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“I Was That Girl”—The Turnaround Story of Dana Kay

I came across Dana’s story on the YNAB Fans Facebook group and couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s got a warmth that holds you like a hug. You’ll meet Dana Kay—and you might just love her as much as we do real quick.

Dana Kay YNAB

Dana’s Story

I went to the store the other day to do my weekly grocery shopping. If you’ve ever shopped at Aldi, you know it’s very fast-paced, all the groceries get thrown into the cart and things move along quickly. Well, I wasn’t paying much attention but I was starting to feel like things were taking longer than normal in the checkout line.

The woman in front of me paid and walked away. When it was my turn to check out, I saw the cashier on the verge of tears—and looking over at the woman who had checked out before me. Then I saw a big pile of food behind the cashier. That’s when it struck me—her card kept getting declined.

“Are those her groceries?” I asked the cashier, motioning to the young woman who just checked out.

The cashier nodded.

“Please put them in my cart, put them on my bill,” I said.

“It’s a lot of money,” the cashier said.

“That’s OK,” I said.

I paid for the groceries and brought them over to the young woman before she walked out of the store.

“Here, these are for you,” I said. That’s when I noticed she was pregnant and had a young child with her. She asked for my number, to pay me back. I shook my head, “No—it’s a gift.”

She started crying, I started crying. The cashier started crying. We were quite the bunch.

You see, I was that girl many years ago. I’d been there. I knew how horrible and embarrassing it can be to have your card declined.

But now, when I got home, I realized I hadn’t even looked to see how much her groceries cost—because I had the money and it was worth it whatever the price. I scanned the receipt—$67.

That’s when it hit me, how far I’d come.

Growing Up

I grew up military poor—meaning that my parents were on a shoestring salary and still needed to feed us. We used free lunch tickets to eat at school. I saw my father struggling each payday trying to juggle the bills. There just wasn’t enough money to go around.

I was that girl many years ago. I had been there.

By the time I was 22, I had already gone through a marriage and a divorce. Times were tight on my own. I remember working 55 hours a week and only having $35 to eat and pay for gas. I’ve been in places where I had to put $10 on this card, $15 on this card—you’d think I was paying with gift cards instead of credit cards.    

Those were hard times, but that was my reality.

Our Financial Journey

When I got married to my now husband, we were carrying a lot of debt. We got paid once a month, and our finances just weren’t adding up.

I’ve always been interested in finances, and I knew I wanted to dig out of the paycheck to paycheck struggle. I’ve tried a lot of money apps. I used Mint for several years but found I was tracking my purchases after the fact and was not making progress in our debt reduction. Then I tried the Dave Ramsey envelope system. Really, you name it—I’ve used it. I even tried the old YNAB but couldn’t wrap my head around it.

When I tried YNAB again in 2016, I was immediately hooked. I could finally see a big overview picture of our finances and it didn’t matter if I used cash, check, credit card—everything tied together.  

And really, it has changed everything. We finally got out of debt. We have more savings, we even went on vacation while we were saving.

Our Family Policy

When my husband and I first got married, we made an agreement: If we ever have money, no matter who is asking—we give it away. It’s been our family policy for over 17 years.

See, my husband actually had a similar upbringing—he was also military poor, but overseas. He remembers his dad having to fish after work to put protein on the table. They often had to stretch the government cheese and canned meat to have meals for the week.

We had great dreams, but the problem was we didn’t always have money to give away. But now, we do.

Our Story Changed for the Better

I thought living without consumer debt was an unattainable dream—but we were able to use YNAB to finally dig out of the debt and no longer live paycheck to paycheck. It’s not that our income has necessarily gone up (our expenses have!), but we have more, and we’re able to give more. We have the money to set aside for Random Acts of Kindness every month.

We didn’t always have money to give away. But now, we do.

Where we live, our town is a safe haven for those evacuating from hurricanes on the east coast.  We’ve called up the hotels to say, hey, do you have someone in your hotel that’s in from the hurricane? We’d like to pay for their hotel room for a few days.

We carry cash on purpose—if we encounter someone on the side of the road who needs it, we just give it away. We have taught our son this as well—if someone at school didn’t have lunch that day, he’s able to buy their lunch.

Dana Kay YNAB

YNAB has given me the freedom to buy what I need for my family and to help others as our paths cross. I now teach others—anyone interested in figuring out their money—how to change their money story.

And in the moments where I’m able to help someone else financially (in teaching or by giving), I can’t believe how far I’ve come.

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“I Was That Girl”—The Turnaround Story of Dana Kay