CNBC make it 2024-04-26 02:00:53

26-year-old’s side hustle brings in $38,500 a month and can be ‘passive all year long’

Francisco Rivera’s “original plan” after college graduation was to work in music and travel.

But after he finished his degree in music production at Full Sail University in 2017, he couldn’t find a job in the industry. So, Rivera made money where he could: He worked in an Apple Store, then nabbed a part-time gig for online tutoring company Outschool.

Those jobs weren’t satisfying or lucrative — at least compared to what he does now, he says. In February 2023, Rivera started selling print-on-demand candles on Etsy. At first, he worked four to five hours a day, and only brought in a couple hundred dollars a month.

Two months later, Rivera was on a date when his side hustle catapulted into popularity: He received over 70 orders that day, compared to his usual 10, he estimates. “I was so distracted because my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.”

Now that Rivera’s shop is up and running, and has garnered over 5,000 reviews on Etsy, he only has to work 20 minutes a day to manage customer relations, he says. Last year, he brought in $462,000 in sales, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. That averages to roughly $38,500 per month.

DON’T MISS: The ultimate guide to earning passive income online

Rivera estimates 30% to 50% of each sale is profit. The remaining cash pays for Etsy fees, which were nearly $55,000 last year, and marketing and Printify, the service he uses to connect with manufacturers. (Rivera asked to keep his shop’s name private, so other sellers don’t copy his products.)

The success of Rivera’s Etsy shop allowed him to quit his tutoring job in December. This year, he’s used his extra time to travel the world — he just returned from Bali — and work on personal music projects, he says.

“Some people love structure … but I just recognize that wasn’t for me,” Rivera, 26, tells CNBC Make It. “Being my own boss is very fulfilling.”

Here’s how Rivera honed his skills from past jobs to open a successful shop, and how he stands out in a saturated print-on-demand market.

Leveraging existing skills  

After college, Rivera worked in Apple stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for three years. There, he learned how to multi-task, build relationships and solve customers’ problems, even when people yelled at him, he says.

He moved to Orlando, his hometown, in 2020. There, he took the job with Outschool, where he taught 7- to 12-year-olds how to build social and critical thinking skills on the popular online game Minecraft. The pay was good, up to $100 per hour, and it was his introduction to online businesses, he says.

Rivera started seeking new ways to make income when demand for online tutoring waned after the pandemic, he says.

That’s when he stumbled on a YouTube video about print-on-demand. The popular side hustle has a simple concept: Sellers create designs for products like T-shirts, tote bags or mugs, then list the designs on online marketplaces. After an order is placed, a manufacturer prints the design onto the product and ships it directly to the customer.

As Rivera did more research, he realized just how many people were already selling apparel. More competition, another YouTube video informed him, would make it harder for his shop to go viral.

He scoured Printify’s catalog for more ideas, and landed on candles — a relatively new and less popular product, he figured — even though he’s allergic.

“I wanted to make an aesthetic, neutral candle that could fit into any space. I also love humor [so] I liked the idea of brainstorming phrases for specific niches,” he says.

His customer service skills also likely helped his shop quickly accumulate positive reviews and bolster his reputation on the platform, he says. (Etsy doesn’t disclose how its algorithm ranks its search results, but its seller’s handbook says shops need “fabulous feedback” to be successful.)

Trial and error leads to a winning formula

Rivera experiments with strategies, learned through trial and error and YouTube tutorials, to help his Etsy store stand out, he says.

He alters his product descriptions, updates product photos and invests in internal marketing on Etsy to get his candles in front of as many users as possible, he says.

It’s not an expensive model: Listing each product on Etsy costs $0.20, then the platform takes 6.5% of every sale. He borrows someone else’s Canva account, but the Pro version costs $120 per year.

Rivera’s side hustle model is simple as well. He starts with a photo of a candle with a blank label, adds a phrase — like “Smells like a Promotion,” which is popular for other sellers — on Canva. Then, he uploads the design to Etsy, and his linked Printify account sends the design to a manufacturer who ships the final product directly to customers.

While traveling, Rivera still works less than an hour per day. When he’s home in Orlando, he dedicates two hours at least one day per week to researching platform trends, he says.

The research phase is time consuming, but crucial to his success, Rivera says. He spends that time figuring out how to appeal to hyper-specific groups like hockey moms, new parents who hate dirty diapers, bridal parties, divorcees and people in long-distance relationships.

“I don’t technically have to work every day … You can [make this] passive all year round if you want to,” Rivera says. “You’re just not going to make quite as much.”

Rivera is considering expanding the business, potentially leaning into his tutoring expertise to produce his own print-on-demand YouTube videos, he says — but it comes with a cost. He’d have to give up his free time, and therefore, a slice of his music and traveling pursuits.

“There’s value in time and value and flexibility,” Rivera says. “I would take a pay cut if it still allowed me to do what I’m doing [with my free time].”

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.

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34-year-old making $49,000 a month in passive income: My favorite $0 side hustles

I started my first side hustle on Amazon in 2017 for $0. At the time, I was working two jobs and freelancing, and I was excited about the potential to make some passive income by selling print on demand t-shirts with Amazon Merch on Demand.

At first it was just t-shirts, but now I also sell tank tops, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, phone cases, pillows and tote bags. Since the platform has expanded to international markets, I sell my products to customers the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan.

The Amazon side hustle ultimately allowed me to leave my day job in 2020.

What began as one experimental side hustle has grown into 10 income streams that now bring in $49,000 a month in passive income.

Here are some of my favorite $0 side hustles and my best advice for getting started in 2024.

DON’T MISS: The ultimate guide to earning passive income online

Amazon Merch on Demand

Start-up cost: $0

This platform has become my favorite passive income opportunity. It uses a print-on-demand business model, where products are printed and shipped after the sale takes place.

My responsibilities include creating graphic designs, and listing them for sale on the various products available in the Amazon Merch catalog. I find that simple, text-based designs can generate plenty of sales, so for me, design experience has not been required to be successful.

My favorite thing about this platform is how automated it is. After an order comes in, Amazon routes the order to one of their production facilities, where the product is picked, printed, and shipped to our customer. Each month I receive a payout for royalties generated on our sales.

Print on Demand

Start up cost: $0

Amazon Merch is not the only way to make money with print on demand. I’ve taken the designs I created for my Amazon Merch side hustle and placed them on other products and marketplaces as well. 

I’ve sold print-on-demand products on Etsy since 2018. The only cost associated with Etsy is a $0.20 fee to create a product listing, and if you use an invite link to begin selling on Etsy you can get 40 free listings. 

I use a company called Printful to fulfill the orders. Printful has a direct integration, which allows them to automatically fulfill orders and notify customers when they’re shipped out.

In addition to Etsy, you can consider cross-listing your print on demand products to Walmart, eBay and Redbubble. I use all three platforms. Redbubble and eBay have been around for quite some time, while the Walmart option became available last year.

Amazon Influencer Program

Start up cost: $0

My fiancé and I have both been a part of the Amazon Influencer Program since September of 2023. It allows you to make passive income by creating video reviews of Amazon products that you own.

Joining the program is free, and you can use your smartphone to start recording the videos. The uploaded videos are displayed on the Amazon product detail page for the product you review, as well as similar products. If someone watches your video before they buy the product, you’re typically paid a commission ranging between one and three percent.

I would start by reviewing all of the products you own that can be found on Amazon. As long as the item is available for sale on the platform, you can absolutely review it, regardless of where you originally bought it.

I have reviewed hundreds of products, and my fiancé has reviewed close to 1,000. I think this is a great potential passive income stream that is not super well known.


Start up cost: $0

YouTube is an ever popular side hustle that you can start today for $0, even with just a smartphone and an internet connection. I have found that when I create videos about my passions and hobbies, it often doesn’t feel like work. 

The requirements to monetize your YouTube channel with AdSense is 4,000 hours watched, total across all video uploads, and 1,000 subscribers. Once you’re approved, you can get paid monthly based on how many ads were watched by your viewers.

I have my own YouTube channel from which I earn $4,900 a month in passive income. My fiancé and I also recently started a channel together where we unbox Amazon return pallets, with hopes that we can re-sell the products at a profit. Not only is it a fun project to work on together, it’s on its way to paying us ad revenue, once the channel meets the monetization requirements.

There are a ton of exciting side hustle opportunities out there. While the learning curve may seem intimidating at first, my best advice is to approach it with a positive attitude and a long-term perspective. It can take some time to scale these income streams to the point where they can replace a full-time income, but in my experience, it can be done. 

Ryan Hogue is a former web developer and adjunct professor who quit both jobs to run his e-commerce business. His YouTube channel teaches people how to earn passive income using “Ryan’s Method.”

Hogue is also an instructor in CNBC’s new online course, How to Earn Passive Income Online. The course provides an overview of common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories.

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

You need at least $1 million to retire comfortably in these 10 U.S. states—half are in the Northeast

On average, Americans believe they should save up around $1.46 million before retiring, per Northwestern Mutual’s 2024 Planning and Progress study.

But in certain states, like Hawaii, you’d actually need more than that. The minimum amount of savings you’d need to retire in the Aloha state is $2,051,077, according to a GOBankingRates study.

The personal finance site calculates that this amount, plus Social Security benefits, would be enough to cover costs for necessities like groceries, housing, utilities, car expenses, discretionary spending and savings over a 25-year retirement.

To determine the minimum retirement savings requirements in each state, GOBankingRates examined how much Americans 65 and older spend each year on groceries, transportation, housing, utilities and health care using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2022 Consumer Expenditure Survey.

It also looked at each state’s cost of living through the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center state-by-state cost of living index, based on the Council for Community and Economic Research survey data.

Here are the 10 states where you’d need the most to retire comfortably, according to GOBankingRates data shared with CNBC Make It.

1. Hawaii

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $2,051,077

2. Massachusetts

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,600,097

3. California

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,432,425

4. New York

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,289,325

5. Alaska

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,287,880

6. Washington

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,133,217

7. New Hampshire

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,131,771

8. Vermont

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,121,653

9. Maryland

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,120,208

10. Oregon

  • Minimum retirement savings needed: $1,118,762

It’s no secret that Hawaii can be an expensive place to live. The median home sale price is around $813,000 as of March 2024, according to Redfin. And $1 million in retirement savings would run out in about 10 years — the fastest of any state.

While the state doesn’t tax income from Social Security, income from retirement savings accounts, such as 401(k)s and Roth IRAs, is fully taxed.

However, Hawaii offers a number of features that retirees may find attractive, such as stunning landscapes and easy access to pristine beaches.

How to plan for retirement

It’s important to remember that everyone’s definition of a “comfortable retirement” will be different.

While you may not necessarily want to retire as a millionaire, having a clear savings goal in mind can help you figure out how much you’ll need to start setting aside now in order to retire comfortably.

If you don’t know where to start, CNBC Make It’s retirement calculator can help you figure out how much you may need, based on factors like your age, current income and savings.

And although a location’s cost of living can be an important factor when deciding where to retire, it’s not the only thing to consider. Your decision will depend on a number of personal preferences, such as whether you want to live closer to family or how much you plan to spend on activities like travel.

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.

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

Harvard nutritionist: The No. 1 nutrient for a healthy brain—and the best way to get it

There is no one-size-fits-all way to prevent dementia. That said, a vast number of studies have isolated certain nutrients that may help prevent the loss of cognitive functioning with age, like perception, attention and decision making.

Three types of neuroprotective nutrients have received the most interest from experts like myself: antioxidants, B vitamins, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Antioxidants combat free radicals that can damage brain cells, B vitamins play an important role in brain cell function, and PUFAs help promote the growth of new brain cells.

While supplements can help provide these nutrients, I always tell people to first go to real foods, especially for fatty acids like omega-3s. When you eat a whole food you get additional vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein. It’s a good foundation upon which to build a healthy eating plan.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the No. 1 nutrient for a healthy brain

Omega-3s are found in wild-caught fatty fish like anchovies, sardines, and salmon. Wild Sockeye salmon in particular contains levels of EPA and DHA that are beneficial to our brain’s health.

An average salmon filet in the U.S. is about three to four ounces and the suggested amount to eat per week is about eight. So one should try to get Omega-3-rich fish onto your plate at least twice a week.

If you are like me and don’t eat seafood (I was raised vegetarian), you may be relieved to know it is still possible to get adequate omega-3s from plant-based sources, including:

  • Chia seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds

About one ounce of chia seeds is more than your daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids and delivers about 5,000 mg. 

If you eat eggs, aim for the pasture-raised kind. Be sure to add turmeric with a pinch of black pepper to optimize the impact for brain health.

It’s important to underline that we can’t out-supplement or exercise our way out of a poor diet. An overall healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, alongside regular exercise, proper sleep, mindfulness, social connections, stress management and lower anxiety, are critical factors to fend off conditions like dementia.

Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist. She is also the author of the bestselling ”This is Your Brain on Food″ and most recently, ”Calm Your Mind with Food.” Follow her on Instagram or subscribe to her newsletter on Substack. 

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.

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

36-year-old makes $37,000 a year leading Dungeons & Dragons games

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.

People are surprised to learn that Mari Murdock, 36, is a professional game master, a role in which she organizes and narrates tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons.

“A lot of people don’t see things like hobbies or artistic endeavors as something that could generally make them money,” she tells CNBC Make It.

Admittedly, she didn’t expect running D&D games to turn into a paying gig, either — at least at first: “It was just a hobby I did with my friends in college.”

Dungeons & Dragons is an open-ended tabletop game in which the narrative is shaped by the players’ choices, whether that’s through combat, puzzles or negotiation. A GM is the world-builder and narrator for the players’ actions, but they also enforce and explain the rules, kind of like a mediator or referee.

Since random rolls of the dice can be the difference in whether a player’s character is swallowed by a gelatinous cube or crushed by a herd of centaurs, a good GM will also be an adept improviser who can keep the story moving based on the circumstances of the game.

In other words, it’s not an easy gig. But as Murdock played tabletop games through the 2010s, she grew more confident in the skills it takes to run a good game. While not obvious at the time, it’s what led to her becoming a paid GM.

“I love teaching, I love writing and I love playing games — it’s been an interesting career path that’s an amalgamation of all the things that I want to do,” she says. 

Since 2021, Murdock’s main source of income has been working as a GM for Dungeon Master Direct, a Utah-based company that specializes in online and in-person tabletop roleplaying game sessions that range from $375 to $750.

She makes $24,000 as a dungeon master for the company, plus another $13,000 teaching writing at nearby Westminster University in Salt Lake City, where she lives with her husband, Scott. He makes $96,000 as a communications director at a state agency.

Here’s a look at how Murdock was able to turn her hobby into a career.

Becoming a tabletop gamer

The eldest of two siblings in a Latter-day Saints family, Murdock says she was “willful” and “liked being my own boss” when she was growing up. 

Most of her childhood took place in Michigan and in Utah, where she spent her days “climbing trees, catching frogs, playing make believe.” At night, she would stay up reading books, pretty much “any type of storytelling.”

In 2007, Murdock’s family moved to Hawaii after her father got a teaching job at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. She studied literature at the school, and while there, played her first tabletop role-playing game at a friend’s house and “loved it.”

In 2010, she took time off from school to become a full-time missionary. She was assigned to Japan, the country where her mother was born.

While in Japan, Murdock met her now-husband, Scott, who was also doing missionary work in another part of the country.

Mari returned to Hawaii in 2012 and graduated from BYU-H with a bachelor’s degree in literature. She got a communications job on campus, and was soon joined by Scott, who moved to Hawaii to be with her and finish his degree.

They helped create a gaming club on campus, with Murdock acting as the club’s faculty advisor since she worked for the university.

The club was a hit, becoming the second-largest student group on campus. Murdock got more involved with the club, running tabletop RPGs for first-time players. In 2013, she entered and won an open audition to write fiction for Legend of the Five Rings, a popular collectible card game set in feudal Japan.

“That really opened the doors to networking for other types of work, because when people were looking for a writer who could do fiction at a professional level, my name would start coming up,” says Murdock.

Getting hired as a professional Dungeon Master

Even if she didn’t do it for a living, Murdock says she’d still be planning D&D campaigns for friends, reading game books or writing fiction.

Since hobbies can become side hustles, “it’s important to remember that creative work is work,” she says.

As a friend once said to her: “You’re going to be doing it anyway, you might as well find someone to pay you for it.”

In 2016, Murdock moved to Salt Lake City with Scott, where she studied for a master’s degree in transatlantic literature. She also continued freelance writing, mostly for Legend of the Five Rings.

“I got roped into writing anything that they needed me to,” says Murdock. This included novelizations of the game, as well as text that explains game mechanics, character backstories or text that appears on game cards. She was mostly paid in free products at first, but later got paid in cash.

In 2020, Dax Levine — an old friend from Murdock’s university gaming club — founded Dungeon Master Direct, a professional dungeon master service. The timing was fortuitous, as tabletop gaming became more popular during the pandemic.

The company was successful enough that in May 2021 Levine was able to hire Murdock as a game master, commonly called a dungeon master when playing Dungeons & Dragons.

“I run about three games a week on a busy week,” says Murdock. Each ongoing game, including prep, takes about four to five hours a week of her time.  

She also helps run company events, like the largest game of Dungeons & Dragons ever played, according to Guinness World Records. The game was held at a mall in Provo, Utah, and culminated in all 1,227 participants defeating an evil wizard named Vecna in the final attack.

Despite the fantastical elements of Dungeons & Dragons, Murdock says her interest in gaming has not been discouraged by her church. In fact, “a lot of members of the LDS church gravitate toward fantasy games,” she says.

Attitudes have change since the “satanic panic” of the 1980s, where people had “this stereotype that kids in their basements were actually summoning these demons and things like that,” she says.

For Murdock, gaming allows you to immerse yourself in “a pretend situation where you are imagining that you are someone else. I think that really develops creativity. It creates problem solving and a lot of empathy.”

What Mari and Scott spend in a month

Here’s how Mari and Scott spent their money in February 2024:

  • Debt repayment: $2,450 for student loans, credit card debt, PayPal Credit, personal loan
  • Mortgage: $2,147
  • Food: $1,390 on groceries and dining out
  • Discretionary: $832 for home goods, a Kickstarter contribution, hair salon
  • Utilities: $452 for Wi-Fi, heat, water and electricity
  • Savings: $400
  • Subscriptions and memberships: $235 on Hulu, Spotify, Amazon Prime, Midjourney, Patreon, Nebula, Max
  • Insurance: $161 for health, dental, vision, car and home
  • Phones: $140
  • Gas: $71

In June 2023, Mari and Scott purchased a detached two-bedroom home in downtown Salt Lake City for $535,000, with a down payment of $40,000. To afford the home, they took on a personal loan within their family, which works out to $777 in monthly payments in addition to their mortgage.

As part of the move, they did what Murdock calls a “financial reset,” with the goal of paying down the roughly $15,000 in credit card debt they accumulated during the pandemic. For that reason, debt repayment is the biggest monthly expense for the couple, with nearly $1,400 put toward credit card payments alone.

They also have student loan debt of about $25,000 each. Scott hopes to qualify for public service loan forgiveness in a couple of years, since he works for a government agency. 

Prior to the move, the couple had consistently paid a tithe to their church totaling one tenth of their income. However, they have paused their monthly contributions until they can pay down their credit card debt.

Murdock usually spends up to 10 hours a week volunteering for the Relief Society, an LDS philanthropic women’s organization. She figures her current contribution to the church is “my time commitment rather than my money commitment.”

They own a fully paid off 2018 Jeep Compass, so they save money on transportation costs, only paying about $200 for gas and car insurance each month.

As for investments, the couple has about $20,000 set aside through Scott’s 401(k) and pension. “Once we are completely out of debt besides the mortgage, we will probably put more into our retirement accounts,” says Murdock.

Looking ahead

Once their debt is paid down, “we’re hoping to maybe foster children or adopt children, because that’s something we’ve always been interested in,” says Murdock.

As for her career, juggling freelance writing, GMing and teaching “can be overwhelming at times,” Murdock says. But it’s also “fulfilling to all of the parts of my brain that just loves doing all sorts of different things.”

Murdock wants to continue these pursuits, but would like to branch out and write her own novels too.

“I went to school specifically to learn how to be a creative writer, so I love that GMing is a creative outlet that allows me to hone my storytelling, plotting and characterization skills,” she says. “I feel very lucky that I’m able to do this. I’m feeling happy and blessed with it.”

What’s your budget breakdown? Share your story with us for a chance to be featured in a future installment.

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.

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