10 Things You Don’t Know About My Finances: Our Reader Carla!

CarlaHere at LearnVest, we don’t shy away from asking all those awkward and fascinating money questions. How much did that cost you? Do you have a big investment account? What’s a secret splurge you haven’t told anyone else about?

In our series, 10 Things You Don’t Know About My Finances, we get interesting people (like Al Roker, Lucky Editor in Chief Brandon Holley, and our own Editor in Chief Maria Lin) to reveal their funny, head-scratching and refreshing approaches to finance. 

Recently, a LearnVest reader wrote in telling us how she’d saved a $10,000 emergency fund in under three years, while putting her husband through college. And she did it all on a $40,000 salary! Many of you commented, asking what her secret was.

Take Control of Your Money

Want to get a better handle on your finances? Sign up for LearnVest's Take Control Bootcamp. If 5,000 new subscribers sign up by the end of the year, LearnVest will give away a total of ten financial makeovers to women in need.

So we asked her. For this installment, we sat down with Carla, 31—a LearnVest reader and newlywed who lives in Bar Harbor, Maine to find out just how she got so smart about her money.

Read on to find out about the childhood event that turned her into a lifelong saver, why she eloped … and the pocket-picking habit that's made her wealthier.


View Slide Show

  • Indebtandflummoxed

    Good job Carla, I need your help!

  • Han

    A great way to get to all of your favorite lip gloss when the doetip doesn’t get it!

    Warm up a cup of plain tap water. Not too hot, but very warm. Put your lip glosses in the cup and let them sit until the water begins to cool. The lip gloss should have “melted” some. Pour it into a contacts case and let it cool. Voila! :)

    • HARP

      Great tip!  Thank you!

    • Katherene

      Thanks for the helpful tip Han, I appreciate it. 

  • MW401

    This is great, I thought I was frugal and now I feel challenged to be even more so! I’m curious about her approach to the holidays and gift giving.

    • Carla

      Hi MW401!  Carla here!  About holidays and gift giving….Since others in my family are also feeling the pinch, we’ve all agreed to just do a “chain” gift giving this year.  I was in charge of generating a random list of all 17 family members that will be together on Christmas.  Each person gives a gift to the person who follows their name in the chain, and that way, everyone gets one gift and we all don’t feel like we have to spend a fortune on Christmas.  This year, I got my aunt Irma, and I bought her a wool vest that she wanted for $29.99 at TJMaxx and my Christmas gift buying was complete.

      • Diane

        Homemade gifts are great.  One of my favorites came from disaster . . .  literally.  We had had a tornado.  I used jelly jars and hotglued twigs from the trees that fell on our house onto the jars and put in little votive candles.  Cuter than cute and cost practically nothing.  It is amazing what a little desperation and creativity can do for a person. 

  • Paola

    I loved this! I can especially relate to wanting to semi-elope to save money. That’s what I’m planning on doing :)

  • Great job Carla! I would love your help one day!

  • Rosie

    This is great!  Even though I don’t live in a National Park, it makes me hopeful I can save money too!

  • Britt

    I’d love to know where you are taking your courses towards become a CFP – it’s something I’m thinking about more and more!  Very inspiring story!

    • Carla

      Hi Britt!  This is Carla!  I’m taking the courses online through a program offered by Boston University and the Boston Institute of Finance.  Check them out!  Their courses are approved by the CFP Board of Standards and they enable you to eventually sit for the CFP examination.  Best of luck!

  • nobody

    This is useless to me.  I make 20,000 in a year.  I can’t save anything on that with 1000 rent + electric + garbage + phone + internet.  I wish I was making more, but how can I without a college degree.  I can’t emotionally handle college, so that is not an option even if I could afford to take a class.  All of this is so useless for me.  I guess I should just off myself to make more room for those of you who can make it.

    • Trxiie8040

      Your self-pity will be your downfall if you don’t watch it.

    • Kerridi12

      Stop feeling sorry for yourself! you sound like a whiny child, buckle up, put your big girl panties on, cut your cable and internet, dinners out, and land line. and anyone who posts they would off themselves on a web post may need psychological counseling!

    • 1RaisingTheBar

      You are SOMEBODY!
      You sound overwhelmed right now. A few suggestions: 1) get a roommate or become someone else’s roommate, 2) unplug ALL APPLIANCES when not using them, 3) garbage removal? Rent an apartment vs. a house, 4) Search the internet for inexpensive ISPs, http://www.basicisp.net/ ($8.95/mth) or use your local library. At times, I too have felt like my situation was hopeless. Find someone for emotional support and search for SOLUTIONS to your situation.

    • Katherene

      Hey Sweetie, first of all you’re not a nobody, you are somebody.  So let’s clear that up from the start.  2nd of all, you can do it on $20,000 a year, it will be a process and something you will definitely have to get use to until you can get a better job or add a part-time job.  I know you can do it because I have done it and I don’t have a 4 year degree, but I refuse to let that stop me in life, I surround myself with people that are wiser, lived through it and I read everything that comes my way about money, starting your own biz, especially woman businesses.  But first of all change your way you think about money and stop saying you don’t have enough, start saying and seeing yourself with more than enough.  Trust me it works.  There’s a book called I Know a Way Out, by Katherine Cookie Jones.  Have your public library order it for you, that way it’s no cost to you.  And in the future any books that you see in the book store and not at the library ask them to order them for you at no cost again to you.  Please stay in touch and let’s us know how you’re doing.  Life is tooooo short to feel the way you do, I know first hand you’re direction is not the right one.  I have been there and back.  Live for today, tomorrow is not promise to any of us.  Don’t waste your thoughts on foolishness.  You can do this be strong love, be strong.  And continue to reach out to us, we’ll answer you.  I know I will.  You take care of yourself and please let’s us know how you’re doing especially during the Holiday days, okay.  Be Strong, you get through this rut. 

      • 1RaisingTheBar

        SOMEBODY ! ! !,I want to echo Katherene’s sentiment and say STAY IN TOUCH. You are not alone — I TOO will reply. Your Self-Worth is not defined by the amount of $Dollars$ you earn. There are multi-millionaires with financial woes.

    • 1RaisingTheBar

      SOMEBODY ! ! !,I want to echo Katherene’s sentiment and say STAY IN TOUCH. You are not alone — I TOO will reply. Your Self-Worth is not defined by the amount of $Dollars$ you earn. There are multi-millionaires with financial woes.

    • Carla

      Hey there!  This is Carla from the story…I was wondering if you would feel comfortable emailing me?  I would like to see if there is some way I can help.  As a loan officer at a community action program in Maine, I work with people of all income levels, and I certainly don’t have all the answers to everyone’s situation, but I certainly will do my best to listen and see if I can help in any way.  My work email is cbritton@whcacap.org.  If you email me, I can also provide you with my work # to contact me.  Frankly, I personally have experienced moments of hopelessness and not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in my financial life.  You, my friend, are not alone, and we need you here with us!  I want so much to help women just like you – please do get in touch with me and I will respond as soon as I can.

    • Diane

      Hello, SOMEbody —  I am in a similar situation, but have been able to be in school because of a state grant.  I am a 49 year old divorced mother of 5 — 4 still live at home.  Three of the 5 are in college and so am I.  The other two are in middle school. We live on child support and my odd jobs cleaning houses and food aid.  There is no money to save.  As a condition of the divorce, we live in the house that my ex-husband and I bought, but I still have to pay half of the mortgage.  And I have to move as soon as I get a job.  We cut the tv, one son pays for internet.  We are extremely frugal.
      SOMEbody —  look for help.  In Michigan (where I live) there is an organization called MichiganWorks.  It is helping thousands of people.  It is at MichiganWorks where I found a program for displaced workers that pays for my education.  This organization also helps match up prospective workers with employers.  There is probably a program like this in your state as well.  Look for help at places like Planned Parenthood (they help with finding housing), the Dept. of Human Services and any other local agencies that these places might recommend.
      I am unable to save money now, but I am working on a future where I will be able to save.  It is taking a lot of time — going on 4 years, but in another 18 months I will graduate with a degree and be getting a job.
      Whatever you do, don’t give up.  You are not a nobody.

  • Milissae

    This is old information.  Everyone I know already does this stuff.  I would like to know some new ways. 

  • Nancy

    Inspiring! I instantly went over to my ING account and setup a bi-monthly transfer to coincide with when I get paid. My biggest excessive spend is on ordering in. UGH, it kills me, but I work crazy hours in NYC and by time I get home the last thing I want to do is cook! I am trying to get better at that and every inspiring story like this helps point me in the right direction. Many thanks to Carla and LV for the info and motivation!

    • Anonymous

      Nancy, I totally feel you. But I’ve found a way to save money on dinner, even when I’m super tired after a long day of work. I just stop in a little grocery store near my apartment and grab a frozen dinner, which is much cheaper. Plus, when I’m hungry, I don’t have to wait 20 minutes for my food to show up!

    • Britt

      Nancy – I have the same problem with ordering in!  I’ve found it’s super helpful to cook a few big meals on Sunday (or at least prep everything for later in the week so I can throw dinner together quickly during the week) is so helpful.  I freeze a lot of stuff as well so it’s ready whenever!

  • Tracychambers Vintage

    Great tips and info.  Even though I have practiced some of these in the past, sometimes you forget and lose track.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Great job on everything you’ve accomplished so far!  I’m in a similar situation with my fiance back in school and his undergrad/my grad school loans on our backs, so I hear where you’re coming from!

  • Bonniegaither

    How the hell do you read the story?

    • Pony_girl86

      You click on the picture of the slide show, and then click the “next” arrow, browsing through all pictures.

      • Diane

        I clicked on the picture and the arrows, but no slide show appeared . . .  :P

    • Katherene

      I understand your frustration and it took me awhile to figure it out too.  You have to click on the pictures below the article and it will bring up the slide show.  It’s worth the read.  I hope this helps. 

  • Katherene

    Carla, I enjoyed reading your story.  And you are right; we are all able to obtain financial freedom.  I applaud you for what you’ve accomplished.  I have also taken financial classes just to get a better understanding of how important it is to manage your money.  Please keep up the excellent work.  You’re truly an inspiration to woman.  Rock On Sistha` Rock On!

  • Laura

    I love #7 about the wedding.  My husband & I did a similar thing.  We live in Florida and got married on a local beach by a justice of the peace.  A week later we had a reception at a local restaurant for family & friends.  The restaurant was a small family owned one with great landscaping & a pond for beautiful pictures (so I only had to spend a couple hundred dollars for centerpiece flowers).  No big fancy dress, just a nice cream cocktail dress bought for $100.  The only real expense was the food & drinks.  We had a great night for only a couple thousand dollars, and it was just as nice as a big fancy wedding.  Sometimes I am amazed at how much people spend on weddings, and 1/2 the time they get divorced!!

  • honeyoak

    It’s neat that she’s saving so much, but maybe she should back off the savings and attack that $50,000 in student loan debt?

    • Carla

      Hi honeyoak!  Carla here – good question, lady!  For right now, because I’m the sole “breadwinner” in the household, and because I work in the non-profit sector that is experiencing increasing funding cuts (and therefore, I experience job insecurity) I’ve decided that what works for us now is beefing up the savings (just in case I, perish the thought, lose my job), and making the minimum payments on my student loan debt. Additionally, I am lucky in that I consolidated my debt and have an extremely low interest rate (3.75%).  My husband and I have plans in the works once he finishes school to attack our student loan debt much, much more aggressively!

  • WOW! That was very empowering and uplifting! It was just what I needed, I took notes in my money journal for good measures!

  • Cathy Allred

    I’m a little disappointed.  These are quite vague.  I don’t have a spouse to search his pockets.  I’m not getting married so if I’m not spending the money; I’m not really saving it.  I don’t need to collect dishes from a garage sales.  I was expecting to see actual ways to save money.  This is a list of how she spent less on things I don’t even buy.  Good for her but I wouldn’t say this is the greatest thing I’ve ever read about saving money.

    • Carla

      Hi Cathy!  Carla here…thanks for reading.  I hear you, just because my lifestyle quirks work for me, it doesn’t mean they will work for everyone.  I will also mention that all of my savings methods couldn’t fit into this short article, but it does give you a glimpse at what does work for me.  But I am curious, do you already do auto-draft for your savings for each paycheck?  For me, that has made a HUGE difference in my savings habits.  Also, offhand, what “extras” might you spend on and where you could cut back (clothes, dining out, etc.)?  For example, I do not have cable TV or a landline or a fancy cell phone. I save a lot of money by not spending on these items.  Not saying that’s what you or others should do, these are just some other examples of where I find I can save more money.  There is not a “one size fits all” method of cutting back – this works for me, it may work for others, but I’m certain if you take a look at every area of your lifestyle, you might find ways to cut back, and save more!  Best of luck and please respond – I’d like to hear from you! 

  • Great story and tips!

  • Carlie

    Thank you for sharing this story, I feel like I got some real world tips that even I can use! P.S. A CFP to the “little man”, maybe I’ve found a new career goal!

  • Sarah

    I work with Carla, and she IS inspiring.  She is totally focused without being preachy.  She has good ideas, and teaches patience – waiting for the reward makes it that much sweeter. I think it is great that you featured her here.

  • Jillbf

    where is the damned article. i’m never coming here again

    • Guesst

      The article is the image gallery below the main link. Each image has a narration. I know it is confusing.

  • Nayonna

    Hi Carla! How did you tackle you $6000 worth of credit card debt? 

    • Carla

      Hey Nayonna!  To be honest, I just went completely back to basics.  I’m not big on “gimmicks,” just good old fashioned back to basics wisdom.  I was in my twenties and living in NYC at the time, and I started making what I felt like was huge monthly payments of $200 to $300 a month on the debt.  After making minimum payments for so long, this was a serious shock to my system!  I wasn’t earning a heck of a lot of money ($33k) at the time ( I don’t now, either!  :-).  I don’t necessarily recommend this, but I made the decision to defer my low interest rate student loans, and put all my efforts into getting rid of the higher interest rate credit card debt.  I did not spend money on new clothes, eating out, or on happy hour with friends.  I abandoned my practice of bi-weekly salon visits (waxing, etc), monthly hair cuts, and all the other stuff that seems so insignificant but adds up to real money over the course of a year and I just focused on groceries, paying rent/utilities, paying my debt, and hoping that my friends who cared about me would understand that I didn’t have the money to spend on shopping outings and on fun nights out.  It was hard, and some friends didn’t stick with me, but it felt so empowering to get rid of it, and eventually start focusing on saving! 

      • Wfrio0707

        Hey Carla….there’s got to be more than what you just said to Nayonna…in the process of this 3 yrs, as with all of us, Life Happens….what then? Where/how did you get your hair cut…after awhile, your clothes tend to wear out unless you already had very expensive ones to start with…what other stuff?

        • Suzanne

          My boyfriend and I cut each other’s hair and it definitely saves a lot of money (more so for him since I have long hair and have only ever got it cut once a year). Neither of us had any experience cutting hair before but it’s really not that hard (and I find it kind of fun).

          See if you can find a friend or relative who would be willing to cut your hair for free or in exchange for doing something for them (pet sitting, cooking them a meal, etc.). Bartering stuff like this is pretty common among the people I know and it saves money and helps everyone out.

        • Carla

          Hi Wfrio070 – Yeah, I think I spelled that right!  :-)  There is more, but not much more.  I occasionally found odd jobs that helped make ends meet – catering and such.  It was not necessarily reliable income, but it helped make ends meet sometimes.  A portion of any monetary gift I may have received for Christmas/Birthdays – that also went to make ends meet and pay debt. 

          And I did cut my hair, but not monthly – maybe 2 or three times year? I stopped getting my eyebrows waxed (when it comes down to it, for me it really is a “luxury”, and I don’t actually do it anymore to this day – tweezing is free!) I did do the home haircut thing a couple times with my roommate, but that was a little rough, and, often, not cute!  After racking up a good portion of debt for new fancy clothes, I was pretty well stocked with good stuff, so I didn’t necessarily have to buy that much, I guess.  In fact, I still have a lot of those clothes even today. New socks and undies are always a must though – couldn’t avoid that!  :-) 

  • Anonymous

    I loved this one!  Good job guys!

  • Runkassyrun

    Carla, what uni are you enrolled at? I’m curious and would want to enroll to such.

  • Heather

    Just recently began reading LearnVest, but I’m no stranger to personal finance. I enjoyed this article, which seemed more realistic than many short articles out there, both web and print. I especially liked that the article included a way that you give back, Carla: the Small Business Alliance, and how it helped out someone else in financial straits.

    I’m super glad to hear that you are interested in being a CFP to those in low income situations. May I suggest adding those in fixed income situations? I’ve recently become aware of people who, like me, are financially savvy but are then crippled by medical debt, and eventually on Disability. I don’t even *know* what to say to these folks: it seems like a trap that cannot be escaped from. (And, unfortunately, it’s a situation I’m trying not to get trapped by, myself.)

    Wishing you continued prosperity, in all ways.

  • Rvanede

    Carla, Very inspiring story, thank-you.  My husband & i have a large mortgage, we don’t want to lose our home, but we’re behind on our payments. I have 4 children at home, one leaves in March for the Army…..we had a signifigant loss of income in Dec. of 09, and it’s hurt us soooo bad. I do not have a budget or a savings……i’m horrible!!!!  We need help/advice…..please email me rvanede@keithmerrick.com  when you have time….Thank-you!!

    • Carla

      Hi there!  I’m pretty sure you are not horrible, lady!  :-)   I will email you shortly, and would be glad to see if I can find any resources that may be of assistance to you, and also share any helpful advice for your situation.
      Hang in there!

  • Betsy

    Thank you for sharing your story — I love it! I just started auto draft and I’ve set a big goal this year and hope to save for a moderate-sized wedding :).

    • Carla

      That’s awesome, Betsy!  Best of luck to you and congrats!! 


  • Snagenereux

    My husband makes very good money but in this day in age we have zero money left over from any of his paychecks to save… I get hair cuts every other year or more I buzz cut my sons and husband.. we pay all of our monthly living expenses in full but still there is barely enough for food let alone paying anything towards our debts… I haven’t had a new pair of shoes in 4 years… my sons get 1 pair a year.. Its tough and nearly impossible to save any amount..

  • Guest

    Where is the article?..

  • SpecialKOC

    Hi Carla, thank you for sharing your story. Keep it up!  I hope you are finding every penny and applying it to the education debt.  As long as i can remember I’ve wanted to help woman learn to be wise with their money and live on less today to tomorrow will be better; or when that rainy day comes.. there are options.  You inspired me to find a self paced course for financial planning.It’s in my heart.  I grew up in a large family and those cost a lot, from an early age i learned to save up for what i wanted to buy and pay myself first.  I think it’s wonderful that your husband is on the same page as you are.  Years ago i remember reading a story about parents who saved all their change to pay for their childs  college education, from the time the child was born.  I would suggest taking those coins and apply them towards your college bill.  All the best and please post when you become debit free. … by the way Learnvest i’m intersted in a position with your company.  I live and breath everything your website is about.

    • Carla

      Thank you for reading, SpecialKOC!  It’s so great to hear that you are also interested in helping women with their finances. Thank you also for your suggestion!   My husband and I have established a pretty aggressive, maybe even radical plan to pay down the student loan debt once he finishes his degree.  Right now, I’m still plugging away at it at a rate we can afford on only one income.  I will definitely give an update in the future if I can still post to the article!  Best of luck to you in your new endeavor to pursue financial planning!

  • nicole

    Thank you for sharing this with us. It is making me rethink alot of things.

    • Carla

      It was my pleasure, Nicole!  It’s really fun and inspiring to read everyone’s comments.  I’m glad it sparked some interest in people to rethink things – and I’ve definitely taken many of these comments to heart to rethink some things myself.  I like that LearnVest provides this kind of space to do that.  Wish you the best!

  • Broughton Alice

    carla–what percentage of your paycheck do you automatically move to savings?