Smart Money Podcast: How Much Can You Really Make from a Side Hustle Like DoorDash?

Understand how much extra income you could get from a side hustle like DoorDash and get a budgeting and investing basics refresh.

This Week in Your Money: How much extra money can you really make from side hustles? What are budgeting and early investment strategies for young professionals? Hosts Sean Pyles and Sara Rathner discuss the realities of gig economy jobs with Tommy Tindall, a NerdWallet writer who tried working for DoorDash to see what kind of income it would give him. He shares tips and tricks on the ease of starting with DoorDash, the practical challenges involved, and how your location and lifestyle can impact your earnings.

Today’s Money Question: Host Elizabeth Ayoola joins Sean and Sara to help answer a listener question from a recent college graduate about early investment strategies. They discuss how young professionals can apply the 50/30/20 rule to their finances, the importance of setting clear savings goals, and how to start investing at a young age. They discuss the benefits of starting investments early, the differences between active and passive investing options, and the importance of automating investments to build wealth over time.

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Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

Have you ever gotten a food delivery or a ride in an Uber and wondered whether these gigs are really worth the effort as a side hustle? Well, this episode will deliver some answers.

Cute. Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money Podcast. I’m Sara Rathner.

And I’m Sean Pyles. This episode, Sara and I are joined by our co-host, Elizabeth Ayoola, to answer a listener’s question about money goals, especially when you’re early on in your financial journey. How do you get a grip on your finances and set yourself up for long-term success?

But first, we’re turning to side hustles. This month on Smart Money, we’re running a special series about how you can increase your income, whether you want more money to invest or you’re working on building up your savings, or you really just want some extra cash to spend on whatever junk appears in your social media feeds.

And we are not here to judge you for whatever you spend your money on, but watch any social media influencer or read any article about ways to increase your income and inevitably someone mentions taking up a part-time job in the gig economy like Uber, DoorDash, Airbnb, take your pick. And I’ve always been pretty skeptical that these gigs will net you meaningful amounts of cash, especially considering all the time and effort involved.

Absolutely. If you’re going to put miles on your car or let strangers sleep in your rental property, it needs to be worth it. And we don’t have access to a vacation house for the purposes of this podcast, but we do have a Nerd on staff at NerdWallet who actually did DoorDash for a couple of days to get a feel for whether these jobs live up to the hype. Tommy Tindall is here to share his insights with us. Tommy, welcome back to Smart Money.

Hey there. Thanks for having me.

So Tommy, you recently made a really fun video for NerdWallet’s YouTube channel where you test drove DoorDash for a few days. What were your hopes and expectations going into this journalistic exercise?

Yeah, so I study and write quite a bit about side hustles and for this one, I really wanted to go the extra mile, get it, and test it out myself, try to make the advice a little more valuable, right? Give it a true test. And delivery driving is super popular and seemingly accessible, at least that’s what I thought, was my hypothesis, I should say, an easy way to make side money. So I really wanted to answer a couple questions that I think people have about a gig like this, and one is just how easy is it to get started? Can you really sign up on your phone, get a red bag in the mail and start driving? And spoiler alert, yes, that’s what I did. You can. And also can you make real money?

Okay, so what were the main things that you were tracking as you weighed whether this side hustle was worth it?

I wanted to keep it easy, so I was just keeping a close eye on the time I spent driving while delivering, the miles I drove, and of course how much I earned and really wanted to get to what’s the real pay when you factor in the cost of driving.

So talk with us a little bit about the experience of doing this. Was it fun? Was it boring? Did you get chased by any wild animals? Did you use this as an opportunity to catch up on episodes of Smart Money?

Well, I wanted it to be fun, but it was kind of hectic. I mean, I remember there were a couple moments of zen where I was just cruising, windows down, just looking outside thinking this is the life. But as soon as I started thinking that way, ding, ding, I’d get another delivery. And I think hustle is a real good term for this because it was kind of a grind. And what really got me, which I thought was interesting, was the constant interaction with my phone. It was draining. I was using maps to navigate, to take orders, and it was just a lot of interaction with the phone while driving.

At one point I, quick story had a 16-mile delivery, which was good pay. It was like $18 of base pay, which was really good. So I took it, but I was so distracted kind of trying to figure out where I was going, that I went the wrong way on 95 and was screaming, pounding the wheel, as you can imagine, and just like, efficiency. That’s what I was going for. Also, keep in mind, I was filming this experience for the video and that totally added to my stress. So maybe more practice without trying to film myself, I could be a little more efficient, get a little more time to enjoy solitude and catch up on my favorite podcasts like this one. But yeah, it was hectic.

Yeah. But you can’t forget that this is a job, right? It’s going to have stressful, difficult moments like any job.

I was reminded of that quickly, that this is a job and I kind of felt the stress. When I would get a delivery, I wanted to make sure the food was hot and get there quickly, know where I was going. So I had that sense of, hey, you’re on the clock, you’re working.

That distracted driving element is also pretty terrifying.

Yeah. Now when I see people on the road, I’m wondering are they delivering right now? So before I yell “get off your phone,” I’m wondering that.

Either way, get off your phone.

I know. So Tommy, you mentioned this in your video, you live in a smaller town, a more remote area. How does that affect your ability to make money from DoorDash or any other app-based job like this?

I mean, it matters a lot because it’s how busy it’s going to be around you. So location matters. It’s where you live, which towns you have access to with a short drive that may be more populated. So I live, it’s a smaller, more rural but kind of suburban town outside of Baltimore. And what I did before I started was I would watch the DoorDash app, the map section of the app and just kind of see where the hotspots were.

And of course areas closer to Baltimore where it’s more densely populated, more restaurants within close proximity of each other, they were regularly busy during the peak times and they were shaded in pink on the maps. That’s how you know you can go out. When the map is like pink or red, you can Dash on a whim. When it’s gray, which it was sometimes in my town, you have to wait or schedule a Dash for later. But luckily where I live during the busier lunch hour, the option to Dash now was available during the weekday when I tried this. So I was able to stay closer to home, which I think was more realistic, because if I did this, I don’t think I’d want to drive that far. I’d want to stay closer to home, so.

You don’t want to have to commute for your side gig.

Exactly. You want to get out there and do it maybe on the lunch hour during work, which I was thinking, which we’ll talk about. Probably kind of hard to do because I did find myself going from one end of my town to another because it’s not that populated, so it cost me some time.

Well, that also makes me think about wear and tear on your vehicle and other related expenses like gas. Was that a worry of yours as you were doing the side hustle?

Yeah, this was a big worry for me because I am somebody who loves cars and I can be a little obsessive about keeping our vehicles maintained. So just all the stop and go driving, it was just kind of giving me a nervous tick. That was on my mind the whole time. I think I kind of make that clear in the video a little bit, and I should also mention that I drive a full size Ram pickup truck, which I thought would be fun to test for this, but not the ideal gig economy vehicle. It’s inefficient, hard to maneuver.

Yeah, lots of storage space, but maybe more than you need for a Starbucks run or something like that.

Oh, yeah. And the maneuverability. I think at one point I pulled off a busy road into the wrong driveway and I had to sort of Austin Powers my way out. You remember that 20 point turn he had to do in the first movie and all while the customer, the next house over was watching me. So when I finally got over there, we had a little laugh about it and I think she did tip me. I don’t know if she tipped me after the fact or not, which you can do in the app.

You were providing some entertainment along with the delivery?

Oh, yeah. When I did get to interact with customers like that, I made it kind of fun. I’d be like, “Yeah, you don’t see people driving a truck very often, do you?” But yeah, I was a little anxious about my own vehicle and the wear and tear.

Okay, so Tommy, after three days of Dashing, tell us how much time you spent driving, how far you drove, and how much you earned.

All right, well here are the stats. I went on three Dashes for this test and drove about six and a half hours on deliveries altogether. I put 90 miles on my personal vehicle, which was my big dump truck as I mentioned. Earned a total of $86, but factor in the 17 MPG that I was getting. And gas was I think around $3.60 a gallon when I was doing this. So less than $19 in fuel costs. True earnings are more like $67 or $10.31 cents an hour. So I mean, not a lot of money.

So I’m going to wager that’s less than you’re making at NerdWallet on an hourly basis.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not giving up the main hustle.

Yeah. Do you think this was worth it?

So yes and no, and I’ll start by saying I’m glad gigs like this exist because I was really blown away by the accessibility of this gig. I mean, I was signed up and through the background check in literal minutes, and if you, the listener, meets the basic qualifications, I mean you can probably start working and start earning, and I like that. It’s not like saying side hustle options, go be an influencer and wait a couple years to build a following before you make your first dollar. I mean, you sign up and you can make money, which I think is great. And flexibility of course is the selling point of a delivery driving job like this. But at the expense of what? I felt like I was really hustling. I didn’t make a lot of money and thinking back, I mean this would be a real grind for me to do on the side.

It’s really about where I’m in my life. I mean, I have a main job, I have a family, I have young kids in school and sports, a home that continues to break that I have to maintain, I serve in my church and I really covet kind of that little free time that I have left. So I guess all that to say, not quitting my day job. And I think doing this made me more grateful of my main hustle and reminded me that I think there’s merit in what’s become kind of an older way of thinking where you find a good company, work hard, build your skills, grow your confidence, gain expertise, and hopefully increase your salary over time. So whether it’s worth it I think depends on personal situation, because you do make money.

So who do you think a side hustle like this is good for?

People who do have some extra time or need extra cash and can take advantage of the flexibility to work whenever, because again, that is the selling point of a job like this. Also people who can work the system to their advantage. And you see a lot of YouTube videos of people sort of gaming this and chasing something called peak pay, which is an incentive where you can add plus one, two, three, or more dollars to a delivery if it’s really busy. So the competitive types, which is not me, admittedly, but I do wonder if I would’ve tried this at a different time in my life, like back in college or in my first years working a job when I lived in Washington, DC, had it been available.

Well, Tommy Tindall, thanks so much for talking with us.

Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

So listener, you just heard Tommy describe an interesting way that he earned some money. Ahead of this month’s series about increasing your income, we have our new Nerdy question of the month for July, which is: what is the most creative thing that you’ve done to earn more money? Maybe you negotiated a significant raise or you’re one of those job hoppers that has a new gig every couple of years. Tell us what is the most interesting thing that you’ve done to increase your income?

I mean, I’ve rented out my basement for a commercial shoot, so there’s that.

Made 1,400 bucks and bought new storm doors. What a day. Anyway, if you’ve done something like that or something else, call or text us on the Nerd Hotline at (901) 730-6373. That’s (901) 730-NERD, or email us at [email protected]. We might just share your story on a future episode. Maybe inspire some of our other listeners to take up an interesting side hustle.

And while you’re at it, send us your money questions, too. It is our job as Nerds to answer whatever your money question is. So send it our way on the Nerd Hotline, (901) 730-6373 or email it to us at [email protected]. Well now let’s get into this episode’s money question segment after a quick break. Stay with us. We’re back and answering your money questions to help you make smarter financial decisions. This episode’s question comes from Adrian, who left us a voicemail. Here it is.

I’m a recent college graduate. I graduated college in June of 2023 and I am six months into my new corporate world job. I’m trying to save 25% of my income per month and I’m trying to start investing. I don’t really know what my savings goals should be. I’m down for some high risk investments, but I don’t know, I’m trying to just learn the basics of investing, how to plan for life. What would you do if you were in my shoes, if you could go back in time and be 23 and not have kids or a mortgage or anything?

To help us answer Adrian’s question on this episode of the podcast, Sean and I are joined by our co-host, Elizabeth Ayoola. Hey Elizabeth.

Hey, my favorite dynamic duo.

I love getting a question from a listener who is so young because even though they’re only 10 years younger than me, it does feel like a lifetime ago that I was 23 and making these financial decisions for the very first time. One thing that I find really interesting about Adrian’s question is that while they are so early in their financial journey, their questions really can apply to anyone, because as I’m sure we all know well, plenty of people in their 30s and 40s and beyond are still trying to figure out their budgets and their financial goals. So with that in mind, I think that our listener and all listeners really could benefit from a little bit of budgeting 101. So Elizabeth, where do you think they should start?

Basically, I think they need to start with a budget. That’s going to tell you how to slice and dice your money. You should probably maybe start with the 50/30/20 budget, which we are advocates for at NerdWallet, or it might be the 60/30/10 budget depending on your cost of living and where you are. Now, for those who don’t know what the 50/30/20 budget is, 50% go to your needs, 30% to your wants and 20% to debt, paying down debt and also saving money. I do think it’s important to know, however, these numbers are not set in stone. It really just depends on your finances and you can adjust the numbers to fit where you are in your financial life right now. I myself currently save above that 20 bucket, but luckily I don’t have that much debt, so that’s why I’m able to save more money and save more than the 20.

Yeah. And our listener wants to save 25% of their income, which is really ambitious, especially for someone who is so young. I think when I was 23, I was saving maybe 2% of my budget, and it wasn’t even intentionally, it was just by chance, because that’s what I had left over at the end of the month.

You were doing great, Sean, because let me tell you, I was saving 0% of my budget at 20 something. So that is ambitious. I think it’s possible, but it just again depends on where your finances are.

I like an ambitious savings goal, especially when you’re young. Some of the best advice I was given by a CFP that I used to work with was save as aggressively as you can for as long as you can because life only gets more complicated and more expensive. So if aggressive for you is 3%, that’s great. If aggressive for you is 25%, that’s great, and if you have to change it up from month to month, that’s fine too.

So our listener is dedicated to being a hardcore saver, and I love that for you, listener. So Sean, I know you’re also big on saving and you have some tricks for effectively saving money. What do you think?

So I would start by encouraging Adrian to have something to save for. Again, I’m thinking a lot about myself in my early 20s, I didn’t really have any sort of short, medium, or long-term goals or priorities of any sort because I was just focusing on paying my rent and having fun. So I understand how it can be hard to understand what your priorities might be, and this is where I think something that’s very woo woo but effective can come into play. And that is a visualization exercise. Now, if you’re rolling your eyes, just bear with me because I swear it can be super helpful. So when you are 23, 33, 43, think about where you see yourself in the future in five years, in one year, in 20 years. So maybe that means do you want to move to a new city in the next year? Do you want to buy a house in five years? Do you want to retire in 40 years? Imagine where you will be at these different points in your life and think about how you can save money to get there.

I would not even say that’s woo woo, Sean. I mean, so I definitely started doing that in my late 20s and honestly, the life I have today was a lot of the woo woo stuff. So it worked for me.

And if you’re not really into the whole idea of manifesting as a term, that’s fine too. You could also think about it in terms of just naming your goals. Instead of just being like, I’m going to save 25% of my salary. For what? So say what the “what” is. So maybe online savings accounts like high yield savings accounts, you could actually name the account. So you could have, this is the account because I need to replace my car, or this is the account because I need to buy a new computer. Or this is the account that I’m saving up for a down payment on a home for. And then beginning to say, okay, I’m going to put this amount of money in this month for this goal and this goal. Makes it so much easier to stay organized and there’s some science behind it, making it so that you actually are more successful in terms of reaching your savings goals by just naming the goal. So if you don’t want to do the woo woo thing, you could do the practical thing and just put some names on stuff.

Yeah. And what you’re talking about there is really the marriage of the woo woo and the super practical and tactical, where you can start with knowing what you want and then getting the accounts that can help you save the money for that. So for a lot of people, that’s going to mean starting out with an emergency fund, building up over time three to six months of the needs budget that you have. That’s like rent and medicine and groceries, things like that. And then building out the other savings buckets for things like a vacation fund, a house fund, a wedding fund. I have 10 savings accounts across all of the banks that I partner with. And they are all specifically allocated for my different goals. I know 10 is kind of a ridiculous amount, but it works for me.

And what makes it easy is that I automate my deposits into these accounts. So I don’t even have to think about it. One of my accounts is only getting $40 a month, and that’s enough for me to save, to build on that goal over time. But I don’t have to be worried about, oh, okay, am I going to have enough for when I need a new rug for my house eventually. I just know it’s already going in the background.

Yeah, I love this. It’s that concept of reverse budgeting where you automate transfers into your various accounts for different goals every month.

And whenever we talk about savings accounts, it can be easy for we Nerds who are steep in this to maybe even take for granted the fact that high yield savings accounts are such an amazing thing for people to have. People can be getting even around 5% back for what they have sitting in their savings. And if you think about some average returns from the stock market some years are around 7%, and that can be much riskier than just having a savings account. I really do recommend people shop around, look at some of our roundups on NerdWallet and see what sort of high yield savings account might help you meet your goals, because you’ll be getting a much greater return on your money than you would get from a traditional brick and mortar bank.

So our listener, Adrian, is a spring chicken in the world of finance and in the world of investing, which they also mention, having a long time horizon can be one of your best assets. And if you’re in your 30s and listening to this, you still have a long time horizon. So don’t think it’s all over if you didn’t invest in your 30s. Now let’s talk about investing at a younger age. Elizabeth, what are your thoughts there?

Oh my gosh. I totally get the feeling of being overwhelmed and not understanding where to start. But it’s really important I think, not to let that paralyze you and to just start as soon as you can. And the first step in doing that is creating a strategy. And what the strategy is going to do is it’s going to tell you what your goals are and how much you need to save to achieve them and by what timeline. Now, it doesn’t have to be over complicated because I think that’s where people get tripped up, especially because there’s so many retirement and saving calculators online to help with this. And yes, I’m going to shamelessly plug NerdWallet. We have lots of those, go check them out. But yeah, knowing what age that you want to retire and how much you need will help guide your investing strategy. It’s also going to help you decide what to invest in, the best vehicles to use, and how much to put in each. What do you think, Sara, about time horizons in that sense?

Oh, it’s probably one of the best things you have working for you because the way compound interest works mathematically is the longer of a time horizon you have, the less you can save per month or per year and still come out with a higher amount of money in the end versus waiting an extra 10 years, an extra 15 years, then you have to invest so much more per month just to catch up and still end up with less money overall.

And I would recommend Adrian or anyone else who’s getting started in investing or just taking it seriously for the first time, is to get a lay of the land and understand all of the different investment accounts that are out there. Because there are all these different ones, like a 401k and a Roth and a Roth IRA that people have probably heard about, but really understanding what they are and when one is more beneficial than another for your circumstances can help you make the most of your investments. And something to think about too, since Adrian is so young, is that your younger years are often the best time to take advantage of an IRA because you are getting taxed at a lower rate when you’re earning less money than you will be taxed at later on in your career. So really use these early years to your advantage.

Yeah, I’m with you Sean. You guys also should decide for those people listening whether you want to do active or passive investing. If you are like me and you ain’t got time for that, and when I say that, I mean checking the stock market every day, then you may want to consider passive investing and some passive investing options include ETFs or robo-advisors and kind of securities like that. But yeah, once you do all those things, the most fun part is automating your investments and knowing that you’re probably growing both while you’re sleeping.

Yeah, I think for a lot of people, sometimes the best strategy to start can be the strategy of “I want my money to make me more money.” And that’s where I started out in my mid 20s when I first started taking investing seriously. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time actively managing investments. And guess what? Actively managed investments often perform worse than passively managed investments. So passive is probably going to be the easiest thing for most people to do. And I just set up an account with a robo-advisor that was trusted and well-reviewed on, and I just have automated deposits and it makes it super simple. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m already receiving literal and metaphorical dividends from that.

Also, you want to think about fees when you’re looking at things like that and what has low fees and performance and other things, but don’t let that stop or overwhelm you as well. Just check out some resources on how to pick an ETF also.

Yeah, I will also add that whenever I hear somebody in their early 20s say that they are, “Down for some high risk investments,” I think somebody’s been talking to their friends about crypto and I don’t know. I mean, for all I know Adrian just means, oh, I really want to dabble in a more stock forward portfolio. Sure. Honestly, you’re probably talking about crypto, aren’t you? Before you dabble in speculative investments, things like cryptocurrency, things like, I don’t know, precious metals and real estate and all sorts of stuff like that, you want to set aside a solid foundation. Just the things that we’ve been talking about, automating transfers of money into retirement accounts, either through your employer or on your own, diversifying those investments. And then, only then, if you have money left over, then you can dabble a little bit, sprinkle a little spice onto your investments, maybe 10% of your portfolio at the most into the higher risk, like crazy stuff. But set a good foundation first. Don’t put all of your money into speculative investments and then wonder why you don’t have any money left because you probably won’t.

And I will just quickly add for the sake of our compliance department, that we are not financial or investment advisors. If you want specific individualized investment advice, speak with a financial advisor, hopefully a fiduciary financial advisor. Okay. Now, I know we’ve been kind of talking around this question for this conversation, but I would love to hear what you two would have done differently if you could go back to when you were 23 and maybe improve your finances, knowing all that you know now?

That’s a deep, deep, deep sigh. So honestly speaking, the first thing I thought is like, oh my God, I would’ve stopped partying and buying alcohol and save more money. But then I remembered that I was living in Nigeria earning like $400 a month, which was seen as a good salary. So I barely had any money to live, quite frankly. And I think that’s a reminder that sometimes you just ain’t got really barely enough money to save and you just need to earn more. But I definitely would have educated myself more on personal finance and I would’ve at least stashed away something into an investing account. So that’s what I would’ve done. But then again, if I started investing too early, I might be in Turks and Caicos right now instead of chatting to you all. So I guess it worked out how it was supposed to.

I’m glad you’re here with us, but also I would be happy for you if you were traveling the world instead of doing this. Sara, what about you?

So I think a lot of people in their early 20s are, there’s just a lot of fear and uncertainty at that point in your life, and I definitely felt that at that time where there are all these big life milestones that are coming up for you eventually and you just don’t know when they’re going to happen. And so I was so worried about whether or not I’d be able to get to that point. But you’re 23.

Knowing how fast the next 10 to 20 years will go for you, just savor it because everything else is going to pile on really, really fast. And the way you spend your weekends is going to look really different. Do take a couple of steps to improve your position in life later on and use that gift of time. But then, yeah, you should have the wants budget, you should go travel with your friends, go out with your friends. Once you all get partnered up, you’re not going to see your friends as often, so enjoy it.

Well, as someone who definitely enjoyed themselves a lot in their early 20s, I don’t regret any of it, really, shockingly, but it did come at the expense of my financial health in some senses. I really didn’t invest until my mid 20s. I barely had a budget until around the same time. So I would go back and encourage myself to be a little bit more balanced in the having fun and the forward planning aspect of life. But you’ve got to learn your lessons as you learn them. And that’s where I was at the time.

And one thing I think is important to realize and think about as you are trying to map out what having an adult financial life looks like is that the beginning of this financial journey is always going to be the hardest because you simply don’t know what you don’t know. There’s so much to learn. When you’re 23, you’re paying rent on your own for the first time. You’re figuring out how to make meals for yourself for the first time and building these good habits does take time. So don’t feel like you have to do everything all at once, but do make that concerted goodwill effort to try to better your relationship with money and use it to build the life that you want. Well, Elizabeth, thanks so much for coming on and talking with us.

And that’s all we have for this episode. Remember, we’re here for you, whatever life phase you’re in, and we want to hear your real world questions because we’re here to make you smarter about your money decisions. So turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at (901) 730-6373. That’s (901) 730-NERD. You could also email us at [email protected]. Also visit for more info on this episode.

And remember, you can follow the show on your favorite podcast app, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and iHeartRadio, to automatically download new episodes. This episode was produced by me. Tess Vigeland helped with editing. Sara Brink mixed our audio. And a big thank you to NerdWallet’s editors for all their help. And here’s our brief disclaimer again. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

And with that said, until next time, turn to Nerds.

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