She stopped making excuses and started her own financial and personal revival.

Just after turning 21 in 2007, Jessi from almost went bankrupt.

Even though she understood budgeting — her parents taught her at a young age — Jessi continued charging items on her credit card.

“To cope with my discontentment, my need to keep up appearances, and the toxic negativity I heaped on myself, I compulsively shopped — retail therapy, I guess,” says Jessi.

During that year, she remembers her “financial situation crashing down.” So, she got herself together and created a budget.  Jessi admits, “It was eye-opening! I was running nearly a $1,000 deficit every month.”

I wondered what made Jessi change her ways. She told me, “I created lots of excuses and they all helped me avoid accepting the blame that I started this mess. Once I got over myself and accepted the fact that a miracle or winning the lottery wouldn’t save me, I got to work and cleaned up my mess.”

The mess included $11,000 in credit card debt. And her debt repayment plan included selling off everything she could — clothes, furniture and more. She even let her car get repossessed. “I knew I could no longer pay on the car so I went back to driving my paid-for high school car,” remembers Jessi.

In 2009, still saddled with debt, Jessi got married. She and her husband didn’t have much money for a fancy wedding. They decided against taking out a loan or charging the marriage on their credit cards. Their only option was having a small wedding. As a result, many family members couldn’t attend, which didn’t sit well with their families.

“We finally decided on a super small ceremony in Helen, Georgia and dealt with the unhappiness of our families,” says Jessi. “Our entire wedding cost only $500 but we loved every moment.”

A few years later children followed and in 2012, Jessi started her first personal finance website: The Budget Mama. “It began as a way for me to use my accounting degree while staying home with our child,” says Jessi. In early 2013, still in credit card debt and now student loan debt, Jessi and her husband decided they would become debt-free. They owed $55,000.

The Tahoe Trade-in

Jessi told me during this time period, she still “put a lot of weight in the type of car she drove.” Her dream car, a fully loaded Chevy Tahoe, remained her one “keeping up appearances” anchor. She loved it — but traded it in anyway. “It was a humbling experience leaving behind wood-grain interior for an older car with busted speakers,” remembers Jessi.

They also gave up all family vacations. Jessi walked dogs for extra income — “it was miserable with little kids and being hugely pregnant in the summer Georgia heat.” Her husband worked side jobs building cabinets and tiling bathrooms.

All the hard work and sacrifice paid off. Jessi and her husband whittled away their $55,000 in debt over only 17 months. “In 2015, we paid off the last of our consumer debt and my student loans,” says Jessi. “We’ve been working to pay off the mortgage since then.”

Jessi currently works as a financial coach. I asked if she could relay a story about one of her clients. She told me about a couple who dreamed about sending their kids off to college debt-free. But they owed 100,000 in debt and didn’t have any spare money left over from their budget.

“After a lot of coaching, they finally decided to stop using debt and to start paying it off,” says Jessi. “But they didn’t have any extra room in their budget to apply towards paying off their debt. So, they sold their home, used the equity from the sale to put a big down payment on a smaller house, applied some towards the smaller debts, and used the rest to open up their kids’ college 529 plans.”

They can’t save properly for their children’s college tuition yet, but they have paid off over $12,000 in debt. And with Jessi’s help, they’re making budgeting their top priority. She also developed a whole online course dedicated to walking others through money management. She calls it the Real Life Money Plan.

I asked Jessi for a few financial tips we could use and she graciously sent me three.

  1. Use a calendar (or your planner) when you create your budget. This will keep extra expenses, like a friend’s birthday party, from popping up.
  2. Avoid the temptation to place blame. I encourage you to accept responsibility for your own financial life.
  3. Always have a plan for your money. Whether it’s paying off debt, saving up for an emergency fund or building a solid retirement account — always work towards something with your money.

Let’s take Jessi’s smart advice and start our own financial and personal revival.

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing – and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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