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Listen to Angela’s Debt Story

Spoiler: The pink Toyota wasn’t worth it.

The day has finally arrived. Our new podcast series, Debt Stories: Real People Beating Debt & Winning Financially, is out in the wild! In these special interviews, you’ll meet YNABers who faced financial obstacles, both large and small, to get rid of their debt—so their money can start doing what they really want it to do.

The star of today’s show is Angela. Her debt story started with a new house and a shiny, new, pink Toyota. Toss in a coffee shop habit, and her family was in deep. $85,000 deep. Tune in to find out how they turned things around.


Hello everyone! This is episode 1 of a new YNAB podcast series, Debt Stories; real people beating debt and winning financially. I am super excited to get this out there. I want you to hear these stories of real people overcoming obstacles, large and small, to get rid of their debt so their money can start doing what they really want it to do — Rule 1, after all. We hear these stories every day and they are powerful, each one uniquely their own. We’re always looking for ways to keep you, the listener, motivated in your budgeting journey and we thought simply sharing these stories could be very impactful. They are! Wherever you find yourself on your own financial journey, you are not alone and there is power in that and how we can relate and learn from one another.

One key thing about hearing a story is just to pull from it. Don’t judge it. Don’t say it’s not you. Of course it’s not you. Don’t try and explain away the how or the how you couldn’t; just listen and pull learning from it, whatever that learning may be. I’m especially excited about our first episode because Angela is one of our early hires. She’s been with us since 2011, after she and her husband found YNAB; I just didn’t know the details of their story until now.

“Peter and I got married really young; we were still in university when we got married, and we actually made some pretty smart decisions when we first got married. We didn’t pay a lot for our wedding, which I though was smart. We didn’t end up with any debt from that and we also worked while we were in school, so we came out with about $15,000 in debt there.”

Okay, they’re young, they’re married and they’ve got $15,000 of student loan debt. No big deal. This is a story we have heard before.
“And then we decided, about two years later, to build a house, which we thought would be cheaper in the long run. And it wasn’t. We had looked at houses in the area and we thought we can build something much better for what they want for these houses that are already here. We ended up doing all of the carpentry work ourselves. We did all the finishing work ourselves. Peter built the cabinets. But I think it was the finishing. We had decided that this would be our forever home, which was very naïve of us at 25. But we had decided it was going to be our forever home so we put a really nice wood stove in. We put heat in the floors. We put really nice light fixtures and the master suite was amazing. But we came in about $50,000 higher than we expected on our expenses.”

They also bought a car, which of course meant a car loan.

“It was a pink Toyota Tercel. My husband will say it was salmon until the day he dies, I’m sure!”

Life just happens, doesn’t it? Maybe your story doesn’t involve a pink, or salmon, Toyota Tercel, but all of us have been surprised by a baby or a breakup or a move or a health scare and had to deal with the financial ramifications of moving through the unexpected. Often, these are the make or break moments, when you realize you need to get serious about your budget and your finances, really crack down or you’ll be in real trouble. For Angela and her husband, unfortunately they were in real trouble.

“We would spend every month and if we didn’t have money to pay off the credit card we would move it on to a line of credit and it just kept growing, growing, growing and growing… I remember he left the house…”

Peter, her husband.

“…and I said to him, I said if you get a speeding ticket, we can’t pay it because he used to drive fast, and now he’s a police officer, which is hilarious. He actually ended up getting a warning and I was like, I don’t know what we would have done if you’d got a ticket because everything was maxed out.”

And what was their tipping point?

“We got to $85,000 in consumer debt, outside of our mortgage. I’m telling you, YNAB saved our life!”

So here they are. A young family with everything ahead of them but saddled with $85,000 of consumer debt, which colored every facet of their lives.

“We had just recently moved across the country too, away from our whole support system and all of that, so I think that emotionally I was in a rough place at it was being pregnant in a new place. I felt ashamed; I didn’t want anyone to know. I think I broke down when Peter was in training to my mom and just said I don’t know what we’re going to do. We will go bankrupt.”

I always find it very interesting, and unfortunate, that shame is so often the strongest emotion in situations like this because shame usually leads to secrecy and isolation. And the truth of the matter is there are so many people in this same place: your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers, unless you work at YNAB of course. But no one is talking about it and so the shame, the secrecy, it just continues. It’s easy to stand on the outside and say oh wow, $85,000 in consumer debt, that’s a lot. But when you aren’t in control of your money and you’re just trying to stay afloat, it’s just one little decision after another. It happens, little by little, and unless you change your behavior, it just keeps inching forward, getting bigger and bigger.

“Oh how did we not notice? But it was all split up too in a way and you would justify things like, we were going to buy a vehicle anyway and everyone we knew had a car loan. So instead we just put it on the line of credit because we knew things were going to be tight. You can justify almost anything on a decision-by-decision basis but then everything stacks up and then you don’t know how to get out of it.”

While the debt is building, Angela has one plaguing thought.

“We need to sell this house.”

So many times when people think budgeting, they just set something up, maybe write it all down, get out a fancy spreadsheet, stick it in a drawer or whatever and then that’s the end of the budget.

“I had always thought we needed to do something budget-related, so I would write down at the beginning of the month, this is what we’re going to spend…this is our income; this is what we’re going to spend.”

The budget is never this active, living, engaging thing. It’s just completely wrong.

“But I never went back and actually looked at what I wrote down or what we had actually spent in relation to what I wrote down. So I thought, yeah, we do budgets.”

The budget is only really working when you set the budget and then, of course, you track your plan against your budget. How are you doing against the actual plan? When that’s the case, then, finally, you are really budgeting.

“I saw this reference to YNAB — this was the tipping point — so I downloaded the software, YNAB 3 at the time.”

Angela does her homework and calls up Peter, her husband.

“I called him up, I said, hey, we’re going to do this budget thing; I think it’s going to work. I don’t know why I thought it was going to work at the time, but I told him, we have some money on our credit card, let’s put it on the line of credit for the last time and we’re not going to do that again. This’ll be the starting amount of debt that we have. And that was the last time that we did it. It was amazing. We did that transfer, so we started out with, kind of, a clean slate. For some reason, I remember we had $142 in our checking account. We budgeted that $142.”

I love hearing about the moment; the moment you really decide. You have nowhere else to go. You have to commit. A lot of people can pinpoint the moment that things change, the moment they decided to face it wholeheartedly, to give it everything they’ve got. And the crazy thing is that deciding is the hardest part.

“I don’t feel like we’ve made any drastic changes, other than eating out, which I think everyone who starts to budget decreases how often they eat out. I think the first month we spent $400 eating out, and after that it’s been $100 or less pretty much every month.”
The cut down their eating out by about $300 a month, and also…

“One thing was…”

You’ll notice here, and you can hear it in Angela’s voice that she plays this decision off. She just plays it off as if it’s just not really that important but it is extremely important…

“…and this is going to sound really minor, but Peter used to always get a coffee out every shift that he worked. When we set up our budget, I said, okay, well those are going to come from your fun money category at this point. And he immediately started coming home because he only worked two blocks away from our house. It was really little things like that. Instead of just running through the drive-thru and getting $4 for two coffees or whatever, we would really watch that kind of stuff. I know people say that either it doesn’t work or it does work; it did work for us because we weren’t paying attention before. Just that whole, oh my goodness, if I don’t spend that $4 here, I can buy an extra whatever at the grocery store or I can put it against the debt.”

I love this clip. This explains how just paying attention can make a difference. It’s such an important point. I don’t want anyone to miss the power of awareness. Just being aware of where your money is going, and where you want it to be going is a huge, huge powerful shift.

“I feel like even just not having credit card debt that wasn’t accounted for at the end of the first month was amazing because we had the money to pay it and we knew exactly…we knew how much the bill was going to be for one. We didn’t have to worry about it coming in the mail and not knowing how much we owed. And we knew that the money was sitting in our checking account to pay it off. That was huge. Then I think the second moment was…the first debt that we paid off was our student loans actually, the $15,000 that we had from our undergrad. So when we paid that off, that was a big deal. It was in two separate loans, so when we paid the second one off, I feel like that was a turning point. Okay, we can do this.”

How much debt did you guys end up paying off?

“We paid it all off!”

They paid off all their debt. They’ve learned from their past. They’re never going to take on any debt again.

“We do have a car loan, a new one. It’s, kind of, a marriage concession to have a car loan at this point.”

Okay, they do have a car loan.

“I guess I feel like if everything blew up and we both lost our jobs and we couldn’t do it, we could sell the car, pay off the debt, buy a new car with the cash that we have on hand; it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

They paid down every drop of their credit card debt and they are entirely in control of their money and in so doing, they’re in control of their future.

“It’s not the emergency that it was before. Before, it was we literally have no money. Now it’s, we have to shift these around and I really don’t want to but we can.”

For so many years where they were stressed and anxious, uncomfortable, Angela and Peter were struggling to budget because it felt restrictive and limiting — just another opportunity to feel like a failure and never get to have any fun. Ironically, it was freedom that they experienced once they fully committed.

“That’s one thing I like about YNAB is that there’s not that judgment of, well you made the decision to do it this way; that’s wrong. It’s just okay well this is what works for your family. It may not be the ideal from a numbers perspective but from maybe a relationship perspective, it’s the ideal.”

It’s exhausting being the one that says no.

“Just not having that feeling of me having to say we can’t do this or we really shouldn’t do this or just, yeah…”

I’ve dealt with that forever. I’m the spender and I’m the one that also says no, so it’s, kind of, a weird combination.

So what’s next for Angela and her family? Whatever they decide is the biggest priority.

“We would like to take the kids to Florida for a Disney trip. I did the same when we were about that same age and so I’d like to take them.”

If you’re ever so lucky, you may write into YNAB and Angela will be the wise sage, the source or all wisdom around how you should handle your debt, how you should do all of your budgeting. She knows it all. I was particularly interested to hear from her how her own experience with debt, and frankly beating it into the ground, has helped her as she’s offered support to YNABers all along the years.

“I share it with some users sometimes who feel really discouraged, and you can tell that they feel discouraged. It’s nice to share that I’ve been there, I get it; I know exactly how you feel. But you can get out of it.”

If you are still drowning in debt, always stressed about your finances and your future, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another way, and it doesn’t involved doubling your salary or an inheritance or winning the lottery. It does require a commitment, opening yourself up to a different way of approaching your money. But take it from Angela and Peter, freedom and choices are abundant on the other side.

That’s a wrap for our first episode of debt stories. I’ll catch you all with our next story.

If you liked this episode and want to hear more like it, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes or Stitcher, those reviews really help us out. Or send an email to Debt Stories at youneedabudget.com. Also, share this episode with a friend. We love you for it.

Angela's family
Angela and her family.
The pink Toyota!
The pink Toyota
Their first home.
Their first home … yeah, that one.

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Do You Have a Debt Story?

Wanna know what’s better than an amazing debt makeover story? Several debt makeover stories! If you’re a YNABer and you’d be willing to let Jesse interview you for a future episode, write to us at debtstories@ynab.com. Give us a short paragraph or a few bullets about your financial hurdles, and how you overcame them.

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Listen to Angela’s Debt Story