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What if Your Debt Paydown Could Become Beautiful?

From Podcast #189: Map Your Progress, Podcast #189 (listen on Spotify or SoundCloud) the one in which Jesse speaks to Amy Jones, founder of Map Your Progress, a new way to visualize your way to accomplishing your goals.

What if your debt-free journey resulted in a beautiful piece of art? What if you decided, “I want to get out of debt,” and at the end you were awarded a beautiful piece of art that you could frame and hang in your house with pride?

And what if you had created that art—well, most of it? And what if your friends came over and asked you where you got that beautiful piece of art and then you could tell them your story of how you got out of debt and perhaps inspire them to improve their own lives?

Well, it turns out this is a thing and I bring you Map Your Progress.

Today I’ll be interviewing Amy Jones, who started Map Your Progress, and unbeknownst to me, a whole bunch of YNABers have been using it.

It’s a cool, fresh, very fun, very exciting idea. And I should stop talking and just let you hear about it.

JM: Alright. I’m here with Amy Jones, who started the website Welcome, Amy.

AJ: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

JM: So, I’m not going to ask you how you found YNAB. That’s normally what we talk about on the podcast, but we won’t talk about YNAB, really. Well, maybe a little bit. But I want to talk a lot about what you’re doing with your website.

AJ: Sure, I’d be happy to. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out the catchy, concise way to say this. But essentially, Map Your Progress is a site that I created around drawings that represent goals. And those drawings are specifically made up of little swirls—swirl shapes—and each of those swirls represents a small action toward accomplishing whatever that goal is. So, lots of folks who buy the maps have financial goals and are usually around paying off debt or saving.

JM: So you’re seeing a lot of traction with people that are doing this for their finances. And on the site, you have options here which I found super-entertaining, because they’re these swirls, right. So you can choose a big… I mean, are these poster-size? Are they fairly large that people are buying?

AJ: They can be. It’s a variety of sizes, and that varies a little bit depending on the design and kind of the dimension… overall shape of it, rather. But you can get the smallest size, which would be a 10 inch x 10 inch, to the largest one, which is 44 x 44.

JM: Oh, so big. Yeah, that would be big.

AJ: That’s pretty large. Yeah.

JM: Okay. So you, stick that on the fridge; you’ve got to think about what size would be appropriate for the fridge.

AJ: Yes, exactly. And this is something that… It’s actually more important than it might sound in terms of where your map is placed. Because the whole idea is that in changing the way that I, you know, approach my goals, and very specifically my credit card debt, I needed it to be somewhere conspicuous that I would see it all the time. So I’ll tell my story real quickly,…

About a year and a half ago, I had a very honest talk with my CPA. It was, you know, just after taxes and he’s like, “And you HAVE to deal with your credit card debt,” like, “We CAN’T keep pushing this off.” And I was in full-on denial and had been for years about it, where I’d just been racking up this very sizable mountain of credit card debt. And I was overwhelmed by it. I had all of these, like, psychological blocks about it, and had just been paying the minimums. And so I knew he was right; I knew I needed to deal with it. And I needed a completely different approach than my just… chronic denial.

So, I decided… kind of inspiration of something I’d seen my mom do when I was younger, where she would, you know, have these drawings that would represent her goals and coloring them in as she made progress. I decided to just grab a Sharpie, grab this piece of canvas I had lying around, and I started drawing these swirl shapes. I mean, the swirl shape is really… that’s just a thing because that’s a doodling pattern that I’d done for years. Right? So I was like, alright, each of these swirls is going to represent $100 on my credit card debt, and I’m going to create this piece of artwork that’s something beautiful, that’s not something secretive and shame-based—which is a big part of my approach—and I’m going to make this beautiful piece of art and it’s just going to sit in my living room.

I’m going to see it all the time; I’m going to relate to it as something beautiful that I am creating. And as I’m making these payments, then I’ll be able to color the swirls in and watch this thing sort of bloom, you know.

JM: I like that.

AJ: Yeah. I mean, I had… This was over 25 grand worth of credit card debt, you know. That was terrifying to me.

JM: That is a mountain.

AJ: Yeah.

JM: And I can see why you would have protected yourself from it mentally, you know, for a while, as long as you could. Because that would be intimidating.

AJ: It was. It was. And I was ashamed of it too. Like, you know, it’s not like I’m going to cocktail parties and being like, “Hey guys! I’ve got this debt!”

JM: You know, the great irony—this is a total tangent, but the great irony of the shame that we feel around debt is that everyone else, well, not everyone, but 80%, are feeling the same way. But we can’t link arms together and commiserate. You know?

AJ: Oh yeah.

JM: And shame is definitely a part of it, absolutely.

AJ: Yes. No, I completely agree. And so, you know, what was cool is that… you know, very shortly after I did the original map of my credit card debt, I had this girl that I hired to help me out—she’s 17 years old, total sweetheart—she came over the next day and she looked at it and she was like, “Hey, what’s that?” And I told her. And the look on her face… She was like, “Wow. That’s really cool.” And for me, that was like all the validation that I needed; that a 17 year-old girl was like, “Yeah, awesome.”

JM: Seriously. Hashtag something something, you know.

AJ: Exactly. So, I was so encouraged by that, and I went, “Well, she thinks it’s cool and I’m just gonna take a picture of this and put it up on Facebook.” Which I did and then, my background is marketing and social and so I could tell I had really struck a nerve with people. And I did not touch it with that expectation, but amongst my friends and so forth, like people started to light up about it and all these comments, and then very quickly it was like, “Oh, where can I get one of these? You should sell these.” You know, “You could sell these and then this will help pay off your credit card debt.”

And I was like, “Oh, guys. That’s… Oh, thank you. That’s cute. Oh you!” But I wasn’t thinking, “Oh yeah, let’s totally build a business,” you know. So, it took some months for me to start to take that a little bit more seriously and figure out what it would take for me to do that. Because I’ve built this business for myself with MY goals in mind, which is to live a beautiful life and enjoy every day. You know, enjoy the mundane; enjoy the Tuesdays, as I like to say it. So, it took about a year for me to figure out how to set that up so that it would be sustainable and take me in a direction I wanted to go.

The business is just two months old now. And when I wrote a blog post recounting kind of how I’d gotten to this now, it was that same kind of thing where it felt like it touched a nerve when I read that blog post and then shared it, and then it kind of started to get a little viral and hop over to Australia and, you know, kind of these wild things.

Frankly, the fact that we’re talking now, that I had heard that some of your customers had found out about it and…

JM: Oh yeah. I totally found out about it from… I think Lindsay, our marketer, she saw someone or a couple of YNABers with it, and she was like, “Oh, what’s this?” And then we find out we have a mutual friend, Mark, which is hilarious, because that’s just so random, you know. But yeah, it started to bubble up. And I just love it. I mean, you’re intentional with these designs.

There are two things I really like. One is anyone can take what you’re saying and get a roll with it. They don’t need to buy a map from you, you know.

AJ: Oh yeah.

JM: They can just be like, “Well, I’ll do it. I’ll grab a Sharpie and do it.” I mean, yours are like… I could make mine pretty, you know, but you could accomplish it, put it in a big place and track and be motivated by it. I like the art of yours. It’s cool, like, you have a pregnant belly one that I like, where it’s 40 swirls, which is not on accident that there are 40 swirls, I’m sure. So… And the wedding dress, 100 swirls — I haven’t figured out if that was intentional or not.

AJ: The idea behind the wedding dress is that you could use it if you wanted to save for your wedding. Because I used to be a wedding coordinator, and just talking about budgets and weddings, it gets intense. So you could use it that way. Or you can use it, like, as a countdown or… you know. What I love about the maps is you can use them any way you want to. And people will kind of shyly approach me and say, “Well, can I use it for this?” Yeah! Go for it! Cast your ship! Go! Map however you want. Yeah. So, some of them, to your point, have more specific intentions behind them—like the bump for pregnancy and the dress for a wedding.

But I have a lot of folks who are mapping their weight loss, so they’re using the dress for that. You can just do whatever you want! As long as it’s in service of you and you’re enjoying it, I bless. You know, go for it.

JM: I’m motivated by the idea that you took the credit card debt that was this big negative for you, and you said, “I’m going to make something beautiful out of it.” And then the literal beauty is the artwork that you create as you go. But then, taking it kind of one step further, like the other thing that was beautiful that came out of it may be exactly what you’re doing now: you know, where the credit card debt is something you certainly want to be rid of and for obvious reasons, but then there’s more blossoming than just, “Hey, I don’t have credit card debt anymore.” Now this business is potentially blossoming and you’re spreading that around.

I think there’s a lot to what you said where you’re like, “It can blossom into something beautiful.” There’s a lot more to that than just that immediate goal sometimes.

AJ: Absolutely. I would not have expected. I mean, I can very clearly remember that night when I was drawing how, I was feeling; I remember all the details of that night. And I had no idea that it was the beginning of this whole other adventure and all of the changes that have happened in my life since.

And you know, when I talk about living a beautiful life, for me, that is being able to serve and to use my life experience, specifically to use my pain and shame, in service of something else, and to kind of take that and transform that into wisdom and an experience that I can then share with other people to help them empower themselves in their own lives.

And when I have someone reaching out to me and saying that they’ve been inspired by my story with my debt, and that they’re going to go tackle this; that they’re relating to whatever this big mountain is in their life in a different way because they saw that I was able to do it. And they’re excited about coloring… I mean, it’s just… it is SO lovely, it makes me SO happy.

JM: I love that you’re teaching people how to color. Like, I’m a one-trick pony and I teach people how to think about their money and then we sell them the tool. But they don’t HAVE to use the tool to think the way we want them to think. Right? And you are doing the same, taking an approach that I love, which is you just educate people and they’ll support a business. It’s super—it can be totally profitable and it’s like a beautiful blend of capitalism, education, and a grander motive beyond just starting up a business to make ends meet.

And so the fact that you’re teaching them to color, it’s awesome. Like, you’re kind of saying, “Here’s what you need to do, and I’ll teach you EVERYTHING you need to know. I have these beautiful maps if you want to buy them, but everything you need to know is right here.” I love that approach. Tactically, I would tell you to run that way, for sure. But you already are. But also from a personal standpoint, it resonates with me so well, when businesses approach kind of a “teaching first” mentality. I think you’ll see a lot of traction that way.

AJ: Thank you. That’s my hope. What’s really fun about the maps is that yes, it’s about art, it’s about coloring, it’s about looking at things in a different way. But really, it’s just the top layer, because—I think you know this well in terms of what you do in working with people and their money—is that anything involving humans is emotional. And there’s so much depth there.

It is often the reason that—reasons, there are many reasons—why people have not accomplished goals that are meaningful to them. And, you know, using a map is just that tool and a means of connection. But there’s all kinds of stuff that we need to sort of, you know, shine the light on and meet with a lot of compassion and love and acceptance, in terms of why we have amassed this debt or why we’re not moving forward here or why we’re carrying all this extra weight.

Whatever those things are, there’s a lot of human in there and a lot of reasons. Right? And the logics and the belief systems that we carry that enable us to be where we are. So, that’s the other part, that my hope and my vision for how this may unfold as mappers get together is that I’d like to be able to kind of serve them and their specific needs around whatever that is—financial goals, fitness goals, new habits—and be able to support them in what they need to actually take those small actions and be able to color and complete their artwork.

But I think there’s a real opportunity to build community there and to leverage the Internet for that. Because, you know, it’s a blessing when we have people in our life that are really supportive of what we’re trying to do. I mean, frankly, the night that I had drawn my thing and was all excited about it, my partner at the time was not supportive, she didn’t get it at all, you know. And the business idea, people are responding to it with things like, “Doesn’t sound like a money-maker to me,” and I was like, “WOW! Okay!” You know, that was a telling in and of itself that I needed to make some changes there.

Not everybody has people around them immediately that are super-stoked and encouraging, “Oh! Awesome! You’re going to pay off your debt? Let’s do it!” So sometimes I think there’s a great opportunity to use the Internet to connect to people that will support you and cheer you along, which you may or may not have in your day-to-day life.

JM: Yeah, I think the odds of you not having that are fairly high if you find yourself in a situation that you want to be rid of. So, you know, if you’re saddled with credit card debt, it may very well be that you’re in an environment where that’s the norm and that’s kind of,.. I don’t like to say that people are completely victims of their circumstances, but to some degree, you know, what you learn and all of that disbelief system that you inherit, pick up, however that comes to unfold, a lot of times you do have to look elsewhere to kind of yank yourself out of those situations.

And that is one of the great empowering things of being so much more connected. You can find a group—you can find your people. If I decide I want to be a woodworking enthusiast of small birds, you know, carving small birds, I can find that group. It’s great. And I think people underestimate the power of that community. Maybe it’s the American frontiersman work ethic that we’ve all inherited in our genes, where we want to kind of go it alone and all that. But I think there’s a lot of power in finding that community. I like what you’re saying about facilitating that as much as you can.

AJ: Yeah. I mean, for me that’s the opportunity, and when I think about growing this business and how, to your point earlier, nobody needs to buy a map from me to do this. And frankly, if I was me listening to me right now, I’d be like, “Oh, awesome idea! I’m going to go draw my own.” Because that’s the kind of person that I am. You know, I would never buy somebody else’s art, but that’s just me and my particular personality.

There’s plenty of folks who are like, “Yeah, I don’t want to draw that.” I mean that was one of my things where people were like, “Oh, you should make a business,” and I’m like, “What?! Pick up a Sharpie! Just make some circles, done!” And they’re like, “No, no, no, no. Not everybody wants to do that.” So, my job is to serve the people that don’t want to draw their own.

JM: Yeah. You know, I had the same view when I originally started YNAB, and it was originally a spreadsheet. And I thought, “Maybe I could sell it.” And I asked people and they were like, “You could… Yeah, that looks pretty good.” But I just kept thinking, “Well, people could just make their own.” You know, “Why would they buy it?” But then, lo and behold, people were like, “Hey, thanks for saving me 35 hours of work. It’s worth it.”

So, as a buddy business owner, I mean, we all price our things, we value all of our things far lower than we should. I don’t know why that is the case, but it’s the rare entrepreneur that values appropriately what they’re working on. So, you’ve got to kind of fight that tendency.

AJ: Oh yeah, yeah. No, that absolutely resonates. And I guess what I’ve thought of, in terms of Map Your Progress, is where I feel like my opportunity is to add value, is to offer the experiences I’ve had and sharing them as honestly as I can as I’m going through them. And then also, be able to help connect people and share ideas, and provide encouragement through things that I post on social media or a new email trial that I’m putting together called Stay Inspired.

And so to be able to bring people together and kind of show those idea. I mean, that’s very much part of how I like to live anyhow. But if I experience something that’s awesome, I just want you to have that experience too, so I’m going to tell you all about it. Right? Eventually my hope is that that Map Your Progress becomes a community and a place where, like-minded people can cheer each other on and support each other in accomplishing these things that they may not think that they can do, but they absolutely can if they just break it down into small bites or small swirls.

JM: Small swirls.

AJ: Exactly.

JM: I love it. Well, this is awesome. So, A lot of YNABers are already using it. But those that are hearing this now for the first time, check it out and learn… I’m one of the people that would buy the art, very much so, and I love that you make it pretty and then that you can display it. There’s a story, potentially a very, very involved, very human story attached to a lot of this artwork once it’s complete.

So the idea of my kids having one that they complete and having that in their room where they remember, like, “Oh yeah, I reached that goal,” that kind of stuff, that gets me excited. I just think it’s cool, very cool.

AJ: Oh, thank you.

JM: Any parting words for the YNAB community besides just to check out what you’re doing and see what resonates for them?

AJ: Yeah. I mean, I’d love to hear from them! Map Your Progress is a new business for me; I’m two months in. So, I’m trying to be able to share everything that I’m learning and then also figure out how I can best serve. So, any questions, concerns, hesitations, skepticism, I welcome it all. I’d love the opportunity to be able to chat with people or shoot me an email, pop up on social. I’d love to see comments and answer them, and just the conversation.

JM: Just keeping that going. Okay, well, that’s what we’ll do and let everyone know that they can engage and see what’s going on. But this is awesome. I hope it just takes off for you, and that it becomes something a lot bigger than paying off credit card debt. I think that is going to be a fun thing to watch unfold.

AJ: Absolutely. Yeah, there’s so many ways it can go. And I’m just really excited and grateful. I wake up each day and I’m pretty pumped about it, you know. It’s a huge blessing. So, just to be able to get to connect with other people all over the world who are up to similar things is super-inspiring for me.

JM: Yeah, very cool. Well, Amy, thanks so much for sharing with me. I hope… I hope we can give you a little more traction from YNABers specifically. Okay, that’s a wrap!

Until next time, follow YNAB’s four rules and you will win financially. You’ve never budgeted like this. For more about how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money, faster—subscribe to the You Need A Budget podcast today!

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What if Your Debt Paydown Could Become Beautiful?