The Cheapest Marriage Counseling You Can Get

“For richer or poorer, we’ll use YNAB, either way!”

Written by Shannon Marie  |  on


Ashley and David Pflug, a married couple living in San Antonio, Texas, both graduated from West Point in 2008. They’d intended to serve in the Army full-time after school, but life had different plans.

Shortly after graduation, David received a medical discharge and, by 2014, Ashley decided it was time for her to transition from active duty to the Army reserves.

She said, “I deployed to Afghanistan for a year-long tour when [our first daughter] was about one-and-a-half years old. It was absolutely devastating. We had our second daughter about ten months after I returned home, and my unit was scheduled to deploy, again, a few months after that.”

Although she was thrilled to be home with her babies, the Pflugs were in for a tough transition.

A Tough Move to San Antonio

Around the same time that Ashley transitioned to reserve duty, David accepted a new job as a software developer in San Antonio, Texas—164 miles away from their home in Killeen, Texas. Ashley said, “As if transitioning to a single income wasn’t difficult enough, taking a new job, moving to a new city, and splitting expenses added to the complexities of our financial situation.”

To make matters worse, Ashley and David were stuck paying rent in San Antonio and making their mortgage payments in Killeen as they waited more than eight long months for their house to sell.

Ashley said, “It was a rough time and, when my birthday rolled around, I only wanted one thing: Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I’d heard about it several times before but, apparently, we needed a kick in the behind to get started, which is exactly what February 2014 felt like.”

“Lofty Aspirations and Unattainable Goals”

At this point, the couple had $150,000 in debt, including $62,000 in auto loans, $50,000 for a timeshare, $18,000 in credit card debt and $20,000 in personal loans. They also had, unfortunately, a severe aversion to budgeting.

Ashley said, “Before budgeting (like this), we felt like budgets were restrictive. If we made one, it lived in an Excel spreadsheet and was constructed with lofty aspirations and unattainable goals.”

She admits that they rarely checked the budget spreadsheet, which only contributed to their sense of financial failure. And, to top it off, their spreadsheet was actually a source of marital tension.

Ashley said, “It was always a catalyst of fights: ‘Did you really need to go to lunch with your coworkers? OK, but then why would you add on a $3 soda?’ Ah, I don’t miss those days one bit.”

YNAB = Budgeting Bliss

Then, they tried YNAB, and things began to change. Ashley said, “No other budgeting tool connects our inflows/outflows to our short- and long-term goals and our family values (and we tried many, trust me).”

This was a huge breakthrough—seeing exactly how their financial choices translated to the big picture, the things they cared about most, made all the difference for the Pflugs.

The other thing that set YNAB apart was support. Ashley said, “I do wonky things on accident all the time, and ya’ll are always there to set me straight with your cool videos.”

She went on, “It can be really stressful when it’s a tight month and I’ve miscategorized a refund that is throwing things off. I’m incredibly grateful for the care with which the YNAB team treats us, and it’s not something I’ve found with other products.”

And, best of all, they actually started to like budgeting. Ashley said, “Because of YNAB (and the free classes!), we no longer saw our budget as a naysayer for every little weekend plan, instead, we saw it as a cheerleader, egging us on to accomplish our biggest plans, ever.”

The Ramen Noodle Days

In the beginning, Ashley and David’s goals were simple: to make their outflows smaller than their inflows and to get out of debt.

Ashley said, “We started at the bottom. A $1,000 emergency fund seemed like a huge feat. We lived in an apartment for years and ate ramen. We paid off debt like it was our job. Although we live in Texas, with no family nearby, we sacrificed traveling on holidays. We made tough decisions, and YNAB helped us keep our eye on the prize through it all.”

When their house in Killeen finally sold, it was a huge help in paying down their $150,000 debt. That’s when many couples would start house-hunting, but not Ashley and David! She said, “We opted for apartment-living until we could get a good grip on our finances and have a healthy emergency fund.”

Slowly, they began to feel in control of their money. Ashley said, “We eventually paid off all of our debts, saved a healthy emergency fund … little by little, and day by day.”

And, that’s when things got fun …

Cruising Through Life

Being debt-free changes everything. Suddenly, you can spend (or save) your entire paycheck, exactly as you see fit. And, that’s exactly what Ashley and David did. She said, “We got to work on a bucket list, refined that to a wish list and built a wish farm!”

At the top of their wish list was a very special trip—Ashley and David wanted to renew their wedding vows aboard a Disney cruise ship with their closest family and friends alongside them.

To make it happen, they saved $50,000 in three years!

Ashley said, “We didn’t pay for everyone’s plane tickets or cruise fare, but we tried to take care of most everything else—summing just under $50,000. I know that sounds crazy.”

She added, “Ten years ago, I never would’ve thought that a $50,000 trip could be a reality for people like us … we absolutely loved spending what we’d saved. And, it was a joy to be able to say ‘Yes!’ to our girls when they asked for a souvenir, rather than begrudgingly wonder how much money was left in the checking account. It was. The best. Trip. Ever.”

Budgeted Life, Happy Wife

Not only did budgeting improve their finances, Ashley said, “I always tell people it’s the cheapest marriage counseling you can get!”

They’d never identified money as a source of tension, before, but the difference is clear, now. Before, Ashley recalls feeling irritated that David wanted to see movies, rather than waiting for them to come out on DVD. In reality, he just wanted to spend time together, which she admits is quite sweet.

She said, “We’d end up feeling like we didn’t have a lot in common—never a good feeling in a marriage—but, really, the issue was that I was feeling insecure about money and didn’t want to spend it on ‘optional’ activities, whether it was a movie or anything else.”

These days, Ashley is excited when David suggests that they use some fun money to go on a date. She said, “It’s the best change. We aren’t attacking each other and can truly enjoy time together when we know the cost is accounted for and that it won’t detract from our common goals.”

And, About Their Recommitment Vows …

Looking back, Ashley and David couldn’t be happier about the sacrifices they chose to make in exchange for the life they lead today.

She said, “We used to see the budget as our enemy and as restrictive, but now we see it as the most freeing way to figure out how to make our biggest dreams a reality. When it changes your life, like it did for us, you can’t help but be a champion!”

In fact, they’re so dedicated to maintaining control of their finances, that Ashley and David even included budgeting in their recommitment vows:

“For richer or poorer, we’ll use YNAB either way!”


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Your Next Step

Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?