What’s the one thing that changed your personal finances? 5 Charlotte women share

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Piper Warlick Photography
Bernadette Joy Cruz Maulion

How you handle money can affect your health, stress levels and feelings of security. Statistics highlight Americans’ issues with credit card debt, inability to pay back loans, lack of retirement savings and general knowledge about personal finances. Armed with this information, it seems like a no-brainer to educate yourself about the green stuff.

When I was in my 20s, my husband and I took a continuing education class, How to Live Debt Free, at Queens University of Charlotte. In three hours, we found out how to use the debt snowball method to pay off our debts quickly and systematically. We paid off school loans, a car and a home construction loan within a few years. We didn’t eat out often or make many purchases, and we kept our cars for at least a decade. We did splurge on vacations to Italy, Yosemite National Park and a few other destinations. Those rewards kept us going!

WalletHub released a report this week comparing the best and worst states for women. North Carolina weighed in at 34th for economic and social well-being — not exactly a rave review of how our state treats women financially. The study examined median income, unemployment rate, job security and share of women-owned businesses, among other factors.

Given these factors especially, we wanted to know how other Charlotte women are making their money work for them. So CharlotteFive asked five women, “What’s the one thing you did to change your personal finances?”

Here’s what they had to say:

(1) Keri Bonfili

Photo by Christine Bittler
Keri Bonfili

We began using Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover system last fall and it’s been a game-changer. We’ve paid off more than $17,000 in debt and have an emergency fund set aside. Our goal is to be debt-free, except for our home, later this year.”

Age: 48

Lifestyle: Married with four children

Occupation: Owner of thekbonfili.com, a boutique public relations firm.

Splurge: She hosts dinner parties at home with friends and plans date nights and long weekends with her husband.

Items she lives without: Brand-new vehicles, expensive family vacations and cable TV

How she makes it work: “We’ve always had a budget, but now it gets followed and every dollar has a job — it’s a team sport for us. We also communicate on a daily basis about our goals and our expenses. This ensures we’re both on the same page and that we have our eyes on the prize — being debt-free.

“My husband changes the oil in our vehicles and I color my own hair. We also gave up cable and buy groceries at Aldi.”

(2) Bernadette Joy Cruz Maulion

Pictured at top. “My husband and I have a monthly spending plan. We block off time on the first Sunday of every month, and we go over all our finances for the next 30 days. We look at what we’re going to spend in the next 30 days and make sure we budget accordingly.”

Age: 34

Occupation: Owner of Dressed, “Crush This Debt” Podcast and Bernadettejoy.com

Lifestyle: Married, no children

Items she lives without: Vacations, eating out, new cars and shopping

Splurge: She travels to Las Vegas and New York at least twice a year.

How she makes it work: “We both enjoy the hustle. Neither of us believe in one revenue stream. All of those things contribute to us being able to pay off debt really fast because we have more income to throw at it.”

[Related: How this couple got an anonymous gift of $12K — and is paying it forward]

(3) Liz Mallas

Photo by Lisa Bouanna
Liz Mallas

“The decision that most impacted my finances was moving abroad and taking an expat position in Africa. This allowed me to cut those living expenses even further and save most of what I made — which I then used to buy a condo in Uptown Charlotte. When I did move back to the U.S., I used that same budget to guide my spending (and still do to this day) and sought the help of a financial planner to keep me on track.”

Age: 37

Occupation: Director of government affairs

Lifestyle: Single, no children

Items she lives without: Stuff. she doesn’t shop unless she needs something.

Splurge: She travels, spends money on experiences and purchases and athletic wear.

How she makes it work: “I don’t overspend. I don’t live outside my means.”

(4) Nicole Nolen

Photo by Chris Nolen
Nicole Nolen

“Started budgeting with YNAB (You Need A Budget). YNAB is web-based budgeting software that allows you to assign your money to categories and set goals for yourself. The program helped me understand that budgeting is just being intentional about what you want your money to do for you. It can be whatever you want.”

Age: 32

Lifestyle: Married, no children

Occupation: Social media coordinator

Items she lives without: New cars

Splurge: She spends money on skincare and travel.

How she makes it work: “My budget helps me see what I’m sacrificing if I make a decision with money that’s not intentional. If I deviate from my budget, it’s ok. Spending too much on eating out or splurging on something for the house just means I have to adjust my other categories to make up for it. It helps keep me honest and practical. Long term, it also helps us both be realistic about what we can afford for bigger-picture purchases — a house, renovations, investments.”

(5) Monica Pettiford

Courtesy of Monica Pettiford
Monica and Camille Pettiford

“I have set my living expenses to not exceed $35,000 per year, no matter how much I make. Everything that I make over that then gets proportioned out to extracurricular activities for my daughter and our travel, experiences and savings.”

Age: 44

Occupation: Owner of Porch Productions, substitute teacher

Lifestyle: Single, one child

Items she lives without: Cable

Splurge: She purchases season tickets to the Blumenthal Performing Arts because “we’re musical theater geeks.”

How she makes it work: “We eat out only four to five times a month. I do thrifting and consignment shopping. I believe in capsule closeting, which I just started last year. It’s completely changed how I look at shopping.”

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