No, I don’t keep my money under a mattress, but I do avoid paying the “service” or “maintenance” fees most traditional banks charge. Two years ago, I was unwilling to pay a $12 monthly maintenance fee at a nationwide bank, so I closed my account. Several people I mentioned this to thought I was a cheapskate for worrying about $12, and, well, I am a cheapskate, but let’s take a closer look:
It is possible to avoid paying monthly maintenance fees at many traditional banks by maintaining a minimum balance, which is often upwards of $1,000. In other words, I could hang onto my $12 per month if I kept $1,000 as a useless placeholder in my checking account, forever. I decided against it.
Online Banks: What’s the Catch?
The Solution: Combine Forces
Last year, inspired by a plethora of blogs and personal finance articles about the life-changing magic of side hustling, I decided to sell my photos on a stock website. Initially, it seemed like a great idea. I was good at taking photos, I’d been doing it for years, and my regular travel to new places presented plenty of material for my burgeoning stock-photo empire. Sure, I was paid just 25 cents per photo and would not receive a dime until I reached the minimum payout balance of $35, but I kept at it. I am nothing if not determined.
After more than a year, I had finally amassed enough downloads for my payment. Even though the amount was—let’s face it—dismal, I was unreasonably happy about “officially” breaking into the side hustle game.
Mistake #1: Tax Fail
And then tax time rolled around. I’m a very, very frugal person, so I do my own taxes using whatever software or website is cheapest and seems like it will be the least time-consuming. While completing my taxes on one of these websites, I realized that my stock-photo income—being freelance work—was not reported with a standard W2 form. These earnings fell into the IRS’ “Miscellaneous Income” category and were reported on an infuriating little form called a 1099-MISC. The inclusion of the 1099-MISC income triggered “enhanced” versions of the basic tax software I was using. Ultimately, I had to pay $70 to unlock the version of the software that allowed me to report my 1099-MISC income to state and federal tax bureaus, putting my side hustle profit at -$35 (plus the added headache of the additional tax paperwork).
If I had done my research beforehand, I’d have realized that I should have waited until my earnings were above $70 before applying for my payment. Then, at least, I would have made a slight profit—even if it meant waiting until the next tax year to be paid.
Mistake #2: Undervaluing Myself
While the tax hassle was disappointing, I think the bigger mistake I made was undervaluing my own work. I was operating from a sort of scarcity mindset. People with a scarcity mindset are constantly worried about money and prioritize short-term earnings and needs over the steady accrual of wealth. It was the urge to grab every dollar that was possible, even if it wasn’t worth it, that led me to scrounge for a few cents instead of recognizing myself and my time as worth, well, more.
I’ve done this undervaluing thing before. Years ago, I applied for three part-time jobs because I didn’t expect to be hired by anyone. When I received job offers from all three employers, I decided to accept all of them, even though two part-time gigs would have been more feasible. Inexplicably, I was thinking, “These could be the last job offers I ever receive! I have to take all of them.” I was wrong on both counts.
Going forward, I will certainly do my due diligence about the tax procedures for any new side hustles I take on, but I will also be more mindful of my own abilities—and their real value.
I’ve been uploading my photos off and on to Shutterstock since last year, and so far I’ve made about $27* from 61 downloads.
If you use your keywords wisely, Shutterstock is a viable way to make a bit of extra money. I really like the detailed analytics the site offers so that you can see exactly which keywords your downloaders searched for. The parts of the world where your images are being bought is also nice extra info to have.
*Shutterstock’s minimum payout (to your PayPal account) is $35, so I don’t have the cash in hand yet. This seems to be on the lower end of minimum payout amounts for stock photo platforms, which is sort of nice.
Have you contributed to Shutterstock or any other stock photo platforms?