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After years of financial chaos, missed mortgage payments (we are talking 31 consecutive missed mortgage payments) and thousands of dollars in overdraft fees, Sarah and Kevin Estling found You Need A Budget (YNAB).
Life didn’t change overnight but it did change—dramatically.
Today, the Estling’s have a $2,000 emergency fund, a fully-funded vacation category, and a whole new set of goals for their future. They budgeted their way from desperation to stability they never thought possible.
Sarah and Kevin met while working at the same restaurant. They were very young, both free spirits, still carefree and living at home. They fell in love and life was good.
And then they got married. And immediately had a child. Life was still good but it was not carefree. Very quickly, money became an issue—the issue.
“Money was always a negative. It kept us from doing what we wanted to do,” Sarah said. “It was always a stressor and so we didn’t want to talk about it.”
Enter Baby #2.
“We just lived crisis to crisis. Looking back I don’t even know how we lived with that kind of turmoil, but it was all we knew.”
Despite horrible credit and no down payment, they bought a house in 2007. Because it was 2007.
“I think I thought that we would just magically grow up and all the money stuff would work itself out. But it didn’t and we were stuck with a house we really couldn’t afford.”
Without any savings or a cushion of any kind, they were perpetually late paying their bills, but still went out to eat because that is what they were used to doing. That is what their friends were doing. And what was another $50 at that point? It felt like a drop in the (very large) bucket.
Until three years ago, when Kevin lost his job and they began spiraling like never before.
“We couldn’t pay the mortgage, all our bills were overdue. If you saw us, you would have never known. We looked like this happy, healthy, fit, active family but we had this dark secret of complete financial ruin. And by trying to keep up appearances we were digging ourselves in even deeper.”
Sarah’s sister began using YNAB and bought a license for her, not even realizing how dire their situation was or how much it would change everything.
Within one month of budgeting and using YNAB, Sarah knew there was hope.
It was slow at first, because they were so behind. But they did what they could. Sarah took every class and listened to all the podcasts and read everything she could get her hands on. It was still slow, but she began to see there was another way.
“It was a complete paradigm shift. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone. I was part of a community that understood. Being conservative with your money is a good thing! For a long time I thought that having to do without would be worse than being totally broke. But now I see that doing without one thing, is really just a means to get to this other place—this place you really want to be. It is powerful.”
In six months, they were out of the payday loan trap. Within a year, they were paying off debts. Today, Sarah and Kevin have an emergency fund, a Betterment investment account, they opened with their tax refund this year, and money in the bank for a family vacation.
“Our life is just completely different. I lost 20 pounds. I didn’t even realize how much stress I was under, because financial chaos was our normal. My husband went back to school. That’s something he would have never done before because he would have been too worried about the money.
It feels amazing to have goals that we are working toward together. Now conversations about money are positive and proactive because we are focused on our end goals. We want to move into a little bit bigger house and that is possible, we can do that. We have a vacation fund just waiting for next summer. A vacation is possible.”
Sarah’s advice to those who are currently feeling desperate is to just focus on the small, day-to-day decisions which will start to add up and soon feel like progress: “I know it is so hard and it’s embarrassing. I know it feels like budgeting might work for other people but it won’t work for you. I’m here to tell you that it is for you. And it does work.”
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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