I started side-hustling to pay off my student loans and save cash, and now my gigs have earned me over $165,000

  • After getting laid off in 2014, I had an opportunity to figure out what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. I decided to focus on side hustling to get out of debt and save for my future.
  • I monetized my food blog, Delish D'Lites, and started earning passive income. Since then, I've added coaching, courses, podcasting, and more to my list of side gigs.
  • In just a few years, my side hustles have earned me $167,000 and helped me pay off my student loans by age 35.
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My journey into side hustles began purely by accident. I was 27 and "living the dream." I was in graduate school while working full time, getting another degree I didn't even care about, newly married, and squarely in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. I felt like my life was on autopilot, and I was simply checking off boxes on the list of "things adults do."

I was trudging away in a company where I was the only female engineer in my department, and felt so out of place, uninspired, and undervalued. I walked into work every day hoping this would be the day that they fired me. Let me just warn you, manifestation is definitely a real thing. 

I got laid off — and it turned out to be the best thing for me

One snowy morning in January 2014, I walked into work, got laid off, and then drove home in said snowstorm. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the best thing that happened to me. 

About six months before I got fired, I started a food blog called Delish D'Lites. I've always been passionate about food and cooking, and toyed with the idea of quitting my job to go to culinary school. But after some more self reflection, I realized something in that moment: I had just been given the freedom of time (and the luxury of a three-month severance package) to really figure out what I wanted to do with my life — and going from one grueling career to another wasn't it.

My side-hustle lightbulb moment

I wanted a life that wasn't just tied to having to show up to a specific place to get a paycheck. I wanted freedom to live and work anywhere. I wanted to earn passive income, and make money while I slept. I wanted to be protected from layoffs in the future by having multiple income streams.

It sounded too good to be true at the time, but six years and more than $165,000 in side-hustle money later, I can definitely say that getting laid off was life-changing.

In those three months before I secured a new job (I still work full time), I dove deep into learning how to make money online, specifically as a blogger. I was inspired by food blogs like The Pioneer Woman and Skinnytaste, so I decided to take an intro to food blogging course at a local culinary school. Later that day, I set my plan in motion. 

I devoured YouTube videos and blog articles about how to build a blog, how to style photos, how to optimize SEO, and even how to use social media as a brand. My first year was all about building, but then in 2015, I made my first profits from ad revenue. A whooping $2,295! It was the first time I ever made money without clocking into a job. I was hooked.

I built multiple income streams

In 2017, I kept refining my content, optimizing it for SEO, and added sponsored blog posts and affiliate marketing to my income streams, and that year I made $10,598. In 2018, I made $21,860. In 2019, I added teaching Zumba to my income streams, and made $46,033 with my side hustles. 

In 2020, I created more income streams as a personal finance educator and podcaster. I started doing financial coaching, side-hustle coaching, speaking engagements, educational workshops, social media influencing, and a digital course, and I've made $86,517, all while working 9-5. Since my side-hustle saga began, I've earned over $167,000 from my side jobs.

My side hustles helped me pay off my student loan debt

My main motivation for side hustling was the ability to accelerate my debt payoff, savings, and investing goals. I had a total of $39,000 of student loans when I decided to start using my side-hustle income to accelerate paying it off. 

In October 2018, I set a goal to be student loan debt-free by age 35. Instead of paying the minimum payment ($450), I started paying $2,000 to $3,000 a month towards my loans. I had a clear goal to use my side hustles to achieve financial independence, and the first step to get there was to be debt-free. I made my last payment on February 26, 2020, and immediately redirected all that extra side-hustle income to maxing out my workplace 401(k) and IRA for the first time in my adult life. 

How to start a digital side hustle

Thanks to social media, you don't even need a techie background to create a website or digital product to sell. Sites like Etsy and Podia provide sophisticated platforms to sell digital content, and have built-in user interfaces. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram can help you advertise and validate your service or product-based business. 

In addition, there are a ton of low-cost digital businesses that you can start that don't involve selling anything. My food blog generates income by hosting ads and affiliate links. In November of 2020, my blog earned over $14,000 in ad revenue alone. So even if you don't want to sell a physical or digital product, simply by creating a website that gets a good amount of traffic, you can build a passive income stream that earns money 365 days a year.

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