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Real People Money Diaries: Making Ends Meet as an Uber Driver

‘I’ve been having trouble supporting myself and have been either couch surfing or living in a tent since 2013’

In this series, we explore how different people make ends meet in an age of increasing inequality and job instability, by looking at what they do, how much they make, what the job is like and what their hopes are for the future.

Name: Rob Speed
City: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Occupations: Uber/Lyft driver, web development consultant
How long: Six months and counting
Goal: Steady work 

Goodbye to Couch Surfing and Tent Life

I drive for Uber and Lyft (mostly the former) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and usually gross $300 to $400 in 12 hours. Those are definitely the peak times where I live, since it’s a college town. Though “where I live” is a bit inaccurate, since I live in my car. I’ve been having trouble supporting myself and have been either couch surfing or living in a tent since 2013. 

My ADHD, anxiety and depression went untreated until I was in my 30s. Essentially, I burned myself out so badly that I couldn’t function any more. I’ve been slowly crawling back up since then, but even with meds, it’s difficult to get over the terrible habits I developed to cope with a broken brain.

Technically speaking, I’m also a web development consultant, but at this point, I’m making most of my money from driving. The hourly pay for driving isn’t as good as consulting, obviously, but the reliability more than makes up for it.

Getting Behind the Wheel

I’d been thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft for a while. One of my cousins used to drive for Lyft and it seemed like something I could do, but I didn’t actually put together a plan for over a year. 

I needed financial assistance to get a car, but getting it was a bit of a mixed bag. My family had varying levels of willingness to help out — I wasn’t going to ask my dad for a loan, but when I told him my plan to become a driver, his reaction was, “We aren’t going to lend you any money.” When I put together a business plan and presented it to my mom and her husband, though, they loaned me enough money to buy a used car that met Uber and Lyft’s requirements.

It’s been seven months, and I’m approaching the halfway point of paying them back. Finally succeeding at something reliable feels pretty great! Living in my car sucks, but as you can imagine, it’s much better than a tent, especially in hot or cold weather. On the other hand, there’s no privacy, and I’m sick of having to shower at the gym.

The Job

The hours I work are usually something like 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., sometimes earlier or later, depending on how busy it is. For example, I’m going to start earlier than usual tomorrow since it’s homecoming weekend at the University of New Hampshire, so there’s bound to be much higher demand than normal. It’s not really hard for me to stay awake and alert at those hours. I’ve always tended to be somewhat nocturnal. In fact, waking up in the morning has often been a bigger problem for me. 

As for the job itself, it’s pretty great. Talking to passengers can be a lot of fun, and there’s only been a handful of people who did or said anything that upset me. I get the feeling that a lot of drivers make some mistakes because they’re not already accustomed to working as a contractor, like I am in web development. I also enjoy driving, though it can get a bit boring at times.

Saving and Spending

As far as budgeting and savings, I save as much as I can, but most of that is probably going to end up going toward taxes. My budget is about $200 per week, which includes things like food and my car loan payments.

Right now, I’m making nothing from web development consulting, so everything I make is from driving. But since I generally would work on that during the day during the week, it’s easy to fit into my schedule when I get work. Having a flexible schedule is great — aside from driving and talking to passengers, that’s probably the best part about this job. It’s not much of a career, though. I really need to finish designing my business cards, since that could potentially be a great way to do some networking. 

Living in the Moment

Will my situation change at all once I pay back my loan to my family? Well, obviously I’ll have more money at the end of the month. But nah, I doubt it’ll change much. For now, I’ll continue to drive. I’d like to find a regular job doing web development, but I’m not actively looking at the moment.