How Far Would You Go to Pay Off Your Debt? 3 Extreme Stories of Success
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"It was definitely a test of patience. We had to constantly remind ourselves that the payoff would be worth it."

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I Sacrificed My Social Life to Pay Off $30K of Student Debt in 18 Months

Kat Tretina, 32, a writer in Orlando, Fla.

If you told Kat Tretina seven years ago that a successful horse braiding business would help her pay off her student loans three years ahead of schedule, she’d have called you crazy. But inspiration struck one day when her friend canceled their plans, explaining she needed to save money in order to pay her horse braider $100 the following day.

While Tretina didn’t have any experience with horses or animal grooming, she could do a mean French braid and was looking for a side gig. “My student loans were a huge burden on me, and I couldn't afford to make extra payments on my salary alone. I had to increase my income with extra work, [even if that] meant sacrificing my free time," she says. “Horse braiding [seemed like] something I could pick up to start making money quickly.”

Setting out to teach herself a new skill, Tretina watched instructional videos, ordered $20 worth of supplies and practiced on her friend’s horse. She quickly realized why people can charge so much for this work: It’s time consuming, your hands tire quickly and you deal with a lot of crap—literally. But the idea of earning extra cash was motivation enough.

Once she’d mastered a few styles, she researched mid-level horse shows in her area, where there was likely to be high demand. “My first show, I just had a cardboard sign that said ‘horse braiding.’ After a few minutes, a lady asked if I could braid her daughter’s pony,” she says. She ended up staying busy the whole day—and raked in $500.

It wasn’t long before Tretina was consistently using her side gig cash to apply an extra $500 to $750 toward her student loan principals, which helped her pay them off completely 18 months later. “I had to sacrifice my weekends and early mornings [to do this]. There was no social life at this point. I had to say no to parties and getting drinks on the weekend since I had to be up at 3 a.m. the next day,” Tretina says. “But having that student loan payoff date in mind kept me going.”

Today, Tretina earns an average of $1,000 per month with her side business—though she’s made as much as $1,000 per day at larger shows, where she can demand a higher fee.

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