When you’re in the middle of wrangling your finances into shape, sometimes an inspirational money story (or nine) is just the boost you didn’t know you needed. Here are real stories of people that made it to the other side to bring you a nudge of hope, inspiration, motivation, and stick-to-it-ness in your own money journey.
My Financial Life Used to Hurt (It Really Hurt!)
At the end of 2019, Krys was nearly $20,000 in debt, with a balance that just kept growing.
“Have you ever been slapped in the face, hard? You hear your heartbeat in your ears, as blood rushes to deliver the adrenaline to every inch of your body.
Well that feeling? THAT is what I felt when I scrutinized our finances. It HURT. Physically. My head hurt, my heart hurt, my guts hurt. UGH. Ouch. Harrumph.”
And this pain brought her to start a budget. She had a list of eight goals she set out to complete:
- Get off the credit card float.
- Start contributing to sinking funds for known expenses.
- Start building $1,000 emergency fund.
- Pay off credit card #1.
- Pay off credit card #2.
- Be a month ahead (live on last month’s income).
- Pay off the home equity line of credit (HELOC ) that they took on to replace their window.
- Pay off the car loan.
After the first month using a YNAB budget, she had saved $1,500 and crossed off the first three items on her list. By month two she had paid off $3,000.
After a year of budgeting (and not just ANY year, this was during the dumpster fire that shall be forever known as 2020), she had:
- Saved over $18,000 in cash
- Paid off over half her debt balance
- Crossed off SEVEN of her eight initial goals.
Remember when she said money used to hurt?
With just one remaining goal left and money blasting to pay it off, Krys will have her final debt paid off by Spring of 2021. She is absolutely on fire!!
Read her whole story (it is SO worth it and she’s a gem of a writer).
We Paid Off $180,000 in Five Years and We Didn’t Live on Breadcrumbs
Liz and her husband didn’t make an excessive amount of money but through consistent budgeting, they were able to pay off over $180K in just five years.
Liz had taken out $150K in small business loans, which were personally guaranteed (which meant she herself was on the hook for them) and the stress weighed heavy.
She started using a YNAB budget to run her business on a “cash in/cash out” basis and began to make progress toward running a debt-free business.
As she started clearing her business debt, she went to her husband and told him she thought a budget could help them tackle their personal debt too. Jeff was on board, and they dove in.
Rather than ruthlessly cutting back on all fronts, they learned to focus their effort and energy on things they were good at. For Liz, she put time in on her business to bring in more money. Her husband put his handy skills to use and fixed the house and cars when renovations and repairs were needed. But during their debt payoff, it meant they still paid for their sons’ Christian education because that was really important to them.
“Many times, people assume getting out of debt is all about sacrifices. This isn’t the case. We didn’t clip coupons. We didn’t live on breadcrumbs. Yes, there were sacrifices, but they felt more like trade-offs. We knew we were making progress on the things that mattered most to us.”
During their debt payoff they leaned on several tactics:
- Meal planned
- Cut back on going out to eat
- Liz stopped shopping
- Used a YNAB budget
- Picked up seasonal part-time work
- Cut out regular nail appointments
- They chose to live more simply (their family stayed in their 1200-square-foot home).
- They became resourceful (Liz’s husband at one point learned how to put in a new transmission).
- They leaned on their amazingly supportive family for encouragement and help with their kids.
- They kept giving. (“If we kept our focus on helping others, we believed our own needs will be met. It’s a principle that we saw bear out throughout our debt journey.”)
During their debt payoff, Liz remembers she and Jeff waiting tables during the summer at a dinner club near their home. “It was not fun serving tables on a beautiful summer day, but these choices are what got us ahead. We were able to pay cash for a second car we needed. I’ll never forget the look on the salesmen’s face when Jeff pulled $3500 worth of cash from his pocket to pay for the car.”
Their payoff was hard work, and they certainly cut back in several areas, but it was a balancing act. There were times when they wanted to vacation, but it was more important to pay down their debt. There were other times when going on a trip with their kids was a higher priority, so they moved the money earmarked for debt to the trip.
“Everyone can pinch money in every area for a season, but it’s not sustainable. Good budgeting is about prioritizing what’s important, understanding how you’re motivated, and developing a plan that works for you. Budgeting doesn’t need to be a noose. It actually creates freedom.”
Liz’s goal was to pay off their debt by age 40. She hit the goal at age 42.
“I set a goal and I missed it. What if I had quit then? To those still going through debt payoff: give yourself grace and room. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to not be perfect. Stay aligned. Keep your vision in front of you. You’ll get there.”
Want to pay off debt? Check out our free short video course that walks you through everything you need to know about getting your debt paid down.
I Manage My Finances in Retirement Without Stress
In 2010, Susan became “retired” a little earlier than planned. After her company restructured, she was laid off in the process and it seemed no one wanted to hire a 63-year-old woman, no matter how successful she had been.
While she wasn’t in financial distress—she had an IRA and a living cushion—she couldn’t shake the nagging worry that it might not be enough.
After an unexpected move drained more out of her IRA than expected, she knew she needed a plan—she needed a budget.
She was no stranger to budgeting—she remembers her mother having physical envelopes in her dresser drawer—all marked with categories. When she first heard about YNAB, she liked the idea. “It lined right up with the envelopes my mother used to keep in her dresser drawer, just in virtual form.”
She signed up, took some workshops, and got rolling.
Between disbursements from her IRA and social security benefits, she had a monthly inflow of cash and was sitting just fine. But when she set up her budget, she saw that if she could make an extra $1,000 a month at a job, she’d be sitting real pretty. So, she got a part-time job at The Container Store working three days a week (and which she loved).
She’s now used YNAB for many years. The thing she loves the most—she doesn’t have to worry when a bill comes in. She knows the money is already allocated in her checking account and she just pays it.
She’s now 73 and her lists of needs is very short. She doesn’t work so much anymore—”It’s not like I’m saving up for a bigger TV.” These days, she spends more time journaling, tracing her genealogy—doing the things that bring her joy.
“Retirement can sometimes be a guessing game, but having this budget is such a relief.”
We Signed Up for a Budget While at the Hospital Having a Baby
Jessica Fisher and her husband Ryan are both teachers. Like many families with young kids, the couple made enough money to get by but didn’t have a lot leftover for things like vacations and date nights. To add further financial stress, they were about to have their third child.
When Jessica was in the hospital about to give birth, she was panicking about the cost of bringing home another baby when a post about a budgeting app showed up in her Facebook feed. She decided to sign up for YNAB right then and there.
“I was frustrated that we never seemed to have enough for “fun” things. We rarely went out to eat and definitely had no money for vacations. So when I saw a post on Facebook about the program while at the hospital giving birth, I figured, what do we have to lose?”
Since that fateful day in the hospital, their financial life has transformed. Jessica and Ryan have been budgeting for seven years. In that time, they’ve:
- Paid cash for a car
- Covered an unexpected home repair in cash
- Paid off debt
- Build up their savings
- Paid for a home renovation in cash
And more about that home renovation:
And Jessica finally got those date nights too.
“I still remember the first time we left all three kids with my parents to go out on a date. It was so freeing to know that the money was there just for date night and I didn’t need to worry that it should be going for diapers or groceries. Our budget actually gave us permission to go out and have fun!”
We Learned to Budget Together and Paid Off $9K in the Process
When you find a life partner, the chances of finding someone with the exact same financial habits and opinions is slim. So, what’s a madly in-love couple to do?
Chari and Martell found themselves in that oh-so-common situation in 2007 when they first got married. While Martell was a natural-born saver, Chari came from a family that often experienced financial hardship, which meant Chari had constant feelings around guilt for saving money.
Five years into their marriage, they just weren’t agreeing on how to handle their money together. On top of that, they were working opposite schedules and in school—so time was a hot commodity.
“We started the budget retreat in 2012 when we just couldn’t see eye-to-eye on our finances.”
The retreat was two days long and planned during a time when they were on their school break.
“We had no distractions.”
During the retreat, they dedicated distraction-free time to big-picture financial conversations:
- What do we want to accomplish this year with our money?
- Where should we focus?
- What expenses are coming up in the next year? (Living expenses, gifts, travel, car maintenance, school, debt, etc)
At the end of the retreat, they would write out a plan for the year. Chari took up the duty of managing the day-to-day budget and this helped guide her decision from month to month.
Thanks to the yearly budget retreats, Chari and Martell had a crystal clear list of goals that they starting crossing off one by one.
- Learn how to pay bills in full, on time each month. ✅
- Break the paycheck to paycheck cycle. ✅
- Save a $1,000 emergency fund. ✅
- Start paying off debt. ✅
- Buy our first home (which they did in 2014!). ✅
Despite their upward progress, there continued to be some financial setbacks. “We experienced several emergencies over the next few years that were, unfortunately, covered with our credit cards.”
In 2017, they decided to hit reset on their finances and started a budget with YNAB, which came recommended by their brother who is a talented motion designer at the company.
Over the next few years, Chari and Martell made some impressive strides. With their new jobs and new tracking system, they saved and paid for multiple major expenses in cash:
- Waterproofing the basement ($11,000)
- Insulating the house ($8,000)
- Paid off credit card debt ($9,000)
- Purchasing appliances
Through the whole process, having their standing budget meetings and yearly check-ins have allowed Chari and Martell to feel like they’re on the same page with their finances.
And they’re not done yet! Next up: paying off six figures of student loan debt within the next seven years. We have no doubts they’ll make it happen peacefully, harmoniously, and in record time.
Learn more about how to budget with your better half on our Budgeting Together hub!
We Went from Having 13 Credit Cards to None
Natalie and Larry were doing well enough to get by, but they lived paycheck to paycheck and the stress of debt always loomed. Credit cards? Oh they had those—thirteen in fact. On top of that, they had two personal loans, and there wasn’t a lot of “extra” money to pay the debt down.
Then they lost their home.
The home was originally purchased with a balloon mortgage, which meant there were regular monthly payments and one large-sum payment at the end (very often six figures or more). They hadn’t fully understood the ramifications of this mortgage when they signed up and when the money came due, they couldn’t pay it, and lost their house.
After that dark day, they had new resolve to fix their finances. They started using YNAB and since then they went from having 13 credit cards to none, earned interest in their savings account for the first time, bought a new house, and paid for the adoption of their son, Collin.
“We saved to have Collin, and if we didn’t lose that house, we wouldn’t have been able to have him,” Natalie shared. “So we celebrate losing a house!”
Lemons into lemonade, indeed. And we know the importance around here of celebrating both those big goals and the small ones too. Natalie and Larry had other things to celebrate as well!
“I don’t mean to brag, but I made money in my savings account! One whole penny! I have never earned interest in my accounts before!! Pretty darn proud of myself! My goal next month is two pennies!”
Update: since this story was initially written, Natalie is now up to seven cents of interest earned. That’s a 700% increase since she started budgeting in YNAB.
Want to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good? Get a jump start with a 34-Day Reset challenge to turbocharge your savings progress.
From a Rattling Divorce to Financial Stability
After 28 years of being together (married for 18), Dawn’s husband moved out and she filed for divorce.
“I didn’t see it coming—it was heartbreaking.”
And just because they were getting a divorce, life didn’t slow down—there were bills to pay, appliances that needed fixes, tires that needed to be replaced. Dawn was left with only her salary to keep the household running and ends meet and was feeling the financial strain.
She started a budget with YNAB under the recommendation of her college-aged daughter.
“My first month of using YNAB, I was out of money by the second week. I only get paid once a month, so I was terrified of YNAB that first month!”
But since her start, in just a year’s time she has a long list of wins:
- Money left at the end of the month.
- She paid off her last credit card.
- Paid for $1,800 of car maintenance using cash she had on hand.
“When a life event happens—whether marriage or divorce, birth or death, job change or job loss—you can feel overwhelmed and powerless, or you can consider the things that you do have control over.
I chose to focus on my finances, and joined YNAB. Sure, some days are tougher than others—that’s life. But being in control of my finances has lifted my spirits more than I expected it would. For those who doubt if YNAB really works, the answer is YES!!!”
I Had a “Very Poor” Credit Score and Now It’s Near Perfect
Angela and her family of six were living paycheck to paycheck, and it seemed emergencies were always coming up. Whether it was a car that needed new brakes or a roof that needed repairing, those unexpected expenses left them short on cash. They were always making those dreaded decisions of what to pay, how much, and still put food on the table.
Her husband had a highly variable income from month to month, and Angela had tried every budgeting system known to man but nothing ever stuck.
In 2013, she stumbled onto You Need a Budget, and she was hooked.
“It was like the envelope system, but now the envelopes were virtual!”
As they learned to live on last month’s income, those prior emergencies became fewer and fewer until they were nonexistent.
They paid off their credit cards and kept them paid off. Bills came due and they just paid them. They were no longer in a constant fight-or-flight battle with our money.
After years of progress, Angela and her family are thriving. They own two homes, three vehicles, and have a near-perfect credit score. Three to four months worth of bills are budgeted for in the future at all times.
“We went from being in debt up to our eyeballs and living from paycheck to paycheck to being completely free from crushing credit card debt. We have a growing savings account, future bills already paid for, a buffer, and an emergency fund—all things I never thought possible before I found YNAB.
At this point, I can’t imagine not having a budget—it truly is the secret to getting ahead.”
We Paid Off $266K in Debt in 33 Months
When Kyle and Lauren Mochizuki got married in 2009, they were nonchalant about money and just wanted to have fun. Between a month-long back-packing trip around Europe, financing two brand new cars, vacations, and a mortgage, they racked up a debt total of $266,000.
One day Kyle was driving home and the Dave Ramsey show came on the radio. At this point, Kyle was 10 months deep in two car payments, and he had to time them just right to make sure money was in their accounts. The stress from debt was starting to weigh heavy. He talked to Lauren and they decided to get aggressive on their debt payoff.
They got intense: picking up extra shifts at work, meal prepping, they cut subscriptions. They started seeing traction and picking up steam. Their debt snowball got bigger as they checked things off, paid things off, and got to a point where only the mortgage remained.
At the time, they didn’t have any kids and they decided they wanted to be completely debt free before their first baby was born. They dug in even deeper. Sure enough, they paid off their entire debt balance in 33 months of hard work. A year later, they welcomed baby Owen into the world.
“Bringing Owen into the world with no debt was one of the best decisions that we’ve ever made,” Lauren said. “We didn’t have to worry about money. That was one of the best feelings ever.”
After Owen was born, Lauren was able to take a full three months of maternity leave with no financial stress. They didn’t have to worry about a mortgage payment, a car payment, a credit card payment: it was all done.
Kyle was able to transition to a fire department closer to home, which meant starting at the bottom of the totem pole after 15 years of experience. It was a risky move in his line of work—but he knew his finances were taken care of. With the switch, he went from an hour-long commute to a station a few minutes away.
“I think in the back of my mind, I knew having all of that debt done and having a family was going to be valuable,” Kyle said. “I guess I didn’t realize how valuable it was going to be.”
Want to keep going? Binge listen to more stories in the Debt Stories Playlist from the YNAB podcast!