My Money Story: Heather, – 20k Emergency Fund Saved!

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Happy Monday folks! I'm so excited to introduce this new series - My Money Story! In this series, I will feature some amazing women who have turned their finances around or are in the process of doing so by paying down debt and building real wealth. The intent of this series is to inspire those of you dealing with difficult financial situations and to let you know there are other, just like you, who are going through similar financial situations and are in the process of conquering or have successfully conquered their money situations!

In the meantime, meet our first series feature. Heather made several money mistakes along the way but then over time decided it was time to take control of her finances. She has a fully funded emergency account, a paid off a car and is on her way to paying off her mortgage in 10 instead of 30 years! Enjoy her story and advice!

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My money story is one of many lessons and a lot of things learned the hard way. My parents moved across the country when I graduated high school and I chose to stay in Minnesota alone.

I was completely on my own right after I turned 18, with no family within a 1,200-mile radius. The ability to be self-sufficient was imperative unless I wanted to move across the country to move back in with my parents.

Growing up my dad was very disciplined about money and encouraged me to work during high school, put half my earnings into savings, and pay for many things on my own. I also earned some money at military basic training, so, fortunately, I started out on my own with some savings.

The problem was that I liked to shop. A lot. Oh and I bought a brand new car as my first car and promptly crashed it three times, three months in a row during my first 6 months out on my own. Goodbye savings.

"The problem was that I liked to shop."

Shortly after the car accidents, I was deployed to Iraq with the military where for 2 years I made good money, tax-free for most of the duration, and had very minimal expenses. Around the same time, I received a decent-sized trust fund from a car accident I’d been in as a kid.

You’d think I’d have come home in great financial shape, wouldn’t you? Not really. Like I said, I liked shopping and I had into a ton of unnecessary stuff that I ordered online shipped to me in the desert. I came home and continued my shopping sprees, also opening up several store credit cards…and bought another new car.

"I had a ton of unnecessary stuff that I ordered online."

I did pay both cars off and paid the store credit cards off in full every month, but I had no emergency savings, no retirement fund, and no credit card for emergencies. I was in the military for 7 years before I started to put money into their version of a 401k, and even then it was only a few percent.

I went back on active duty with the military where I made a good income, but I continued to spend. The pattern I seemed to follow was finding a balance between not going into debt, yet living paycheck to paycheck with no savings. I’m really lucky I didn’t get myself into a bind. I had a close call in 2011 when there was the talk of a government shutdown.

I was working for the military and they even paid us half of our paycheck a week early and cancelled our military training in preparation for the shutdown. Fortunately, the shutdown was averted at the last minute, but if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have made it more than a few weeks. I had no emergency savings, no way to pay my rent without my next paycheck.

"The pattern I seemed to follow was finding a balance between not going into debt, yet living paycheck to paycheck with no savings."

The government shutdown scared me, but it wasn’t enough to provoke a serious change to my spending habits. It was around this time that I start getting interested in freebies and deals. I figured if I was going to shop, why not get things for free or at a discounted price?

I never had a clear “enough is enough” moment, but once I spent more time in the personal finance blog community, my thoughts about money started changing. I still didn’t make the best choices (like the time I changed careers and bought a house and a car all within the same month) but I was getting a lot more motivated to get my finances together.

Fortunately, the military paid for college, but because of the way the reimbursement worked I still had to take out student loans. I became motivated to pay them off early, even before I received my money from the military.

I became very driven and focused on goals. First, the student loans, simultaneously contributing to retirement, then emergency savings, then paying off my car, and now paying off my mortgage. I never got myself into too much debt, but I once calculated that with the 3 cars I paid off, I spent just under $50,000.

The military took care of my student loans and I luckily never found myself in credit card debt. I’ve been aggressively paying down my mortgage and am on track to pay it off in 10 years instead of 30.

"I became very driven and focused on goals. I’ve been aggressively paying down my mortgage and am on track to pay it off in 10 years instead of 30."

I use progress bars to keep myself motivated. I get so excited when I get to update them! For the longest time, I had a picture of my car on my fridge and in my wallet and it said, “How much do you own?” That helped me curb my spending on those days where I just wanted to spend money!

My personal finance journey became a minimalism journey, so these days I rarely have days where I want to spend. My entire mindset about money and what I want to do with my time and life has significantly changed over the past few years.

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These changes are better late than never, but I wish I could tell my 21-year-old self that I didn’t need to do so much shopping! That all I really wanted were the same things I wanted when I was a kid: books. That I didn’t need to buy stuff just because I thought it’d make me “cool” or like everyone else. Also, I’d have started saving for retirement the day I joined the military!

Right now my goal is to aggressively pay off my mortgage and keep putting enough into savings that I never have to take out another loan. Like I said, I never really found myself in much debt, but I’ve learned that I just don’t like the feeling of being in debt.

I want my money to be mine. Now that I’m almost 30, the idea of getting into a bind and having to move home is 100% unappealing. I lost my job unexpectedly last summer and was so grateful that I’d gotten my finances in order. It motivated me even more to reach my goal of financial freedom. Because that’s truly what it is: freedom.

"I’ve learned that I just don’t like the feeling of being in debt. I want my money to be mine."

Thank you so much for sharing your story Heather!

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