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Do people keep telling you that you should get a side hustle to help repay your student loans more quickly, but you remain skeptical about how much can you really make? After all, driving a few hours for Uber on the weekends or taking a second job can't add up that quickly, can it?

That's what I thought—until I started side hustling. Because I won a lot of scholarships, I didn't graduate from undergrad with student loan debt, but I still needed supplementary income. When I started working as a fundraiser for a non-profit in my late twenties—a traditionally low-paying field—I needed to make more money to keep up with the rising cost of rent and medical expenses. That's when I started looking for ways to earn extra income by side hustling.

My side hustling journey

To get started, I thought of ways to use skills that I already had. Since I graduated without debt, I decided to self-publish a book called The Complete Guide to a Debt-Free Education. I had read about people who made thousands of dollars from self-published books. Unfortunately, the book never sold a ton of copies, and I've only made a few hundred dollars from it. Still, I'm glad I wrote it because to help promote it I started a blog on personal finance for millennials.

I quickly learned that there were plenty of ways to monetize a personal finance blog including through Google ads and affiliate commissions from recommending financial products or services that I believed in. Gradually, as I published more content and my traffic grew, I increased the amount I made from blogging to several hundred dollars per month.

Around the same time, financial companies started asking me to write for their corporate websites and I decided that was a more lucrative way to earn money than blogging. To find even more clients, I emailed small financial start-ups who had blogs on their websites and asked if they needed writing work. I gave them bigger discounts if they commissioned more articles or blogs from me. The more that I wrote, the more companies started approaching me interested in having me write for them. I was able to double my fee after six months of writing and I started making several thousand dollars a month from writing alone. Combined with my day job as a fundraiser, I then had twice the income coming in.

My final side hustle was to start a company with a partner that sold fitness products on Amazon. We recently closed the company but still came out ahead. All these side hustles helped me to double and then exceed my day-job income in a year and a half. Eventually, I also got an offer on my blog and I sold it. The additional income made a big difference in my life, allowing me to live more comfortably while still working in an industry with traditionally low salaries. Although I wasn't working to pay off student loan debt, there are many recent college graduates who are, and side hustling can be key to trimming those bills down with less stress and worry.

My advice for others

  • Be entrepreneurial: Choosing the entrepreneurial route can pay off because you aren't limited by how much you can make hourly like with traditional jobs. You set your rates and can raise them too. The hours are flexible and you can work when you have time or when you need to earn supplementary income.
  • Use your skills: Look at the skills you already have and think about how you can use them to make money. If you're an amazing artist, you might be able to sell t-shirts online with your designs or work part-time as a graphic designer. If you love music, maybe your perfect side hustle is working as a wedding DJ on the weekends.
  • Differentiate yourself: You need to make sure you stand out from the competition when you choose a side hustle. If you decide to write, choose a niche area in which you have particular expertise (e.g., biotech, education, architecture), or if you launch a wedding photo booth, be the company in town with all the sci-fi and fantasy props. Getting creative can help you connect with more customers.
  • Use the extra money to pay off debt: Side hustles provide supplementary income to cover regular expenses and allow you to set money aside for savings and splurges too. But if you're facing years of student loan payments, paying off your debt is a great way to use your extra money. Even if you can only put an additional $50–$100 per month toward repaying those loans, it will help you pay off your debt more quickly and save you money in interest.
  • Enjoy your side hustle: Make sure that you enjoy your side hustle. If you love it, it will feel more like a hobby than a job, which makes it sustainable and fun. The more you enjoy doing it, the more energy you'll put into it, which could potentially mean more earnings.

Go forth and side hustle

The hardest part of side hustling is deciding on what you want to do and getting started. It's okay if the first thing you try doesn't work out. But don't give up. Keep looking for ways to use your skills and interests to make money on the side so that you can save for your future and pay off your debt more quickly.

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