I have a good friend who desperately needed to make extra money. Her husband had recently lost his job, she was seven months pregnant, and they had a special needs child who attended a specialized school. Even though her husband’s unemployment checks would provide in the interim, she knew it wouldn’t be enough: and she turned to me for advice on how to earn extra cash.

It’s a question I get asked a lot these days. Two years ago, I was a TV news producer, working 60 hours a week for less than $35,000 a year. My career was going nowhere fast, and I was struggling to repay my student loans, let alone save for my children’s education, a family vacation or a down payment on a new home. I’d tried asking my boss for a raise and got what’s come to be a pretty standard response during this seemingly endless recession: We appreciate your hard work, but there’s no extra money in the budget. That’s when I decided I’d have to find a solution to our money woes elsewhere. Credit Card Deals can only do so much.

Here’s the thing about being a working parent, whether you’re a father who works from home, a mother who works in a traditional office, or a parent who stays at home taking care of kids all day long: you don’t have a lot of extra time. With that in mind, I made a list of five key things I needed as I sought out extra income:

  1. It couldn’t take more than ten hours a week away from my family. This was absolutely non-negotiable. I saw no point in making extra money if I wouldn’t have the time to enjoy the fruits of my labors with my husband and children.
  2. My new side job – whatever that may be – would have to be in my field of expertise, namely, the communications industry. I didn’t want to struggle to learn new skills in a new field; to do so would be an inefficient use of my time.
  3. I wanted to be generously compensated for my time. I’ve known friends who took on a second job, only to toil needlessly $10 an hour. NOT. WORTH. IT.
  4. My work needed to be convenient. I was already spending 60 hours a week working outside the house; I didn’t need a second job to take me away from my family even more. Ideally, I wanted to be able to work at home on my own schedule, whether that be 7pm on a weeknight, on a Sunday afternoon, or in the midst of a bout of middle-of-the-night insomnia.
  5. It had to be drama free. Anyone who works in an office is familiar with workplace politics. I’d already learned to navigate that landmine in my full-time job, and I didn’t need to worry about it in my second job.

With those five key elements in mind, I began my search for the perfect after-hours job. I started – where else? – by Googling some key words I knew would be intrinsic to my demands: freelance work. A lot of the results were dubious at best, and I found myself weeding out the legitimate job opportunities from the out-and-out scams – but that’s another post for another day. Ultimately, I settled upon three jobs that gave me exactly what I was looking for in my five key points: freedom, flexibility and ultimate control over my life.

When I sat down with my friend to discuss how she could make extra money at home, I laid out the road map I’d created for myself. I urged her to look for jobs that focused on her career strengths – we all have them – while respecting her ultimate earning power as a professional woman. I think these focus points can be applied to anyone at any point in their career, as they’re all about identifying what you want and setting up some boundaries for how you plan to get it. Ultimately, my friend found a part-time job in her field – education – that let her teach students over the Internet. She’s done so well, in fact, that she’s considering leaving her full-time job in the classroom at the end of the school year.

What are your rules when it comes to bringing in extra cash? Would you consider an extra job or freelance work? What would your parameters be?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke