CNBC make it 2024-04-23 02:00:49


This couple grew their basement side hustle into a business that brings in $4.5 million a year

After months of bringing in less than $100 a day, Audrey Finocchiaro and her then-boyfriend Sam Lancaster were close to walking away from their coffee cart.

They built the wooden cart with bicycle tires and a kickstand in her parents’ basement in 2016, maxing out her credit card’s $1,500 limit to afford materials, and called it The Nitro Cart. That summer, they took it to any event that would take them, from sheep shearing events to farmers markets across Rhode Island, serving small batches of nitrogen-infused cold brew.

“Sam and I had been popping up every day together, and when you’re not making any money and you’re also dating, that can get sort of frustrating,” says Finocchiaro, 30. “At the end of the summer, we were sort of like, we don’t want to do this anymore.”

A gaggle of college students changed their mind that fall, when Lancaster took the cart to Brown University. The cart sold out for the first time, bringing in $400 in sales in just 30 minutes, Finocchiaro says.

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They started going back every day, building a reputation on campus. To survive the winter, they partnered with local restaurants to install their nitro cold brew on tap.

Today, the business — now called The Nitro Bar — brings in millions in sales: $4.5 million over the past year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. It has 50 employees at three brick-and-mortar coffee shops and a smaller coffee trailer, and its cold brew is available on tap at more than 50 other locations across Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The co-founders are also married now, and their business has balanced profitability with expansion since its first money-making year in 2019, Finocchiaro says.

Here’s how they built The Nitro Bar, from 80-hour workweeks to some TikTok virality and a lot of luck.

An unexpected $100,000 in funding

Finocchiaro grew up frugal, and believed the cart would only last for one summer, she says. She and Lancaster didn’t fully realize they’d created a business model with scalable potential until the spring of 2017, when they were approached by a pair of venture capital investors who tried their cold brew at a farmers market and liked it.

One of the investors was a familiar face: Finocchiaro had previously worked for her. The investors created a spreadsheet to calculate what The Nitro Cart could grow into, based on projected number of carts and wholesale tap accounts.

“It was very, very scalable, and did pretty big numbers in not a lot of time,” says one of the investors, an entrepreneur who requested anonymity to protect her privacy.

One Sunday morning, the investors invited Finocchiaro and Lancaster to their home, showed them the numbers and offered them a $100,000 loan at a 10% interest rate to help them grow their business.

The investors retained a right to convert the loan into into a 10% equity investment in The Nitro Bar, says Finocchiaro.

“When we got the investment, it was so emotional because we had never seen anything like that in a bank account,” she says. “Now, it’s not just this little coffee cart. Someone gave us all of this money and we have to figure out how to grow it.”

‘Eventually it’ll catch up with you’

The $100,000 loan provided Finocchiaro and Lancaster with a financial cushion. It didn’t mean the co-founders could sit back and relax. They both worked “insane hours, usually seven days a week” to turn their cart into The Nitro Bar, says Finocchiaro.

Watching their cash flow rise and fall was particularly stressful in the early days, she adds.

“I would ask Sam, like, did someone steal money from our account?” says Finocchiaro. “There’s just so many costs that come with running your own thing.”

Now, Finocchiaro and Lancaster’s days begin at 5:30 a.m., when they run with their dogs before heading into their shops to check on employees. Then they create lists of tasks to complete in the coming week, like building out their production space or testing out new menu items.

When the clock hits 6 p.m., they stop talking about work, Finocchiaro says.

“You can work 80-hour workweeks every week, but eventually it’ll catch up to you,” she says. “And the recovery of finding balance after that catches up to you is so much more difficult than just finding a balance for you in the here and now.”

The power of social media

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably from TikTok: The Nitro Bar has more than 220,000 followers on the social media platform.

The account features aesthetic coffee clips and funny videos, where Finocchiaro asks baristas about the weirdest drink order they’ve gotten recently (an americano made with orange juice) and what they’d make Beyoncé if she walked in (a lavender lemonade with espresso).

Finocchiaro credits the brand’s TikTok popularity to something she calls “the Ben & Jerry’s effect.” The idea is to treat The Nitro Bar as “almost its own person,” and for that person to come off as someone who customers want to befriend, she says.

“When you buy Ben & Jerry’s, you feel like you’re supporting these two guys from Vermont, and I think that’s attributed to so much of their success,” says Finocchiaro. Sales are up 60% since The Nitro Bar started gaining traction on TikTok, she adds.

Finocchiaro also shares her journey as a small-business owner on her personal TikTok account, where she has more than 67,000 followers.

“I probably get 20 of those DMs every week from people wanting to do a similar thing, or asking questions about how they can do it,” she says. “Which is always very humbling and shocking that they’re asking me for advice.”

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The income a family of 4 needs to live comfortably in every U.S. state

The most expensive state to raise a family of four isn’t New York, California or Hawaii — it’s Massachusetts, according to a recent SmartAsset study.

To live comfortably in Massachusetts, a family of two working adults and two kids would need to earn $301,184 annually.

“Comfortable” is defined as the income needed to cover a 50/30/20 budget for a family of four. The budget allocates 50% of your earnings for necessities such as housing and utility costs, 30% for discretionary spending and 20% for savings or investments.

SmartAsset extrapolated the income needed for a 50/30/20 budget based on the cost of necessities, using data from the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

Here’s a look at how much income a family of four needs to live comfortably in the five most-expensive states: 

  1. Massachusetts: $301,184
  2. Hawaii: $294,611
  3. Connecticut: $279,885
  4. New York: $278,970
  5. California: $276,723

While most of these states are known for high housing costs, Massachusetts also has higher total costs for other categories, such as child care, food and medical expenses, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

In contrast to these states, Mississippi is the least-expensive state to raise a family, requiring only $177,798 per year in annual income. The median for the U.S. as a whole is $213,782.

As a general trend, more rural U.S. states have lower costs compared with states home to numerous large cities, such as California and New York — especially when it comes to housing.

But rural states tend to have lower wages, too. The median annual wage for workers in Mississippi is $37,500, compared with $56,840 in New York, for example, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data

As a result, some of the higher costs of living in urban states are offset through higher wages. 

Here’s a look at the income needed for a family of four to live comfortably in each state, listed in alphabetical order.

 Alabama

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $193,606

Alaska

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $242,611

Arizona

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $230,630

Arkansas

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $180,794

California

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $276,723

Colorado

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $264,992

Connecticut

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $279,885

Delaware

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $228,966

Florida

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $209,082

Georgia

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $212,826

Hawaii

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $294,611

Idaho

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $211,245

Illinois

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $231,962

Indiana

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $206,003

Iowa

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $211,411

Kansas

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $196,768

Kentucky

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $190,112

Louisiana

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $189,613

Maine

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $229,549

Maryland

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $239,450

Massachusetts

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $301,184

Michigan

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $214,490

Minnesota

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $244,774

Mississippi

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $177,798

Missouri

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $202,259

Montana

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $211,411

Nebraska

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $213,075

Nevada

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $237,286

New Hampshire

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $244,109

New Jersey

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $251,181

New Mexico

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $203,923

New York

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $278,970

North Carolina

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $209,331

North Dakota

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $202,176

Ohio

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $209,331

Oklahoma

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $194,106

Oregon

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $257,338

Pennsylvania

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $230,464

Rhode Island

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $249,267

South Carolina

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $200,762

South Dakota

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $192,608

Tennessee

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $195,770

Texas

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $201,344

Utah

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $218,483

Vermont

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $248,352

Virginia

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $235,206

Washington

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $257,421

West Virginia

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $189,363

Wisconsin

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $225,056

Wyoming

  • Annual income needed to live comfortably: $203,424

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I made $40,000 a month from 3 income streams during a 4-month cruise around the world—here’s how

I recently took a four-month-long, around-the-world cruise to more than 25 countries and six continents with my husband and baby.

It cost a lot — more than $50,000 — and gave us amazing memories. Our adventure began in sunny Florida and took us through the Panama Canal, then to the beautiful islands of French Polynesia, the stunning landscapes of New Zealand, vibrant cities across Asia and finally to the historical sites of the Mediterranean.

Throughout all of this, I ran my online business, Making Sense of Cents, from the ship. It started 10 years ago as a blog about my progress toward paying off my student loans. Today, I earn $40,000 per month in semi-passive income from it, through three different streams: affiliate marketing, sponsored partnerships and online courses.

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Part of my income also comes from investing: I direct some of my earnings toward personal investing and retirement accounts, and receive quarterly dividend payouts.

I spent roughly two or three hours per cruise day on work — excluding port days, so we could fully explore our destinations — totaling 10-15 hours per week.

Here’s what those days looked like, and how I built my income streams to be nearly entirely passive.

Affiliate marketing on my blog

I planned my work schedule carefully around our travel plans.

During days at sea — around 60 of them! — I focused on work, particularly during my daughter’s nap times. I answered emails, wrote blog posts, brainstormed new ideas, handed accounting, addressed anything urgent that needed my attention and strategized new ways to grow Making Sense of Cents.

I built many of my blog posts around affiliate marketing, a strategy that’s responsible for about half of my blog’s revenue. I write about products I like and trust, and add a referral link for my readers to check them out. If someone signs up through my link, I earn a commission.

These links can be in posts that I wrote months or even years ago. I can write about a product once, and it can keep earning me money over time. The more traffic I drive to my website, the more even my older posts generate income for me.

Aboard the cruise ship, I published one or two new articles for my blog each week. I also noticed a post from 2022 — 31 Best Stay At Home Jobs (#1 Is My Full Time Job!) — performing well, thanks to a boost from social media platforms like Pinterest and Facebook. Tens of thousands of new readers visited that post during my four months at sea.

Sponsored partnerships

Roughly 20% of my revenue comes from advertising, like sponsored partnerships. I team up with a company to promote its brand on my blog or social media, highlighting its products through my writing skills or sharing my experiences with its products.

This content can include reviews or educational posts about what the company offers. It’s a win-win situation: the company gains exposure, and I earn money for creating content and reaching my audience.

Before I decide to work with a company, I test out the product or service and do as much research as I can. If I don’t like it, I won’t form that partnership. I turn down offers every week: companies I don’t think my readers would like, companies that don’t align with my beliefs and more.

Sponsored partnerships are more active income, so I didn’t do many of them during the cruise. Specifically, I worked on some sponsored newsletters, spending maybe five hours on them, in total.

Digital product sales

Another 20% of my revenue comes from course sales.

When I started blogging, I didn’t fully realize how much money I could make by selling my industry expertise. It took thousands of people — literally, hundreds per week — asking me to help them monetize their own blogs for me to get my first course idea, which ended up being called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

I created the guide I wished I’d had when I was starting out in the blogging world, and published it on an online course platform called Teachable. It explained how affiliate marketing works and how to effectively use it, breaking those topics down into text-based lessons and modules. I still keep it up to date, sometimes even adding new lessons to it.

On the cruise, I updated lessons and answered questions from students. I also manage a Facebook community group for the course, and I made sure I was active there at least a few times per week.

Then, I closed my laptop, sat on the balcony with my husband and baby, and together we watched the sunset right from our room.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the founder of Making Sense of Cents, where she helps readers make smart decisions about how to earn, save, spend and invest. She paid off nearly $40,000 in student loan debt in just seven months and now travels as much as she can. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.

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3 high-paying in-demand jobs that don’t require a degree

If you’re looking for a career that pays well, doesn’t require a college degree and offers strong job security, you might want to consider a trade job. 

The U.S. skilled labor market is facing “record-high pressure,” according to new research from McKinsey & Co., as more workers age out and fewer young people train to fill their jobs as construction workers, plumbers, welders and more. 

Labor shortages — amplified by disruptions to in-person work and material shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic — have created more competition for talent, and, as a result, wages for skilled trade jobs have risen by more than 20% since the first quarter of 2020, McKinsey & Co. reports.

Demand for skilled tradespeople is expected to increase over the next decade and remain high in the U.S. due to infrastructure needs, a surge in real estate redevelopment and investments in renewable energy.

The most in-demand jobs companies are hiring for right now — that don’t require a degree — are in construction, manufacturing and plumbing, according to data from Payscale and ZipRecruiter exclusively shared with CNBC Make It

1. Construction superintendent

Median salary: $84,600

2. Manufacturing production manager

Median salary: $71,800

3. Journeyman plumber

Median salary: $61,500

It’s important to note that there are different levels of certification for some trade jobs including plumbers and electricians. For plumbers, there are three levels: Apprentice, journeyman and master. 

If you want to work as a journeyman plumber, you’ll need to work as an apprentice under a licensed master plumber for at least 2 years, depending on your state’s requirements, according to Indeed.

To compile the list, Payscale analyzed 85,715 salary profiles from U.S. workers with no education higher than a high school diploma. The salary data was collected between April 2022 and April 2024. From that sample, Payscale identified a list of jobs and ranked them by median pay for workers without degrees.

Then, to determine which high-paying jobs are seeing the most demand, ZipRecruiter looked at hiring trends for these roles over the last six months to see which jobs saw the biggest increase in openings. 

All of these jobs saw at least a 16% increase in openings on ZipRecruiter between October 2023 and March 2024. Construction superintendents have seen the largest uptick in demand, with openings surging more than 128%.

Other high-paying trade jobs that have seen slightly less demand, but are still hiring at a good clip, include fleet managers, who oversee drivers and vehicles, like delivery trucks, owned or leased by their companies, and journeyman electricians. The median pay for fleet managers without degrees is $64,600 while journeyman electricians make $62,600 on average, according to Payscale. 

Careers in construction, manufacturing and home services, which have historically prioritized skills over degrees in hiring, still present some of the best opportunities for people to earn up to six figures without going to college, says Ruth Thomas, a pay equity strategist with Payscale. 

Although more companies are dropping degree requirements for jobs, skills-based hiring is still a newer trend that “hasn’t become common practice” across all industries just yet, Thomas adds. 

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3 in-demand, high-paying side hustles—some can pay more than $200 an hour

Americans are diving into freelancing — 38% performed freelance work in 2023, according to Upwork’s December 2023 Freelance Forward survey. While some are freelancing full-time, many people are also doing so part-time as a side hustle.  

If you yourself are considering a side gig, there are many ways to dive in. You can write people’s video game profiles, get paid to pretend to be someone on their dating profiles or even get paid to stand in line for people.

With so many options available, “the question is, what do you do?” says Kathy Kristof, founder and CEO of Sidehusl.com. Or, what qualities do you have “that are fairly unique?”

Here are three high-paying, in-demand side hustles to consider according to Kristof and Daniella Flores, founder of side hustle blog I Like to Dabble.

SEO consulting

“Marketing is giant,” Kristof says. Social media marketing, for instance, is a service she sees a lot of demand for. “There’s a huge need for people who know how to do SEO” as well, she says.

Search engine optimization helps websites gain more traffic by considering keywords people type in to look for like content. If you’re interested in learning how it works, there are all sorts of online courses on sites like Coursera and tutorials by Google itself.

SEO experts on Upwork are currently charging as much as $250 per hour.

Cybersecurity

With so much of people’s lives happening online, “cybersecurity is in extremely high demand and that will probably last forever,” says Kristof, adding that “the threats become more sophisticated and tougher to stop.”

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If you’re interested in diving in, “you don’t need a college degree, but Google, IBM, Apple, all of these big tech companies offer very inexpensive, sometimes free courses in cybersecurity,” she says. Various colleges and universities offer them as well, and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies lists a number of certifications to consider.

When you take the courses, “you’re often connected to the people who are going to hire you in the end,” says Kristof.

Cybersecurity experts on Fiverr are charging as much as $1,480 per project.

Coding

Finally, another high paying hustle in the tech world is coding. “The part-time demand for it is so high, especially with AI and the need to train all of these new AI platforms,” says Flores, who goes by they/them pronouns.

Many people in the field have degrees in computer science, but that’s not necessarily a prerequisite. There are coding boot camps available online through sites like Codeacademy and various universities, and they can be enough to get started.

Flores recommends offering your services through sites like Data Annotation Tech. “It’s kind of like a coding temp agency,” they say. To register, you’ll need to take an assessment test. But once you pass, “they do guarantee work for everybody,” they say. One user reported making about $23 per hour, though Flores says coders can make as much as $50 per hour through the site.

Flores also recommends using LinkedIn to look for jobs.

“A lot of people, when they’re hiring for freelancers, no matter the project, they will put up a post on their page” as opposed to creating a job listing on the site. Flores recommends doing a keyword search for posts including phrases like web development freelancer, freelance coder, etc. to find opportunities.

Coders on Upwork are charging as much as $200 per hour.

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

Plus, sign up for CNBC Make It’s newsletter to get tips and tricks for success at work, with money and in life.