How Side Hustles Are Helping This Grad Pay Off $575,000 in Student Debt While Living the Life of Her Dreams

Hello! Today, I have a personal debt story to share from Samantha on how to pay off dental student loans. Enjoy! Hi there! Before we get into the side-hustling, let me introduce myself. My name is Samantha and I graduated from dental school with more than $575,000 in student debt when I was 26 years…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: January 17, 2024

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Hello! Today, I have a personal debt story to share from Samantha on how to pay off dental student loans. Enjoy!

Hi there! Before we get into the side-hustling, let me introduce myself. My name is Samantha and I graduated from dental school with more than $575,000 in student debt when I was 26 years old.

It may seem like a big number, but this is actually the normal cost of going to dental school (and rising!).

It takes 4 years of undergraduate school and 4 years of dental school in total.

how to pay off dental student loans

Keep in mind, this is just for a general dentist degree. Those who wish to specialize come out of school with close to a million dollars in student debt!

On graduation day, I knew two things for sure. First, I realized that I was too creative of a person to enjoy a 40-hour, Monday to Friday, 9-5 job. Secondly, I realized that I wasn’t wholly passionate about my career choice.

While I enjoy dentistry, I didn’t LOVE it. I loved doing other things way more.

After these two realizations, I started to fear the following: boredom at work, regret in my career choice, and standing still in the hamster wheel we call life.

I did a bit of brainstorming and decided I want to create a lifestyle around my passions and hobbies. However, graduating from dental school meant I had loans to pay back.

Unlike other grads who wanted to wait 20 years for the loan forgiveness program, I wanted to be debt-free as soon as possible. I felt that the sooner I got rid of my debt, the sooner I can be fully free.

So, I devised a plan to turn my hobbies and passions into money-producing work. I made a conscious decision to reduce my days of dentistry and to fill the rest of my days doing things I love.

I gave up making a lot of money for a more happy life. With this more creative structure, I am excited to get out of bed every morning. I like that every day is different, and I am never bored.

Instead, I feel like I am always learning, progressing, and most importantly, being wholly me.

So today, I wanted to share with you my side-hustle story.

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Where My Side-Hustling Started

There are so many side hustles you can do. I learned this at a young age.

I started work at 16 years old and have side-hustled my way through undergrad. In between my first day of work at 16 years old to today, I have occupied 10 different job titles.

I needed to work multiple jobs in order to pay for college.

Trust me when I say that $575,000 could have been a lot worse! I held three jobs during under-grad, working as a dental assistant, the design specialist for Banana Republic, and a math tutor for high school students.

This was balanced with graduating in three years as a Cum Laude.


When I Was In Under-Grad…

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I worked at Banana Republic decorating windows and dressing up mannequins before the mall opened. My shift started at 6am and went until 10am.

I then went to college to take my classes.

After going to my classes, I would tutor in the evenings for local high-school students at a tutoring center.

My days would end around 9pm or 10pm.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, I would work for the dental office as a dental assistant. I also worked for Banana Republic on the weekends. Somehow, I managed to get good grades, volunteer at church, and attend family gatherings.

I was used to having a diverse work lifestyle by the time I was 20 years old. I loved it so much that I wanted it for the rest of my life.


How I Manage Multiple Side-Hustles

I have always been the type of person who needed multiple things happening at once. Even as a child, sitting down and doing only one thing was exhausting for me.

I actually threw tantrums when my mom had me focus on something for too long! Because of always needing to switch tasks, I have had a lot of practice organizing my life. I keep a planner with me at all times. I still use paper planners, because digital ones aren’t as good at helping me remember events.

Physically writing them down and seeing the note spatially on a page ingrains the task in my memory better. I am so in love with planners that I feature different ones in my blog space when I share my monthly goals.

Practice also makes perfect. Since I have always been this way, I would say finding ways to make extra income is now a way of life for me. I can easily switch from one task to another. In fact, I look forward to the switch.

I actually have difficulty staying in the moment, even though I try to as much as I can. I am always thinking of the next step. “Where will I be five minutes from now? What are the possible scenarios given a certain decision I make?” It is how my brain works – always looking ahead.

I also value simplicity.

I make my life simple by relying on habits and creating recurring schedules. I learned that once a habit is formed, it takes less mental energy to do a task. I have many habits I rely on. One of my favorite habits is the 5-minute rule.

If something takes less than 5 minutes to do, I do it right away and check it off my list.

I also have the habit of budgeting my money, planning my day, writing everything down, and sleeping eight hours each night. As far as recurring schedules go, I only grocery shop one day a week (Saturday), I only get gas one day a week (Wednesday), and I only wear a set uniform for work (one pair of shoes and a different colored scrub for every day of the week). I simplify my life by eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at set times thus avoiding snacks. It really is the simple things in life that make a difference!

Lastly, I am a minimalist.

I engage in as few physical tasks as possible. By saving my physical energy, I have more mental energy to spend optimizing my situations. I avoid the non-essential. I delegate as much as I can. Most of the time, I actually do more by doing less. I know that doesn’t make sense for some people, but it makes sense to me.

For example, when I ran a bakery, I narrowed down my delivery schedule so that I only had to produce bread twice a week. I did not accept orders outside of the time frame I chose. When I dog sit, I have people drop the dog off at our house. They come to me so that I don’t have to spend energy and time picking them up.

Lastly, I am a big fan of nixing commutes.

I try to live down the street from the dental office I happen to be working at. I choose side-hustles that have me working from home. In fact, I worked as a baker, dog-sitter, writer, blogger, and wholesale director all from home. I don’t like wasting time commuting because it’s time you aren’t paid for. And it is time you could use doing other things you love!


How I Use Side-Hustles to Speed Up Student Debt Repayment

To this day, I continue to pocket occupations like nobody’s business. My side hustles are born from doing things I already enjoy. I am grateful for them, because they have allowed me to live the life I dreamed of, without ignoring the debt I have to repay.

On the contrary, unlike a majority of students who are waiting for loan forgiveness which takes about 20 years, I am on track to pay off my debt in 7 years! And that’s by working as a dentist only 3 days a week.

To be honest, I never liked debt.

I grew up seeing my immigrant parents work paycheck to paycheck. My dad himself worked multiple jobs. He is an engineer and worked a 9-5 desk job. But in the evenings and on weekends he also worked for Staples, Hollywood Video, and Robinson’s May. He was actually my model for hard-work.

My motivation to keep going is all my hobbies and passions.

I think of what life could be without having any debt to tie me down, and that’s what keeps me going. Now that I’ve tasted what it is like to do what makes me happy, I don’t want to give it up. I know that once my loans are gone, I can go rogue and just live day to day, doing things I want, however and whenever I please.

I couldn’t have gotten this far living my dream life while repaying back my debt without my side-hustles.


how to pay off dental school debt

My Side Hustles Today

On to the good stuff. I wanted to share with you what side-hustles I am doing today, on top of working three days a week as a dentist.



It all started with my blog. I love to write and have always kept some sort of online diary. My blog became “a thing” after I did a podcast recording with ChooseFI wherein I shared my student debt repayment story.

It was then that I increased my publishing, trying to share my story as I recorded a few other podcasts. I then took the course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, and realized that I could monetize my blog.

My blog started to make money late in 2019. Most of the income I make is through collaborations with different companies, who send me products that I want to review. It lowers my everyday spending, and gives me something to write about.

I also make a small commission from affiliate links but that is not the majority of my income.


Write for Others

As I gained more recognition for my blog work and my debt repayment story, I started to write for other blogs.

Writing for other blogs is fun for me, as I get to share information with different audiences. I also get to experiment with different writing styles and write about other topics.

Eventually, I started to monetize that, too. I made contracts for websites and offered to write articles for a fee.

I charge $100 per article that I write for someone else.

Related content: How I Earn $200,000+ Writing Online Content


Rent Out A Room

I live in Southern California where rent and mortgages run high. I knew that the biggest spending I would have would be putting a roof over my head.

I wanted to bring that price down and I did so by finding a roommate for my husband and I. We chose to live in homes that had a separate bedroom and bathroom on a different floor than the main living space.

This gave all parties privacy, which made the living situation easier.

Renting out an extra room is the easiest side hustle one can do, and it makes pretty decent passive income.

We charged our roommate $700 a month for her space, which is a STEAL in Southern California. She was a friend of ours, but if it was a stranger renting from us, we would have charged them $1,000 a month.

On the plus side, we fully enjoy living with roommates. It’s always more fun living with friends!


Dog Sit

I love pets.

My family has a dog and I missed being around her after I moved away for college.

I decided to sign up for Rover and start dog-sitting. Dog-sitting gives my husband and I a good excuse to go on adventures, plan hikes, and explore the outdoors.

When we aren’t out on walks, I am reading a book on the couch or working on my blog snuggled up next to a furry friend.

We charge $50 per night for each dog we sit.

Over time, I built up enough repeat clients that I hardly use the app. We sit about three day’s worth each month, however, the app takes a 20% cut. I would say we get an extra $100 per month. It’s a gig I can see myself doing more in the future.


Work As A Baker

I really got into making sourdough bread in 2018. I guess you can say I fell in love with baking at that time. So much so that I started working midnight shifts as an early morning baker for Rye Goods, an all-organic Southern California bakery.

People probably don’t realize this, but in order for bread and pastries to be ready and available for your favorite coffee shop right when they open, someone’s got to bake the pastries off in the wee hours of the day.

It’s a position that’s hard to fill at any bakery, but I went ahead and took it. Since I didn’t have a culinary degree, I thought this would be a great way to get my foot in the proverbial door.

I was earning an extra $650 a month working the midnight shifts three days a week. Each shift was four hours long, from 2am to 6am.

I gained so much experience and insight that I ended up opening my own bakery in a few months!


Open a Bakery

I knew I could offer good bread. I branched out from Rye Goods and opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery in 2019.

I did this all without a business background or a culinary degree. I applied for a Cottage Food license and used our commercially zoned live-work loft as my bakery. Since we were renting out the downstairs space, my personal kitchen on the second floor was essentially my bakery.

I did it all in 250 sq. feet of space. And since I lived in a downtown area, I was able to easily place my bread in a restaurant, a coffee shop and a monthly pop-up at a local market within a one-mile radius of me.

Eventually, I hired one employee to work for Aero Bakery.

I was making about $1,000 per month in profit, working 5 hours a week, with another baker that worked an extra 4 hours a week.

Related content: How To Make Extra Money By Starting A Home Bakery


Become a Wholesale Director

When the pandemic started, I closed my bakery, took time off from dentistry and stopped dog-sitting.

But as the world re-opened, I resumed these activities and my role for the baking world changed. I returned to Rye Goods as a wholesale director. I manage sale orders, do billing, and create relationships with potentially new clients. I love this position that I am in now because it gives me flexibility. I choose when I work, how I work, and where I work. I also love it because I get to meet and interact with many coffee shop owners.

My husband and I love coffee and I get to probe coffee experts on all their coffee knowledge. Since it is a sales position, the pay depends on the number of orders and new clients coming in.

I make more than $1,000 per month logging in 8 hours of work as a wholesale director.


Other Side Hustles I Want to Pursue

Just because these are the side-hustles I do now, this doesn’t mean this is all I want to do forever.

As you can see from my baking experience, my roles continue to transition, change, and progress. I am always looking to learn something new.

Here are other side-hustles that I think would be fun to pursue:

  • Become licensed as a real estate agent.
  • Become a master coffee grader.
  • Open a coffee shop.
  • Teach yoga classes.
  • Host travel adventures in my city.
  • Work as a waitress or a bartender.
  • Write a book.
  • Teach courses to college students.


My Dream Day

If you ask me what my ideal day would look like, it would be a day filled with diverse jobs that I enjoy doing, at a schedule of my choosing. If you think that’s too much to ask, it really isn’t, because I have been doing just that for 3 years now.

My ideal day is to wake up when my body tells me to without the jarring sounds of an alarm. I want to have coffee and breakfast with my husband.

If I have the time, I would love to spend the first hour giving back to myself.

That means either listening to a podcast, reading a book, or writing. That could also mean meditating, stretching with yoga, or going on a morning swim or run.

Then, I would walk dogs in the neighborhood. This might mean picking up a few dogs at the same time. It would be great to get the muscles warmed up by walking in our community for half an hour to an hour. After returning the dogs, I would come home and get ready for a day of dentistry.

After dentistry, I could lead a yoga class in the evening prior to having dinner and wine with my husband.

In the evenings, after dinner, I could work on my blog space, writing by candlelight. This would be the time I would check bakery orders for Rye Goods, process any bills, and ensure that our wholesale clients are getting what they need.

Before bed, I would love to read a bit more. I love to read because it always helps me to learn and grow.


My Dream Life

Side-hustles gave me my dream life. Currently, I have my schedule set so that I only work a maximum of three days of dentistry.

Sometimes, we will have a dog staying with us for a weekend or a week. I do a lot of writing for the blog, and occasionally process orders for Rye Goods. For the most part, I do it at my own pace. I can say no to adding more dentistry days. I can request time off for trips or control the business of my own work schedule. I can choose to write less or manage my dog-sitting schedule.

This flexibility allows me to focus on friends, family, and myself on the weekends.

People always hone-in on how my side hustles help me pay off more than half-a-million dollars in student debt at a fast pace. To be honest, they do that, but so could working five days a week in dentistry.

What matters to me is how side hustles let me live my dream life while tackling my student debt. It’s not one or the other, and that makes me very, very happy.

Author bio: My name is Samm. I am a debtist – a dentist who graduated with a lot of student debt. After four years of undergrad and four years of dental school, I ended up with a debt of over $550,000, which I then had to start paying back. You can find me on my blog, The Debtist.

Do you have student loans? What are you doing to pay them off?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. It’s no secret side hustles are today’s new new of building financial stability and ensuring a 2ndary stream of passive income. 🙂

  2. Hi Michelle,

    It is a very inspiring post! I really loved reading inspiring stories, and this one was amazing. I understood the importance of side hustle, and I will definitely be sharing this with my niece who is just starting college. I am sure your story will inspire her to take up a side hustle and manage her expenses as well. Thanks for sharing your story, it was a great resource, and it taught me to manage my routine better.

  3. Pauline

    This is one of the most inspiring stories I have come across today.

    I am a blogger from Kenya. Unfortunately in our country it is so hard to take on two jobs or three because one job takes almost your entire day. Unless you decide to have a day and night job of which you also need your 8 hours of rest as well.

    I also have a student debt. Something that makes me think a lot about. I have a day job and decided to start a blog and see how it goes. I have been blogging for the last 6 months. Haven’t been able to see any monetary results but I am hopeful.

    Thank you so much for this post.I know it is possible and if you did it anyone can do it as well.

  4. It’s a beautiful feeling when someone pays off any kind of debt, whether it’s a student loan debt, credit card debt, and rely less on working a job to pay off personal debt.