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Client Spotlight: Cheryl

Cheryl’s story will not merely inspire you. It will take away every excuse you’ve got.

Cheryl is a single lady in her early 60s. She works a full time job at a major financial institution, and also a part time job two days a week to supplement her income. She owns her own home, a fairly modest one, and it’s getting close to being paid off. She also has a renter living with her, which helps a bit more yet.

Cheryl’s total annual income is in the mid $50,000 range....a little above the national median for a single person. Her total net monthly income varies from about $3,000 to $4,500, depending on her work schedule.

Cheryl came to me last summer, concerned about her debt level and her ability to retire someday. At that time she had about $33,000 in consumer debt with 15 different creditors, all of it unsecured, mostly on credit cards.

Now, a year later, she has paid off $13,000 of that $33,000, and owes only $20,000 on 6 different debts, and her pay-off pace is only accelerating. So much so, in fact, that I predict that Cheryl will be debt free, except for her home, in another 10 to 12 months, having paid off $33,000 in debt in a period of less than 2 years, on an income of less than $60,000/year.

Read that last sentence again.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Cheryl will be debt free soon.
Cheryl and her kitty

So what were the steps I’ve taught her to take?

First of all, and most importantly, I got her to do a detailed monthly budget.

The budget is the foundation for all financial decisions, and is not only standard, but required, for all of my clients, at any income level. Cheryl quickly became a real expert at it too. No detail was missed by her scrutiny. I almost never had to remind her to correct her budget if she overspent on a category, or to make sure that it returned to “zero-based”, with every dollar given an assignment, after any change.

Next we reorganized and greatly simplified her bank accounts. She had no less than 7 different checking and savings accounts spread across 3 different banks, which caused confusion, necessitated multiple monthly transfers to make sure bills were paid on time, and left money lying “fallow” in those accounts to maintain minimum balances.

Now she has just what she needs, where she needs it: a checking account where all income is deposited and all bills are paid out of, an emergency fund, and a sinking fund. Any aspects of “control” that those separate accounts provided are now provided by the act of budgeting itself.

Following the baby steps in order, Cheryl’s baby step 1 emergency fund has $1,000 in it. And I don’t believe she has needed to tap into it at all in the last year, even during a period of reduced income last fall.

Cheryl’s sinking fund has about $2,800 in it, all of which is specifically allocated to house repairs, car repairs, new tires, veterinarian bills, and Christmas. There will be no surprise bills in those categories that she won’t have the money to pay.

She ditched all of her credit cards, very early on, as soon as her budget proved to her that she really didn’t need them to get by month to month.

No credit cards
No more credit cards!

That’s the magic of a budget.

It makes you feel like you actually got a raise. No more fear of whether there is enough to pay all the bills. It’s all right there in black and white.

Cheryl then called up several of her creditors and utility companies to get them to change her billing due dates to later in the month, which evened out the amount of money that had to go out of her account between the first half and second half of the month (she is paid twice a month....once at the end of a month and again in the middle of the month). This made her budget easier to manage because the timing of her paychecks vs her bill due dates became much less of an issue.

Cheryl has benefits through her job which include an HSA, and two kinds of FSA accounts, to let her pay medical bills with pretax dollars. She had not been using those efficiently. So she researched what was available in each account, submitted for reimbursements on some old bills that were eligible to be paid with those funds, and streamlined her use of those accounts for maximum efficiency in the future.

Cheryl had two term life insurance policies and a whole life policy. The whole life policy was unnecessary, and a bad deal financially, so she cancelled that and collected the accrued cash value of that. That allowed her to knock out 3 of her debts in one fell swoop.

Then she researched some old debts that had showed up on her credit report, and got those cleared up.

Throughout our coaching we also dealt with related behaviors, like boundary issues with a friend who is constantly in financial trouble and begs Cheryl to give her money, as well as someone else that she discovered was literally stealing cash from her.

When we first started out, I told Cheryl that I believed she could pay off $33,000 in debt by November of 2022. And that timeline would have held almost exactly true if Cheryl had not encountered some severe health issues and had to go on disability for several months at reduced income. So, correcting for the slowdown from those months, she is right on track, and perhaps a bit ahead of where I thought she’d be.

Did Cheryl have advantages that other people don’t have, to be able to pay off her debt so quickly? Well....she does live in a relatively low cost-of-living area, but her income is certainly on the modest side as well.

I think it’s eye-opening to look at the ratio of the amount paid on debt each month, compared to her total monthly income.

Here’s how much Cheryl paid on debt, relative to her monthly income, over the last year:

Cheryl works her butt off, or as she puts it, she now “works hard AND smart”. She lives, most months, on just $2,000 to $2,200 per month, so that she can pay so much on debt and get out of debt as fast as possible.

Then she can build up her emergency fund to 6 months worth of expenses just as quickly, and then start socking away money into retirement savings at that same rate, so that she can retire with dignity. She can make up for a lot of lost time with that kind of discipline.

You may not be able to live on $2,000/month. I get it. But most people don’t really get the meaning of the word sacrifice, either. They think premium cable channels, the latest cell phone, fancy restaurants, and an Amazon addiction are all necessities of life. They sacrifice their future for the sake of their current temporary luxuries.

But not Cheryl. Cheryl gets it. She’s focused, disciplined, and intent on making a much better future for herself.

Be like Cheryl.

To find out how to be like Cheryl in your own financial life, schedule a complimentary consultation with me using this link:

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