Most of the time when we talk about how people are managing their finances, it's nothing but bad news. Case in point: Last year, I reported that a growing number of Americans have less than $1,000 in accessible savings, while the average U.S. household is $5,700 deep in credit card debt. It's therefore refreshing to be able to share a more positive trend that's helping millions of Americans improve their finances.

According to a new Bankrate survey, there are 44 million Americans who currently have some sort of side hustle on top of a regular job. Not familiar with the term? A side hustle is basically a way of generating income outside of one's primary paycheck.

Dog walkers walking two dogs.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Side hustles come in many shapes and forms. Walking other people's dogs on the weekend is a legitimate side hustle, as is telemarketing during evening hours. Want to wait tables twice a week? Welcome to the side hustle club. No matter what sort of additional work you're willing and able to take on, committing to even a small amount could mean the difference between struggling financially and paying your bills -- and it's encouraging to see so many folks making the effort.

Younger Americans are leading the pack

Not surprisingly, of all age groups, millennials are most likely to climb aboard the side hustle train. An estimated 28% of those aged 18 to 26 have some sort of secondary gig. And we're not just talking pocket change here -- of younger adults with a side hustle, 25% bring home over $500 a month. The same holds true for 36% of workers across all age groups. Furthermore, though baby boomers aged 53 to 62 are less drawn to the side hustle lifestyle than their younger counterparts, those who do work a secondary gig are also more likely to pull in an extra $1,000 per month or more.

What can that extra money do for you?

Of course, working a side hustle means forgoing some of your valuable free time, but given the amount of money you stand to bring in, it's a sacrifice worth making -- especially if you're behind on savings or are looking to avoid or pay down costly debt. Imagine you're living paycheck to paycheck but start taking in $500 a month as a result of a side gig. If you have a month where your costs exceed your earnings (say, you get hurt and your medical bills come in higher than usual), you'll have some extra reserves to dip into, and so you won't have to charge those expenses on a credit card with a ridiculous interest rate.

Just as importantly, earning extra money will bring you considerably closer to meeting your immediate and long-term savings goals. As I said earlier, most Americans have yet to accumulate $1,000 in a savings account, but that's not nearly enough to cover an entire emergency fund. Rather, most folks should have anywhere from three to six months' worth of living expenses in the bank, and some people (think those with variable income) should set aside even more. If you're currently spending down your salary, but earn $500 a month on the side, you can easily pad your emergency savings by $6,000 over the course of a single year.

In addition, working a side gig will give you an opportunity to sock away money for retirement -- something at least one-third of the population currently doesn't do. In fact, a big reason why so many workers don't save for the future is that their paychecks are already accounted for. But if you bring in an additional $500 a month and stick that money directly into a retirement account, you'll have a great shot at building a sizable nest egg.

In fact, check out the following table, which shows what your monthly $500 retirement plan contribution might grow to over time:

If You Start Saving $500 a Month at Age...

Here's What You'll Have by Age 65 (Assumes a 7% Average Annual Return) ...

25

$1.198 million

30

$829,000

35

$567,000

40

$379,000

45

$246,000

TABLE AND CALCULATIONS BY AUTHOR.

As you can see, if you're willing to commit to a side hustle for 40 years, and you invest the money you make at an average yearly return of 7%, which is actually a few points below the stock market's average, by the time retirement rolls around, you'll be sitting pretty on nearly $1.2 million. Even if you wait until you're a bit older to start working that side gig and saving that extra money, you're still poised to accumulate a pretty impressive sum -- money you probably wouldn't otherwise have. In fact, for many people, working a side hustle could spell the difference between retiring on time or never actually managing to retire at all.

Finding your niche

If you're thinking that you're not talented or creative enough to land a side hustle, think again. First of all, you'd be amazed at what people today are willing to outsource, whether it's helping somebody else's kids with their homework or feeding your neighbors' pets while they're away. Second, you can always try consulting or working independently on the side in your current field -- unless, of course, your company has a strict policy against it.

Finally, there's no rule saying you need to limit your side hustle income to a single gig. Say you're able to land a part-time writing job but only for a couple of hours a week. Pick up a few shifts at a local restaurant and, collectively, you'll have a nice chunk of cash to work with.

No matter what sort of side work you take on, if you need the extra money or just plain want the flexibility that comes with having additional cash, don't hesitate to get in on the side hustle game. It could leave you considerably richer, both now and in the future.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.