A tale of two recent college graduates, over one decade.

Here’s a tale of two ~ twenty + year olds.   Let’s call them Tom and Jane.

Both start off at the same college.  Both end up unemployed when they graduated.  They took different life paths.


  • Year 1.  Tom is focused on the good job.  Looking for work, he lives with his parents looks for a job.  He’s not that happy.  He  finally lands a paid internship.
  • Year 2.  He ends up sticking with the internship, living on Ramen noodles and it uncharacteristically, ends up in a starter job with a mid-sized firm after a year of persistence.
  • Year 4.  Two years of hard work later, the firm reorgs and lets Tom go.  Tom spends the next six months looking for another good job (won’t settle for less), deeply in debt due to the unemployment, he gets a full time job in retail.  He’s not that good at it and doesn’t make much over minimum.
  • Year 6.  In and out of retail jobs and still deeply in debt he’s able to find a small firm in his chosen profession to work at.
  • Year 9.  Tom spends the next three years working at the small firm.  Since the firm is always on the edge of failure, the income is low and spotty.  It’s not much more than retail at min wage, but it’s better work.  At the end of the third year, the owner sells the company and makes enough to retire.  Almost everyone is fired.
  • Year 10.  Tom had hoped to be well on the way to the American Dream by now, but he’s still scratching around for a job in his chosen industry.  His girlfriend dumped him after he got fired since he got so depressed he wasn’t fun anymore.  Another year of retail experience hasn’t lifted his spirits at all.


  • Year 1.  Jane wasn’t idle during the last year of school.  She was fully engaged with a couple of sharing apps, making extra dollars and getting used to using them to supplement her income.  When the job she had hoped for didn’t materialize, she started to ramp up the income she was making using these apps.  
  • Year 2. While online, Jane met a couple of people in the area doing the same thing.  They teamed up and rented a house together.  Between the three of them, they had dozens of income streams, including ongoing rental of the home’s garage and extra room.  Jane picked up some piece work using some technical skills she learned online to build up her income, but it was highly variable.
  • Year 4.  The three friends were making enough money to cover the cost of the house, renting it out and doing minimal tour guide work for the renters.  Jane had built up a pretty great reputation with these services.  She already had 10 different income streams on and off, some of them earning up to $20 an hour.  Combined with free housing, she was starting to get ahead.
  • Year 6.  Jane decides to move in with her boyfriend.  He was traditionally employed, which allowed them to buy the home (her income didn’t quality for a mortgage).  Unfortunately, he got laid off six months after they bought it.  Fortunately, she was making more than enough money by then to pay for the home.  Since he was unable to find a new job, she taught him how to bootstrap income (the transition was tough but he started to get it after a couple of months).
  • Year 7.  They invest heavily in the home.  Installing water harvesting/filtering, solar energy production (enough to sell back), and an extensive garden.  The home transformation increase the value of the home by 50% since a home like that was in the sweet spot of downsizing babyboomers looking for a place to put the cash from the sale of their big homes.  They sold the home and bought another home with the proceeds and a very small mortgage.
  • Year 10.   Another flip later and they finally have a home free and clear.  Between them, they have 30 sources of income, enabled by apps and other things that they do online and in the neighborhood as well as income from the home’s production of food/energy/water.  With all of these income streams in place, they are able to live comfortably, working half as many hours per week as people in conventional jobs.  The rest of the time is spent doing stuff together, travelling, and building new streams of income in creative ways.  Happy with where they are at, they get married and start a family.

Join the movement to restore America's prosperity

Discussion — 28 Responses

  • Rich Lovejoy November 12, 2013 on 5:09 pm

    I would love to see a list or compilation of all these ‘mini-income streams’ !

    • John Robb Rich Lovejoy November 12, 2013 on 7:13 pm

      Rich, Doing that. So many more popping up all of the time.

      • Edward Mulder John Robb November 13, 2013 on 7:01 pm

        This is great John! Not only is it fascinating, but it is what I need to be doing right now. I was going to put together a list myself and was trying to figure out how to start. Thanks so much.

        • John Robb Edward Mulder November 14, 2013 on 6:22 pm

          Glad it helps Edward. JR

  • Robert Paterson November 12, 2013 on 5:28 pm

    I think you have nailed it John

    • John Robb Robert Paterson November 12, 2013 on 7:10 pm

      Thanks Robert. There’s an idea here for baby boomers on down too I think. Building something that can last a 30 year retirement doesn’t usually look like a 401k.

  • Eric November 12, 2013 on 7:55 pm

    Great example John!

    • John Robb Eric November 14, 2013 on 6:10 pm

      Thanks Eric. JR

  • Javier November 13, 2013 on 1:23 am

    Best post ever in homefree america,
    high impact synthesis.

    • John Robb Javier November 14, 2013 on 6:18 pm

      Thanks Havier.

  • Alan November 13, 2013 on 10:43 pm


    This sounds very interesting to this baby boomer. But my mobile phone skills while adequate for most daily activities does not include the “sharing” apps. Are we talking about Facebook, twitter, etc. or some some lesser known apps? Using these apps for another income stream would be a great asset.


    • Javier Alan November 14, 2013 on 12:31 am

      Hi Alan, He’s talking about the Sidecar, airbnb, lyf
      mecanicalturk sort of app

    • John Robb Alan November 14, 2013 on 6:32 pm

      Alan, Do you have a smart phone yet? JR Most of these are built for either android or iphone because many of them leverage phone based navigation/maps to connect you with opportunities. JR

  • Javier November 14, 2013 on 5:05 pm

    Hi John, Ive been thinking about this post,
    and how effective it is in getting the message accross.

    Its narrative style helps a lot, just like conveying something in a story sometimes is more effective than
    conveying it by other means.

    I think that you should explore the short story format
    expanding on this masterpiece.

    • John Robb Javier November 14, 2013 on 6:33 pm

      Thanks Javier. That’s a good idea. I’m planning to spend the next couple of months fleshing all of this out a bit, before I package it. Lots more conceptual architecture to build. JR

  • djysrv November 15, 2013 on 5:30 pm

    It is a great story. Here are a couple of low tech parallels.

    Now if they can just start an emu farm, they can sell the meat the Europeans terrified of US sourced mad cow disease, the oil from the meat can be sold to the NHL which finds it is really good at healing bruises from collisions on the rink, the egg shells are terrific for a base to make costume jewelry, and the feathers, well that’s a use that is easily open to any fashionista with imagination.

    Similarly, they could set up a hydroponic greenhouse growing vegetables. The harvest can be made into gourmet salsa and sold via mail order over the Internet. If enough of their friends and neighbors also build similar small greenhouses in their backyards, they can form a coop and sell the larger harvest to grocery chains seeking “organic” products.

    NB: The first scenario does not work with ostrich.

    • John Robb djysrv November 18, 2013 on 6:08 pm

      Lo-tech makes the road to the dream tougher to accomplish. An inability to generate income is the primary reason why the back to the land movement had such a tough time.

  • drsteph November 18, 2013 on 7:21 pm

    One of the things I am concerned about with the multi-income stream approach is it doesn’t allow for sustained focused involvement necessary to build high levels of expertise necessary to succeed in a global economy. You’ll always steamroll the guy who is doing 20 things at once, none of them well. Corporate interests will roll over you – only chance is to focus on one-offs and markets too small to attract their interest.

    • John Robb drsteph November 19, 2013 on 4:12 pm

      Hmm, I’m seeing exactly the opposite in most industries/markets.

      The career path of the specialist is increasingly fragile to disruption and is getting steamrolled as work unbundles.

      Further, in any given field there’s only room for a handful of specialists (due to a network effects that concentrate rewards on a couple of stars).

      Also, automation/tech makes it possible for people to do many things well, even without specialization. So, producing electricity with solar panels and selling it back to the grid doesn’t require a degree in EE or a training as an electrician.

      • Felix John Robb November 19, 2013 on 6:47 pm

        Please dont get me wrong. I am not here to troll or just to find something bad.
        I simply think drsteph has a point. The part of the investment in the house, reducing it costs and let it generate revenue (or reduce cost) for you, is highly interesting.

        Nevertheless daily investing in “small income streams” sounds a little bit like new economy/nasdaq to me. Someone tells you, that everything will change and young people spend their time on non – paid internships or developing apps, which doesnt generate a sufficient income stream and after a few years they dont have qualified work experience to show for. I get your point and i am thrilled by all your old postings, nevertheless this does leave a bad taste with me.

  • Marcus the Resilient Nomad November 18, 2013 on 10:19 pm

    Example of multiple-streams —

    Backwoods (rural) economy, retired SF operator and family:
    Harvest downed trees, sell for firewood
    Plow private roads/driveways in snow season
    Caretake multiple properties for absentee landlords
    Hunting guide
    Contract installer of shelving units for major retailer chains
    Make/Sell crafts
    Break horses, train horses, teach riding
    Animal caretaking
    Portable butcher shop
    Portable knife-sharpening business (chainsaws, lawnmowers also)
    Picking at garage sales and reselling
    Hunting/outdoor photography/videography

    Urban economy (mid-sized city) (veteran, single)
    Part time job coffee shop barista
    bicycle repair
    bodyguard/door security
    martial arts instructor
    Obtainer of illicit recreational products (grin)
    Apartment painter
    Web-site designer
    On-site apartment maintenance (in exchange for rent consideration)
    Freelance copywriter/PR releases/book reviews

    • John Robb Marcus the Resilient Nomad November 19, 2013 on 3:58 pm

      Marcus, Thanks. The big innovation I’m seeing is that the barriers to additional income creation are falling due to new apps. That is a radical departure from the past, when it was very hard to disengage from bureaucratic employment w/o getting trounced. JR

      • Marcus the Resilient Nomad John Robb November 19, 2013 on 8:01 pm

        Most welcome, John. I do see use of apps and local listings like Craigslist, etc. — but in most of my on-the-ground research, Old School “word of mouth” whether in person, via forums/e-mail/internet lists is how people connect for the services I note in the above post. A big factor is the “trust” element that is not necessarily always clearly delineated/defined/reliable in the app structure — a friend telling me about “Joe” works whether that’s online or on th ephone or in person. I think the value of an app is how it measures reliability/trustworthiness and how robust that reporting function is out in the real world.

        Example one has no “web-based” or internet related links for the services; it’s all word of mouth. Example two has some web-based, but again mostly through word of mouth and through targeted online lists

        I’ve seen that the “resilient because we need to be NOW’ community is faster to create reliable measures of trust than the “resilient because we think it’s cool/PC/or will need to be someday” community, which spends too much time tinkering with smartphone apps and not necessarily doing the work to be exchanged, in my acerbic though pragmatic on the ground observation.

        As always, YMMV and my two cents worth!

        cheers, m The Resilient Nomad

  • Justin Mares November 19, 2013 on 7:36 pm

    One issue I have with this bootstrapped income approach is the geography of homes and apartments. To boostrap income using services like Uber/Lyft, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and the like you HAVE to live in a city.

    Living in a city is expensive, and only using such sharing services as your source of income will almost certainly put you in the bottom 40% of earners for whatever city. Which also means that saving up to buy house would be difficult.

    Worse, to buy a house you can afford with such low incomes you’re looking at buying a place outside of a large metro area, far in the suburbs or in a more rural setting. Either way, if you’re living in the suburbs or rural America, you are suddenly cut off from your sharing economy sources of income.

    Do you know anyone who’s actually made this work?

  • Jennifer Sensiba November 27, 2013 on 12:09 pm

    I am somebody who can somewhat vouch for what you’re saying here. I’m 29 and I have done a mix of both employment and self-employment.

    Employment never really worked out because the labor market is so biased in the direction of employers. I have some fairly good skill, but I’m still a throwaway. For example, in one job I had I implemented a lot of automation and improved efficiency on the manual tasks to the point where I was doing my predecessor’s work in half the time and spending the other half on special projects that brought a lot more people in the door.

    For this I got several raises…but then the owner got buyer’s remorse on the raises. He replaced me with other, more desperate people who were willing to work for 60% of what I was making (and the automation I implemented enabled him to do this).

    In my self-employment ventures, I’ve made more money and I can’t get fired/replaced at will.

    I’m working on my master’s in emergency management and homeland security and was originally planning on going for a government job, but I’m finding that self-employment is probably going to work better there, too. Just a few years ago, people would say there’s nothing better you could get than a government job, but even that’s iffy today for my generation :(

    John, does the e-mail on Global Guerrillas still work to get in touch? I would like to discuss a project I am working on that might dovetail with this site nicely. I’m not looking to sell you anything; I just want to trade information.