How Michelle from Making Sense of Cents Went from $38K in Debt to Building a Million-Dollar Blog

This is an interview with Michelle Schroeder-Gardner from Making Sense of Cents.

Hey, Michelle. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hello! My name is Michelle and I run the personal finance website Making Sense of Cents. I have three finance-related college degrees and I used to be a financial analyst before I became a full-time blogger.

Making Sense of Cents is a personal finance website that helps readers learn how to save more, earn money, and live more.

I was able to pay off $40,000 in student loan debt in just 7 months, by side hustling a ton, which is something I talk about in great detail on my website.

I currently travel full-time with my husband and two dogs on our sailboat. We love the outdoors and being able to bring our home everywhere with us on our travels!

When did you start Making Sense of Cents and what was your initial vision for it?

I started Making Sense of Cents in 2011 with the aim of teaching people how to save money as well as journaling my personal finance journey (but, it was mainly for myself so that I could learn more!). 

This all started after I read a magazine article that featured a personal finance website in one of their articles. I became extremely interested in that website and my interest in blogging grew quickly from there.

This is interesting and hilarious because before that same summer, I had no idea about what blogs were, that they could even make money, or anything along those lines. 

There really was no initial vision for it – I really had no plans for it at all, haha.

I did not start Making Sense of Cents with the hopes of making money blogging or anything like that. It was all just a hobby and for fun. However, I then realized how much I loved blogging and realized that it was for me, so now I am a full-time blogger!

I went full-time in October of 2013 and I have thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. Blogging has completely changed my life for the better and it’s something that I recommend everyone try if they are interested.

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What did you do to pay off your student debt in 7 months?

Paying off my debt quickly is one of the best decisions I’ve made in life!

I did so many things in order to pay off my student loan debt quickly, but the main thing I did was finding ways to make extra money

Some of the things I did include:

  • Social media management for websites
  • Staff writing online
  • Selling items online
  • Mystery shopping
  • Blogging

And so much more! I was working around 100 hours a week regularly in order to pay off my debt as quickly as I could. This included my day job as an analyst as well. 

I was super busy, but it was well worth it. There were many nights where I would only get 2-3hours of sleep, but I lived off the motivation from seeing my debt being lowered significantly each month, haha.

When did you become a full-time traveler and what ways of traveling have you tried?

We decided to put our house on the market in 2014 so that we could travel full-time. At that point, we already had been location independent for over one year, and were traveling a lot. 

So, we decided to start traveling full-time, but bringing our “home” with us so that us and our dogs could travel more comfortably. 

We have Jeeped, tent-camped, RVed, and now we’re on a sailboat. This hurricane season, we’re also doing the vanlife thing.

We absolutely love traveling full-time and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Sure, sometimes we dream about having a homebase again, but it is so nice to be able to drive or sail your home to beautiful destinations and get to live there for a little bit (even if it’s just for a few days).

Read also: How This Couple Makes $100K/Month Blogging and Travels The World

How did you earn your first $100 blogging?

I earned my first income through my blog through a sponsored advertisement. I earned around $100 from that advertisement and that was after around 6 months of blogging.

Like I said above, though, I didn’t start my blog with the intention of earning an income and never pursued that while I was blogging in the beginning. So, earning that first $100 was super exciting even though I had poured hours and hours into my blog before that, haha!

That first $100 is what made me realize that I could make money blogging. It was so extremely motivating and fun knowing that I could make money doing something that I was having fun doing.

How much are you making from your blogging business every month and in what ways?

I earn over $100,000 a month from my blogging business. This is through many ways, such as affiliate marketing, sponsored partnerships, my two online courses, and display advertising.

What made you create your first digital product, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing?

I decided to create my first course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, because I was regularly asked about affiliate marketing.

What seemed normal and easy to me, isn’t easy for others, so I knew I had to create this course so that I could get my knowledge out. Affiliate marketing is great, and I want others to make money from it too!

There have now been over 5,000 people who have taken my course, and it has helped so many people. I am so glad that I created it!

What’s your favorite blog monetization method and why?

My favorite blog monetization method is definitely affiliate marketing. This is because it can be a great passive income stream.

You can create just one blog post or social media post, and potentially earn money from it years down the line, as long as you maintain it and keep sending page views to it.

With affiliate marketing, I can enjoy life more and know that I am still able to earn a great living promoting products that I use and enjoy. This is great too because I don’t always have internet.

Read also: How Caroline Used Pinterest and Affiliate Marketing to Build a $100K Parenting Blog

You’re consistently earning 5 figures from affiliate marketing each month. What’s the secret?

Affiliate marketing is definitely my favorite! There are no big secrets, in fact, I lay everything out in my course – Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

I’ve always been interested in affiliate marketing since I started blogging, but I never thought it was possible before. I always thought that you had to have a huge following and a HUGE amount of page views to make an income with affiliate marketing.

One day, a few years ago, I decided to give myself a goal of earning affiliate income, and I worked towards achieving that goal. I started by making a little bit each month, and then it just continued to grow month after month. I now know that you don’t need a ton of page views or a huge following in order to make a great income through affiliate marketing.

It’s all about knowing what to do, how to promote it, thinking about your audience (this one is huge!), and more.

How have you achieved such success on Pinterest over the years? 

I’ve never really had a crazy Pinterest strategy, except for always creating pinnable graphics for every single one of my blog posts.

Lately, I have also been updating my older blog posts with new graphics, in order to keep them fresh. I find that a task as simple as that is super helpful!

How do you stay productive and get work done while traveling full-time?

The top thing that I do is that I always try to work way in advance. Since I don’t have a consistent schedule and because I don’t always have internet, working ahead has saved me plenty of times so that I don’t have to be stressed out when something unexpected comes up.

I always try to be a few months ahead in blog posts, I live by my to-do list (when it comes to my business), and more.

What are the top things an aspiring blogger should invest in to start something profitable?

Some of the top things that cost money in the beginning are web hosting and your blog design. I skipped both of these when I first started Making Sense of Cents, and it was a huge mistake! Both can be found relatively affordably, so there is an option for nearly everyone.

I always tell everyone this – Blogging can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. The more cheap you go, then the more work and things you’ll most likely have to learn (such as designing your website on your own).

What’s next for you and Making Sense of Cents?

Honestly, I hope to simply continue to grow Making Sense of Cents, in terms of readers, and simply enjoy life :) 

Check out the story of Michelle from Making Sense of Cents who became a millionaire blogger, paid off her debt, and now travels full-time: #millionaireblogger #makemoneyblogging #bloggingtips #makingsenseofcents #selfmademillionaire #becomeamillionaire #bloggingformoney #milliondollarideas
Lidiya K