One woman’s journey to help others, one budget at a time By Alison Henslee
When a person goes to college and gets a degree, they typically learn a great deal about their chosen field, hoping to find a good job, make a lot of money and live the perfect dream life. For one Spokane woman though, going from point A to point B has already happened in her 30-some years, but with a fascinating, and life-changing, twist.
Kumiko Love, an accredited financial counselor and the creator of The Budget Mom, was raised on a farm in Chewelah, Washington, and lived a normal farm-girl life. She grew up, went off to college where she obtained a business administration degree—majoring in finance and accounting and minoring in economics. She got a job right out of college with an independent financial company in Spokane and worked for seven years as an administrative assistant and accredited financial counselor, helping other people wisely spend and save their money.
She also did traditional life things: got married and had a child. And then the not-so-planned life things: got a divorce and became sole financial provider for her then 2-year-old son, which was a challenge in itself, and then factor in substantial student loan debt, credit card debt and a new vehicle loan, all adding to her single mom level of stress.
Miko found herself going to work feeling embarrassed because, as she puts it, “How am I supposed to tell these people how to manage their money when I can’t even manage my own?!” She had the knowledge, she knew the steps, but a long-time struggle with self-esteem issues made retail therapy a thing in her life, and it served as an antidote for her feeling of no self-worth. The more she struggled with that issue, the deeper in debt she went.
Being a mom was so meaningful to her, Miko knew she had to take steps to work on her personal self-development so she could be the best parent to her son. The pivotal financial turning point happened when she finally faced her debt. Writing it all out on paper and seeing her real debt numbers—almost $78,000!—in black and white was all the motivation she needed.
Pulling from every bit of knowledge she had, Miko became her own best client. Debt reduction became her number one focus, and she challenged herself to try different budgets but was unable to find one that completely worked for her.
Her solution? Dig through all the budgets that she had tried and pick out the pieces in each of them that had worked for her. Then Miko carefully compiled those pieces and rolled them together until she created a budget worksheet that finally worked for her. Her paycheck system allowed Miko to outline her spending based on the money she was going to earn, and then she always knew exactly where her money was going ahead of time.
Miko found the new budget worked and did everything she could to stay on course, using tools like a vision board and colorful debt payoff trackers to keep track of every single dollar she put toward paying down her debt. Every line she colored in on her payoff trackers represented not only another goal met but also a lot of hard work.
She whole-heartedly advocates using a visioning board to track one’s financial goals. Her first board, started way back in 2011, simply had a photo of a really nice backpack that she wanted to save up for. Now, literally every single piece of her financial life is on multiple visioning boards above her desk, and she marvels at how many financial “wishes” have already become realities—starting with that long-ago backpack!
Another thing that worked for Miko was following her own advice, “If you can’t reduce spending, you need to increase income.” After combing through and cutting out as much unnecessary spending from her monthly budget as she could and still coming up short, Miko then considered her options. She could go find an additional job, but then she would be putting her son in additional daycare, so there would be an extra expense. She weighed out that option and decided it wouldn’t be worth the money or time away from her son. So then Miko looked at her favorite hobbies, wondering if there was something that she loved to do that could bring in additional money. And so she decided to fine-tune her love of photography. After watching countless hours of YouTube videos and reading on the subject, she used that talent and found work as a real estate photographer to supplement her income. It was perfect because it was something she could do on her time off and take her son with her. She worked hard, stayed focused and scraped together every penny she could to go toward lowering those balances.
She began to see progress but, deep down inside, she was bursting at the seams with what she was learning and with every accomplishment, every bill paid, every line colored in—Miko just wanted to shout her knowledge out to other single moms. She knew there were other moms out there who understood exactly where she was coming from and knew what it felt like to be in her shoes; women who could benefit from what she was learning to do the same thing: get out from under those mountains of debt. She wanted to share it with everyone! So one night, not able to stay quiet one second longer, Miko grabbed her computer and started typing. Her first post flowed into a steady stream of posts; she began sharing the tools she was using: the colorful tracking charts, cash envelope system and her paycheck budget binder.
Though her blog, newsletter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, even Amazon accounts, Miko shares her best tips, ideas and tools that have worked for her, and dedicates herself to holding true to the purpose that she believes she was put on earth—to do something great. Helping people is her passion, and Miko throws herself at it with all of her heart. Every bit of communication is answered personally by her and, now, her assistant. They have posted a video on Instagram every single day for a year-and-a-half now. “Everything we do here, every single day, is we want to inspire hope,” Miko shares. She believes the most effective motivation for anyone is to invoke feeling, adding that “… every article we share or video we post is done with the thought, ‘Is this going to invoke feeling?’ Because without provoking feeling, there’s not going to be action, and people take action because they feel something.”
Miko has definitely evoked feeling. Her fans clamored for more, so she began offering free resources and marketing her tools: colorful cash envelopes and trackers, worksheets, planners and her Budget by Paycheck workbooks that are now being sold around the world. Miko was shocked when she went viral. Her fan base is growing rapidly—she adds about 1,000 followers per day, and she has nearly 65,000 subscribers on YouTube. Google “The Budget Mom” and you’ll find her story goes on for pages. She’s been featured on “Good Morning America” and other talk shows, her story told in endless articles, and currently she’s planning her first speaking event in Spokane Valley (October 23 at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center).
“I had no idea The Budget Mom would ever be this big, that so many people wanted to change their financial lives,” Miko says of her newfound status as a financial influencer, “but it helps me pursue my passion of helping people every day, which makes me happy!” When asked what makes her different than other financial bloggers, she believes there are two things that have made her successful:
One, sharing her real numbers since day one. Miko believes in teaching from experience, not by example, so she’s completely transparent about her entire debt story. And two, having a personal connection with her fans. People are surprised when she responds to their correspondence, but that’s her way of making an impact, which she feels also keeps her relatable. Miko especially loves hearing how her advice helps people find their way out of debt, saving relationships and lives—because her advice works.
Remember that $78,000 in debt she was buried under? Miko paid it off in full four years later, the bulk of it in eight months after her Budget Mom business started growing. As of last year, she and her business are 100 percent debt-free. Her current goal? Saving enough money to buy her first home with cash. And yes, that means she’s still practicing what she preaches and living very frugally!
Sometimes it’s challenging to make that sacrifice when you want something now, but Miko advocates the rewards that come from being a patient spender. Her goal of paying cash for a home will hopefully then allow her to travel and spend more time with her son, and without a mortgage to deal with, Miko can entertain the thought of retiring early.
Miko’s biggest message to those struggling under a mountain of debt is to take that first small step and the next one and just continue to stick with it. She encourages people to keep their motivation in front of them, to not lose heart at having to do without, especially because this isn’t going to be their permanent way of living.
Per Miko’s own experience, the sacrifice you’re making today is going to be worth it when you are finally getting to live the life you really want and be able to do whatever you would like.
She might be small in stature but Miko Love is making a really big impact in the world, generously dispensing her budgeting and living frugally knowledge so that others can live debt-free lives also, one carefully saved (and spent) penny at a time.
If you’d like to attend her speaking event, you can find the event information and purchase tickets at EventBrite.com.