Nearly a decade ago, when designer Kristin Berry Mastoras was living paycheck to paycheck and sharing a New York City apartment with four roommates, she decided it was time to earn some extra cash. She began offering her illustration services for custom logos and wedding products on her Etsy shop called Miss Design Berry.
By 2015, her side hustle had turned into a full-fledged business and helped her pay off $40,000 in student loan debt. She had a mix of federal and private student loans with interest rates ranging from 3.4% on her federal loans to 6.8% on her private loan.
Mastoras, who used to describe herself as "not the best with money," learned how to set financial goals, like paying off her student loans, and budget in order to leave her day job and pursue a career she is passionate about.
Miss Design Berry sells products ranging in price from $30 to $900. Last year, the business brought in nearly $1,000,000. Thanks to its success, Mastoras is able to pay herself a six-figure salary. Here's how she did it.
When Mastoras started her Etsy shop, her wedding products, like her customized signs that wedding guests could write in instead of a traditional guest book, were her best sellers. Once she started solely focusing on wedding offerings, her shop grew from $1,400 in sales in its first year in business to $12,000 by year two.
At first, Mastoras was using her Etsy earnings as extra spending money. She soon realized she wanted to leave her job as a designer at a pharmaceutical advertising agency to run Miss Design Berry full time. "My job was creative, but not like supercreative, not like illustration ... not the stuff that I really loved," Mastoras says.
Before quitting her day job, Mastoras set her first-ever financial goal. "I decided to make a plan. I started with my end goal of paying off the remainder of my student loans and worked backwards from there in terms of what needed to happen each month financially," she says.
To tackle her first goal of paying down student debt, Mastoras used the the avalanche method, aggressively contributing to her costly high-interest loan first before starting in on the lower interest ones.
Her monthly contributions to her loan debt varied depending on her side hustle income, but she was able to eliminate $40,000 in less than four years by contributing as much as $1,000 a month over the course of repayment.
Video by David Fang
To pay off her debt fast, Mastoras focused on cutting spending in the categories that were costing her the most: food and rent. She started by swapping takeout for home-cooked meals, sticking to what her mom dubbed the "Trader Joe's Meal Plan." She opted for a studio instead of a one-bedroom apartment when she moved in with her then-boyfriend and now husband: "We ended up saving us thousands of dollars on rent, which at the time went right to my student loans."
Mastoras also started keeping a habit journal to help her focus on her financial goals. Journaling, she says, helps track her progress and allows her stay cognizant of her spending.
By April 2015, two months ahead of her outlined schedule, Mastoras was student loan debt-free. She credits her motivation and success to setting the specific goal of quitting her day job: "My goal was so tangible that it made every dollar I saved seem really important."
Before leaving her stable job with benefits to run her own business, Mastoras put aside $10,000, enough money to cover two months of living expenses in case of emergency. She also made sure her side hustle was bringing in more than her day job.
By June of 2015, debt-free and armed with an emergency fund, Mastoras decided to take the plunge and become her own boss. And, by the end of the year, her Etsy shop brought in $175,000.
Every year since, Miss Design Berry has had sales growth, thanks in part to the company's ability to adapt and offer on-trend products. "If you looked at what my business sold in 2012 versus 2020, it doesn't even look like the same company. It's completely different. That's because we just constantly evolve, as wedding trends have," she says.
Strategic advertising has paid off, too. Mastoras has been able to market directly to brides by targeting customers on Pinterest and Instagram, since brides spend a lot of time on both sites seeking wedding inspiration.
By 2019, Miss Design Berry's annual sales totaled $930,00. The business also employs 22 either part-time or full-time employees.
To celebrate all of her accomplishments, Mastoras' husband made one of her lifelong dreams come true: He bought her a beagle she named Brie. "I mean there's been a lot of wins, but that was such a big one for me ... finally getting a dog," Mastros says.
While paying off debts and earning more money were very motivating goals, the idea of hanging out with a dog of her own while working from home didn't hurt either, she says.
Adopting new money habits has helped Mastoras and her family achieve financial stability. Since paying off her student loans, Mastoras has been able to save for retirement by contributing to a Roth IRA. She has also opened a brokerage account, which helped pay for her wedding back in 2017. And right before having her son, Mastoras and her husband opened a 529 savings account.
She has used her savings to invest in generating new streams of revenue, too. Mastoras offers private consulting sessions to help other Etsy shop owners grow their businesses. Soon, she's launching a course to make her consulting services more affordable on a learning platform called Teachable.
And, after receiving many requests from loyal customers who have gotten married and are now starting families, Mastoras decided to start a second brand called Kiki and Max, offering custom designs for events like baby showers, kids parties, and more. Mastoras, a new mom herself, says her new venture "is another passion project," and an opportunity for her brand to continue to "evolve."
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