and it doesn’t have to be just a mindless slog through spreadsheets and bent paper clips. You can use a second job to acquire new skills and sharpen your resume. Expanding your key competencies is a smart move in a downbeat job market because even major companies are cutting back, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Microsoft.
Moonlighting is more than just lining up a second job and working longer hours. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself in trouble at your primary job and facing additional stress at home. Think about what the extra hours will mean to your home life and discuss it with your spouse or partner before taking a second job. Here are ten things you need to know about moonlighting.
1. Inform Your Current Employer
Always be upfront with your current employer. Tell your supervisor and personnel office that you’re planning to take a second job—and put it in writing. What you do on your own time is your business, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Make it clear that your decision to take a second job isn’t a criticism of your current company or your pay, and stress that you simply need extra money for tuition, braces for your kids, an addition to the house, or whatever.
2. Never Work for a Competitor
Your employer trusts you with details of the operation, even if you don’t participate in the weekly skull session with the pooh-bahs in the corner office. Assure your employer that your second job won’t compromise your performance at your day job and you’ll keep all company secrets. Use your smarts to tackle other tasks and consider a second job in an unrelated field to put your current employer at ease.
3. Keep the Jobs Separate
You must scrupulously keep your primary job separate from your second job. Never handle moonlighting tasks at your day job, not even seemingly little things such as taking a phone call or sending an email. You primary employer deserves your full attention during the day. If nothing else, remember that your employer may monitor your email at work, and you don’t want to be seen to be disloyal. So, always perform the second job away from the office and on your own time.
4. Manage Your Time
Clearly, you’ve got to give yourself time to get from your first job to your second. But more than that, you’ve got to have a backup plan if your primary job suddenly requires extra hours. Be sure to discuss this possibility with your second employer. Rule of thumb: Never jeopardize your primary job for a part-time job—unless you aspire to reduced pay, no benefits, and, if it’s a second- or third-shift job, hours of mind-numbing daytime TV.
5. Talk to Your Family
Remember that working an extra 10 or 20 hours each week means you’ll have less time with your family or sweetie. This means someone other than you must handle additional tasks at home. This could be stressful. If you head for home after regular hours, you may arrive later than you think because you may wait longer for a bus or train. But cheer up because traveling at off-peak hours almost certainly means you’ll get a seat on the ride home.
6. Beware of Burnout
The longer workday may wear you down, and this could impair your performance at both jobs. That’s a prelude to catastrophe. Don’t take a second job if it’ll interfere with your first. Remember that the national unemployment rate is edging toward 10 percent and you need to keep your full-time job with benefits. If you find that you can’t handle the extra hours, dump the part-time job.
7. Do the Math
Calculate your take-home pay from the second job and weigh it against the longer hours and added strain on your family. Are you making minimum wage working nights at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s? If not, check the tax tables, because it probably doesn’t make sense to work longer hours only to be kicked into a higher tax bracket and have a bigger chunk of the extra income taxed away. Then ask a basic question: Is a second job worth it? There’s no magic formula, and only you and your loved ones can decide.
8. New Freedom
A second job may give you a sense of freedom, especially if your primary job is unpleasant or getting shaky. This feeling may give you a second wind after leaving your primary job at 5 p.m., but remember that the extra hours will pile up and may wear you down. A sloppy performance benefits no one—especially not you.
9. Draft a Savings Plan
You don’t want to spend every dime of every paycheck from your second job just to stay afloat. Your budget should cover the basics, including the cost of an extra meal away from home. Be sure to set some money from your second job aside as part of an ongoing savings plan. If you don’t, you’ll soon feel that you’re on a treadmill to nowhere and you’ll burn out fast.
If you haven’t mastered the art of relaxation, now’s the time to learn. A second job makes it more important than ever to do nothing, take the kids to the park, toss a baseball, or read a book. Remember that your family needs you, and you need time away from work. Failure to understand these basic points will be catastrophic for your family and your performance at both jobs.