Earning

Why Kevin Ha, who once made $125,000 a year, ditched law for the gig economy

Anna-Louise Jackson@aljax7
Courtesy Kevin Ha

Kevin Ha, who once made $125,000 a year as a corporate lawyer, opted for self-employment a couple of years ago and now works more than a dozen side hustles. And he has no regrets.

"When I was a lawyer, I would think, 'I'd rather do anything but this, but I can't because I have to be here X amount of time until I walk out the door,'" Ha recalls. "What I do now often doesn't really feel like work."

In addition to deriving income from advertisements on his blog, Financial Panther, Ha earns money by walking dogs, renting rooms out in his home, shopping for other people's groceries, and delivering food by bike, among other side hustles. All told, the 32-year old Minneapolis resident now earns about half of what he did at his peak as a lawyer. But he's also ditched the stress, anxiety, and mindless snacking of office life.

Delivering food while working at a law firm

Like millions of other Americans, Ha had the misfortune to graduate from college in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession. Though he had a four-year degree, with a double major in history and economics, Ha couldn't find a job, so he opted for more education instead: "I went to law school because I didn't know what I wanted to do."

Fresh out of law school in 2013, Ha began a six-figure job as a corporate attorney and "saved up a ton of money" to pay off about $87,000 in student loan debt in less than three years.

Ha also started delivering food on his bike on the way home from work. The extra money was nice, especially for paying off his student loans, and the stress relief was even better, he says. Ha kept this a secret from his coworkers — though he had a close call once when he got a delivery request for someone at his firm.

"When you're a lawyer or any sort of professional, you're not supposed to be doing things that are seen as beneath you," he says.

Courtesy Kevin Ha

Leaving the 9-to-5 world

With his student loan debt paid off, Ha had more flexibility to explore other legal jobs — and he took significant pay cuts to work in government and nonprofit roles. Still, he didn't find the balance he was looking for.

"Work is such an important part of our lives," Ha says. "I was trying to find something that would make me happy and fulfilled."

By 2016, Ha had expanded his side hustles beyond food delivery. He rented out spare rooms in his home on Airbnb, walked dogs and boarded them overnight through Rover, and sold discarded items he found on Craigslist. That year, Ha also started the Financial Panther blog to document his side hustles and journey to financial independence.

But, Ha says, he still wasn't "particularly happy." So in 2017, he left his $57,000 salary at a nonprofit for self-employment.

Work is such an important part of our lives. I was trying to find something that would make me happy and fulfilled.
Kevin Ha
The Financial Panther

Today, Ha says his monthly income from his numerous side hustles and his blog ranges from about $5,000 to $8,000 — "basically the same or more as I made as a nonprofit lawyer."

Moving out of the 9-to-5 work world led to other financial changes. Even though his salary is lower today than it was six years ago, Ha says he spends less money than he earns. That said, he does pay for health insurance now, which was subsidized previously, and he doesn't have paid time off.

How a full-time side hustler thinks about the future

Many of Ha's side hustles require him to be healthy and injury-free, something he thinks about when planning ahead. While he says he makes enough money to live off his side hustle income alone, he "would not feel supercomfortable" doing that the rest of his life.

"I know that worst case scenario, if everything fails, I can go back to getting a job," Ha says. "People our age now might live until we're 100. If I have that much time left, I could work another 30 to 40 years, so I have a lot of time to figure things out."

And in the meantime, Ha says he's having a lot of fun — from the time spent on his bike delivering food to shopping for groceries to exploring the city while walking dogs. "Overall, my quality of life is better today."

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Courtesy Kevin Ha
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