Trying to think up some New Year’s resolutions you can actually hit in 2017? These real stories of financial triumph may get the inspirational juices flowing. From knocking out debt to saving enough to travel the world, these four have one thing in common: Each achieved a major money goal this year.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to see the world—my childhood dream was to become a National Geographic photographer. As an adult, however, I settled into a rewarding sales career that kept me trapped in an office all day.
But everything changed in the spring of 2015. Finalizing my divorce lit a fire under me to really start living and to financially prioritize my passion for travel.
I kept my job as a sales rep for a Philadelphia software company, where I earned a comfortable, but highly variable commission-based income, and focused on curbing expenses like eating out and drinking with friends. I even downgraded my car, opting for an old model I bought in cash. Then I got serious about my credit, paying off $7,000 of debt and bumping up my FICO score from 585 to over 700. I also saved up $18,000 in my travel fund that I was hoping would last me about a year.
Then six months ago—14 months after I started preparing—I quit my job and left for a cross-country road trip, before hopping from Cyprus to Greece to Bulgaria and beyond. I’m currently in Vienna with plans to explore Jordan and Southeast Asia in the coming year.
The best part is that I’ve landed a great job as a location-independent social media consultant—adding some serious breathing room to my budget—which means I’m not blowing through my travel fund, which sits at about $12,000, all that quickly. My new job affords me more comfortable travel accommodations and helps me kick into my savings account and retirement fund.
I’m loving this nomadic lifestyle so much that I can’t imagine settling back into a traditional 9-to-5. Turning this dream into a reality was easily my biggest, and most rewarding, financial accomplishment of 2016.”
“Two years ago, I was completely broke. After 10 years of running a family manufacturing business with my dad, the company went under, and we found ourselves unemployed and scared. To see my family through the following few months, I used credit cards to keep us afloat.
This dark period made me ask myself what I wanted. I’m a pretty techie guy and had always been curious about web design and content marketing. So I spent my spare time reading up on the industry, diving into articles and scouring blogs. I loved it, and began strategizing how I could start my own web design business—which I ultimately did in May 2015. Then I spent the rest of the year refining my newfound skills, while working as a window washer to pay the bills.
Meanwhile, I was grappling with $14,000 of credit card debt I’d racked up during unemployment. I kept my head down, focusing on my new business and looking for full-time work in my new industry. Finally, my dedication paid off when I landed a content specialist position at a tech startup last December.
My workload was a bit intense, but working both jobs allowed me to throw huge chunks of cash toward my debt—up to $2,000 in some months. I also consolidated my debt into one low-interest personal loan, which provided some extra relief.
Seven months later, in July 2016, I finally crossed the finish line. The accomplishment was both surreal and liberating. Now, my web design business makes up about 30 percent of my total income. It took a good nine months to get to that point, but I’d say it’s been worth every bit of time and attention.”
“I began building my portfolio nearly a decade ago because I wanted to save and invest enough to fund my personal freedom. Even as a green 20-something, I knew I never wanted to be weighed down by financial stress.
This mindset, combined with my frugal nature, has paid off. I invested a sizeable chunk of cash in 2008, when the market was down, and gradually grew my positions in different stocks over time. My portfolio’s doubled since I began, bringing financial empowerment with it.
I wanted to kick it up a notch in 2016 by investing in a major company: Buying Amazon stock had been on my bucket list for a while—it’s making big waves in multiple industries—but the price was always too steep. Over the years, I’ve missed multiple chances to buy because I thought there’d be better times down the line, but was particularly discouraged to see it hit the $700 mark, after being in the $200s in 2014.
After the Brexit-induced market meltdown in June, though, Amazon stock was in the $600s. That dip gave me the nudge I needed to pull the trigger, snatching up a few shares. Things have recovered handsomely since then, and I plan on hanging onto my stock for many years—possibly acquiring more if the opportunity presents itself.
I know that low-fee stock funds, as opposed to individual stocks, are a good starting point for people who aren’t as well-versed in the industry as I am. But snagging shares of my dream stock this year was too exciting to pass up.”
“When my husband, Danny, and I earned our bachelor’s degrees in 2010, we weren’t very deep in the hole at all. He owed nothing, and I owed just $3,500.
But it wasn’t that way for long. I was preparing for law school, and Danny was on his way to dental school. By the time we both graduated—I in 2015 and Danny this June—our combined student loan balance surpassed $600,000.
A few factors contributed to this price tag, the biggest being that Danny had to get a Master’s before dental school, which added $60,000 to the bill. From there, he went to a private dental school that cost around $84,000 per year. Meanwhile, my law school cost us about $45,000. Tack on interest—which starting accruing as soon as we took out the loans, and hovers around 7 percent—and you can see how our debt quickly ballooned.
Seeing all those numbers in black and white is still shocking, which is exactly why we began paying it off as soon as possible. The fact that we added a baby to the mix—our now-18-month-old son—only intensified that pressure. My pre-tax salary as a public service lawyer brings in about $50,000 a year, while Danny’s income since June is consistent with a $150,000 salary. We’re earning a good amount, but have a long way to go till we’re debt-free.
We started by reeling in our entertainment costs, lowering our energy bill and selling things online. One month, we netted $3,000 just by selling knickknacks, like old dental school equipment, a TV stand and camera on sites like Craigslist and eBay. Plus, we’re big couponers, stick to a budget and regularly check in on our progress. After we’re more secure in our careers, we also plan to refinance our loans to bring down the interest rates.
Since June, we’ve been able to pay off $40,000! The momentum is going strong, and we’re hoping to knock out the total balance by June 2021.”