Last week, bridal retailer Alfred Angelo filed bankruptcy and abruptly closed its corporate office and stores. Stores took orders for wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses as recently as Wednesday, July 12, so this move shocked brides nationwide.
Because the Alfred Angelo is in bankruptcy, it’s unclear whether it will fulfill its current orders or return deposits. Many people tried to contact the retailer about the status of their orders — but they couldn’t reach anyone.
If you ordered a gown from Alfred Angelo, don’t panic. There are things you can do to recoup your deposit and still have a beautiful wedding dress.
If you don’t want to wait and see how the situation plays out, you can stop your payment and buy a dress elsewhere.
If you purchased your dress with a credit card, you might be able to dispute the charges and get a credit on your account. Most credit card companies offer certain protections on purchases, even if the company goes bankrupt.
To dispute the charge, gather any evidence you have regarding the purchase, like a receipt, and contact your credit card company as soon as possible. Oftentimes, the credit card company will refund the transaction in just a few days.
Similarly, if you paid with a check, you can cancel it. There is often a fee, which can be as high as $25, but that’s a small price to pay to get a $1,000 wedding dress deposit back.
Contact your bank and tell the representative you want to stop payment on a check. The rep will ask for a few bits of information, including the bank account number, check total, check number and the date you wrote the check.
If you were not able to get a dispute the charge or stop payment on the check, you can file a claim with your state’s attorney general. When you file, you’ll be asked to enter the following:
Of course, getting your money back is only part of the problem. Picking a wedding dress is a tedious process, and the thousands of brides who thought they finally found the perfect dress may have to start over.
Whether you’re stranded by Alfred Angelo or have another dress crisis, here are ways you can find your dream gown.
Alfred Angelo was one of the biggest bridal retailers out there. Thankfully, that means many of its dresses end up on resale sites or in consignment shops.
For example, if you search for “Alfred Angelo Jasmine 215” on eBay, you’ll find several of this style of gown listed for sale.
You can also check local bridal consignment shops. The Knot has a searchable database of these shops.
If you cannot find your gown but are determined to have that style, another option is to take photos to a dressmaker and have it replicated for you. This process can be time-consuming and expensive, but if you aren’t willing to compromise on the dress, this could be a good route to take.
Other bridal retailers have offered steep discounts for brides and bridesmaids stranded by Alfred Angelo.
Right now, David’s Bridal is offering 30% off wedding dresses and 20% off bridesmaid gowns for anyone who purchased a dress from Alfred Angelo and hasn’t received it. To get this discount, you’ll have to present your Alfred Angelo receipt or a receipt from another bridal shop showing you ordered an Alfred Angelo gown.
If you have your Alfred Angelo gown but still need alterations, David’s Bridal will also offer its services to you and waive any rush fees.
By taking action now, you can ensure you have a beautiful wedding day — even without Alfred Angelo’s help.
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando, Florida, specializing in personal finance.
Kari Bonnes never planned to be a travel agent, but she was a big fan of Disney.
Every year, she and her husband saved to take their children to Walt Disney World. Knowing she was such an expert, friends regularly went to her for advice, and she would help them find the best deals and make the most of their trips.
So when she was faced with a difficult separation and worried about how to make an income, it occurred to her that she could put all of her expertise to work.
She joined a general travel agency helping others, but after two years, she realized she could do more on her own. And now she’s hiring other Disney fans to work from home as travel agents.
[caption id="attachment_40118" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Lee Ruk under Creative Commons[/caption]
In 2014, Bonnes decided to become an entrepreneur and launched Marvelous Mouse Travels, a full-service travel agency specializing in Disney vacations, though it also organizes trips to Universal Studios and Sandals resort.
While she started off working alone, after just two years in business, Marvelous Mouse Travels now includes 100 part-time travel agents.
While Marvelous Mouse Travels is based in North Carolina, the agents work from all over the country as remote independent contractors, and the company uses a different business model than other agencies.
“Our service is free to customers,” said Bonnes. “We get paid directly by Disney through a unique partnership. Our expert knowledge of hotels, shows, rides and meal plans help[s] create magical trips for customers while staying with their budgets.”
Bonnes emphasizes the unique offerings her agents offer clients.
“We operate as a family,” said Bonnes. “That trickles down to customers. If, after a customer has booked a trip, a new promotion opens up, we are on the phones right away to change their reservations to save them money. That proactivity is what sets us apart.”
The strategy is clearly working. Last year, Bonnes said, the agency made six figures in profit, and she’s looking to hire more remote travel agents to be part of the team.
[caption id="attachment_40114" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Alexandre Breveglieri under Creative Commons[/caption]
When it comes to earning potential, Bonnes stresses that income is entirely dependent on the individual agent’s dedication.
“I offer generous commissions to my agents plus referral bonuses,” said Bonnes. “I have some agents who make $35,000-40,000 a year, working part time. But I also have others who just book a trip here and there and bring in some side income.”
Agent Nicole Scott says working with Marvelous Mouse Travels is a lucrative side business.
“I found Marvelous Mouse Travels when I booked a trip for myself with Kari,” said Scott. “I loved planning trips to Disney for myself and friends, so I figured what could be better than getting paid for it? I love to travel, so planning trips for others is a bunch of fun for me.”
Scott works an average of about five hours a week and makes approximately $1,000 per month, meaning she makes about $50 an hour working from her home. All she needs is a computer, internet access and a cell phone.
“The best part of my job is planning vacations and making dreams come true for families,” said Scott. “I love doing this, and it is great that I can stay home and make some extra money.”
[caption id="attachment_40120" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Vítor Baptista under Creative Commons[/caption]
When looking for new agents, Bonnes looks for organized, driven and self-motivated people who are passionate about Disney.
It is essential they know the park’s ins and outs, and, because Disney is always changing and updating its theme parks, it is critical that agents be up to date on the latest developments.
The hiring process also includes screening on social media to ensure agents can represent the company well and can be ambassadors for both Marvelous Mouse Travels and Disney.
“My agents all go through Disney’s College of Knowledge training program, said Bonnes. “From helping customers navigate the new smartphone app to secure FastPasses to linking Magic Bands, we offer comprehensive services to help streamline travelers’ visits.”
Bonnes said she is always looking for new agents, though she does caution that the hiring process can take a while as she screens candidates and they go through Disney’s training.
Successful applicants will pay a $250 startup fee, which covers their addition to the company's errors and omissions insurance, an insurance policy rider, and the creation of their new profile and email account on the company website.
Interested candidates can apply through the Marvelous Mouse Travels website.
Your Turn: Have you turned your love of travel into a side hustle or business? We’d love to hear your story!
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando. Her work has appeared in outlets like The Huffington Post, Forbes, Business Insider, Time Magazine and more. Follow her @Felix_the_katt on Twitter and say hello.
This article has been updated with information about the startup fee for new agents.
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and for Pat Martinek, it’s become a second career.
She makes beautiful garments and pieces of artwork out of discarded dog hair.
[caption id="attachment_37304" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Christie Post - The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
With her unique approach to sourcing supplies and a technique that she has perfected with decades of practice, Martinek’s work is in constant demand from animal lovers looking for special keepsakes -- and her side hustle brings in an extra $10,000 a year.
[caption id="attachment_37300" align="aligncenter" width="639"] Christie Post - The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
When Martinek was in high school, she had a unique opportunity to spend 10 days living with a Navajo family on their reservation. While there, she learned traditional weaving and spinning techniques using raw fibers.
Martinek loved the process, and ended up taking classes in college. While she spent her working career as a geologist, spinning was a constant passion and hobby.
But spinning and knitting can be expensive, and traditional fibers are costly. A spinning wheel can cost between $400 and $800. Just four ounces of common merino wool can cost $13 and premium fibers like yak can cost $45 per ounce, and most spinners will need much more than that to get enough yarn to knit a garment.
So Martinek looked for alternative fibers she could get at a low cost or for free. She kept her own angora rabbits, but then she was introduced to spinning dog hair by friends.
“Dog hair—sometimes called chiengora—can make beautiful yarn,” said Martinek. “It is warmer than other fibers, so a scarf or sweater made with chiengora can help you withstand the most brutal temperatures.”
By gathering dog hair, buying it on Craigslist or having it donated, Martinek was able to make beautiful items out of an item most people view as a nuisance. Martinek is an advocate for the environment and sustainability, so repurposing dog hair is just another extension of her approach to upcycling.
[caption id="attachment_37305" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Christie Post - The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
Martinek quickly realized that there was potential for a business that could help finance her passion.
People who love their pets often want to remember their fluffy friends with one-of-a-kind keepsakes, and Martinek’s unique creations filled a niche. She created an online business called The Fyber Café, where she makes money by creating special mementos.
For those who prefer to knit their own items, Martinek offers spinning services. Dog owners from all over the world can ship their dogs’ hair to her in Golden, CO, and she’ll spin it into yarn.
Longer-haired breeds, such as Samoyeds or Great Pyrenees, make excellent yarn, but Martinek says her unique processing allows her to work with even shorter-haired dogs and get good quality yarn that does not fuzz or shed. She charges $16 per finished ounce; depending on the dog’s hair, she may need as much as a trash bag full of raw fur.
For those looking for finished materials, she also creates scarves, hats, vests, felted portraits and even dog leashes, ranging in price from $40 for a leash to $90 for a scarf. Her unique felted portraits, where she carefully creates your dog’s picture using its own hair, range from $110 to $310.
As an additional source of income, Martinek teaches spinning and weaving classes at the local university.
[caption id="attachment_37296" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Christie Post - The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
While Martinek is enjoying retirement after 40 years as a geologist, her chiengora business helps provide extra income to put towards her hobbies. She loves attending weaving and spinning conferences, trade shows and classes.
She brings in over $10,000 a year in extra income from her business, which helps her pay for seminars and travel without dipping into her retirement fund, all while doing an activity she loves.
[caption id="attachment_37302" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Christie Post - The Penny Hoarder[/caption]
Martinek is not alone in capitalizing on this trend.
Spinners like her willing to work with chiengora often have extensive waiting lists; many make a full-time income from it. These enthusiasts are working hard to end the assumptions about dog hair.
“People expect the yarn to smell,” said Martinek. “But when it’s been properly cleaned and carded, it doesn’t smell at all, even if you’re caught in a rainstorm.”
Chiengora’s properties make it desirable to outdoorsy folks. It’s reportedly up to 80% warmer than wool, eliminating the need for multiple heavy layers.
In fact, many people now buy garments made out of chiengora, regardless of whether came from their dog or not. The demand for luxurious dog hair is steadily increasing.
“While I used to be able to get boxes of dog hair for free, people are now charging,” said Martinek. “Owners of double-coated breeds in particular are selling pounds of dog fur on sites like Craigslist and Etsy.”
While Martinek used to be the only chiengora artist in her area, more and more spinners are cropping up using the coveted fibers.
“It’s wonderful to see it getting more accepted,” said Martinek. “Instead of throwing it away, people can instead collect dog hair and get something beautiful.”
Your turn: Have you ever heard of chiengora? What’s the weirdest way you have made money?
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando specializing in personal finance and finding weird (unique) ways to make money.
Tyler Hooff was working in a restaurant in New York City 10 years ago, when he found out his friend bought a Siberian husky.
Hooff grew up with other Arctic dog breeds and was excited to meet the husky -- but was shocked to see the dog was overweight and out of shape.
Huskies need hours of exercise, and with a relatively sedentary owner and typical cozy New York apartment, the dog was forced to be a couch potato.
Hooff stepped in and offered to get the dog some exercise. Now, it’s turned into a business that earns him $36,000 for nine months worth of work.
Not bad, huh?
It started out simply with long walks, but Hooff quickly found the dog wanted to do what he was bred to do -- run. Fast.
So Hooff hooked the dog up to a harness and had the pup pull him along on his skateboard.
Hooff began mushing the dog -- a sport where lone dogs or teams of them pull a person on a bike, scooter or specially made dry-sled rig -- along bike paths and wide sidewalks through New York City parks.
The dog ended up slimming down and gaining muscle tone and the 36-year old managed to make a rapidly growing business out of a little-known sport.
Other dog owners saw Hooff and the very happy husky and approached him about working with their dogs, too. He realized there was a real demand for intense exercise for high-energy dogs in the city.
So he became an accidental entrepreneur.
“I did a lot of research,” Hooff says. “No one else was doing anything like this, so I was doing everything from scratch.”
He read a series of books on dog sledding and urban mushing. He learned how to train dogs of all breeds to mush safely; the driver has no control other than voice command and potentially a handbrake, so it takes a good deal of work.
From there, Hooff invested in a dog scooter, his most expensive purchase.
The dog scooter, or kick bikes, are created for urban mushing, so they have tall, rugged wheels to handle rough terrain, as well as sturdy necks to connect to the harness and can hold the weight of an adult.
They can range in price, starting at $250 for a barebones version all the way up to $1,000 for a top of the line model. He purchased several X-back harnesses at $30 a piece in various sizes to fit different dogs.
In November 2014, he launched NYC Dog Mushers as an LLC.
He began to get a steady stream of clients. Many he visited on a one-on-one basis while the owners were at work, to give the dog a mid-day break from being cooped up and to get some exercise.
Individual sessions are $120 per day for one dog and include the use of equipment, dog boots for bad weather and a log book. Sessions vary in time, depending on the dog; many can only do a few minutes at a time, while others can run for a full hour.
Hooff recommends owners sign up for just one to two workouts a week to give their dogs time to get used to the new exercise regimen and build muscle.
Owners were thrilled with the results; their dogs were happily tuckered out and content, and formerly destructive dogs now laid quietly at their owners’ feet.
Pictures of Hooff mushing through Central Park began popping up on Instagram and word of mouth grew the business quickly.
Soon Hooff began hosting one-day workshops on Saturdays, where people interested in mushing could come by and watch or have their dogs try it out for $35.
Sometimes just five or six people show up, and sometimes 20 or 30. It’s promoted through breed meetup groups on social media and general Instagram followers.
Hooff partners new dogs with his established canine veterans, who show the others the ropes. He watches each dog carefully -- many are out of shape and can’t mush for more than a few minutes.
“I call this canine CrossFit because most dogs don’t get this level of exercise anymore,” Hooff said. “Mushing for fun and exercise isn’t a new idea; it’s just novel in the city.”
Although he’s taking a brief hiatus for family reasons, Hooff usually works about four hours per day on weekdays and eight hours on Saturdays, September through May.
So, for 30 hours each week, he averages $1,000, completely replacing the income from his restaurant job.
Hooff works with different breeds, from classic sled dogs like samoyeds and huskies to pit bulls and golden retrievers.
He requires dogs be at least 30 pounds and in good health. He recommends owners consult with their veterinarians before they put their dog in front of a scooter.
Some owners aren’t thrilled with his restrictions, however.
“I had one owner bring her Shih Tzu, barely 10 lbs,” Hooff explains. “She was outraged when I wouldn’t put him in the harness next to the malamutes and huskies.”
Hooff is careful with all of the dogs, no matter how fit they are.
He refuses to work with aggressive dogs, as it puts him and other dogs at risk. He applies balm to the dogs’ feet to keep them protected and never runs dogs in the summer months, to prevent overheating. Instead, he sticks to general walking.
He also had to get a special insurance policy to cover his LLC.
“This isn’t a business someone can just pick up and start making money,” Hooff cautions. “You need to understand dog behavior and health, or you’re putting your clients’ pets at risk.”
But with Hooff’s specialized knowledge, he has tapped into an unmet need most people didn’t realize they had. What started as a simple hobby has now turned into a flourishing business.
“I didn’t expect this to turn into a money-making project,” Hooff explains. “But teaching dogs to do what they were meant to do helps them realize their full potential.”
The takeaway? Helping people with busy schedules make their lives simpler could be the way to launch a successful business.
Your Turn: Would you try dog mushing? Have you started a creative business?
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando specializing in personal finance. She is also an urban musher with her Samoyed, Anya.
Weeks after my wedding, I picked up my gown from the cleaners and hung it in the closet of the new apartment I shared with my husband.
The gorgeous confection of tulle and satin with beautiful beading brought back happy memories from our wedding and looked pretty hanging in my new home.
But over time, as we started unpacking our things and making a life together, I began to glare at the dress.
All of that tulle meant it took up more than half of my closet. I really didn’t know what to do with it.
Besides my car, the gown was the most expensive thing I’d ever owned. But now that the ceremony was over, it had served its purpose.
My husband and I aren’t going to have children, so I had no fantasies of handing it down. Having it preserved in a box to sit in my closet for years didn’t seem worth it, either -- especially when we were trying to make the most of every square foot in the apartment.
Like many newlyweds, for us, money was tight. We made the best of garage sales and thrift shops, but more money would give us a cushion.
After a few weeks of thinking about what to do with my dress, I had what seemed like an insane idea.
I would sell it.
It was a beautiful garment I loved, but I reminded myself it had been an obstacle in my closet and the money would help us build our life together.
I didn’t know what selling it would entail. No one I knew had ever sold their dress. When I asked friends if they thought about selling theirs, they looked at me like I’d grown a second head.
Turning to the Internet to see if it was a viable option, I found out bridal gown resale is a big business.
I discovered Tradesy, a site where I could list the dress’ make and number and people looking for that exact gown could purchase it.
Other versions of my dress -- Alfred Angelo 1136, originally $1,000 -- were selling for between $400 and $600, depending on their condition, size and whether or not they’d been altered.
I’m short, so my dress had been heavily hemmed and I had added straps and a bustle. I listed it on the lower side at $450.
Within two weeks, someone bought and paid for my dress.
I was shocked it sold so quickly, but I packed it up and stashed the money, happy to bulk up our emergency fund.
I did feel a little sad when I was packing it up, but after I sent it off I honestly never thought about it again. I prefered having the money in hand so we could start building our new life.
Many women struggle with what to do with their wedding gowns.
The average dress costs more than $1,300 in the U.S., a significant amount of money to spend on something you’ll only wear once.
If you don’t know what to do with yours, consider these options:
While preserving the dress wasn’t for me, many brides opt for this traditional approach.
Depending on the dress and your chosen method of preservation, the cost can range anywhere from $200 to $800.
Some brides open the box on a milestone date, such as their 10th, 15th or 25th anniversary.
If you intend to have children -- or have siblings with children -- you can hold onto the dress and pass it on when the kids are ready to get married.
While your daughter or niece may not want to wear the dress as-is, she can alter it or use a piece of it to make her veil. It can be a nice way to add the “something old” to the wedding.
Some brides remove the bodice of the dress and frame it in a shadow box with other mementos from the wedding, like your invitation or place cards.
You can have it done professionally, but it’s also an easy DIY project. When I looked up the materials needed to follow this tutorial, the total cost was less than $100.
Dresses on eBay usually sell for lower prices, but Tradesy specializes in higher-end items, so you’ll get more money. It's free to list, but they do take a 9% commission, so I pocketed about $410.
You can also look for bridal consignment shops in your area. They’ll handle selling the dress and you’ll get a portion of the purchase price.
Depending on the make of the dress, you can sell it for anywhere from 30-70% of its original cost. At the same time, you’ll be helping another bride get her dream dress.
Many charities accept wedding dresses, and they’re tax-deductible donations.
Here are four great options to consider supporting:
If the idea of wearing it just once makes you sad, you could consider a “trash the dress” photo shoot.
Many brides wear their dresses to have pictures taken at the beach or in the countryside. The dress will likely be ruined, but you’ll have beautiful and special photos to remember it by.
There’s no right or wrong way to handle your dress after the big day. It’s an intensely personal decision.
For me, selling it made sense because I wanted to put us on the best financial footing possible more than I wanted to hold onto my dress.
What you do with your wedding dress is entirely up to you.
Your Turn: What did you or are you planning to do with your wedding gown?
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando specializing in personal finance.
Like any loyal reader of The Penny Hoarder, I know the value of thrift shops.
To cut expenses, I started shopping for clothes at places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Thrifting is always hit or miss, but I’ve found many decent items.
One day, I found a pair of NYDJ jeans. I adore the brand for its fit and quality, but hate the $120 price tag. I was so excited to see them at Goodwill -- but they were about four sizes too small.
Dejected, I was about to put them back when it occurred to me -- other people love the brand, too. I ended up buying the jeans for just $5.
I had an eBay account I’d used once before when I was moving and selling some silly knickknacks, so I listed the jeans on there.
I was utterly shocked when those jeans ended up selling for more than $50. That was my first introduction to the idea of reselling thrift store clothes for profit.
Now, it’s how I supplement my income and build my savings.
I started very small.
I didn’t want to spend a lot on startup costs, so I set an initial budget of about $75.
I bought a cheap postal scale for $21 on Amazon and stocked up on three rolls of packaging tape from the dollar store. For shipping materials, I used USPS’s free flat rate envelopes.
I did some online research to find thrift stores in wealthier areas, where people were more likely to donate higher-end goods. I decided to focus solely on women’s clothing, since I’m more familiar with those brands.
I hit just one store and took home five pairs of jeans at $5 each, four cashmere sweaters for $3 each, two blazers for $6 each and one dress for $5, bringing my first batch of inventory’s total cost to $54.
I read online that a professional eBay listing template was essential, but I couldn’t find a free one to use. Instead, I started all my listings as auctions and offered free shipping. I set the starting price at the item’s purchase cost plus shipping and padded it by $2 to cover eBay’s seller fees.
Amazingly, each item went for $20-$30 over the minimums. I more than tripled my money.
When I realized this hobby could be profitable, I got ruthless in evaluating inventory.
I learned what brands sold well and which didn’t. J.Crew pieces sold instantly, while I could only sell Banana Republic sweaters and trousers; no one would bid on Banana Republic jeans.
If a sweater had even 1% of cashmere, it was a moneymaker -- regardless of the brand name.
I started to learn about SEO to get my items in front of more people, and I taught myself some basic HTML using YouTube tutorials so I could build my own templates.
I ordered free business cards from VistaPrint (they have its logo on the back) and only paid $6.95 for shipping.
I also bought thank-you notes from the dollar store. Feedback is essential for any eBay seller -- and I found mine went up when I included thank-yous.
As my profits grew, I began to get more elaborate. These investments took my business to the next level and increased my profits:
Possibly the best purchase I’ve made (and the most bizarre) is a leg form I bought off Amazon for $55.
With just legs and a butt, house guests seemed to think I was a crazy person, but it made pants and jeans look ten times better -- and increased the bids on those items.
I also have an expandable dress form for tops and dresses, which was a godsend. It showed the shape and lines of pieces and made them look far nicer than they would have on a hanger.
Some thrift store clothes have been hanging in musty places for some time -- and they smell like it.
Rather than spending a fortune at a professional drycleaner, I throw these items into the dryer with the Woolite DryCleaning system. For less than $10, the kit makes full loads of clothes smell fresh and new.
Cashmere is a huge seller.
Many sweaters I find are gorgeous, but were donated because they have heavy pilling.
Five minutes with a $9 fabric shaver and those sweaters look brand new! They often sell for $50 and up.
Rather than ironing, I use a steamer to get wrinkles out for pictures. It makes items lay nicely on the dress forms.
For items too big for my dress form, clothespins are essential to show the garment’s shape and details.
I bought a $2 white sheet from Goodwill and pinned it to a wall for a clean photo backdrop.
Fotofuze is an online program that removes backgrounds from images, giving pictures of clothing a very professional look.
FotoFuze is free to use, but I pay $5 a month for a pro account so I can edit more photos.
Once I made upgrades with my photos and listings, my items started selling for much more.
After deducting expenses -- inventory costs, plus shipping, eBay and Paypal fees -- I regularly make between $500 and $800 a month in profit.
It’s a very part-time job. It usually only takes me about 10 to 15 hours a week to shop for items, take pictures, list items and ship them out.
The money has been excellent supplemental income and helped me significantly boost my savings. And with new clothing donations constantly coming in, I always have fresh inventory to sell.
Your Turn: Have you ever tried selling thrift store clothes on eBay?
Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando specializing in personal finance. She is a long-time eBay seller and side gig enthusiast.
After reading The Penny Hoarder, I know that crazy money-making ideas work. And with more than $30,000 in student loans, I knew I needed to try something unusual.
After a conversation with a friend, I went for it -- and now I have a side gig that pays more than $1,000 a month and helped me pay off my student loans three years ahead of schedule.
A friend of mine is a horse enthusiast who’s active in the horse show scene. One day she mentioned she couldn’t meet up for drinks because she needed to save money to pay her braider the next day.
Confused by what that meant, I asked her to tell me more. It turns out she pays a woman $100 to braid her horse’s mane and tail before every show.
I had zero experience grooming animals, but I could do a mean French braid on my own hair -- how much harder could it be on a horse?
I watched a few YouTube videos on how it’s done and what supplies I would need, and I ordered a cheap $20 kit off the Internet. The kit comes with a leather belt/holster, a comb, brush, tiny scissors, thread ribber, and clips to hold hair back.
My friend let me practice on her horse a few times to make sure I could actually do it. While practicing, I found out why people can charge so much for braiding: It’s not particularly hard, it’s just time-consuming.
With a few tries, I was able to master the tail braid and special braids and nubs needed for the horses’ manes. Once I was reliably getting decent results, I decided to take my skills on the road to see if I could make some money on the side.
I looked up upcoming shows on the Internet, and decided to aim for mid-level ones. Small schooling shows held at local barns are usually very casual and the horses are rarely braided. Top shows have extremely experienced braiders I wouldn’t be able to compete against.
But mid-level shows have many people looking to move up in the horse world who would love an added edge with their horses’ appearance.
Once I found a few mid-level options, I called the show locations ahead of time to make sure it was OK if I sold services. No one had any problem with it… in fact, they all said there was huge demand for braiders at their shows.
I showed up at my first show with my cheap braiding kit: small rubber bands ($4 for a 500-pack), a needle and thread ($2), and dollar store hair gel ($1).
I set out a little folding chair and leaned a hand-written sign up against my chair that read “horse braiding: manes and tales.”
Within a few minutes, a young girl and her parents approached me and asked if I’d braid her pony. I told them it would be $20 for the tail and $30 for the mane. They didn’t hesitate at my price, and within 45 minutes I had braided her pony passably well.
The family was pleased and even tipped me on top of my $50 fee.
Before they walked away, two more people approached me to braid their horses. As the day progressed, I couldn’t keep up and my hands got sore. I ended up upping my rates in hopes of cutting down on demand, but it didn’t work.
I worked for six hours straight and made over $500 before I just couldn’t braid anymore.
I thought it was just a fluke, but I went to several more shows and had the same experience. I started learning different braiding techniques that are specific to certain breeds to offer even more options for customers, and I started charging $100 to $150 a horse.
[caption id="attachment_24431" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Photo from Kat Tretina[/caption]
It’s not all fun and games, though.
Besides aching hands, I do have to deal with manure (so much manure) and the occasional horse who thinks braiding is torture. I had to start telling owners their horses had to be able to stand quietly or I would not braid them for my own safety.
But for the most part, the horses were used to this process and would rest while I worked.
I’ve been braiding horses on the side for over a year and regularly average $1,000 a month in profits -- after deducting the cost of supplies and gas -- working just on Saturdays or Sundays.
The spring and summer months are the most popular, since that’s when the show season is most intense. But there are plenty of fall and small winter shows to keep me busy.
I’ve since started treating this more seriously; I now have professional signage and business cards, and I have a list of regular clients. Many of them call me to braid their horses at their own homes before the show and are willing to pay me a premium for that service.
To keep my earnings as high as possible without wasting multiple days, I try to stay within an hour’s drive of my home. I’m very selective about which shows I attend; I only look for shows that have more than 100 competitors, so I have a good chance of getting steady business.
Two or three times a year, I will travel to big regional shows. These are more of an expense since they last for several days and I need a hotel room, but they’re worth it because competitors are willing to pay top prices. I can easily make $1,000 a day at these shows.
When I started braiding, I had been making just the minimum payments on my $30,000 in student loans for about four years.
After my braiding business started doing well, I started putting an additional $500 to $750 toward the principal every month.
Just 18 months after I started using braiding money for extra payments, I finished paying off my loans -- a full three years ahead of schedule.
While not everyone dreams of being a horse braider, this just shows there are plenty of crazy ways to make serious money on the side. Any skill you have, no matter how simple you may think it is, can be a lucrative asset someone else needs.
My nimble fingers turned out to be the path to paying off my student loans ahead of schedule. Your own talents can be the pathway to extra money.
Your Turn: Do you have a crazy skill that makes you money?
Disclosure: This one time, Kyle came into the office with $6 worth of Taco Bell that he planned to eat over the course of three meals. By clicking the affiliate links in this post, you help us help Kyle seriously ease up on the Taco Bell.
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer located in Orlando specializing in personal finance and pet care. You can find more of her work at www.KTretina.com