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Progress is Better than Perfection: Danielle's Story

Paying off debt, saving money, and reaching big money goals are easier to accomplish when you have support (from family of friends) or have seen stories of success. 

I've always found so much inspiration and motivation after reading success stories! That is why I've decided to start featuring YOUR success stories. I believe that these will help motivate those who are on a similar journey. 

Enjoy this amazing financial transformation from Danielle and find the charts she used at the bottom of her story!

The Lowest Point in my Life

Picture it. 

You’re sitting on your (fairly busted) couch in your basement apartment. You’ve been in the same spot since you were laid off two weeks ago. You thought you were going to retire from that job.

You just took your last dose of your last refill of antidepressant and it’s the end of the month. Your next appointment with your prescriber is 6 weeks after you lose your insurance. There is nothing available sooner.

The coffee table is piled with unopened mail - late notices. Loan offers. Scam “credit repair” offers. You don’t answer your phone anymore because every call is about a debt. Your voicemail is full.

One checking account is overdrawn and racking up fees, the other has enough for a tank of gas. Both your credit cards are maxed out. The little bit you had managed to save went to went to avoiding a charge-off on a card last month. 

You barely have the energy to make lunch or take a shower. 

And you only have two weeks left to clear out of your apartment and move back into the house you grew up in.

That was by far the lowest point of my life. I did manage to move in two weeks. It involved nearly 500 miles of driving between my apartment and my storage unit, lots of plastic bags, one very patient friend, and way too many tears. 

I spent the first 4 or so months living in my parents’ house in a numbed out depression fog. I was searching for a job and helping out around the house, and continuing to ignore my financial situation because “unemployment just doesn’t pay enough to make a difference!”

Turning Point

I wanted to get my life back under control, but even when I started working again, I had no idea where to start. I was finally bringing in a real paycheck so I didn’t want to continue the austerity I had been living with while on unemployment.

Still, I knew my trajectory was not sustainable. If I wanted to move my life forward again, I needed something I could 1) understand and 2) stick to. 

Then one of my former co-workers forwarded me an article from the Penny Hoarder Newsletter about a website called DebtFreeCharts.com and its creator, Heidi, who was helping to make saving and paying down debt a (dare I say) fun experience.

I downloaded my first two charts as I watched yet another collection call go to voicemail - the “Debt Invaders” doodle chart and the “Emergency Fund” word fill in chart, then I didn’t touch either of them for a month. I was THAT intimidated to get going.

I had false starts - 4 to be exact - but attempt #5 just clicked. I had finally landed a permanent job and was able to focus on forward progress rather than just treading water. I printed a clean copy of the Emergency Fund chart, filled in the numbers from 0 to $1000 in $20 increments in my best handwriting, and colored my first line in red.

It looked so small in comparison to the rest of the chart, but it was a start, and it was better than nothing.

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I set up auto deposits of $20 on payday and tried really hard not to think about it. My red lines started to add up. I earned my first bit of interest on my savings. It was barely anything, but still - progress.

By the time I got to $100, I was starting to look for ways to color in lines faster. 

I started splitting my paychecks from my test proctoring gigs between savings and bills. I colored those lines blue.

I celebrated my birthday. I split gift money between savings and bills. Those lines were green.

My perfectly clashing color scheme inched its way to the top and I was so proud of myself. Sure, I had managed to save for specific things in the past (a vacation, a piece of furniture, etc.), but this was the first time I had committed to and stuck with a plan to save just to have savings on hand.

And I was having fun! By the $600 mark, it had become a game to find an extra $20 in between auto deposits. I went back into my savings account statements and added dates for all my deposits onto my chart. I started thinking about what savings chart to download for my next goal - should I start with 3 months of salary, or go straight to 6 months?

Defeated or Just Setback? 

Then, when I was $80 away from hitting my target, my car needed brakes. Front, rear, and emergency were completely worn down. I pulled nearly everything out of my savings account and cried over my almost complete chart when I got home.

I was devastated. I had been so close to hitting my goal and felt so utterly defeated.

But it dawned on me about a week later that I had just accomplished something pretty important. I had paid for a major repair on my own, without relying on a credit card and without borrowing money.  

My emergency fund functioned exactly as it was supposed to - it handled an emergency and prevented more debt.

I’m a few months into my sixth Emergency Fund chart. My progress is a little slower thanks to the current situation, but it’s still progress.

And this time, my beautifully clashing color scheme will make it all the way to the top.


You can find the charts Danielle used on her journey on the Debt Free Charts shop or direct links below:

Related Charts: 

Do you have a motivational personal finance story? I'd love to hear it in the comments!


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Let customers speak for us

3759 reviews
Keep me honest

I love these trackers! They really keep me honest and motivated! I look forward to coloring in my sections each month. I have even shared the site with friends and family so they can also see the benefits of visual tracking!! So much fun.

Bank Loan Tracking Chart
Katarzyna Grzyl

After getting all frustrated about how long and tedious the process of getting rid of all our debts was, I found your charts and when I started coloring them I suddenly realized that the process was not as stagnant as I supposed it was and it gave me a fresh perspective and some hope of actually achieving my goals! Thank you!

Paid off my credit card chart

Such a great way to keep our credit card debt on track and enjoying our kids being able to be part of it too!



Great Chart

These charts are so motivating! I put it on my fridge to keep track of progress.