Retail: May Should Be Even Stronger

Expect retail sales to pick up in May, after a 10.4% rise in March and a modest 0.3% decline in April. More states and cities are lifting restrictions now that infection rates have continued to fall. Consumers are ready to respond to the opportunity. Retail sales excluding gasoline should rise 18% this year, and 8.6% for all consumer spending. All this spending is likely to boost yearly GDP growth to 6.6% at least.

All sales categories are benefiting from the surge, and have surpassed prepandemic spending levels, with the exception of restaurants. The strongest-growing sectors over the past 14 months have been sporting goods stores, e-commerce, building materials and motor vehicles. Restaurant sales will likely show the strongest growth over the next several months as more restrictions are lifted. Spending on meals out and on services will likely depend on progress in vaccinations. 59% of adults have received at least one vaccine dose so far.

Spending should continue to show strength during the rest of the year, as high savings and growing employment income take over from the initial burst of spending fueled by stimulus checks. Also, federal aid to state and local governments will reinstate more of these lost jobs, leading to more spending by rehired workers. Finally, enhanced unemployment benefits to a sizable group of laid off workers are scheduled to continue until September 6.


Business Spending: Going Faster Unless Chip Shortages Intervene

Capital equipment spending looks to be having a banner year. Expect 15% growth this year, compared with just 0.2% last year. New orders will rise a similar amount. Purchases of machinery are robust, as are computer sales. However, some sales of electronics, motor vehicles and machinery are being temporarily slowed by the shortage of semiconductors. Businesses are responding to rising demand by implementing expansion plans, though large firms are more enthusiastic than small firms at this time.

Likely beneficiaries of the spending binge include makers of industrial robots and 3D printers. Workers are in short supply in manufacturing. Robots can help, and they reduce the need for worries about social distancing among workers. 37% of U.S. assembly plants plan to invest in 3D printers, a record high. Interest is also high in collaborative robots, which work in close contact with humans instead of as stand-alone ‘bots. 31% of assemblers are currently using the technology or plan to within the next year, and 17% within two to three years.

A boost for purchases of oilfield equipment seems likely, now that the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has surpassed $60 per barrel, its highest level since the beginning of 2020. The number of active drilling rigs has been on a steady upward path since the beginning of October.



50 Side Businesses You Can Start on Your Own

Believe it or not, The Simple Dollar started as a side business. It began as an email newsletter where I shared thoughts on personal finance, with some embedded links to Amazon to help pay the bills. It was one side business among many that I’ve started over the years, and the biggest success. Each side business started with a simple goal: I saw a need someone else had that I could fulfill and earn some money by doing so, and I was willing to spend some of my spare time and energy doing it.

If you’re interested in turning your spare time and energy into a side business, there are countless opportunities for doing so. The ideas below are inspirations. Take them, look around your life and your community for needs that they might fulfill, and build that idea into something that helps people and makes you money.

(Heads up: Before you leap into starting a side business, research if there are licenses, permits or education required in your city or state for that type of gig.)

In this article

50 side businesses you can start on your own

  1. Auto detailing. Thoroughly clean, wash and wax a car for a client. This usually takes several hours, but you can charge a reasonable hourly rate for the service. This type of business works well if promoted on social media.
  1. Babysitting. Babysitting is child care that tends to fall below the limits of what’s required for licensing by the state. Watching one or two children occasionally usually doesn’t require a license, though it’s harder to turn into a full business. This makes babysitting a perfect side gig for those who love children.
  1. Airbnb hosting. If you have a large home, you can easily turn a portion of your home into an Airbnb rental for vacationers. This is particularly true if you can partition off part of your home with its own entrance and exit, or if you live in another location part of the time. Here’s some advice on starting your own Airbnb.
  1. Freelance writing / blogging. There are many opportunities for online writing to earn money. If you want to write one-off articles for a few bucks, check out sites like Fiverr where people will pay you for articles. If you want to build something for yourself, services like Medium and Substack give you the opportunity to build your own name — it’ll take time to earn much, but it’s the way to go over the long haul.
  1. Buying and reselling on eBay. If you have specialized knowledge of a particular type of item, you can make money buying items and reselling them on eBay. Watch for those types of items at thrift shops and yard sales and jump on big bargains you find.
  1. Cake baking. Baking cakes for birthdays and weddings is a great gig if you love to bake and have a touch for decoration. The costs are low to get started and there’s always demand. Before doing this, you’ll want to check the rules in your state regarding baking and home food preparation.
  1. Snow plowing. If you can invest in a snow plow or blade for your truck, snow plowing is a great way to earn money during winter weather. There are always driveways and parking lots to be cleared of fresh snow to make way for customers.
  1. Dog walking. If you have spare time during a typical weekday and love dogs, being a dog walker can be a great side gig. 
  1. Creating custom T-shirts. If you have a place to install a screen printing machine, you can get into the business of making custom T-shirts for people. With the right equipment and a good eye for design, this can turn into a pretty lucrative side business.
  1. Miniature painting. If you have an eye for detail, there’s a surprisingly lucrative market in painting miniatures and reselling them.  There’s a very large subculture that enjoys collecting painted miniatures, mostly for use in tabletop games. Painting these miniatures is a craft you can easily sell on Etsy, eBay, or other online sales sites.  Here’s a great beginner’s guide.
  1. House or business cleaning. Many people are strapped for time and find basic house cleaning services or business cleaning useful. While there are many organized businesses that do it, you may be able to find clients by going independent and using a lower rate, cutting out the middleman. You might also advertise additional services, such as laundry service (you take X pounds of laundry, clean it, fold it, and return it for a certain amount per pound).
  1. Accounting.  If you’re an accountant, offering your services as a bookkeeper for a small business or institution can be a great side business.  Many institutions have small-scale bookkeeping needs and are glad to hire someone to take care of it, so if you’re looking for a little extra work and income that uses your skills, consider freelance bookkeeping or accounting!
  1. Pet sitting. This is a great extension to dog walking. People would hire you to take care of their pets while they travel, either by bringing them to you or you stopping in and feeding and caring for them while they’re away. 
  1. Freelancing small graphic design projects. If you have graphic design skills, there are infinite small gigs you can find on sites like Fiverr or Upwork, things like designing a quick podcast logo. 
  1. Social media managing. Many small businesses want to have a social media presence, but don’t have the time for it. For a small fee, you can manage the social media feeds of a small business. The owner simply sends you any promotions or new information about the business and you promote them on social media.
  1. Photography. If you have a quality camera setup and photography skills, you can put out your shingle as an event photographer or a portrait photographer. For this, it’s a good idea to put together a portfolio of some of your best photography for people to see. You might want to start by taking portraits of family and friends, as well as taking photos of events that show off your work.
  1. Antique refurbishing. Turning antiques that are in poor shape into stunning pieces is a lucrative side gig. It requires a lot of care and very patient time investment so that you don’t damage or ruin the antique, which requires research into how to properly refurbish items. 
  1. Pet grooming. If you enjoy pets, pet grooming can be a great side business. Washing pets, trimming their nails, trimming their hair, and other tasks are things that many pet owners will hire others to take on. Be aware that in many areas, this requires a kennel license, so you’ll want to look into the requirements in your area before diving in.
  1. Event coordinating. An event coordinator helps people manage smaller events that they want to pull off. Parties, community events and other such things often have event coordinators who organize vendors and make sure things are in place for a great event!
  1. Event DJing. If you have a good speaker system and enjoy playing music for crowds and getting them to dance (some emceeing is usually part of the job), then being an event DJ may be right for you.
  1. Teaching exercise classes. Many community centers and small fitness centers offer exercise classes largely based on the availability of teachers, and teachers are often paid as a percentage of the income of the class. If you’re very familiar with the ins and outs of a particular type of exercise, this might be a good side gig to start.
  1. Gardening, lawn or landscaping services. This involves things like mowing yards, caring for yards with seed and fertilizer, trimming bushes and taking care of gardens around homes. This requires some equipment, but the tasks are very straightforward if you’re willing to do the work!
  1. Handyman services. If you’re willing to perform odd jobs and minor repairs around a home, offering handyman services might be perfect for you. Many people offer their services for this type of work on Thumbtack, so it may be a good place to start.
  1. Catering. Before doing this, you’ll want to check the rules in your state regarding home food preparation. If you’re able to license to be a caterer, catering for events can be a great side gig. It requires food preparation skills and planning skills, but the service is a valuable one in many situations.
  1. Interior decorating. Some people are simply unskilled at tastefully arranging a room in their home and need help making it look appealing (I’d put myself in this category). That’s where an interior decorator can step in. Examples of your own decor can help start your portfolio and attract clients.
  1. Pet waste cleanup. Many people find themselves with yards or homes that are overrun with pet waste. With some appropriate tools and patience, you can help resolve this problem.
  1. Knitting, crocheting, or quilting. These types of projects are easily done at home with just a bit of equipment. You can then sell your fabric items online. Make small quilts, knit baby hats or crochet blankets — they’ll all sell well on Etsy.
  1. Writing ebooks. If you enjoy writing and have a firm grasp on how to write longform fiction or nonfiction, ebook writing can be a lucrative path to follow. You self-publish your books on the Kindle store and/or other places where ebooks are sold, do some promotion, and earn money from every sale.
  1. Furniture making. If you have woodworking equipment and tools available, you can make lots of furniture items and sell them for a profit. Things like end tables and Adirondack chairs are easily made in a small woodworking shop and sell well.
  1. Meal-to-go preparing. This one’s easy: You prepare full family-sized meals that they can either take home and eat immediately or take home and freeze, finishing the cooking with a simple step later on. Before doing this, you’ll want to check the rules in your state regarding home food preparation.
  1. Personal or virtual assistant. Many busy people have great use for a personal assistant, whether in-person or virtual. You just handle life tasks or simple business tasks for the client, such as handling phone calls and email communications or other small personal errands.
  1. Public speaking / teaching. Is there a topic you know a lot about? Develop it into an hour-long presentation and then offer to give that presentation at local libraries or other events to hone it. If it clicks, you can find opportunities to be paid to present on that topic.
  1. Jewelry making. If you have the tools, the skills and the taste to make jewelry items, you can turn this into a pretty lucrative side business selling items on online stores like Etsy. Most of the tools are inexpensive, and the know-how to get started can be found on YouTube.
  1. Growing produce to sell. If you have a lot of yard space and enjoy gardening, you can grow lots of produce and sell the excess at farmers markets or directly to grocery stores. This is actually a side business my father engaged in for many years, particularly with tomatoes and potatoes, and he found it quite lucrative.
  1. Proofreading and editing. Someone who is skilled with written language can find many opportunities to start a side business in proofreading and editing. You can get started building a resume by looking on sites like sites like Fiverr or Upwork. Doing good work will generate clients who keep coming back to you.
  1. Scrapbook-making. Many people want to have beautiful scrapbooks and photo albums of memorable events or periods in their life. They hand you some photographs and paraphernalia and you assemble them into a custom scrapbook for a fee.
  1. Delivery driving. This became a very popular side business for people during COVID, with many people making a few bucks driving their own vehicle to make deliveries for services like DoorDash. When you’re available, you fire up the app and you’ll be contacted for deliveries.
  1. Assisting senior citizens. Many families want to hire someone to assist seniors that they care about who might be having difficulty with some basic tasks, like food preparation or grocery shopping or basic house cleaning, and simply being a companion and someone to talk to. If you’re friendly and able to communicate well with senior citizens, this can be a great side gig.
  1. Sewing and altering. If you have a sewing machine and know how to use it, you can turn simple sewing tasks and garment alterations into a side gig. 
  1. Computer troubleshooting. Computer troubles can be frustrating, particularly for people who are less than tech-savvy. Doing home visits to troubleshoot computer and basic home networking problems can be a great side gig. I can vouch for this side gig with personal experience, as I was running a computer troubleshooting side gig around the time of the launch of The Simple Dollar!
  1. Seasonal decorating. Some households love to have tasteful seasonal decorations, but don’t have the time to do it well. You can help people set up yard displays for holidays such as Halloween or Christmas for a fee. They give you a budget, you buy the items within that budget, and you get a fee on top of that.
  1. Making soap and spa products for resale. Many basic soap and spa products can easily be made at home, though some of them involve chemicals you will want to be very careful with. You’ll also want to look into specific rules and regulations about making and selling such products in your state.
  1. Teaching a musical instrument. If you know how to play a musical instrument well and have patience, you can become a private music teacher. You’ll often be teaching performers the basics as they decide if the instrument is right for them, often children.
  1. Tutoring. If you are an expert on a particular school subject, for example, your college major, you might be perfect for tutoring students on that subject. 
  1. Creating smartphone apps. If you’re a skilled computer programmer, you can learn a language like SwiftUI and spend your spare time creating smartphone apps. This starts, above all else, with a great idea for an app.
  1. Website designing. If you’re proficient with web technologies and design, many small businesses and individuals would love to tap your skills to improve their web presence. You can start building a portfolio by volunteering to create sites for small public events, and use that portfolio to find paid clients.
  1. Wedding planning. This expands on the “event coordinator” idea from earlier and focuses on one particular, complex event. Wedding planning involves coordinating lots of vendors and being responsive to the needs and wishes of the bride and groom. If you’re a “people person” and well-organized, this can be a great side gig.
  1. Translating. Can you speak another language fluently? This ability alone opens you up for a great side gig as a translator. There may be situations in which someone has a strong need for someone to be able to translate on their behalf. There are many translation gigs available on sites like Upwork, and a great performance can build a long-term client.
  1. Business or life coaching. Many people have the tools they need to build the life they want, they just need some guidance and motivation. If you’re an effective communicator and good at translating ideas into concrete goals and plans, you might just be a perfect business or life coach. Check your state for certification or education requirements.
  1. Resume writing. People in the job market often need help polishing their resume into something that shines.

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9 Factors to Consider Before Changing Jobs

Sometimes, the grass really is greener on the other side. Sometimes, it’s just more of the same.

So when it comes to leaving your current job for a new one, how can you tell beforehand if the opportunity is really worth it?

While there’s always going to be risk involved when changing employers, you can make a more confident choice by considering some key factors. Here are the most important variables to take into account before changing jobs.

Work-from-Home Flexibility

As the Covid-19 pandemic has shown, many employees can work from home just as efficiently as they would at the office. While some companies have vowed to continue letting people partially or permanently work from home, others have steadfastly refused to make working from home the new normal.

If you prefer a more flexible schedule because of family commitments, chronic health problems, or any other reasons, work-from-home flexibility should be a high priority.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is one of the most important factors to consider. A company that pays your premiums is essentially giving you hundreds of dollars in benefits every month.

Ask about the health insurance coverage before you accept a new position, specifically how much the monthly premiums will cost. Many small businesses are not required to provide coverage for their employees. If you’re applying to work at a small company, inquire about health insurance early on.

If the company does not provide coverage, you’ll have to buy a policy from the HealthCare Marketplace, where you’ll be 100% responsible for the premiums.

Paid Time Off

Paid time off is another major consideration to take into account before leaving one company for another. If your employer has a generous vacation policy, you may be surprised to find out that other companies are more strict.

Paid time off includes vacation days, sick days, holidays, and parental leave. If you plan to have kids soon, examine your company’s maternity leave policy so you can compare it to prospective employers.

Retirement Contributions and Stock Options

If you currently receive matching 401(k) contributions from your employer, double-check the vesting schedule of your new job. The vesting schedule outlines how quickly you’ll earn 100% of the employer contributions.

Many employers have a graded vesting schedule, which means that every year you will earn a certain percentage of the employer contributions. For example, if your company has a five-year vesting schedule, you’ll pocket 20% of their contributions every year. Once you’ve worked there for five years, you’ll receive 100% of the contributions.

Others use a cliff vesting schedule, which has an all-or-nothing requirement. You have to work there for a certain number of years to be eligible for 100% of the employer’s contributions. If you work less than that, you won’t be eligible for any of it. If you don’t plan to stay at your next job very long, then it’s important to understand the vesting schedule.

Public companies often provide stock options to their employees, which can be worth thousands of dollars in extra benefits. Employees with a stock purchase plan can buy company stock at a discount and resell it later for a profit.

Educational Benefits

If you plan to go back to school, look for a company that provides tuition reimbursement. Many employers will pay for all or part of your tuition, but the benefits vary.

Some will require that your degree applies to your current position, while others will be more lenient. If you don’t want a full degree, you may be able to convince your employer to pay for special courses or certificates that will also boost your resume.

Some companies have begun to offer student loan reimbursement. With these programs, employers contribute to your student loans by either matching payments or providing a set amount each year. Like a 401(k) match, you may have to work there for a certain period of time to qualify.

Room for Advancement

If you’re searching for a firm where you can stay for several years or more, it’s important to consider if there’s room to grow. The bigger the company is, the more likely it is that you can stay there and get promoted to another position. That’s harder to do at smaller companies where room for advancement may be limited.

Company Culture

The general office environment can impact your overall job satisfaction, but it’s a topic often neglected during the interview process. If you’re interviewing in-person, notice how the office looks and how employees are acting.

Do you hear laughter or is it dead quiet? Do they have a diverse staff? Are there fun initiatives, like casual Fridays, or does there seem to be a strict dress code? Depending on what you’re looking for, the answers to questions like these are crucial.

Company Stability

No one wants to get a job only to be laid off months later. Before switching companies, investigate your prospective employer to see if they’re in danger of shuttering or being sold.

Look through recent press clippings, especially from the local newspaper or business journal. If you have friends in the industry, ask if they think the company is stable.

Sometimes you can’t help but take a risk, like if you’re working for a start-up or in a volatile industry. In this case, you should have a sizable emergency fund and keep your resume and LinkedIn profile updated in case you lose your job.

Education and Training

When you’re interviewing at a job, ask if they pay for employee education, like attending industry-wide conferences or local training sessions. It’s valuable to work for a company that cares about employee professional development.

If you don’t expand your breadth of knowledge, then you may find yourself in a tough spot years later when looking for another job, with out-of-date skills.

Use Your Intuition

If you’ve considered all the factors listed above but are still getting a bad vibe about the new job, don’t hesitate to back out. Your gut intuition may be telling you something important about the company that you can’t verbalize clearly.

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