Your Turn! Here’s How Readers Like You Made Money Easy

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There is a lot to be learned from people who have discovered the ins and outs of finance through hard work and real life. That’s why GOBankingRates asked you to submit your best personal finance stories. These GBR readers have one thing in common: They work hard to make money easy.

While all four nominees inspired their fellow readers, your votes have made Ebony Murphy the first-ever Everyday Finance Star.

“It’s meaningful for me to win GOBankingRate’s Everyday Finance Star because it makes all my financial mishaps and struggles credible,” she said. “It confirms that no matter how you were set up to fail, how things didn’t go as planned, no matter the circumstances or excuses, you can always start over and rebuild. Growing up dirt poor to now being stable shows that hard work pays off and that your financial security is in your hands. As they say, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ I’ve done better, and it’s an honor to be the Everyday Finance Star.”

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Keep reading to find out more about Murphy’s inspiring personal finance journey and hear from the other nominees, and click for advice from the Best Money Expert nominees.

Ebony Murphy: Empowers Others to Live Their Best Financial Lives

“I should be the next GBR Everyday Finance Star because I am empowering my black community to ditch poverty and plan their way to a better life. I am in my community to pay it forward and help others who have gone through divorce, losing custody and struggling to pay child support and attorney fees. I myself once lived out of my car, which was my rock bottom. I am a military vet that just wants to make a difference by helping others with their money sense.

The one tip I believe that everyone needs to adopt is to budget. Many times people only guess — and dramatically lowball — how much they think they spend each week, month and year, and really have no idea how much money they are spending. A budget is a plan that, with discipline, teaches people how to see for a short or long period of time how much money is coming in and how much is going out, and shows whether they can expect an overflow or shortage. It’s a beautiful thing.

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The best advice I received was to save as much as you can as often as you can because there will always be a rainy day. My “rainy day” felt like a Category 4 hurricane. Anyone that has gone through an ugly divorce, custody battle and court fees knows how much of a toll it can take on your pockets. Well, that rainy day advice was good advice in retrospect because, at the time, I had zero dollars saved in the bank, and had to do what my mama would call “rob Peter to pay Paul.” Now, years later, I am financially prepared for the good, bad, ugly and rain for days. I never want any person to feel stuck like I felt because of unpreparedness.”

Jay Gibson: Educates Incarcerated Individuals About Finance

“I oversee a financial education program that addresses the critical need for financial education for incarcerated individuals and ex-offenders by providing financial coaching. Financial literacy is key in the re-entry process as incarcerated individuals transition back into the community. It helps reduce the recidivism rate as well.

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Nationally, an estimated 650,000 individuals return to society from prison each year. Increasing access to financial education is important in achieving long-term financial stability for these returning citizens. The program has served over 800 individuals since June 2014 and provides both group and one-on-one financial coaching. I serve in a supportive capacity, monitoring the individuals’ progress and focusing on positive behavioral change with respect to money management. I provide instruction on various financial topics to build a knowledge base and skill set. The financial areas covered include, but are not limited to, budgeting, credit, insurance, investing, saving, retirement basics and estate planning. The program takes a holistic approach to financial education, focusing on personal application, goal attainment and establishing good financial habits. Additionally, I teach money management classes at my church and am often called on to meet the needs of individuals in my community in the area of personal finance.

In order to be financially successful, I truly believe an individual must budget on a monthly basis. The budget should be either written down on paper or set up via technology. Budgeting will give you a visual of where you are financially and where your money goes. A budget is your financial foundation and keeping one is vital for financial success.

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The best advice I ever received was to be a giver. I’m not referring to just money, but also my time and abilities. I’ve found that giving myself to meet the needs of others and to better their lives pays the greatest return.”

Mike Dolan: An Everyday Dad Who Took Control of His Finances

“I should be the next GBR Everyday Finance Star since I’m paying down debt consistently, opened a small CD to save money, and still have enough to put into savings each payday while keeping our checking account above $0. This is a success story, if you ask me, for one of those families — mom has part-time jobs, dad has one job, with a 10-year-old and 9-year-old twins, one of whom has special needs — who live paycheck-to-paycheck. I know what it’s like to move money around, borrow from savings or a spring tax refund to make sure your main checking account is above $0 a few days before payday. I bet that sounds familiar to a lot of us.

I am partnering with my wife and passing on financial lessons to our kids: the danger of credit cards, the value of saving their birthday money, the idea of compounding over time and, most importantly, not being envious of the things and experiences their more well-off classmates have.

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I was an English major in college, and back then, I thought anyone interested in accounting or financial planning was a ‘square bean-counter;’ I know better today — you can ask my financial advisor how often I contact her. I make sure our bills are paid on time, and that we avoid fees and interest charges. I am certainly not an expert at investing but am one of those people that at least keeps up with current financial news. I know how to make two ends of the rope meet. 

I believe if everyone learned the benefits and pitfalls of credit cards, they would be much more financially successful. Most people forget that establishing a good credit card history early on is one way to establish a good credit score — which then allows you to receive the benefits of having that good score. At the same time, it is so easy to fall behind on fully paying off a credit card balance or deciding to add more charges — such as new car tires, groceries you can’t afford or kids’ summer camp dues — to a balance you are already unable to pay off. Pretty soon, you could find yourself stuck with over $2,000 to pay off over the next few years.

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The best advice I received during my financial journey is that there is no student loan you can apply for when you are in your 60s and about to retire; if you are in your 20s or late 30s, have young kids and want to save money for their college tuition, don’t neglect saving for yourself first. Your kids can always apply for student loans.”

Edwin West: Went From Bankrupt to Financially Sound

“I should be the next GBR Everyday Finance Star because I represent the ‘everyday common Joe’ who could benefit from sound strategies. I’m not wealthy nor am I a sophisticated investor. I have debt and loans. I have filed for bankruptcy in the past. But I also have resources, like credit cards with high limits and a decent 401k account. My FICO score hovers between 740 and 780, all of which took time and effort to achieve. And now, all of these things give me financial options.

Many people I know simply don’t have these resources and experience. Most “advice” seems to be for people who already have money and can make great investments. But most people aren’t in that situation. What has worked for me can apply to those living paycheck-to-paycheck and contains sound strategies for those seeking to begin their own financial journey.

The other problem with “expert advice” is that it is simply a rehash of common strategies found online, like “save for retirement” and other generic “we’ve heard it all before” suggestions, from people who have never taken a step in our shoes. But I have walked in those shoes. I may not be rich (yet), but I know what it takes to navigate through the paths we common folk go through.

The one tip or trick I believe everyone should follow to be financially successful is to put some money away, a little at a time, from each paycheck. Life and time go by fast. Unless you strike it rich along the way, you’ll need something for retirement. If you deduct — or better yet, have auto-deducted — a set amount, even if it’s just $20, over time it will add up.

The best advice I’ve received along my own financial journey is to be proactive. After filing for bankruptcy, I made sure I had options in place, such as building up my credit so that I had a high credit score. Having a high credit score meant being able to get credit card reward accounts with large limits and no annual fees. I opened up a couple credit union accounts because of the more favorable loan terms they have over regular banks. I may not have necessarily needed any of these services or loans at the time, but being proactive meant that at some point in the future I would have these options available to me because I was proactive about my situation prior.”

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