Side hustles are a common topic of conversation within the personal finance community, and for good reason. They are a great way to increase income and subsequently boost savings and ultimately shorten the journey to financial independence.
But it’s pretty rare to find someone who can turn a side hustle into a full time income. One man who was able to do this goes by the alias of La Papillion and he runs the finance blog bullythebear.blogspot.com.
La Papillion is a full time tutor who lives in Singapore and I was lucky enough to catch up with him over email and learn about how he transformed tutoring from a side hustle into a full time source of income.
Me: La Papillion, thanks for taking some time to talk with me! To get things started, what is currently your full time job?
La Papillion: I’m self employed as a full time tutor 🙂
Me: And how long have you been tutoring full time?
La Papillion: Hmm, since I graduated in 2003, it’ll be about nearly 13 years already.
Me: So before you graduated, did you always plan to become a full time tutor?
Of course not! I majored in engineering, but when I graduated, the economy wasn’t that good. It was paying me lower than what I wanted and I probably would have had to work a lot of hours.
So I decided to take a phD with my then girlfriend. I took up tutoring as a side job to earn money, but eventually that gig turned out to be what I wanted to do for a living.
I applied for a direct admission to a phD program (from masters to phD in one shot), got in, but rejected it in the end. Life has a different trajectory from what I planned initially haha.
Me: Wow that is very interesting! It’s funny how life throws us curve balls. So when you were first starting out, how did you find students / clients to work with?
Tutoring is quite like a shadow education scene in Singapore. Almost 70 to 90% of students here have tuition of some form. There are tuition agencies that help to connect students and tutors by taking some commission. So I googled tuition agencies in Singapore, signed up about 10-15 pages, and waited for calls to come in.
That was for the first year. They took up 50% of my first month fees. But thereafter it was all mine. After the first year, all my students came from referrals and recommendations.
Me: I see. So how long did it take for you to realize that this ‘side job’ could actually support you full time?
La Papillion: About 2 years or so into the job, I realized I was matching the pay for a full time teacher, so that’s when I realized it could be done.
Me: That’s incredible. So do you tutor specific subjects and age ranges?
La Papillion: Yeah, usually it’s the math and science subjects. The age group is between 13 to even 20+. I teach young adults too.
Me (aside): This makes sense considering he majored in engineering. I imagine in the private tutoring space it especially helps if you can tutor in subjects where there are fewer people who understand the subjects (i.e. science and math), thus the demand for tutors is higher.
I know this is the case with me personally, ever since I discovered I could tutor students in statistics since there are very few tutors in the market who have an understanding of statistics.
Me: What would you say are some of the Pros and Cons of being self employed full time?
Hmm, cons first: In Singapore, there is a social security equivalent, where if you contribute x% of your income to a government fund for retirement, the employer will also contribute y% to it. It’s called CPF. Being self employed, I don’t have that employer’s contribution. So that’s one of the biggest drawbacks.
The other stuff like leave, benefits, paid leave and corporate functions are not available for me as well. So those are the 2 biggest drawbacks. The pros are that I can have total flexibility to my life. I can control how much work I pursue and timing for the work. I can control my own hourly rate too.
The other pro is that I don’t have to deal with politics in the office. It frees up my life to concentrate doing the things I want. No pointless meeting too haha.
Me (aside): Having the freedom to control your work life is definitely hard to put a price tag on, but also he makes a great point that employed workers do have many benefits that are not available to self employed workers.
It truly can be hard to compare the benefits of having freedom over your work with the monetary benefits that corporate employment can offer. It really boils down to your personal preferences.
Me: Switching gears a little bit, I see that the earliest post on your blog dates back all the way to 2006. What made you decide to start a blog then?
La Papillion: I was trying to chronicle my journey in learning how to invest/trade. I was pulled into the bull market back at that time, and the motivation to enter the stock market was because I put in quite a sum of money into a whole life insurance policy and I felt scammed by my insurance agent.
Hence, I was trying to find out all about personal finance and that phase lasted for quite a number of years.
Me: Very interesting. So around what time did you decide to make financial independence a goal of yours?
La Papillion: There isn’t like a point, but more like a transition as I read more and realized that there is another way to live. If I have to put a year on it, I’ll say around 2010-ish?
Me: Once you do reach financial independence, in what ways do you see your life changing? Will you still tutor on the side?
La Papillion: I’ll definitely still teach! I love my job a lot. The financial reward is just one aspect of it, and I depend on it to bring a lot of meaning to my life. I’ll probably reduce the intensity of my work by reducing the hours I’m putting into my job. Probably 2 hours to 4 hours a day of work is what I’ll be looking at.
Me (aside): At this point in the interview I realized that La Papillion is in a truly awesome situation. He is on his way towards financial independence and along the way he gets to do a job every day that he truly enjoys and finds fulfillment in.
I think this is a rare situation. Most people seeking early retirement/financial independence are in a position where their life will likely transform completely in terms of what they do every day once they reach financial independence. For La Papillion, he still pictures himself tutoring, but simply to a lesser extent. This is so cool to me.
Me: Well I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about your financial situation and how you turned a side hustle into a full time income. Wrapping up this interview, if there was one single piece of advice you could give to readers about financial independence / personal finance / or life in general what would it be?
La Papillion: Hmm, it’s probably to learn how to save. It’s a transformative journey to reach higher and higher savings, as you have to work on earning more and/or reducing expenses at the same time. You will emerge knowing what makes you happy, and also that a simple non-consumerist life can be very fulfilling too. From that foundation of savings, a lot of other stuff can be built upon, like investments. It was great being able to answer your questions 🙂
I want to thank La Papillion for taking time out of his day to chat with me. It’s awesome to know that there are people out there who are able to turn a side hustle into a full time gig and actually enjoy doing it!
You can read more from La Papillion at his blog bullythebear.blogspot.com where he posts on a regular basis about a wide variety of personal finance topics.
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Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
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