Chris Cookley

My Story

It's a good one... maybe one you're familiar with.

I married my wife, Sarah, in 2012. We were fairly young at the time, both of us in our early 20’s. I had my first real job, and she was still in college. We combined our finances right after the wedding, and things got rocky pretty quick.

Up to that point, we had each managed our money independently, though I use “managed” lightly here. In reality, we had each skated by with our money. But then, all of a sudden, we took the whole union thing seriously, and had to work together. We had to talk to each other, and come to an agreement about almost every purchase. What’s mine is hers and hers is mine. It was our money.

That didn’t go well.

It seemed like every day we were fighting about who spent all the money. I would buy something, and she would be upset because she had plans for that money. She would buy something, and I would complain that she spent too much on it.

I was constantly scanning the credit card statements, trying to find the grocery store names and adding the charges together, certain that I found a way for our money to last longer. Spend less on groceries! Forget anything else, cut the Kroger trips!

Us at a bar we probably couldn't afford in 2012.

We were in a perpetual state of deep anxiety.

We worried about what we’d already spent, while trying to do the mental gymnastics of what our next checks should look like, and would we have enough to cover it? Add on top of the disorganized spending over $100,000 in student loan debt, and you can probably get a sense of the pressure.

We had no control. We had no clarity.

Looking back, We probably didn’t fight every day, but it sure felt like it. Those were some great years in our aspects of our lives, but they were the dark days for our money.

Simba would say: But what’s that shadowy place over there? 

and Mufasa would say: That’s the Cookley’s finances. You must never go there, Simba.

Financial problems are one of the top reasons for divorce in the United States, and we spent three very difficult years together, trying to get a handle on our money. It wasn’t going well. We were not on a path to success.

Our lives changed in 2015, when a friend mentioned a little app called You Need A Budget, or, YNAB. I told him he was crazy, we don’t need a budget, *thanks*, we’re doing *fine*. We get checks every other week, we set aside our rent and utilities, guess what we can afford to send to debt, and hope we have enough left for food and gas. Oh, and everything else you actually need but never think about? Like insurance? Well, it would get paid somehow…

Us on a cruise we definitely couldn't afford in 2013.

But a budget? And an app called You Need A Budget? What kind of app tells you what you need without even getting to know you? That app didn’t know me! It didn’t know what I needed! So I said no, no thanks, no You Need A Budget here.

Thankfully, like good friends do, he knew I was being an idiot and insisted I check it out. So I did.

What I found was the first glimmer of hope I had seen in years. What I was seeing in the tutorial videos and blog posts was an application that seemed built to handle exactly the sort of pressure I was feeling every single day.

I spent hours pouring through the materials, unable to take my eyes away, and I felt giddy. I ran home and told Sarah I have a solution to our problem! You Need A Budget!

She took one look at me and said No. No way. Absolutely not.

I just stood there, mouth hanging open, finger half raised in protest, stopped in my tracks with two little letters that I never anticipated hearing. In my mind, I would say You Need A Budget! and Sarah would say That’s it! You’re Right! We do! Thank you so much for saving our finances! You’re so smart! That’s exactly what we need!

That didn’t happen.

You see, in typical man fashion, I told her the solution without providing context. She had no why. I rushed in to tell her we needed to completely upend our entire financial system and put everything into this app that she had never heard of, and it was overwhelming. It was too much all at once. We lived (metaphorically) in a duct taped and broken cardboard box, but it was our cardboard box, damnit, and it was familiar.

I tried a different approach. I calmed down. I shared what I learned about the app, how it worked, and how I thought it could really help us. It took some time, more time than I wanted, honestly, but eventually, Sarah was on board to try it. So we did.

Us again, 2013, at a restaurant we couldn't afford.

It was a disaster.

Not the app, YNAB was and remains fantastic, and, spoiler alert, we use it to this very day. But we were a disaster. We had never done a budget before, we had no idea how to do it, how to get started, or what to expect. We guessed at everything. What’s a category? What categories do we need? How much should we put in each category? Why is everything always wrong and off and red? (A red balance means you’ve over spent the category in YNAB. Red has become my least favorite color in the world in all areas of my life).

We just didn’t know how to do it, and it took probably the entire 2nd half of 2015 for us to get a handle on things.

But thank God we did.

Five years later and we’re running like a well oiled machine. Our budget has become central to our financial success. Those student loans? They’re gone. We paid them off at the end of 2020. Our cars? Paid for as well. The grocery budget is still a touchy subject from time to time (how do kids eat so much?!), but for the most part, our financial stress is a shadow of its former self.

We don’t have to wonder how much money we can spend anymore, we already know. Our budget guides us.

I believe that a budget is one of the sacred pillars of a sound financial existence.

But it’s hard, especially at first, and as someone who has been through it, I want to help you avoid some of the hardship that we struggled through. Getting to the other side is beyond worth it, and you can do it. I’m here to help.

Thanks for being here. Now, lets get your budget in order so you can finally feel free.

Way less stress, here in 2020.