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How One Woman’s Budget Set Her Free

Goodbye, Nine-To-Five. Hello, Cheese!

For Elena Santogade, the benefits of budgeting can be summed up by one word: cheese—the kind you stack (a.k.a., “cheddar”) and the kind that’s a snack (Elena recommends Comté, but really you can’t go wrong with any cheese).

Elena is so serious about cheese that, in 2012, she left her day job. She says, “I zeroed in on needing a budget when I made a big career shift and took a significant pay cut to pursue my passion for cheese!“She’d been “working in cheese” on the weekends, but now she was free to follow her bliss: opening, operating and managing retail cheese shops around New York City, handling regional sales for cheesemakers, and writing her book, The Beginner's Guide to Cheesemaking.

There Was Also the Matter of the Rent

To make ends meet with her new, smaller paychecks, Elena signed up for YNAB. She said, “I had a vague goal of saving more money and avoiding credit card debt. My thought was ‘Hey, I live in the most expensive city in America, and I sell cheese.’ I'm not going to be rich but, as long as I'm not sinking deep into debt, I'm doing OK.”

But underneath that OK-ness, Elena admits that she was stressed. She said, “Before YNAB, I felt a lot of low-level anxiety and guilt about money. And shame, too. That's not an emotion I feel in any other realm ...”That shame, Elena said, came from questions like, “Why am I always transferring money between accounts?! Why can’t I just get a little breathing room between paying my credit card bill and charging the next big thing? Why does it feel like I’m constantly spending but never able to afford anything?“

Then She Took Control

With her mind swimming with doubts and worries, even small ones, no wonder Elena felt shame about money. When she started following YNAB’s Four Rules, though, things changed.

Elena said, “I went from feeling deflated and embarrassed, and just plain lame, to feeling excited and energized for the future. It isn’t a mystery, where my money ‘disappears’ to, and it isn't even New York City's fault—imagine that!—my financial situation is totally up to me. That was a huge revelation! Once I realized that I had the power to get things under control, I couldn't be stopped.”

And suddenly, simply surviving wasn’t enough: “Before YNAB, I just tried to pay rent, save the minimum for retirement, and try to have enough money to eat and drink pretty well in New York City. Now I budget for trips to see the world. I budget for classes so that I can learn a new skill. I know exactly when I want to retire and how to do it—and I also still eat and drink pretty well in New York City (better than I used to, even)!”

Budgeting for Freedom

When YNAB went cloud-based in January 2016, things really clicked for Elena. She said, “From that moment to now, I have increased my net worth by 110 percent ... that means my entire financial picture more than doubled in less than two years! Money didn't come out of thin air, but simple awareness.”

But better than the cash? Freedom. Elena said, “I took three full months off after a particularly exhausting store opening—time I desperately needed to reboot and refocus before my next endeavor. I also turned down two high-paying job offers in the past couple of years because they didn't align with my values. When you know how much money you truly need, you can prioritize other things, like free time, energy and your soul!”

Now, Elena’s vague goals to ‘save money’ and ‘avoid debt’ have been replaced. She said, “I want to retire before age 60. I want to travel, visit family and friends, donate to organizations fighting the good fight, and enjoy all of the special opportunities you get when you're lucky enough to live in New York City (I saw Hamilton!).”

Never Underestimate Financial Peace

Like so many other YNABers, Elena started budgeting as a way to control her money. She wasn’t expecting a total shift in her life: more freedom, far less anxiety and zero money shame! Now she gives every dollar a job and watches them go to work—making her dreams come true.I asked Elena what advice she would give to someone who was considering YNAB. She said, “Open your heart and mind to a different way of doing things, and get ready to be excited about your future! With YNAB you're mostly looking forward, and that is an exhilarating headspace!”

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How One Woman’s Budget Set Her Free