The 5 most inspiring personal finance stories of 2015
Melanie Lockert doubled her income and paid off $68,000 of student loan debt
Four years ago, Melanie Lockert grudgingly relocated from New York City to Portland, Ore., a hail mary move she hoped would lead to better job opportunities. At the time, she was facing down $68,000 worth of student loan debt, a mix of undergraduate and graduate school loans.
“After working so hard in graduate school — and getting into so much debt for it — my reality felt like a slap in the face,” Lockert says. The move was beneficial in some ways. She was able to move in with her partner and drastically reduce her living expenses. Full-time work, unfortunately, wasn’t any easier to find. She scoured ads on Craigslist and Taskrabbit.com for odd jobs, which helped her keep up with her loan payments. Still, she earned so little she qualified for food stamps. She could have applied for loan deferment or income-based repayment, but she couldn’t bring herself to apply.
“I just wanted these loans gone as soon as possible,” she says. “A lot of my friends have houses and cars and pets and I have pretty much maintained a college lifestyle [to pay off my debt].” To hold herself accountable, she started a blog, Deardebt.com, which led to freelance writing work for financial companies like Student Loan Hero and Credit Karma. She was offered a full-time job as a communications coordinator at a nonprofit, earning $31,000. But momentum from her writing work began to pick up around the same time and within a year, she realized she was working two full-time jobs, not one. She quit the nonprofit gig. “It was a big risk and my parents were not supportive, but since then I have pretty much doubled my income,” she says. At the beginning of 2015, she had roughly $34,000 worth of debt left. Last week, she made her final student loan payment.
“I had a really emotional moment when I saw that [balance] at zero,” she says. “This is the very first time in my adult life I’ve ever been debt-free. I really can’t wait to start building wealth and moving forward.”
Kim Springer went from unemployed to running a six-figure T-shirt business
Last year, Kim Springer, 42, gave birth to her third child and made a dramatic decision about her career: After two decades working in a range of administrative roles in the medical field, she was ready to launch her own business. With a newborn, a toddler and a husband who was recently laid off, it wasn’t an ideal time to test out her entrepreneurial skills. But Springer took the last $500 in their savings account, enrolled in an online business and marketing webinar and six months later developed a unique business idea: a T-shirt business targeting a specific audience — married women of Christian faith.
“I found if I’m more targeted to a niche market, I’m more successful,” says Springer, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her husband and two young daughters (she has two older sons in college). Springer sells her designs through a company called Teespring.com, which allows users to design and sell shirts with little hassle. Her most popular designs have featured logos like “This Girl Still Dates Her Husband” and “Never Underestimate a Woman a Prayer and a Plan.” Her Facebook following has grown to over 120,000 fans. She earned $153,000 in sales in 2014 and doubled her sales in 2015. This year marked another new endeavor: launching her own website dressedupteeshop.com, where she can maintain more control over her inventory and sales.
Still, she’s hesitant to label herself an overnight success. “Some people see a person’s before and after, but they don't really know what went on in between,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve put in researching, doing webinars, learning Facebook [advertising], all you have to put into this business if you want to last.”
Brett Carrington paid off $100,000 of student loan debt with handmade headbands
“I have never been so happy to be broke,” Brett Carrington told Credit.com earlier this year. He wasn’t exaggerating. In October, Carrington, 31, and his wife, Chelsey, 26, made their final student loan payment, marking the end of a two-year effort to pay off $100,000. To make their final payment — $15,000 — the couple effectively drained their savings. When Yahoo Finance caught up with Carrington this month, he said he’s proud of what they managed to accomplish in so little time.
Read more: Yahoo Finance's most inspiring personal finance stories of 2014
“I’m not glad we had the debt but I’m happy with how we reacted to it,” says Carrington. The majority of the debt was his own, incurred after two years of medical school. He dropped out in 2012 with an unfinished degree and $75,000 in loans. Even working full-time $10-an-hour jobs, the couple could only afford to put $500 per month toward their debt, which barely covered the interest. They decided to move in with Carrington’s parents in Ogden, Utah, and start fresh. Chelsey continued working as a nurse, while Carrington experimented with business ventures. When he noticed his sister shopping online at sites like Zulily and Etsy, he decided to try ecommerce. He designed a simple line of flowered headbands he could assemble himself — they cost $1 to make and he sold them for $2.
“I’d make 100 headbands, sell them, make $200, then invest that $200 into more materials, slowly building up and snowballing every month,” he says. He named the business Coca Lily Boutique, working 12-hour days to keep up with demand. Family members helped by modeling the designs for his site. He partnered with Amazon, Zulily and Etsy to sell the headbands, then began purchasing wholesale apparel and accessories from overseas manufacturers and selling the items from his home. Eventually, business became so successful Chelsey quit her nursing job to help. They were able to put $6,000 a month toward their debt by living as frugally as possible.
“The last payment wasn’t easy because we cleared out our accounts and had to put off buying inventory,” Carrington says. “Looking back now I see [having that debt] pushed me to try to grow something into a career we can now enjoy.”
Marsha Barnes turned a school bus into a mobile financial literacy hub
When Marsha Barnes, 40, decided to start a financial coaching business, the Charlotte, N.C., native shied away from leasing a standard office space. She wanted to deliver personal finance advice to people somewhere they could feel immediately at ease. So...she bought a school bus.
“A school bus, to me, speaks to learning and being in a classroom environment,” Barnes told Yahoo Finance earlier this year. Barnes bought the bus, a 45-foot gas guzzler, on Craigslist for $3,500, hired an interior designer and spent $20,000 on renovations. The Finance Bar celebrated its first year of business in November. Barnes has taken her bus on the road to college campuses, domestic abuse shelters and organizations where people need affordable financial education.
“I’m specifically working with women and also some couples,” she says. “The young ladies [I work with] can’t afford to pay someone $200 an hour to speak with them. They’re getting the best of both worlds with me.”
Barnes charges $10 a month for a virtual membership club, where she offers monthly webinars and financial learning tools, as well as access to a budgeting app. In September, she earned 501c3 non-profit status, which means she can fundraise.
As for 2016, Barnes is in the final stages of launching a free two-hour event where women in her community can gather to discuss their financial challenges and seek advice. She’s also partnering with a local radio station to run a 52-week series called “Getting Your Money Right in 2016.” The radio show launch will coincide with the launch of her revamped Finance Bar mobile app.
Kimra Luna went from food stamps to leading a seven-figure online marketing empire
A few years ago, Kimra Luna, 29, was as far from owning a multimillion-dollar business as anyone could get. She was living in California with her husband and two young sons, getting by on food stamps and government assistance. Despite her financial situation, Luna, who caught the entrepreneurial bug as a concert booker in her late teens, says she never stopped dreaming of owning a business. A few of her early ventures — a health and wellness blog, a meal plan service — helped bring in income but weren’t lucrative enough to sustain her family. Over time, she began studying the importance of online marketing, mastering tools like Facebook ads, social media branding, and live blogging that are essential to drive audience growth.
After a year, she started hosting free webinars offering marketing tips to entrepreneurs. At the time, she had no product to sell of her own, but she pointed fans to a Facebook group called Freedom Hackers, which has grown to over 21,000 members. Immediately, she began getting requests from business owners for private marketing coaching. Online marketing webinars became her sole focus. When she began selling her an online marketing webinar in mid-2014, she reached $10,000 in sales the first week. By year’s end, she earned over $160,000.
In February 2015 Luna launched a new online marketing course, “Be True, Brand You,” to online entrepreneurs, netting $750,000 in sales. She will offer a revamped course in February, aiming to double her business. She has a handful of employees, including a team she likes to call her “momtourage” — a nanny, private chef and virtual assistants who help her manage her family and work life. At this point, no goal seems out of reach.
“It’s been a pretty incredible year,” Luna says. “My time finally came.”
Do you have an inspiring personal finance story to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mandi Woodruff is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and host of Brown Ambition, a new podcast about career and finance.