How I Got Out of Debt with a Web Design Side Hustle

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

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My wife and I were married in February of 2018. With our marriage came love, joy, excitement and about $30k of debt.

And, listen, neither of us are big spenders. In fact, we’re the opposite. We can make pennies last beyond what seems earthly possible.

For instance, my favorite meal is rice and beans, and my guilty pleasure is the “quesarito” from Taco Bell. She likes the 99 cent milkshakes from Wendy’s. We’re a match made in dollar store heaven.

Debt happens to the best of people and this is just where we found ourselves. But, we knew we didn’t want to stay there.

We also knew that we wouldn’t be able to get out of the debt we were in with the income from our full-time jobs alone.

We would have to figure out a way to make some money on the side
in order to hurry up the process and be debt-free sooner rather than later.

So, with my background in web design and her ability to to be frugal to the max we came up with a game plan to get out of debt with a web design side hustle.

I would take as many freelance web design jobs as I could and she would hold down the fort at home with our 3 girls.

We were married in February. We thought it would take us a year or so to be completely debt-free.

Then August rolled around and we noticed we had plenty in our bank account to cover the remaining debt and all of our living expenses for the remainder of the month.

That’s when we took the plunge and paid off what would be the last chunk of a student loan. We were beside ourselves.

The process wasn’t easy but it was well worth it. We learned a few things along the way as a family and I learned a lot of things as a web designer.

So, here are a few tips for you to get out of debt with a web design side hustle.

1. Start with a Plan

This plan started long before we were married. As soon as we were engaged we sat down and looked at the finances and made a game plan together on what it would look like to get debt-free.

The key to this whole thing was talking about what we were going to do and what the expectations were from both of us.

Living on a tight budget and working extra hours can be stressful. Stress can lead to certain types of conversations that some would call arguments. Not me of course…I call them higher-volume discussions.

The more clarity there is with a plan the less likely you are to have those higher-volume discussions.

The main areas you want to have a plan with are

  1. Your personal budget
  2. Some tangible goals
  3. Set family expectations

The very first thing you’ve got to do to get out of debt is create a budget and stick with it.

No matter how much extra money you make, if you don’t stick to a budget you will always feel like you’re behind.

Why? Because you can’t side hustle your way out of bad financial decisions.

Think about your full time-job right now. When you first got hired, you were likely pretty excited. You probably felt like you were making plenty of money to live off of and then some.

Then a little bit of time goes by and you start to get used to the lifestyle your job affords. After a while you start thinking, “If I just made a LITTLE bit more money THEN everything would be set!”

Then a raise comes! Yay!

You’re super excited….for a little bit.

Then you get used to that level of income and start wishing you made just a LITTLE bit more money.

The pattern goes on and on AND let me tell you it doesn’t stop. Even the wealthiest people in the world are trying to make just a LITTLE bit more money.

BUT, a little bit more money will never be enough IF you don’t have a budget and stick to it.

Dave Ramsey says having a budget is like giving yourself a raise. So, get on a budget and stick to it.

I use a budgeting app called, of all things, “You Need a Budget.” They’ve got a great system for budgeting and it’s what I’ve used for years.

After you’ve got your budget in place it’s take to make some tangible goals. I am admittedly a bit of a goal nerd.

And, something I’ve learned over time is that if you’re not SUPER SPECIFIC about what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s not going to happen.

So, start with how much money is left over each month from your full-time job after you’ve done your budget.

Take the full amount of your debt and divide it by that number. That will give you how long it will take to get out of debt IF YOU DIDN’T have a side hustle.

Get out of debt calculator

Let’s say you’ve got $20,000 worth of debt and you have about $500 left over every month from your budget. That would mean it’ll take you 40 months OR a little over 3 years to get out of debt.

Not super exciting.

Enter the web design side hustle!

Now, you take about what you make per project on your side hustle and add that to the “what’s left over column.”

So, let’s say you make about $2,000 per web design project. If you choose to do 1 project a month you add $2,000 to the $500 that’s left over every month and divide that by the debt you’ll be out of debt in about a year!

Okay, I know it’s officially 8 months BUT you’ve got to take some out for taxes. If not that can end up biting you in the butt later on.

Get out of debt calculator with side-hustle

If you want to adjust the amount of time it takes you to get out of debt you either increase your price OR increase the amount of projects you take on per month.

BUT, you’ve got to have a solid tangible plan for this to work!

This is how it played out for my wife and I.

We knew we had about $30k worth of debt. We also had a wedding to plan for that we budgeted about $20k for. That was a total of $50k.

$13k of that was car debt that we had already decided we wanted to sell-off. Thankfully, both of our full-time jobs were in the same place. So, we didn’t need more than 1 vehicle.

So, after we were married the extra car was sold. That put us at about $37k that we needed to cash flow the wedding and pay off the debt monster.

We got our budget down super tight. As Dave Ramsey says, “The only time we saw the inside of a restaurant was when we were working in it.” Except neither of us worked in a restaurant. So, we didn’t really see the inside of one. Okay, maybe we splurged a few times. Sorry, Dave.

That left us with about $500 every month to pay off debt from our combined full-time salaries.

Mean in a years time we’d have about $6k from our normal monthly income. That meant we need about $31k extra income from my web design side gig.

I make about $5k per website and it takes me on average 2 months to finish a project.

So, $5k per website every two months meant 6 websites OR 12 months to get out of debt AND cash flow a wedding.

100% clear AND doable.

Make a solid game plan like this will give you the energy to keep pushing when things get tough OR you feel like quitting.

With every website I built I knew I was 1/6th of the way closer to getting where we wanted to be

After you’ve got that settled you’ve got to have set clear expectations for yourself and for the people you’re doing life with.

This should be obvious BUT if you’re going to be spending more time doing one thing you’ll have less time for other stuff.

For some reason, we tend to trick ourselves into thinking that we can add something to our schedule BUT still maintain everything else that is happening in our already busy lives.

If your single, it might mean that you’re not able to hang out with friends as much OR you might get behind on laundry a little bit. You can’t let that get you down.

Repeat after me, “This is only for a season.”

If you do life with other people like a spouse or kids you might need to have a conversation about how you’re divvying up time and responsibilities.

Our game plan was to excuse me from some of the normal stuff I was doing with responsibilities with the family.

So, instead of going to pick the kids up from school every day, my wife would start stepping in.

How you divide responsibilities isn’t important. What is important is that you set realistic expectations for one another AND you do it TOGETHER.

Trust me, if your spouse is not on board with your “get out of debt with a side-hustle” game plan IT WILL NOT WORK.

You’ve got to be on the same page and willing to work out how life is going to look differently for a short season of time.

2. Get Organized

Knowing that most of my free time would be devoted to web design I needed to be as organized as possible.

We even do this today.

My wife and I share an Apple Calendar. We map out our day including what we are going to be doing with the kids. And, we talk about our schedules weekly.

We also talk about how we’re dividing up the time we’re spending per day and put it into a spreadsheet we call our “Ideal Week.”

Spreadsheet of my ideal week to help get out of debt

She knows exactly when I’m planning on working on web design and exactly when I plan on working around the house or playing with the kids.

If she feels like I’m working too much she can tell me and I’ll adjust. Without this, the number of higher-volume discussions becomes pretty intense.

For those of you free-spirited folks, like me, this might seem like torture. BUT, trust me, it’s actually very freeing. There are no arguments about spending too much time on one thing or another.

My wife is incredibly understanding. Her stepping up around the house meant that I could focus on web design which meant we got out of debt sooner.

Another area to get organized is with your clients. Remember, this is a race against the clock.

So, if you have a client that slows you down, OR if you don’t keep your web design process organized it can severely alter your plans.

My suggestion would be to map out each stage of your projects and project timelines. You don’t need to tell your clients this.

BECAUSE, after all, you might miss them and then you have to help them understand which could take even more time away from the projects and result in a dissatisfied customer.

The timeline is much more for you! It lets you know where you’re at in the process.

If you need to get 1 project done in the span of 2 months before you start another then having a plan can be super helpful to know how well you’re doing and if you need to adjust.

My typical timeline would look something like this:

Week 1 – discovery and research
Week 2 – wireframe and theme/motif decision time
Week 3 & 4 – mock-ups or build
Week 5 & 6 – revisions
Week 7 – Pre-Launch prep
Week 8 – Launch time, baby

For you, it might look totally different. The whole point is you have to be intentional. If you don’t set targets and make a game plan certain things might take longer than they have to.

After all, as a creative, it’s really easy to revise and tweak beyond what’s necessary. Sometimes, you need to make a deadline and stick to it. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s time to move on.

3. Don’t Just Work

Remember in the midst of this, you can’t just build websites or work on projects. You also have to FIND your next project.

I needed 6 websites. So, if I just worked hard to finish the first one as fast as I could without looking for another one in the midst of that the plan wouldn’t work.

You’ve got to be sure you’re putting the time to look for other projects in your own internal timeline.

This is something that I’m finding a lot of freelance web designers struggle with. The problem with this is that it creates a feast or famine work system.

It goes something like this:
1. You take on a job and try to get it finished ASAP
2. You don’t spend any time looking for other projects
3. That project finishes
4. You have nothing lined up for your next project

No matter who you are or how much success you’ve had, you always have to be nurturing leads.

Think about it from your client’s perspective. Building or redesigning a website is a big investment. Especially, if it’s a small business. There are so many factors for potential clients to consider.

You shouldn’t plan to get a gig with your first interaction with a client. It takes multiple conversations and interactions before they’re ready to make a decision.

I’ve had people that would email me again a year after they initially reached out to me.

As Brad Hussey says, “Think of your business like a bar-b-que and not a microwave.” Bar-b-que tastes best when it’s been smoked for hours and hours.

Your freelance web design business is the same way. The more time you allow to nurture clients and help people walk through the process of saying, “Yes!” to you the better off you’ll be in the long run.

But, bottom line, make sure you’re paying attention to more than just doing the work. That’s a sure way to get overly stressed and burn out.

4. Stay Focused

Anything that has a longer timeline than a few months is gonna take some grit and mental fortitude to make it to the finish line.

Because of that, you need to anticipate losing your enthusiasm.

I see this a lot with folks trying to break into the web design field. They see the opportunity and get really excited.

For about a month they’re going strong. THEN, they reach a point of frustration. It can come from a variety of different areas:

1. Sheer exhaustion
2. Another opportunity
3. Not understanding a concept

Then they find themselves disinterested and can’t seem to keep going.

I get it. I’ve done a number of things that have started strong and fizzled out over time. Just ask my wife. I have about 10 groundbreaking ideas per week that I never follow through with.

But, knowing that’s my personality and knowing that a lot of people are similar I’ve learned some things over the years that have really helped me.

There’s a verse in the bible that’s always helped me with this. It says:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

Okay, you’re not building a tower here. BUT, you are doing something substantial. So, you need to sit down and figure out a game plan to see it through.

Estimate the cost. In other words, determine that there will come a time when you want to quit and figure out something to help you keep going before you even begin.

For me, it’s having a clear picture of what my life will look like after I’ve gone through the process.

My wife and I would daydream about being able to take trips and put money away for retirement.

In other words, you need to have a really clear “Why.”

If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.” I’d encourage you to do so. He talks about how the “Why” is much more important than the “What.”

The “why” is what keeps you going when you feel defeated. The “why” is what sustains you when it’s 2 am and all you want to do is sleep but you’ve got a deadline you need to hit.

When you start there, you are much more likely to see it through to the finish line.

Sometimes it’s helpful to make something to help you visualize it. For instance, as a family, we have a big sheet of paper that we put everything we’re praying for on. When a prayer is answered we cross it off the list.

In the first year of our marriage, my wife had a miscarriage. It was incredibly painful.

But, from that, we knew we wanted to have kids. It was kind of a question mark before that point.

So, we put it up on our prayer list and we prayed for it as a family.

Then the day finally came that we would tell our kiddos about the new addition to our family. Our middle daughter, Annabelle, did something super interesting.

As soon as we told them she ran off. We were a little confused. We thought she would jump for joy or something of that nature. Instead, she bolted.

A few seconds later she came back with the prayer sheet and a pen ready to mark off that request.

For you, it might be some kind of visualization of the debt you’re trying to pay off.

So for instance, if you’re like us and trying to pay off around $37k in debt. Make an image of a thermometer with the highest point being $37k. Every time you pay off something fill in the amount with a marker on the thermometer.

It might seem silly, but those visualizations can really help you keep going when times get tough.

But, whatever you do, stay focused and don’t get discouraged.

How to Get out of Debt

Debt happens to the best of us. America alone has $27 Trillion of private debt. Not to mention the public debt which is an entirely different blog post.

But, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to settle for being in debt for the rest of your life. You can get out of debt and it’s not as hard as you might think.

For me the key was using web design as a side hustle, making a game plan and going for it.

There’s never been a better time to learn web design and find web design clients. And, there are not many better reasons to go for it than getting out of debt.

If you’re ready to get out of debt and want to use web design to do it, sign up for my free course on getting started. I promise you it can give you the tools you need to begin freelancing as a web designer, get out of debt and take charge of your finances.

image of the word freedom to represent what it feels like to get out of debt


Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.



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