Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Lockert

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What to Do When You Owe More Than You Earn

Melanie Lockert, Founder of and the author of Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt

Amount Paid Off: $81,000 in student-loan debt in under nine years

Her Debt-Busting Strategy: Become a side hustler

After limiting her budget to the bare minimum, personal-finance writer Melanie Lockert realized she wouldn't be able to put large payments towards debt without earning more. "That's when I started side hustling very seriously," Lockert says, who was making $30,000 a year at a non-profit.

Brand ambassador gigs became her most lucrative side job. She made up to $20 an hour giving away free samples and swag at concerts, sporting events and public venues. You can find brand-ambassador jobs on Craigslist in the gigs section and on Facebook (search "brand ambassadors of…" and fill in your city).

Lockert also was also paid to pet-sit—you can do the same by using apps like Rover, DogVacay and Wag. On the hunt for nightly and weekend jobs, Lockert turned to the Craigslist gigs section and The one-time gigs she took on include: selling water bottles at a dance party, transcribing a podcast, and watering plants for someone on vacation. It paid off: "Toward the end of my repayment, I was throwing $2,000 to $4,000 toward my debt each month," Lockert says.

Avoid This End-of-Year Tax Problem: Don't forget to you'll need to report and pay taxes on your wages as a freelancer, Lockert says. "I didn't understand how independent contractor jobs work. I just thought I'm getting all this pay and taxes aren't taken out. I ended out owing more than I thought," she says. Ask a CPA what percentage of your side-gig earnings you should be saving for taxes to avoid a surprising bill.