Like many young couples, Stacey and Brandon Steinmetz struggled to make ends meet and relied on plastic for day-to-day purchases.
But thanks to their participation in Summit Credit Union’s “Project Money,” they radically transformed their financial position in just seven months.
By reducing their debt by $29,982 and increasing their savings by $14,402 in that span, the Steinmetzes earned the $10,000 grand prize in the Madison, Wis.-based credit union’s fifth-annual competition.
The $1.9 billion asset institution honored the 2013 Project Money finalists at a reception. Runners-up each received $2,500.
A weighted scoring system based on gross household income that rewards savings increases, debt reduction, and participation in program events determines the winner.
Collectively, the four competing teams boosted their savings by $40,484 and reduced their debt by $62,916.
“To live our lives deliberately to achieve our goals and dreams is so important,” says Kim Sponem, Summit’s president/CEO. “The Project Money contestants made very deliberate and difficult decisions over the past year. They found that the little things make a big difference.
“While Project Money is a contest, it’s really about making changes that will put people on a solid course toward reaching their dreams and being financially stable for their families,” she continues.
The Steinmetzes credit Project Money financial coach Chris Bethke with teaching them how to think differently about money and the importance of communicating with each other about finances.
“We used to hate talking about money and it was a real stress on our relationship,” Stacey Steinmetz says. “We went from living on a budget that was dictated by our latest paycheck to a budget that has us planning for the future and living without credit cards.”
In addition to drastically cutting back on eating at restaurants, the Steinmetzes dialed up their fix-it skills to repair their garage door, moped, and exercise bike rather than hiring help. They made their own laundry detergent and planted a vegetable garden.
“Stacey mentioned that Project Money is not a sprint, but a marathon. They made changes that weren’t always easy, and they formed new habits,” Bethke says.
“Ultimately, they attained goals they couldn’t even dream about six months ago.”
Click here to read about each participating family’s journey, and learn about the 2014 adult Project Money competition—as well as a new contest for teens.