The Budget Mom’s methods saved Tiffany from her credit card debt. Then, she got to meet her.

13 minute read

Influencers – especially those with nearly half a million followers on Instagram – usually don’t get to meet the people they influence. But when working with The Budget Mom, we had the opportunity to change that.

Tiffany Russell, a UX designer at Debt.com, has used The Budget Mom’s methods for over a year and counting. Not only did she pay off thousands in debt, but she also started saving more than ever before.

Debt.com connects consumers to the experts and influencers that can help them the most. With Tiffany, we had the rare opportunity to do the opposite: connect an influencer to a consumer she helped.

I started watching all of her YouTube videos and signed up for her email course. It was my first real step toward paying off my debt.Tiffany Russell, UX designer at Debt.com

Tiffany’s debt story

Last year, Tiffany carried over 100 pounds of extra weight and over $10,000 in debt. She knew that she had to make a lasting change – not only for herself, but also for her two children.

She started with her weight. By making changes to her diet and exercise routines, she was able to lose 145 pounds.

Next, she went after her debt. Tackling her debt meant even more lifestyle changes, and she needed the right framework – and the right inspiration – to make it happen.

The Budget Mom suggests to take a full month or two and write down all of your spending and categorize it. Every single purchase. Tiffany Russell, UX designer at Debt.com

The mom that changed her mindset

Kumiko Love, better known as The Budget Mom, used to be in a situation similar to Tiffany’s. Then, she went from being buried in debt herself to becoming an Accredited Financial Counselor® and founding a company that helps other women take control of their financial lives.

With over 476,000 followers on Instagram and a Facebook community with over 80,000 members, Kumiko’s brand is forging a new path for personal finance influencers.

Features in Good Morning America and The Huffington Post proved that Kumiko’s community of debt-free hopefuls was rapidly growing – and Tiffany was thrilled to be part of it.

“I started watching all of her YouTube videos and signed up for her email course,” Tiffany said. “It was my first real step toward paying off my debt.”

Paying down debt with “The Budget Mom”

As a user experience designer who is constantly on the computer, you would think Tiffany would go for an app or spreadsheet method of budgeting. Surprisingly, the method she chose was a new twist on something old-school: a budget-by-paycheck system from The Budget Mom, complete with cash envelopes like the kind my grandparents still use.

“The first step was to track my spending,” she said. “[The Budget Mom] suggests to take a full month or two and write down all of your spending and categorize it. Every single purchase.”

Nearly every morning, I would walk into the Debt.com office and see Tiffany using pen and paper to write down her transactions on The Budget Mom’s worksheets.

Most people don’t get very excited about budgeting. But Tiffany was elated. “It was eye-opening seeing how much I was spending without realizing it, she said. “No wonder I was broke all the time.”

Every influencer we work with gives us the chance to share a new perspective with our audience. Lexi Kramer, Debt.com influencer program manager

Tiffany kept me updated while she cashed all her paychecks, separated her earnings into envelopes, and started making larger payments on her debts than ever before.

She paid off her son’s medical bills in full. She paid more than the minimum payment on her credit cards.  She paid off $12,000 of debt. She started 529 accounts for both of her kids. And on top of that, she put thousands in her savings accounts.

Best of all, she used cash for everything and stopped racking up unnecessary credit card debt. “The main thing that changed after following [The Budget Mom’s] method was mindful spending,” she said. “Paying attention to what I bought and cutting down online spending.”

Staying the course

Once Tiffany made the transition to mindful spending, she needed some inspiration to keep her on the right path.

“Some of my family were asking me why. Why not just keep switching my balance to cards with 0% APR? If there wasn’t any interest, why did it matter? They didn’t get it,” she said. “I wanted to be completely debt-free.”

Tiffany was already connected to an abundance of debt-free living resources at Debt.com, but it was through our influencer program that she got to know The Budget Mom as even more of a role model.

“I work with debt and personal finance influencers every day,” says Lexi Kramer, who manages the Debt.com influencer programs. “Every influencer we work with gives us the chance to share a new perspective with our audience.”

The Budget Mom’s perspective was valuable not only to Tiffany but also to many other people in the Debt.com office, including myself. It’s one thing to write about personal finance. It’s another to watch someone so genuine live by the principles you write about.

Miko knows where her readers are coming from because she’s been there herself and has shared her struggles on her blog.Claudia Pennington, co-founder and chief strategist of DIY Marketing, LLC

“Miko knows where her readers are coming from because she’s been there herself and has shared her struggles on her blog,” says Claudia Pennington, co-founder and chief strategist of DIY Marketing, LLC. “She’s doing all of this because she cares so much about her audience and I think that really shines through.”

This relatability is what helped Tiffany connect to Kumiko, and this connection is what helped her stick with her new budgeting system despite the constant questioning and criticism.

Debt.com wanted to take the virtual connection between Tiffany and Kumiko and make it real.

Connecting the influencer with the influenced

When Lexi and I wanted to work with The Budget Mom in Debt.com’s influencer program, Tiffany was the first person I thought of. What better way to engage with Kumiko than to set up a casual conversation between her and a devoted follower?

Even though Tiffany was a little camera shy, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Here’s what happened when we got The Budget Mom and Tiffany together:

The whole reason I think that they’ve approached you is that I can’t stop talking about you it’s changed my life I started using the budget by paycheck workbook. In August, in those few short months I’ve paid off about ten thousand dollars in debt and I’ve really gotten a grasp on how I spend money and how to manage it.

One of the things you always say is and I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget is how to manage your money in a way where you don’t depend on debt. Yeah, I’d love hearing that the sinking funds in my life I think is what made a huge, huge difference as well.

I think that’s where it was like one of those aha moments like oh my gosh why didn’t I think about this before? But it really goes down to that you know preparing yourself for the future so you don’t have to feel pressured to use your credit cards. Exactly, and it’s great to hear you say that you know something about your system resonates.

I think one of the things that really helps readers and people like yourself is seeing someone do it in there you know? In their real-life. Like I mean you showing I think for some people just seeing it just seeing someone else do it.

Not necessarily their numbers don’t have to match theirs. Their circumstances don’t have to be the same watching someone do it I think it really makes something in our minds click like oh yeah that’s how you do that and that’s why you do it. So that makes me so happy and congrats on paying off the $10,000 of debt.

That’s huge. Thank you for putting it all out there. Your real numbers, which has to be so hard to do. It’s one of the things that frustrated me the most when I was learning how to budget. I just wanted to scream at people like okay you’re telling me but can you please just show me like show me what this looks like in your life?

So we really made that a focus here at TBM and it is true some days it’s hard to share those really not those real numbers but I also think that the reason why we do it is so so crucial and so important that we just can’t give it up and so it’s the chances that we take. Because it is such an important mission, but that means I’m so happy that you’re making such great progress and you’re finding that awareness in your life.

That’s ultimately what it’s about especially when you’re paying off debt. It was the mindless spending online shopping which one of the things that you speak about is when you first. Start tracking your spending for a whole month. Write down everything you spend and I did that and it was mind-blowing with my readers call it a slap in the face moment.

Yes so how do Tiffany’s bad habits align with the issues that your readers have because I know you just said it’s like that slap in the face moment and for me personally like tracking my spending first I was almost scared to do it. I almost didn’t want to know like aware like how bad it was gonna be is that something that you find that other readers are thinking about.

Yeah, you know it’s funny because once you get into the mindset of knowing deep down you want to create a budget what happens is you feel this level of excitement. You get very excited you’re like I want to create a budget so what do you do you sit down and you automatically the first thing you want to do is start creating that budget and putting numbers down on a piece of paper and assigning limits.

Putting down categories but writing a budget is so drastically different than writing a realistic budget a budget. In a realistic budget are completely two different things one is on based on fictitious numbers that you want to spend on a budget that you want to have. In your life, a realistic budget is a budget based on what’s realistically happening with your spending.

I think that for me that was one of my biggest struggles and why I failed for so long. In the beginning, is I was sitting here just wanting to tackle the work. I was wanting to tackle and just get that budget in place because it’s ultimately what we’re trying to find is peace. And that peace comes from knowing that we have a plan to follow with our finances and so we start creating that plan without bringing awareness into our lives and into our finances.

Awareness can’t really be found until you know where your dollars are going but also the careless spending really resonates with me because my problem was clothes. I would spend $30 on a shirt and say well it’s only $30 it’s not that big of a deal. But next week it was $30 again, and the week after it was $30 again until before you know I was spending $300 or $400 a month on new clothing that would just sit in my closet literally with the tags still on them.

I think that once you bring that awareness into your life being able to step back and ask yourself the hard questions like well wait a minute why am I here standing in line with a bunch of new clothes over my arm when I know deep.

Like why am I here? And it’s until we can figure out our spending triggers and those underlying causes. But a lot of us kind of ignore through our lives because it’s either we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Look it wasn’t easy for me to come out and say hey I’m not comfortable in my own skin. I don’t like the way I look.

But until I can say that out loud and honestly answer that for myself I couldn’t address the spending triggers. And that’s where tracking and bringing that awareness into your life really comes into play the amount of stuff I’ve spent money on and said well it’s for self-care.

I do think that term gets thrown out really loosely nowadays but I also, think that there’s something really important to say I’m a huge believer in. It’s something that I do and implements into my own life. But I think where it gets dangerous is labeling all of our wants that’s self-care.

When it gets like it becomes a problem, at that point a debt payment to pay off journey is not just making debt payments it’s a self-discovery journey. It’s an emotional journey and it’s making sure and like she said. What I always say a debt payoff journey is managing your money in a way where you don’t rely on debt in the future which means you need to learn and fill the management of the financial management skills throughout your journey.

If you don’t you’re gonna pay off all your credit cards and be one of the people that just goes right back in the credit card debt our mindsets of can I actually do this it’s about throwing out the word impossible and no longer is in our dictionaries and saying to yourself I got this. I mean you all of a sudden become someone who’s scared to look at your debt numbers.

Then all of a sudden you become a warrior. It’s almost like you’re in it for the fight of your life. It’s that important to you. So the mindset is just a hundred percent crucial as you’re working through your financial and debt journeys. It really was just changing everything that I thought I knew before you know. Most of my debt was zero percent interest so I was like whatever it doesn’t matter it’s not getting into.

I’m not paying interest. What does it matter how long it takes me to pay it off? It’s not about that, it’s about not having this debt and not having to pay monthly towards it so I can allocate that money towards my other goals so instead of paying you to know $50 here for this medical bill $100 here for this credit card and you know taking three years to pay that off it really wasn’t mindset change.

That’s not what it’s about, and you need to be working towards these other goals. I think too it comes I mean how many times do we say in our lives well. I would go out and pursue that if I didn’t have that I would I would seize that opportunity if I didn’t have that I would go back to school I didn’t have ten. I would go on that family vacation if I didn’t have that.

All of a sudden we find ourselves making our excuses and really like giving up such potential and opportunity in our lives because we feel like debt is hanging over our head. It’s not so much about. It sucks yeah the interest that we have to pay but what sucks, even more, is the way that we feel limited in our lives because that is hanging over our heads and that has a huge thing to do with mindset.

I think it’s sometimes hard for my readers and my audience to understand you know. I’m known for you to know single mom pays off seventy-seven thousand dollars in eight months and a lot of my new readers and new followers Sita is so unrealistic unattainable and unrelatable.

But what they’re missing is the story where it actually started I have a lot of people who tell me Emiko you are so much more relatable when you are paying off debt. Here’s what’s really important, I started the budget mom to show readers that paying on that and budgeting is not just about the struggle.

As I started sharing my debt payoff journey and the budget mom grew it was hard for readers to understand the business side of what I was doing because I don’t share my business numbers I stopped doing that after my lawyers advised me to stop sharing for security purposes to stop sharing my business numbers I still share my personal numbers but it’s hard for me sometimes because I can’t share the business side which entrepreneurship has such has had such a huge massive effect on my debt payoff to me.

Essentially why I was able to pay off so much debt so fast I grew a passion in something I was really dedicated to, which is helping people it kind of turned into a business on its own.

I always like to remind my readers I didn’t create the budget mom to start a business or to make a dollar I did it to fill the community. Oh, they have no choice but to hear about it time you all hear me I heard lots about it my husband has been fully on board and once he saw the effects of it.

At first, he was like oh I have to pay for gas with cash as I could go inside like this is not good but he told me like a couple weeks ago he’s like this is just amazing what you’ve done.

Yeah, I always like to say that you know it’s hard on this journey because a  lot of people don’t will understand your journey. I get it a lot but our journeys aren’t for them this for us. So that’s when you just step back and you say you know what that’s okay because I’m gonna kick butt. Oh well, I’m gonna do you know.

So I love that. Yeah, yep, I’m the one who’s gonna pay for a house. Yeah you know there was that roadblock with oh now I have to go to the bank and get cash now. I have to go inside and instead of paying at the pump I had roadblocks as far as and this will happen to you once you start paying off more of your debt is a lifestyle and income inflation right.

We started to have a lot more disposable income where all of a sudden step back was like we’ll wait a minute. This all used to go to debt what the heck do I do with it now. That was kind of my struggle especially as much as my income has changed over the last four years was really stepping back and learning to not want more.

When they’re learning the psychological and emotional benefits of bringing pen to paper. I have always been a huge believer that there is different psychological benefits to writing things down so did you like the act of writing it down.

Yeah, I holding the cash I’ve always painted. I love getting my hands dirty I like writing even my to-do list I still write them out and for work, I do all of that by hand. It’s something about crossing that just it has more of an effect bringing the pen to paper.

I think it is what adds and what is what makes my budgeting method oh so much different is the level of the fun aspect that it brings into the method itself. I think what happens when we pay off that is for so long and if it’s such a long journey we’ve been fighting to pay off our debt right and we’re so focused on that one priority that when it’s over we get confused when it’s finally over and done and we no longer have that we’re fighting for it’s almost like we start to question what to do with our money.

I think it’s super important that anytime there is a life change in your life a big life change like paying off your debt going back and re-analyzing and re-prioritizing your financial goals is a must.

Anytime I hear like Tiffany’s story for me I get very emotional. It means so much to me you know I started this journey not knowing if I could even help one person one other mom out there who was like me so to hear her say that she’s found the success and I helped motivate her to do that.

I didn’t just change her life but I changed her husband’s life her kid’s life. I feel blessed I feel honored that she let me into her life the way she did and let me enter her home the way she did.

I’m just ecstatic. I’m so excited for her and I can’t wait to hear her finally say by debt and about say dancing and watch her hit all two other financial goals in her life. So it’s just important. It’s extremely important to me just the impact it’s had is amazing and I just thank you so much for everything you do.

The conversation ended in happy tears. Kumiko was overcome with the impact that her strategies had on Tiffany’s life. Tiffany was overjoyed that she was getting to share her progress with the person that helped her get where she is today.

“I get very emotional because it means so much to me that, you know, I started this journey not knowing if I could even help one person. One other mom out there who is like me,” Kumiko said. So to hear [Tiffany] say that she’s found this success and that I’ve helped motivate her to do that…I didn’t just change her life, but I changed her husband’s life, her kid’s lives … I feel blessed.”

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About the Author

Kira Rosemarie

Kira Rosemarie

Kira is a writer and illustrator specializing in personal finance. She holds a degree in studio art from Indiana University and is finishing up her MBA from Nova Southeastern University. She's worked with Debt.com since 2018 and is a certified debt management professional.

Published by Debt.com, LLC