These 8 Success Stories From 2019 Will Leave You Inspired for the New Year

This illustration shows portraits of four people how are considered the most successful inspirational stories of The Penny Hoarder.
(Top to bottom, left to right) Freddie Cruz, Kumiko Love, Briana Browne and Travis Sickle are some of The Penny Hoarder’s most inspirational people of 2019. Photos provided by Kumiko Love, Briana Browne and Chris Zuppa/The Penny Penny Hoarder

First, an acknowledgement: Personal finance can be kind of a downer. 

There’s the $1.5 trillion collectively owed in student loan debt, the low rates of financial literacy and the high interest we’re paying on credit card balances. 

It can all feel so discouraging. 

So what’s the antidote? How about a success story — or eight. We’re taking big-time inspiration from this year’s top stories about people who got a business off the ground, found their dream job, paid off a pile of debt and more. 

If you have a financial challenge that’s holding you back and bringing you down, remember that all these people were once standing on the far side of the promised land, and they made it. You can, too.

Here are eight stories that inspired us in 2019.

1. These Entrepreneurs Who Nailed It on ‘Shark Tank’

Dawoon Kang, CEO and cofounder of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, pitched her business alongside her sister-cofounders Soo and Arum. They didn’t walk away with a deal — they turned one down. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, asked the Kangs if they would sell their company for $30 million on the spot. 

They refused. So boss.

Sara Margulis and her husband, Josh, pitched Honeyfund, their wedding-gift and honeymoon registry website. The Sharks loved it, and the Margulises walked out with a non-equity deal from the Canadian multimillionaire Kevin O’Leary.

Both CEOs talked to The Penny Hoarder about how they got on the show — and how they survived the experience.

2. This High School Dropout Who Makes $100K a year

Freddie Cruz found his dream job in the trades, which are among the fastest-growing fields in the U.S. After dropping out of high school and driving a truck for a while, Cruz landed a gig as a crane operator and now earns six figures. And get this: During the four years he trained as an apprentice, he pulled down $60,000 a year.

3. This Financial Adviser Who Is Teaching His Kids About Money

Travis Sickle’s 4-year-old twins have a special chant when they leave the bank with their father. 

He asks, “What are we going to do with our money?”

And they answer: “Save and invest! Save and invest!”

Enough said.

4. This Woman Who Paid Off $30K in Student Loans in 2 Years

Americans collectively owe something like $1.5 trillion in student debt. That’s a staggering number that will take a very, very long time to pay off. But Briana Browne wasn’t going to spend decades of her life digging out from her own $30,000 in school loans. She got smart, paid it off, like, really fast, and shared with us how she did it.

5. This Blogger Who Invented Her Own Way of Budgeting

Kumiko Love graduated from college with a finance degree — and more than $100,000 in medical, student loan and credit card debt. Through a lot of trial and error, she got better at managing her money, chipped away at her debt and developed the budget-by-paycheck method. She also began blogging about her successes (and failures) as The Budget Mom.

6. This Mom Who Survived the Pantry Challenge

Our staff writer, Tiffany Connors, bravely volunteered to feed her family of three for a week on only what was in their kitchen, in an effort to show how you can save money on groceries by making use of the food you already have. The worst thing that happened was they made garlic bread out of hamburger buns. The best thing: They saved $150.

We salute you, Tiffany, Chris and Gwen.

7. This College Kid Who Won $45K in Video Game Tournaments

Like any high-level athlete, Christian Lomenzo had to practice and hone his skills before making the big time. Starting at age 14, he entered video game tournaments for $1 wagers. All that work culminated with a touchdown play in the final moments of the Madden Bowl Challenge that won him $35,000 and an entry in the Madden Bowl Finals — where he won another $10,000.

So don’t ever let anyone tell you that video games are a waste of time.

8. This Dad Who Turned a Fire Engine Into a Beer Truck

Kevin Mullan found the right fire truck for the right price and did exactly what he’d been planning to do: turn the engine into a rolling tap room that is now in demand for parties and festivals all over Toledo, Ohio. 

Oh, and the money he’s making from his side hustle is paying for his three kids’ school tuition.

Molly Moorhead is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder.