The Waffle Guy, or, Financial Independence in Uncertain Times

During dire economic times, most of us face the predicament of either worrying ourselves to death or just accepting whatever outcome with little anxiety. Those in the latter group need read no further - this article is not for you. To everyone else, here's a thought: You really can play an active role in your financial independence. We have jobs and try to hold onto them to finance our daily lives. In times like these, we harbor this nagging fear of corporate layoffs, or worse - the failure of the entire company. So how can we tackle this fear and come up with a solution? You can take the first step by looking at a certain group: People that are worried, but proactive at the same time. Most have created alternate sources of income. They may have developed simple hobbies or even weekend activities into profitable part-time ventures. In this case, they have done what many of us try to do: Determine what they are good at or interested in, then profit from it. A brief illustration to show how someone that I run into in everyday life is doing this: My 6-year old and I have a Saturday morning ritual that involves walking to the local farmers' market and buying freshly made Belgian waffles. Once she inquired whether we could create our own waffle stand so she wouldn't exhaust her allowance on a single waffle. Quickly drawing on prior consulting experience, I estimated the profitability of the waffle-maker's stand by:
  1. Projecting traffic through his stand over 4 hours (80 people)
  2. Averaging the number of waffles each person bought (1.5 per sale)
  3. Determining the sale price ($4.00 per waffle)
  4. Assuming he sold waffles here on Saturday and in another location on Sunday (2 days)
Total Sales: $960 per week ($3,840 per month) We then assessed the cost side and included in our calculation:
  1. Farmers' market fees ($50 each day x 2 days)
  2. Equipment leasing ($100 per week)
  3. Transportation ($30 per week)
  4. Batter and supplies ($0.25 per waffle x 240 waffles per week = $60 per week)
Total Cost: $290 per week ($1,160 per month) Conclusion: The waffle guy, for an extra 48 hours of work per month, makes around $2,680 for his weekend efforts. Not too bad. I doubt he is as concerned as most people about losing his fulltime job because he has found another source of income. More than that, it has scale potential: There are farmers markets nearly every day of the week in the Bay Area. My point is this: A robust economy exists of people constantly trading, be it products or skills. And that is exactly what these people are doing. Some are paid for advice; others might be active eBay traders or be developing and selling iPhone applications. One sells waffles at farmers markets. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are proactive in order to be independent of a particular job or company. Most of us, however, have grown so accustomed to being employed at larger companies or organizations that we overlook these various - and perhaps unusual - part-time opportunities. Perhaps the silver lining in the crumbling of the economy is that it is forcing us to think about the other things we might do to supplement our incomes and hopefully find the financial independence that some of us crave.
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