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How Mindful Budgets Started (Kerrie’s Story)

    My name is Kerrie, and this is my blog and website, Mindful Budgets.

    I’ve been at this thing for a while now and thought I’d introduce myself to all the internet strangers out there. I’ll start with my financial journey, what led me here, and finish with the why of Mindful Budgets.

    Who is she, anyway?

    My name is Kerrie. I was born and raised in Oakland, CA, and I’m way too proud of that fact. I have 4 brothers and I’m the only girl. My parents are immigrants from Laos, and we grew up here in Oakland, in a tiny apartment with a big, multi-generational family.

    Family photo of Kerrie Saephanh as a kid with the entire family
    Here are 3 generations of my family in one household. That’s me in the front, with the gap tooth and the stylin’ kicks. I’m 70% sure this photo was taken at a JC Penny.

    My family’s financial journey has been kinda all over the place. My parent’s generation had it way worse than mine did — our family was in genuine poverty. But my parents and aunties worked hard to take care of my grandparents and us kids. We were poor, but we never went hungry or cold.

    I watched my caretakers make mistakes in the hardship of building a life in a new country. Credit card debt. Gambling addiction. The adults were always fighting about money, and there was never enough.

    For me, this meant one thing. My only goal was to save as much money as possible. For me, money meant safety, and I would do everything I could to keep myself safe.

    I went to college, and my self-taught financial education began. I took the lowest amount of student loan debt possible. I worked jobs as much as I could to supplement my income. I started budgeting as a freshman using Mint and my own spreadsheets. Oh, and let’s not forget my golden rule:

    No credit cards.

    I was so afraid of them after seeing what my family went through, after years of being told to never answer the landline because it was always creditors calling. It took me years to get over that fear and open one for the sake of establishing a credit history, and only after educating myself on how they work.

    After college, I did okay. I got some great jobs and met some great people. I moved out on my own. I kept budgeting (or at least, what I thought was budgeting). I started an emergency fund and slowly saved for retirement where I could (although to be honest, I didn’t really understand it, I just knew I was supposed to do it). Like I said, I was doing okay.

    Then the shit hits the fan.

    Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down my city. I was one of the lucky ones — I had a job I could work remotely. But the pandemic caused many things, one of which was interest rates dropping like a rock. The big shift happened when my awesome roommate of 4 years took his savings and bought a house. (That traitor!)

    I was in a tricky situation. I had to either find a new roommate during a global pandemic or move out on my own. Not an easy decision here in the SF Bay Area, with some of the highest rents in the country.

    Finding a new roommate would normally be easy but in this stage of the pandemic, Bay Area rents were falling and people were leaving en masse. A shared room was less attractive than ever before. But moving out on my own would likely mean at least a 50% increase in rent. Could I even afford it?

    This is when I realized that what I thought was budgeting was actually just me loosely tracking my expenses and thinking to myself, “Hmm, would be nice if I spend less next time” and immediately making the same mistakes the next month. If I wanted to make a new apartment a reality, I needed an intentional, mindful budget system that kept me accountable.

    Enter YNAB.

    The game changes.

    I’ve heard of this software, You Need A Budget (YNAB), before. I didn’t want to try it because it had a cost, and there was so much free software out there. I heard internet choirs sing the praises and ignored them. But here, in my moment of darkness, I decided to give it a try. Besides, they have a free trial.

    My friends, the YNAB software is great and all, but it’s the zero-based budgeting method that’s the real game-changer. Those random, one-off expenses that throw off your monthly budget are covered. It’s like the cash-envelope budgeting system, but everything is on the cloud.

    There’s a learning curve (it’s so bad that it’s kind of notorious in YNAB circles). I watched a ton of videos and read a ton of articles. I was confused and posted in forums for help. I didn’t really know where to start, but I kept going. Then, one day, it clicked. Like freaking magic. And I haven’t looked back since.

    With my new budget in hand, I moved into my dream apartment and took a 50% rent increase with confidence. And in the months following, I paid off all my remaining debt and increased my net worth by 20%.

    As you can tell, I’m solidly a YNAB fangirl. So when the opportunity came up to be a YNAB Certified Budget Coach, I jumped at the opportunity. I passed my certification in November 2021. And I realized two things while training clients for my certification:

    1. Most people were taught to budget wrong.
    2. Many people have a lot of shame and fear around their money.

    So that’s why we’re here. Mindful Budgets is my way to share with the world that, hey, budgeting doesn’t have to suck. It can be really fun. And you don’t have to do it alone.

    I hope you’ll join me as we learn about how to make budgeting as fun, together. Follow me on all social accounts @mindfulbudgets. And if you need any help setting up your YNAB budget, hit me up for a free q&a call 🙂

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