Retire unexpectedly? Side hustles may help to save your retirement.

When Diane Davis realized her retirement income would fall short of the amount she needed to afford small luxuries like cable television and bowling, she turned to side hustles to address the shortfall. Now, the 66 year-old retired school teacher earns an average of $400 to $500 per month dog sitting, and helping people with organization and elder care.

“I have no idea how I’d get by if I didn’t have the ability to get these extra jobs,” says Davis. Davis thought she had retirement planning whipped. But she realized too late that Social Security penalizes workers with government pensions, drastically cutting the retirement benefit she had expected.

Using side hustles to save your retirement

The curve that struck Davis affects millions of school teachers, first responders and other government workers. But retirement income planning is tricky even in the best of circumstances. That’s because there are so many unknowns, says Dan Doonan, executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security. You don’t know how long you’ll live; what your investments will earn before or after retirement; or whether you’ll suffer some costly disaster months or years after you leave the working world.

The pandemic added to the uncertainty as companies launched cost-cutting initiatives to cope with shut-downs and stay-at-home orders. In the end, roughly 1.1 million older workers were pushed out of the workforce, according to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. And, while Covid was unexpected and extraordinary, retiring earlier than planned because of emergencies, illnesses or layoffs is not at all rare, Doonan says. 

“Working longer is a good way to shore up your retirement resources, and a lot of people plan to do that,” he adds. “But your ability to work is not always in your hands.”

There are several ways that side hustles can help. The extra income can fill in regular budget gaps, as they do with Davis. Or you can side hustle to create a short-term bridge from an unexpected early retirement to a more normal retirement date months or years later. That can allow individuals to delay taking Social Security, which boosts their monthly benefits. 

“If you lose your job and gig work allows you to delay taking Social Security for a few years, that can have a significant impact on your retirement income for the rest of your life,” says Doonan.

Seniors can also pick up side hustles in bad investment markets to avoid selling distressed securities. 

Attractive side hustles for seniors

There are a variety of flexible and well-paid side hustles likely to be attractive to older adults. These include pet sitting, consulting, tutoring and virtual assisting. 

Davis, for instance, charges $40 to $50 per night to watch pets in their own homes. When the animals are likable and the home is nice, Davis says it feels more like a “staycation” than a job.

“It gives me my animal fix, and enough extra income to satisfy my budget,” Davis says. “You’d be amazed at how many people need a pet sitter.”

Davis sits for friends and acquaintances, so she never needs to search for work. However websites such as Wag and Rover can help you find dog-walking and pet-sitting jobs in exchange for a commission. Dog walkers typically charge $15 – $20 per half-hour; overnight pet sitters generally charge $35 to $100 per night.


Retirees who had professional experience in anything from law to logistics can also find well-paid consulting gigs through dozens of online platforms. However the right platform depends on your area of expertise.

General purpose platforms, such as Gerson Lehrman Group, Zintro and Maven, have you detail your skills. They contact you when an assignment falls into your area of expertise. Pay ranges from about $25 to more than $300 per hour.

Those with engineering and project management experience can search the job board at SMA Inc., which has a “talent on demand” feature for high-end project work. Tech experts can sign up with Braintrust, Catalant and Toptal.

Teaching and Tutoring

Dozens of teaching and tutoring websites enlist freelancers to do everything from helping grammar school kids with math and science to teaching Chinese kids English. Most jobs pay between $15 and $40 per hour.

Some of the better options? Outschool is a site that allows you to come with imaginative ways to teach just about anything and set your own rates. Juni Learning hires tutors to help kids in computer science, math and English. LessonFace connects music and dance teachers with students.

Virtual Assisting

Virtual assisting is the remote answer to having great office help. These individuals handle everything from email and travel scheduling to research and updating social media accounts. Jobs typically pay $15 – $25 per hour, but more for those with significant experience or specialized skills. Good sites to find virtual assistant jobs include Boldly and Belay.