A few hours here, a little money there.
Gig or part-time jobs have become more widespread, and that trend could become more prevalent as more people struggle to find full-time employment or seek out temporary, flexible work to make ends meet.
Gig workers face challenges that full-time employees don’t, including income uncertainty and a lack of company-subsidized retirement benefits and health insurance.
But these and other obstacles can be overcome, even with some luxuries such as foreign vacations thrown in. Mark Gluckman shows how it can be done.
The longtime Phoenix resident said he’s never held a permanent, full-time job and rarely made more than around $40,000 in a year. Even so, Gluckman owns a car (a Toyota Prius) and a mostly paid-off townhouse, has accumulated around $500,000 in financial assets and takes frequent vacations, including to both Spain and Vietnam last year.
Estimates for the number of gig or part-time workers range from 10 million to 27 million or even much higher, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.
Immigrants and people with criminal records are overly represented among gig workers, the study said. But part-time workers also include college graduates, mothers and those trying to pick up spare change with Uber or Doordash, at a hardware store, as a fitness coach, or whatever.
The study concluded that gig work is rising. The most common types of gig jobs are in professional and business services, construction and education or health roles.
Many jobs, all part time
Gluckman, 76, never felt compelled to go this route but chose it.
“I find nothing I do magical or unusual,” he said. “I have always been able to make a living," without worrying about money or stressing over the next job.
He has held all sorts of part-time jobs, including as an actor, writer and photographer. He has been a bartender and briefly owned a restaurant, which failed. He draws about $700 a month in Social Security retirement benefits, well below the $1,850 or so that recipients receive monthly on average.
Gluckman also lived in various states including his native New York, Connecticut, California and Arizona, where he has lived since 1986.
While in Los Angeles from 1967 to 1982, he acted in local theaters, landed roles in commercials, as he still does, appeared in a CBS Movie of the Week and participated in televised game shows such as “The Joker’s Wild,” where he said he was one of the biggest winners ever.
He attended the University of Arizona but earned a bachelor’s degree in drama at California State University, Northridge. He later pursued and almost completed a master's degree in mass communication at Arizona State University.
While backpacking in Europe during the 1970s, he developed an interest in Spanish and French wines. Now he works part time as a wine steward at various retail venues and teaches and consults on wine at private parties, in senior citizen centers and elsewhere.
“I have been the consummate freelancer my whole life,” he said.
That included jobs as a part-time photographer for the New York Times and Associated Press. Even today, he works on fundraisers, corporate events, theatrical dress rehearsals, plays, concerts and more.
“I was a real hippie, which I still am,” he said.
Health insurance and retirement planning
Gluckman has been fortunate to enjoy good health and didn’t enroll in a health insurance plan until his late 30s. He never had employer-paid insurance, let alone paid sick days, paid vacation days, or other workplace benefits that many people take for granted. He’s on Medicare now.
Gluckman struggled from time to time. At one point while living in Los Angeles, he remembers seeing a Mercedes-Benz and thinking that one of the car's hubcaps was worth more than he was. “But to this day, I don’t worry about money," he insists.
One notable aspect is his willingness and ability to continue working past the typical retirement age, though he said he has "nothing to retire from."
Some 73% of working-age adults expect to stay employed for pay in retirement, yet only 23% of those in the latter age group actually are doing that, owing to health or other considerations, according to a study last year by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
The study also revealed a significant drop in the percentage of working-age adults expressing confidence about their ability to live comfortably throughout retirement: Some 64% expressed confidence last year, down from 73% who said the same in 2022.
Cooking, fun stuff and buying for cash
Gluckman abides by several rules for living below his means. One is always having enough money in the bank that you can afford to decline any job.
Another is learning how to cook, as he eats nearly all of his meals at home. By simply avoiding expensive daily coffees at Starbucks, he said, in a few months you could accumulate enough money to buy a round-trip, off-peak airline ticket to Europe.
He also enjoys finding challenges around economizing. For example, one of his priorities is travel and he prides himself in finding good deals, such as the three-week trip he took in October to Vietnam for $2,300. He sometimes turns travel into gigs, such as teaching English in Spain part time or instructing cruise ship passengers about photography in lieu of paying a fare.
Gluckman uses credit cards but said he has no regular debt other than the remaining mortgage on his north Phoenix townhouse, which he bought for around $100,000 and figures is worth about $450,000 today.
“Always live below your means,” he advises. “If you can’t buy it for cash, don’t buy it.”
He also suggests being organized in managing your financial affairs. For example, he checks his bills regularly and, if he sees something amiss, calls the company to question it.
In addition, Gluckman uses coupons and said he’s highly aware of prices and sales.
“I know when the ads come out and when the sales start,” he said. He shows up for monthly 50% off sales at Goodwill, where he's a regular shopper for everything from shirts to appliances.
“I buy socks, underwear and bathing suits new, but I buy everything else at thrift stores,” he said.
Living on $20,000 a year
Gluckman also reviews his expenses regularly, such as calling his phone and cable TV company every six months to see if he can find a better deal. He similarly checks his homeowners and auto insurance policies once a year.
While he enjoys traveling, he doesn't have many other expensive hobbies or pastimes. He reads, walks a lot and judges films as a volunteer, including for the Phoenix Film Festival. He oversees most investing on his own but does pay a professional to prepare his income tax return.
His “nut” or routine expenses including food, shelter, car, utilities and insurance run around $20,000 a year.
Gluckman said he has always valued freedom, the ability to do what he wants and when.
“I have lived well, I’m healthy and life has been easy for me,” he said. “I could go four to five months and never make a dime, but I never worried about it.”
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Lifelong gig worker shares secrets to good life