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Podcast: How This Couple Saved $36K in 9 Months


How This Couple Saved $36K in 9 Months

In this episode of Money Smart, a podcast of Summit Credit Union, we’re talking with Season 11 Project Money participants Jeff & Sue about how they saved $36K in 9 months through the guidance of a Summit Financial Coach to reduce their stress and live their dreams.

Listen on Google Podcasts       Money Smarts Podcast available on Apple Podcasts


AMY CROWE, HOST: Welcome to Money Smarts. I'm Amy Crowe, the financial education specialist at Summit Credit Union and your host for our time together today. We're delighted to have Sue and Jeff, winners of Season 11 Project Money with us today. Hello.

JEFF: Hello.

SUE: Hello.

AMY CROWE: How are you?

SUE: Doing well.

JEFF: Well, nice.

AMY CROWE: Good. Well, thank you so much for coming. So let's start from the very beginning. What prompted you to apply for Project Money?

SUE: Well, I guess we were just at a point in our lives. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that created a lot of extra medical expenses. So that kind of drained our savings along with being off work. We were using our credit cards for a lot of unexpected expenses and regular expenses that we just didn't have the cash for.

JEFF: Things break down, and it's like, okay, well, slide the card.

SUE: So we were just at a point in our lives that, we had so much debt, we felt we had so much debt we weren't comfortable with. And, we were struggling, just financially trying to figure out how we were going to pay off this debt. And, it just seemed like the way we were doing it ...

JEFF: It's never ending.

SUE: …we weren't getting ahead.

JEFF: Right.

SUE: So I had seen an email that came through requesting applicants for Project Money. And I printed it off and showed it to Jeff one night. And I said, what do you think? I said, here's something we can try. And we both kind of came to the conclusion that what do we got to lose?

JEFF: Absolutely, and I had seen this, I don't know, two or three years prior at one of the branches near where I work, and I'd noticed a little bit of the advertising, and I came home, and I did mention to Sue that I saw this. But I didn't really know what was going on, and I didn't take the time at that point. So the advertising was obviously there. So then I said, hey, this is that thing I told you about. And so it's like, yeah, let's do this. Let's check this out.

SUE: Yeah. So we filled out the application, and got you the information, and the rest is history.

AMY CROWE: And then you were selected for Project Money Season 11. So part of the Project Money program, for those of you who don't know, is that we pair four participants every year with a financial coach. They work with them for seven months to manage their money better, increase their savings, and reduce their debt. What was it like with your very first meeting with Coach Aidan?

SUE: Oh, Aidan was amazing from the beginning.

JEFF: Yeah, we didn't know what to expect, but ...

SUE: Yeah, but she just immediately put us at ease. She did tell us that this was going to be hard, it's going to be hard work for us. But if we were both committed to it, we could be successful. She listened to us and always gave us options. And she, straight off the, in the front, she just said, look, I'm not going to make these choices for you. I will give you what options you have, but it's ultimately your choices to make whether you want to do something or not do something.

JEFF: So that made us feel good that, these are going to be our choices. You know, sometimes, it seems like, hey, we need somebody to hold our hand.

AMY CROWE: Which this, for the seven months, she was holding you accountable.

SUE: Yeah, she definitely held us accountable.

JEFF: Yes, yes. She did.

AMY CROWE: Because you had monthly meetings with her and some check-ins maybe during the month.

SUE: Yes, yes, and we looked forward to meeting up with her. She asked, what did we do this month. We got to unveil what things we were successful with and what things we were struggling with.

AMY CROWE: So what were some of your financial goals that you approached Aidan and told her that you were looking forward to doing?

JEFF: Well, we needed to have an emergency savings account because we were pretty much depleted. So she said, well, that's number one.

SUE: The other thing was pay down some of the debt ...

JEFF: The debt, yeah.

SUE: ... and the one thing she came to us with is to consolidate all our debt into one low-cost mortgage. And she said, okay, we can do this. And we put it all together, and we thought, oh, that's quite a lot of money. And she goes, oh, it's an eight-year refi. And we're like, okay. And this is what your payment is. And she said, you know, you've been putting out this much money every month paying this bill and this bill and this bill and this bill. Let's take what you have been paying and just put that towards your loan. She goes, you're paying more of the principal, one, and if we calculated that out, our loan was going to be paid off in three and a half years.

AMY CROWE: Wow, you were going to pay off your mortgage plus the debt that they rolled into a refi in three and a half years?

JEFF: Yes. And that was just like mind blowing.


SUE: Yes.

AMY CROWE: Wait, how much, what was the term of your mortgage prior to Project Money, like a 30 year or something?

SUE: Well, we had, we only had like about five years left on our mortgage.

AMY CROWE: Oh, okay.

SUE: But we had some ...

JEFF: We had a car loan.

SUE: ... a car loan, and we had to pay our credit card debt. And so we, like, oh, three and a half years, it isn't bad. And, of course, it wasn't good with us, so we said, let's make it three years.

AMY CROWE: Oh, because you were a little bit competitive.

SUE: Yeah, and we were like, hey ...

JEFF: Well, you can't ...

SUE: ... we wanted to finish off, we're like, okay, three years. That will get us to 2022. So January 1st of 2023, we are going to be clean slate, no debt.


SUE: And that was our goal. We just told her, we said, let's make this doable.

AMY CROWE: How did that feel, like just being in a different life stage? You know, you have two grown kids who are starting their lives of their own.

JEFF: It was overwhelming just knowing. You know, once we consolidated that loan, it's like the weight already went off of our shoulders because it ...

SUE: It wasn't in your face every month.

JEFF: Yes, correct.

SUE: You didn't see those bills coming in every month going, oh, we owe this. And we knew what we were capable of paying. And once we started paying on that mortgage, it was like, whoa, we've already decreased it this much. Oh, we've already decreased it this much.

JEFF: And so then, what, wasn't it we only added like $50 more.

SUE: When we only needed $50 more a month.

JEFF: And that cut it down to the three-year mark.

SUE: That cut it down to three-year mark.


JEFF: More per month, okay?

AMY CROWE: Was it weird consolidating that other debt onto your mortgage? Like was that a little bit of a mind stretch?

SUE: No.

JEFF: No, no, it felt good.

SUE: No, it wasn't. It was, it felt good.

JEFF: Yeah, like I said, it took the weight off of our shoulders.

SUE: It, you know, yeah, it was more like, wow, we got all of this, and it's all in one payment, and it's like we were starting all over new. It's like, okay, we are not carrying balances on our credit cards. If we can't afford it, we don't put it on there.

JEFF: We aren't buying it, that's right.

SUE: So again, with our new way of doing our finances is whenever we did use a credit card from that point on, we would deduct it out of our checking, and we made a savings account for that credit card.

AMY CROWE: Oh, that's great.

SUE: So like say if we went and got $30 in gas, I would take $30 out of the checkbook, transfer it into the credit card account. So now, we were, the credit card bill was coming, we were getting points on it ...

JEFF: And the money was already there.

SUE: ... and the money was there. So when the bill was due, we just transferred it from that savings account into our checking and paid the bill. And that was a relief. We've never had credit cards that paid off every month.

JEFF: Right.

AMY CROWE: Well, I bet it was a relief to go from multiple payments a month that you were juggling to one payment a month.

JEFF: Yes. Yes, and that's what, that's what I mean. It just felt like a big relief. And I tell other people this too, we grew up learning from our parents. And in that thought, we had one savings and one checking account. And we were trying to run that way because that's the way our parents did it.


JEFF: So that's what we did. And this is where we ended up. Now, you know, we didn't learn all of this from our parents, you know. But, you know, okay, so we got into a little bit of trouble. But now, we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that in three years, this is going to be gone.


JEFF:  And that makes us feel good. And at that point, the ball started rolling, and it was just snowballing because things went pretty nicely after that. Once you started seeing your savings grow and paying off debt, we got happier and happier by each month. Every time we went and see Aidan, she says, well, how did it go? It's like, hey, it went pretty good.

AMY CROWE: Well, let's talk about the budget word. You know, Sue, I know when you and I met originally, and obviously, Jeff, you were in the meeting, initial meetings as well. Aidan said that you had a detailed tracking of your expenses. You can categorize things. But what was the one kind of improvement in your system that Aiden had kind of given you at one of those first meetings?

SUE: Well, what we had done is, I, we had always kept track of our expenses. We just wrote down everything ...

JEFF: What we spent money on.

SUE: ... what we were spending. But, we never had categories. We never knew, how much were you spending on groceries? How much were you spending on gas? Going out for dinner, you know, entertainment, those fun things. So she goes, let's categorize these. Let's go through a budget. You find out how much you're spending. And, we were absolutely shocked what we were spending on, how often we were going out for dinner even though we had stuff in the refrigerator to eat. It was ridiculous, and we were living pretty frivolously. And it really made us think.

You know, it's just like you can look at the budget, look at your things that you have control over like your groceries and your gas and all that. But you also got to look at your car insurance, your life insurance, medical co-pays, even like your taxes and vehicle registration. Those are things ...

JEFF: Oil changes and ...

SUE: ... yeah, because ...

AMY CROWE: You looked at everything.

SUE: Yeah, everything and, and you can't ...

JEFF: Anything you can think of because it is part of your budget.

SUE: And the other thing we were just shocked at is what we spent on our pets.


JEFF: Yeah.

SUE: We have two very high maintenance dogs.

JEFF: We didn't know that when we got them.

SUE: And we didn't realize that until we actually looked and seen, so just to cover the food and meds for them, not covering any extras, no grooming, no nothing like that, that vet visits and such, it was $1,600 a year.

JEFF: A year.

AMY CROWE: Oh, wow.

SUE: So immediately, Aidan says, we need to make a savings account for the pets.

JEFF: And that was excellent advice.

SUE: It was the first savings account we opened up. It was funny that we said George and Oliver have their own savings account. But they do. So we earmark, we thought, okay, $1,600, divide by every month, okay. Let's start socking $140 a month away. And that worked so good. So when we had to go and get a bag of dogfood or go refill their pills and such, the money was there.

AMY CROWE: And it didn't bother the cashflow in your checking account.

SUE: No, it ...

JEFF: No, not at all, so ...

SUE: ... it, these savings accounts that we created ended up being like holding tanks.

JEFF: Yeah, think of it as like little buckets ...

AMY CROWE: I love that idea.

JEFF: ... you would lay along the floor, along the wall, and so basically, what we did was our money comes in, and Aidan said, spend all of it into your buckets.

AMY CROWE: Oh, okay, so just move everything into a bucket.

SUE: Move it into a bucket so ...

AMY CROWE: Based on your categories that you had defined.

JEFF: She said every bit of it.

SUE: Every bit of it, so ...

JEFF: But we actually didn't. We wanted a little cushion.

SUE: I just can't bring it down to zero. So she gave me a $100 cushion. She goes, I'll give you that. So we worked it every week, we would tally up. And we go, okay, this is how this week went. Okay. Jeff gets paid every Friday, so we ran our weeks Friday to Thursday. So every Thursday night, we gathered around the counter and like figured out, okay, this is what we have. This is what we spent this week.

This is the excess that we have. Okay. Next week, we have this and this and this. And then at the end of the month like, okay, this is how we finished out the month. All the bills have been paid. We have excess of this. Okay. How are we going to divvy it up?

JEFF: And we divvy it up into the buckets, yeah.

SUE: Let's put it into savings and stuff. So if we had any extra even during the month, we took out, make sure we were taking enough out to cover the car insurances for every month.

JEFF: You know, you divvy it up so every month, you're covered.

SUE: Yeah.

AMY CROWE: So then, you didn't have to take it out of savings when it was due and have that emotional…ugh.

SUE: Every time I had to go into our savings to take money out, it just crushed us.

JEFF: It did, and it ...

SUE: Because like it, it's going up faster than what we can save.

AMY CROWE: Because you had one savings account that had everything in it.

SUE: Everything.

JEFF: Correct.

AMY CROWE: And when you manage your money that way, it's really hard to think about all of the different things that you just listed off that you need to keep money in there for.

JEFF: Yes, it is a lot.

AMY CROWE: And then life happens, and it drains it even more, right, whether it's a fun “life happens” or a bad “life happens”, right?

JEFF: Correct.

SUE: Yeah. But, another thing that Aidan mentioned to us, she goes, let's start saving, what do you guys spend on Christmas? I don't know. So she goes, let's do a ballpark, and let's aim to save that much. So we aimed to save so much, and she said, when do you want it there? I said I want it there by December 1st so that we can do our shopping. So we made sure we had that money in savings, in that little savings account for Christmas by December 1st. And this is the first year that we did not carry any Christmas presents, shopping, whatever on our credit card into January.

AMY CROWE: How did that feel?

JEFF: Awesome. Now think about this. This isn't, we're not talking just Christmas gifts. We're talking money for food and snacks and drinks. You're entertaining people ...

SUE: Christmas tree.

JEFF: This is all part of your budget.

AMY CROWE: How did you even budget for that?

JEFF: Well, the first time, it's kind of hard. You know, it's kind of a guessing game. However, even if you guess a little off, you're putting some effort into it. Like we said, we just wrote it down. We didn't have a budget. When we came into this, we had no budget, never had one before. Now we have a well-working budget. It runs like a top.

SUE: And I took advantage of one of your podcasts, Amy ...


SUE: ... for the Christmas stuff, and we actually revamped our Christmas thing, of getting four, everybody got four presents. It's what you want, what you need, something to wear and read. And it really, the kids even ...

JEFF: It went over well, yeah.

SUE: ... thought it was great. Even Jeff's mom was really excited about it. But she said, you know, this really makes you think of what's really important.

AMY CROWE: Yeah, that's true. And thank you for giving that little shout-out.

JEFF: It's mostly just getting together.

AMY CROWE: Yeah, because Summit has on our website at under the Money Smart section, we have on-demand webinars where folks can see the recorded webinars. But then we also have all of our podcasts out there as well. We have plenty of resources for people to be able to, you know, take advantage of any time they want to.

So tell me a little bit more. You have all these savings accounts for things. Did you have any money in your checkbook? Like did you go to the store with your debit card or your credit card and then have to transfer it, like in the parking lot? Or you knew, or you went shopping, and then you transferred it, how did that work?

SUE: Whenever we would, I had a notebook for the week. And so Friday, we start a new one, and I would take out like the things that were payments for that week. If the water and light bill was coming due that week, I deduct it out of the checking account. We set aside every week a certain amount to go into our vacation savings, so that gets deducted out as well as life insurance, car insurance, and such. Whatever was due for that week, I take that out immediately, right.


SUE: So then, I know what we have for the week. So it's like, we budget $90 for gas.

AMY CROWE: So that's sitting in the checkbook.

SUE: Sitting in the checkbook.

AMY CROWE: And the grocery budget is sitting in the checkbook.

SUE: The grocery budget is there.

JEFF: Yes.

SUE: So as we would spend, I go to the grocery store and my notebook. I'd have my receipt, I spent $60 on groceries. He'd come home and say, here's my receipt for gas. So I write down that. And, at the end of the week, we'd earmark things. What did you put on the charge card? So that we could transfer to the charge account.


JEFF: So we still use cards.


SUE: And then if it was ...

JEFF: Different mind frame.

SUE: ... and it, we rarely write out a check. I would use our debit card. And then, at the end of the week, I'd say, okay, this is what we spent on groceries. This is what we spent on gas. This is how much I’m transferring over, and we'd make those deductions for the week, and we'd see where we set for the week. It was great.

AMY CROWE: Perfect. So Summit Credit Union has in our online banking system a cool little tool called Climbr. Did you use that at all throughout the Project Money program?

SUE: All the time

JEFF: It was key.

SUE: All the time. Because ...

JEFF: It divvies up.

SUE: ... great thing about Climbr is it puts everything, all your finances right in front of your face, everything. You can see what is in all your accounts. You can see the bills, if you paid or the times that you've used your debit card and a list there. And, you can tag those ...

JEFF: Give it a name.

SUE: ... I went to Pick 'n Save, and this was $60 towards groceries. So then it goes into your budget, immediately goes into your budget, so $60 is earmarked underneath budget that's already spent for the month.

JEFF: And then you can even split tag.

AMY CROWE: You can split tag so that when you buy groceries and household goods at the same store ...

JEFF: Yes, exactly.

SUE: Right. Mm-hmm.

JEFF: And so now, when you have your budget, you have all these categories in your budget. So now, you're withdrawing out of those separate budgets, and you can see right where you are. Another thing with Climbr is you can put all of your investments in there, even if it's not at Summit, you just put them in there. It will give you a net worth, and it's like, wow, that's pretty cool.

AMY CROWE: That is pretty cool.

JEFF: Yeah, it is amazing.

AMY CROWE: Yeah. Did you use the goal setting part of Climbr?

SUE: Yes. And that was really neat because we could see how we were coming with our goal. He'd come home, and I'd be like, hey, look, look at where we are in here. Our vacation, we only have $100 more, and we got everything for vacation. Or we're so close, like we're going to be close on the taxes and stuff, so let's put an extra $100 on there, just to be safe. So you kind of see just because you have a budget doesn't mean you can't fine tune it along the way.

AMY CROWE: Yeah. So the ...

JEFF: Climbr.

AMY CROWE: So the Climbr app, in the goal-setting tool, you can actually say, I want you to monitor this specific savings account for a specific period of time, and it will show you or text or email you where you are, where your progress is, to motivate you, to keep you moving forward.

JEFF: Yes, so it tells you if you went over or you have X number of dollars left in your budget.


SUE: Or your goal.

JEFF: Or your goal, yeah.

SUE: Like we said, oh, we wanted to save X number of dollars for Christmas. And as we put money in that account, it would be like, okay, you're 30% to your goal, you're 50% to your goal. And it would be like, oh, you're 98% to your goal.

JEFF: Yeah, almost there.

SUE: And that's very helpful.

AMY CROWE: And then it had the spending targets. So we have the goals, but then the spending targets, where you can literally set a budget saying, I don't want to spend more than $300 at groceries. And then you can assign the tags to it, and it will add it all up for you.

JEFF: Yes, and then it will notify you. You can put notifications in there any time you want.

SUE: Yeah ...

JEFF: So if you're getting close, and you can change those. This is all at your fingertips. So it takes a little bit to get using it, but once you do, it's ...

SUE: You can set alerts, so I would be sitting at work, and I would know when he would get gas because it would ding, and be like, hey, you're close to your gas thing. I'm like, oh, he got gas today.

AMY CROWE: So this was definitely not one of you running the finances in this program. This was a collaborative effort between both of you.

JEFF: Yeah.

SUE: And that's one thing, you have to, when we were selected, we kind of looked at each other like, okay, you know what? This is going to be a priority of ours. We are going to be committed to being, making this successful for us.

JEFF: Holding each other accountable for, you can't just go out on a whim and just blow a bunch of money. That's not going to work.

SUE: Yeah.

AMY CROWE: Well, and I think the potential to win $10,000 is part of the Project Money program probably helped the accountability just a little bit.

JEFF: Oh, yeah.

SUE: Yeah, I mean, he, I would sit there and be like, okay, we're at the end of the month. Let's not fill up our tanks with gas because it will put us over budget on our gas for this month, you know.

JEFF: So you just wait one more day, you know. And then it's Friday, and say, okay, and we start a new week then on our budget. And like right now, I, my gas light is on in my car. It's parked in the garage. And tomorrow, I'll get gas. And that works on the budget. Otherwise, it might put us over right now, so.

AMY CROWE: So it's interesting because it really sounds like that, you know, the accountability of the program and the commitment that you made, let's put the idea that Project Money is ultimately a contest between four people to increase their savings and reduce their debt. Sounds like the accountability that you learned through the program through habit change is going to last quite a while.

JEFF: Oh, yeah, definitely.

SUE: Yeah, it definitely is going to and the fun thing about it is we made it a game. You know, let's see if we can do this. Let's see if we can do that. We would kind of challenge each other, you know. And even Aidan challenged us at times and said, you know, hey, your grocery budget is really high. What can you do about that? Well, I have a 25-year-old living at home with us, so he eats a lot.

JEFF: Yeah.

SUE: And so she said, let's see what we can do. So, we went home, and we took an inventory of our freezer and our pantry ...

JEFF: What happened was it was getting to the point, it needed defrosting. So that was the perfect time.

AMY CROWE: It needed defrosting?

JEFF: Well, the top shelves are getting really iced up. So you go through all that, you defrost it, and then we would take a tally of everything that's in there, write it down in a notebook. You got this many steaks or whatever you have. Okay. And then we did ...

SUE: And the same thing with the pantry.

JEFF: ... the pantry, and we found that, you know, when stuff goes on sale, it was a good deal. So we bought it. We didn't probably use it. Okay. Now the next flier comes out, and say, well, these are on sale. Okay. Let's buy some of them too. You never know when you want it. And turns out that we had enough ...

SUE: Enough stuff in our freezer and pantry to, that we could live off for probably six weeks.


JEFF: Yeah.                                                             

AMY CROWE: That makes me want to do that with my house. So ...

JEFF: It almost like we were hoarding food, but, you know ...

AMY CROWE: But isn't that kind of the mindset of, of America in some way, shape, or form?

SUE: Oh, yeah.

JEFF: It probably is.

AMY CROWE: Like from the history of America and, you know, especially for people who were kind of taught to take advantage of a sale or to prepare.

JEFF: Right. It's better than paying full price, right?

AMY CROWE: Yeah, so buy it on sale, right?

JEFF: Yeah. And then, here's another thing is with our food budget is we used to, Sue is known as a pretty good cook, and she's got this notebook. When she finds a good recipe, if she makes it, and it's really good, then it makes it to the book. And if it's not good, we may tweak it or, okay, throw that away. So we would, she would find a recipe, we would go to the store, and we'd buy those items to make that recipe. Now what we do after Project Money is we shop the sales. We look what's in the flier, and based on that, either we have something, or we'll buy something that's going to be on sale and make a recipe. So it's different for us now, and we save a lot of money now doing this.

AMY CROWE: So is your freezer and pantry empty ...

JEFF: No, no, no.

AMY CROWE: ... like once someone decides to do like the game, the challenge, right, of cleaning out, eating out of your pantry, eating out of your freezer, how do, where is the comfort level of bringing that back up to a certain stock?

SUE: I like to at least have about six or eight meals around that we have stuff, and, I mean, right now, I know I have about six or eight boxes of pasta because it was on sale, ten for $10. So pasta, I mean ...

JEFF: Yeah. It was maybe ...

SUE: ... with our son living up at school now, it's easy for him to come home and say, hey, can I take this?


SUE: You know. I'm okay with it, rather than be like, no, you can't take it. That's our stock.

AMY CROWE: So when you have these meetings every single Thursday, was it a challenge to kind of get on the same page financially?

JEFF: You mean between Sue and I?


JEFF: No challenge at all.

SUE: Right.

JEFF: It was easy.

SUE: It was easy. It was like, we knew what our goal was ...

JEFF: It's just what we do.

SUE: ... and when we started Project Money, we had also met with a financial advisor for the first time. And, you know, we're ten years or less to retirement, and I'm like, we don't have a clue where we sit. Are we going to be okay? What are we going to do? You know, are we going to be able to do this? Are we going to be able to retire? And if so, at what age?

So we met with him, and he sat us down, and he goes, no, you're doing okay. You know, we got to get some stuff finetuned here. But I think once we found that out, we were like, okay. But we need to make changes for our future. So and now, we are very confident that we're going to have a pretty bright future.

JEFF: So we were sitting really good, yeah.

AMY CROWE: Yeah, our Summit financial advisors, they sit down with folks, and there's no fee to sit down with them. You can literally bring in your retirement account statements, and they can look at it and tell you more about it. Especially for people who have kind of this fear or anxiety and not, they've never really looked at their 401(k)s or their 403(b)s before. They have no idea what questions to ask.

JEFF: Yeah ... but I would recommend still do that because you don't want to wait until just before you retire and then find out, hey, I hadn't saved enough. That's too late.

AMY CROWE: So he did some projections for you to kind of show you what income you could potentially have in retirement and if you, if it wasn't the income level that you were thinking ...

SUE: Right.

AMY CROWE: ... he helped you make some tweaks?

SUE: Yep. We definitely, we looked at everything, and we're like, okay. Because what precipitated that is the company that Jeff works for changed hands. And they were eliminating his profit sharing or his ...

JEFF: My 401, yeah.

SUE: ... 401(k). And they said, you either can roll it over into new plan or take it out and put it in something else. And we're like, what do we do?

JEFF: Right. I didn't know what was best. So that's where we got in contact with him, and he said, I would recommend you bring that with me. And then he split that into two different accounts. And those were pretty strong because I've been there for a lot of years. And then, here's the neat thing. So with the new company, as ownerships, we started a 401 all over again. Okay. So we still put the same amount of money out of my checks into my 401, as I had before. And he said, I said, well, what kind of risk level? He said, go the highest you can. So I looked up, and it was like 2065 was the retirement date. That's a long ways away, right?


JEFF: It's the most risky, yes, it is. But really, what do I have to lose? I'm just starting out now with this one. Remember, all the other ones went to other baskets.

AMY CROWE: Yes. Yeah.

JEFF: Okay. So we did that, and, holy cow, this thing is growing incredibly. Yes, it's a high risk, but he said, really, if the market crashes, leave it there because it's, you can buy more at a cheaper value.

AMY CROWE: And I'll say to anyone listening, this is just specifically Jeff and Sue's situation.

JEFF: Yes.

AMY CROWE: Do not take any advice from this session ...

JEFF: No, no, no.

AMY CROWE: ... other than the fact that you should go see an investment planner, whether it's with your current financial or with obviously, Summit Financial advisors are fantastic. But it really is getting individualized advice, right?

JEFF: Yes, yes.

SUE: They look at everything.

AMY CROWE: Because, yeah.

SUE: Life insurance, your 401(k)s, your profit sharings, your Social Security benefits ...


SUE: ... anything else that you have out there, they take all of that ...

JEFF: Your life insurance, yeah.

SUE: ... yeah, take all of that into account.

AMY CROWE: Yep. And, you know, for the state employer, for the state employees who might be listening, they have their state pension plan, but they also have their deferred comp plan. And so that's one of those things were, like you were saying, you have a retirement account, and then you kind of have another retirement account. Those people who work for the State of Wisconsin, they have their pension plus another retirement account option.

So think it's always important to contact your human resources department, look at all of your options, ask them to see who the company is that's working with them. Go to their website, login to your retirement account, take a look at it, print off anything you need to, take it to someone who's an expert, who can meet with you for free. You know, we always talk about comparison shopping and really looking and making sure that you feel comfortable with whoever you're talking to about these big life decisions, right?

JEFF: Yeah.

SUE: You bet.

AMY CROWE: Because we spend more time figuring out what scent of lotion we should put, you know, in our bathrooms than how much life insurance we have to protect our families in case something happens or how much money we're putting into our retirement accounts to live off of in, for the next 30 years.

JEFF: The big takeaway that I would say then is, definitely look into it as soon as possible, even if you have, even if you're like in the 20s, you want to be prepared when you get to that date. It may look like it's a long ways away, but, once you, if you're not married, you get married, and you maybe have kids. And, they will occupy a lot of your time and money down the road. Anyways, what I'm saying is you want to be prepared. You don't want to wait until just before retirement and then find out, oh, we don't have very much money.

AMY CROWE: So, I want to go back a little bit to the Thursday night meetings. I know you're both on the same page. But, what advice would you give to someone where a couple or a partnership is not on the same page? Do you have any advice?

SUE: Well, we've actually run into several people. Since Project Money, people come up and talk with us and such. And we actually were shocked at how many people, adults, I mean, husband and wives said, oh, there's no way we could do this. I don't want him knowing what I’m spending, and the guy would say, I don't want her knowing what I’m spending.

JEFF: One person told us that they talk about these blogs at work. And they discuss it, and one person had said to us, this would never work. And, another person told me, I think my husband probably spends a lot more. And then, I said, well, what about you? She said, yeah, probably so too. So they, I don't think they want to know. And so that doesn't work.

SUE: You have to have open communication. If you're going to make this work, you can't be hiding something from the other person or whatnot. I always knew when he was buying me a birthday card or something because the Walgreens receipt would come up, you know. So there's no hiding anything between us. And we're just up front and honest, you know, and be like, hey, you know, he does skeet shooting, and he'd be like, okay, I want to go out and skeet shoot this weekend, so it's going to be X number of dollars. Okay, we're going to deduct that out, so ...

AMY CROWE: Because I think it's important any time that you have two people who have a combined income situation that they have the ability to have their hobbies.

SUE: Mm-hmm.

JEFF: Yeah.

AMY CROWE: And the other person is not judged for them, and that they're budgeted for, so there's no guilt in doing them, right?

JEFF: Right, you can't sit home and twiddle your thumbs all the time. I mean, you want to go out and enjoy things.

SUE: Yeah, and throughout this whole thing, we never went without. We never felt like we were missing out on something. We, the choices were ours. If we, if we had friends that came and said, hey, do you want to go out for fish or something, we like, no, but why don't you come over, and we'll have some drinks or something.

AMY CROWE: Oh, see, that's great. They can go do their fish fry because that's a priority for them. And then they ...

SUE: And then they come over, and we were okay with it. But there were those times where it would be like, hey, let's go out for dinner tonight. And we had it budgeted. We knew that it was going to be within our budget. So we did that.

One thing that we were laughing about is that we would go to car dealerships and test drive vehicles because they would give you little gift cards for test driving their vehicles. And so we did that several times, like in November, and we ended up test driving four different vehicles, and we got $200.

AMY CROWE: Now you didn't just do that for nothing, because after, because you bought two brand-new vehicles after the program, right ...

JEFF: Yeah.

AMY CROWE: ... or similarly close to the program, right?

SUE: Yes. Yes, we did. So we knew, we knew we were going to be in the market for cars. So we're like, hey, and we told the dealers, we're not buying until after the first of the year, but we need to narrow down our choices or things that we liked. So it was great. It was great we did that, and we took the $200, and we actually bought some food fight certificates at Christmastime, so now we can go out for dinner and not costing us anything.

AMY CROWE: I think that's great. Yeah.

JEFF: And then we also could give some of those to our kids because they like to go out and eat too, you know. It's great to have in your car or in your purse or in your pocket that it's like, what are we going to do tonight? Say, hey, I got these cards, you know. It's simple.

SUE: Go out to dinner for free.

JEFF: And you're not, you're not going to lose it.

AMY CROWE: Well, and at the start of Project Money, I know that you were thinking about replacing your cars. So you really took nine months of planning before a next car purchase. And most people, you know, they don't think that long about purchasing a car or ramping up to be able to purchase the car.

SUE: We both had very high mileage vehicles.

JEFF: High mileage and so it was actually last May when we started shopping because I figured I should get rid of my car before it got too many miles. And then, we got selected for this program. And it's like, you know what? We even talked Aidan about it, talked interest rates and where we're going to take the money from. And I said, you know, Aidan was onboard. She said, if you need a new or different car ...

SUE: Go for it.

JEFF: ... we'll make it work, yeah. And then I said to Sue, I said, this isn't going to work. We cannot be going, buying a car. We need that either in savings or to put toward debt reduction because of this program, so that's what we had to do.

AMY CROWE: Well, and what we find too is people will prolong purchases that they think they need to do, especially bigger ones, to be able to increase their savings and reduce their debt, to put themselves in a more secure financial future before they make that bigger decision.

JEFF: Right.

SUE: Yes.

AMY CROWE: And so you're not the only ones who have done that in the Project Money program because it's shifted their thinking in terms of stretching things ahead of, further out.

JEFF: And that is smart, yes.

JEFF: Plus you thought more about it, do I really need this, or how much will this cost me?

AMY CROWE: The trick to that, a lot of our Project Money participants who were in the same situation as you, they then could prolong the purchase of a new car because they said to themselves, my car is going off warranty. I don't have any money for repairs. I'm just going to go buy a new one that's on warranty again. That's the mentality.

JEFF: Yeah, I suppose, yeah.

SUE: Yes.

AMY CROWE: People are thinking, because they're living paycheck to paycheck, and so once they got a couple of thousand dollars in a savings account, where they knew if they needed to have $700, $800 worth of car repairs, which typically, every couple years, that hits one of our Project Money families, where they just get money in savings, and then it has to come out again because of life. And so they were able to pay for repairs out of a savings account, which it completely shifted their mindset in terms of… oh, I can save. Now I can pay for the repairs. I can keep the car I like ...

SUE: Mm-hmm.

JEFF: Right.

AMY CROWE: ... and I can get that high mileage on it, and I can, just because of their thought process changing.

JEFF: Limping along, right.


SUE: Yeah, so, no, we were able to just replace both of our vehicles. And we knew that we were going to be able to finance one of them, and we were hoping that we would be the winners of Project Money so that we could actually pay cash for the other vehicle. And, that’s exactly what we did.

AMY CROWE: Oh, I bet that felt fantastic.

JEFF: Oh, yeah. It sure did.

SUE: It felt really good. We've never done that before so ...

AMY CROWE: Well, congratulations on winning Project Money.

JEFF: Thank you.

AMY CROWE: I think, you know, you worked really hard. You changed your mindsets. You have given a ton of advice to the folks who are listening. Do you have any closing thoughts or anything that we haven't mentioned that is notable about the last nine months of your life?

SUE: I just think this whole program is just amazing, and what a turn of our whole financial thought process now. For 33 years, we ran our finances a specific way. And now we have this totally new, wonderful way of doing our finances that we've proven to ourselves that we can be successful at.

JEFF: It runs like a well-oiled machine.

SUE: Yeah, and figure last 33 years, we were doing this way. Now we have the next 33 years, we're going to run it this way. And we're just really excited just to see where it's going to go to.

JEFF: Oh, what I was going to say earlier, as we were talking about we got our budget in line, and things were going in like, almost like snowballing, like things were really going well. I think what I was going to say was that it almost seemed infectious.

When we started realizing what we were able to save early on and what we were paying off in debt, not the debt so much because that was sort of fixed with our loan, and we knew our target dates of in three or three and a half years, depending on where you're looking at.

But so our savings was growing, and it just seemed infectious because as it was growing, you felt better about it. And then this is really making us feel good, where everybody would like to be, right? And so, then we would look for other ways to try to cut money and, you know, like Sue said, we never really went without. You know, it's not like we stayed home all the time and ...

SUE: Did nothing.

JEFF: Right.

SUE: But, you know, it was our choices to do, to do the things we did.

AMY CROWE: So it sounds like communication is key.

JEFF: Yes.

SUE: Very much key.

AMY CROWE: Making, increasing your savings and reducing your debt or at least finding the money, more of a game.

SUE: Yes.

AMY CROWE: Right? And that in itself helps hold you accountable, right?

SUE: Mm-hmm.

AMY CROWE: And then, also getting advice based on things that you, you don't know yet, right? Being able to show your entire financial picture to somebody, whether it's a financial planner or, you know, a coach at Summit Credit Union, and just saying, what are my options? What can I do?

SUE: Yeah, it's raise your hands up, say, we need help. You know, it's not, you're not bad per se because you need some guidance. I wasn't an expert in this, and neither was he. And now, it's like, it's almost stupid simple because once you start doing it, it's like we should've been doing this all along.

JEFF: Yeah, just think if we, if we would've been doing this years back, but anyways, we did it, you know. But it, as I said, after we won, in an interview I said it was kind of like looking around the house, looking for your glasses, and then you found them on top of your head. I've actually done that. What I mean is, where did we find this money? It was right underneath our noses. We were spending it or just not ...

SUE: Caring where the money was going.

JEFF: ... yeah. So what was the word? Mindful spending is another one of our new words that goes along with budget.

SUE: Yes.

JEFF: So that's what people should, should take out of this. You need a budget, and you need to spend money mindfully. Think about ...

SUE: ... where your money is going.

JEFF: ... where it goes, yeah.

AMY CROWE: Well, Jeff and Sue, thank you so much for being part of the Project Money program. I know it took some courage and everything to actually apply for the program. But you took that leap, and we are very grateful at Summit that you trusted us to share your story and that Coach Aidan was so much a part of your journey.

JEFF: Yes.

AMY CROWE: And so we just want to thank you so much for being part of you know, the Summit family and the Summit Project Money family. And I want to share your final numbers. Feel like there should be some sort of drumroll.

SUE: Drumroll, yes. It's amazing. If someone would've told us in the beginning what we would be able to achieve, I would have said that they're crazy.

JEFF: No way can somebody do that without ...

AMY CROWE: Well, you did. So you increased your savings by $36,000, and you reduced your debt by $11,000. And you will be debt-free in three years?

JEFF: Three years.

SUE: Yep, January of 2023. We laugh because when we look at those numbers, we're like, it's like having another income ...

JEFF: It is.

SUE: ... without having another job.

JEFF: Think about that out there. If all of a sudden, you know, you didn't even have to go to work. They just, the money comes rolling in, you know. Because it is, just like another job. And so, now once the house is paid for, then in six months after that, the rest of the car will be paid off. So we will be debt-free.

SUE: Yeah.

AMY CROWE: That's amazing.

SUE: Mm-hmm. Yes.

AMY CROWE: Congratulations to both of you. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and share your story.

JEFF: Thanks for having us, yeah.

SUE: Yes, it's a pleasure to be here.

JEFF: And thank you to Summit Credit Union just for the wonderful program that they have.

SUE: Yes.

JEFF: Because without this, we wouldn't feel so good.

AMY CROWE: Well, I want you to keep in touch because maybe we'll talk to you in a, in, you know, a year and find out where you are after that.

JEFF: Okay.

SUE: Oh, sounds great.

AMY CROWE: Thank you so much.

JEFF: Thank you.

SUE: All right. Thank you.