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If Managing Money Seems Hard, You’re in Good Company

I’m Getting my Ph.D. in Math, and I Struggled!

Michole (Phonetically: my-coal) is a grad student at the University of Michigan getting her Ph. D. in Mathematics. This smart cookie shares honestly about how money management was hard to learn, even for someone who is really really good with numbers! Over the last few months, she’s been shamelessly obsessed with YNAB and has cleared thousands in credit card debt while developing healthier financial habits.

I Never Learned How to Manage Money

I grew up in a low-income household in Atlanta, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to learn about personal finance. Sure, I learned how to use a credit card, but that wasn’t very helpful.

When college rolled around, I got a full scholarship and pursued a degree in Applied Mathematics. You’d think for someone who was good with numbers that money management would come second nature. Well let me tell you, that was not the case—I didn’t know how to use money responsibly at all.

With my scholarship, I had a stipend to live on and I got a credit card. An expense would come up and I would just swipe, swipe, swipe. When I started needing real things in life, like a car repair, the only option was my card—because where else would I get the money for this?

Unsurprisingly, I ended up in a lot of credit card debt.

A Chance to Start Over

When undergrad ended, I got a full-ride to attend grad school at University of Michigan. I was getting a doctorate in Mathematics Education while also doing a dual-degree masters in Applied Mathematics. I didn’t have a single student loan, yet I had a pile of credit card debt and no one knew.

Acceptance at University of Michigan meant I was moving to a new state, starting a new program, and I saw it as my chance to start over. I had five years—in five years I could have all that credit card debt paid off. I could have a few years of inconvenience, and then the life I wanted. Or, I could go on lots of trips with friends now, stay in my pile of debt, and be miserable about it.

So, I hunkered down. I’d pay $500 to $600 a month on the credit card debt. But, it wouldn’t even make a dent. I kept getting overdrafts. It was so frustrating.

How I Discovered YNAB

I had tried having a budget before, but the budgeting apps were so complicated I couldn’t do it. I tried like 10 times in a year.

My sister, on the other hand, has her financial life all figured out. She’s always been a role model for me, and she and her husband use YNAB regularly. But I was hesitant to take her help. I didn’t want her to judge me if she saw how bad it was—all my credit card debt, so I put it off for awhile.  

Then over the summer, I was visiting my sister and she just kept preaching the YNAB sermon. I had a pen and a paper and said ok, show me how to use YNAB. So, she walked me through it. I told her a little bit about my debt, but I still couldn’t tell her the full picture. It was embarrassing, and I didn’t want her to worry about me.

But, I decided to start using it. After the visit to my sister’s house, I started using YNAB consistently—multiple times per week.

I Finally Stopped Overdrafting

It was a huge mental shift to look at the budget instead of my actual account before I spent money. I think back to last year, when I kept getting overdrafts. I was pushing forward but it was so hard. Now, I check my budget instead of my account balance before spending money and I’ve stopped overdrafting.

I’ve been paying my debt down aggressively. If I get extra money, I take the entire amount and put at least 80% or more toward the debt. Some months I’m throwing $2K-$3K at the credit card debt. The money you make does correlate in how fast you can pay off your debt. I cut down my living expenses and put the extra money toward the debt. I use the snowball method, where you pay off the lowest debt first. It is so motivating to keep me going.

I Feel More In Control of My Money Than Ever Before

It’s been almost nine months since that point and I’ve saved more than I thought possible! Since July, I’ve paid off $8,000. As I’ve gotten to a better financial place, I have told my sister more of the full story, now that I don’t feel so bad about it.

I tell all my colleagues about YNAB and the student discount (you get a year free if you’re a student!). I tell them budgeting is not going to be easy in the beginning (And that’s coming from a mathematician!). It’s really a catch-22 when you start: you don’t want to look at your money because it stresses you out, but the more you look at it, the less stressed you get.

I’m still in the middle of debt payoff but I feel more at peace now than I ever have before. It’s so liberating to have control over your money and not let your money control you.

If you’re struggling to budget, check out our free, live workshops. We’re also eternally grateful for the budgeting angels (like Michole’s sister, and now Michole!) who help light the way toward total financial control for those around them. You guys rock!

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If Managing Money Seems Hard, You’re in Good Company