These Stories of Triumph Will Inspire You to Make 2018 Your Best Year Yet

Lisa Rowan leaning against a wall next to a bicycle
Lisa Rowan refinanced her student loans from 6.8% to 3.2% through Credible and will pay off her debt two years ahead of schedule. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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It seems as though America deems every year the “Worst Year Ever.”

Last year, Slate asked in a headline, “Is 2016 the Worst Year in History?” Then Buzzfeed boldly answered, “Guys, It’s Official, 2016 is Actually The Worst Year.” The New York Times even got in on the 2016-bashing with an op-ed piece titled simply, “2016: Worst. Year. Ever?”

So what about 2017? Life certainly happened, and… crap definitely took place.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of good, too. In fact, we’re going to go out on a limb and say 2017 was actually pretty great.

Don’t believe us? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite inspirational stories from the year.

Here at The Penny Hoarder, we like to focus on the positive. So even if it was a long year, take a look at some of these uplifting stories to help launch you into a happy and healthy 2018.

1. For Those With a Dumpy Credit Score…

Read: Here’s How This Mom Paid Off 9 Credit Cards and Raised Her Score 284 Points

Melinda standing at a shoreline
Melinda Smieja raised her credit score from 480 to 764. Photo courtesy Melinda Smieja

It was 2005, and Melinda Smieja was living off credit cards.

Her 13-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, and the mother-daughter duo moved to Seattle to seek treatment.

“I used [a credit card] for dinners; I used it for food, for a place to stay,” Smieja said. “It got to the point where all my credit cards were maxed out.”

Her credit score had dipped to 480.

To pay off some debt, Smieja attempted to refinance her mortgage, which could have saved her money. But she was denied because of her poor credit score.

Years later, still in a rut, Smieja signed up to receive a free credit “report card” courtesy of Credit Sesame. Having all the numbers laid out — and tailored advice to boot — she felt as though her debt was more manageable.

“I could look and I could say, ‘OK, this is what’s all going on here. This is my debt. This is what’s happening. This is what’s making my credit [interest] high,’” she said.

Smieja started taking small steps to mend her credit score. At the time we wrote this story, her credit score was a 764.

Smieja concluded, “[My daughter] is still here with us, and so it made it all worth it. The struggle that I went through. The 12 years of my life have been ups and downs, but just being able to have the financial thing off my back has made everything a blessing.”

2. For Those Who Need a Little Pep in Their Step…

Read: These Women Each Made a Ton of Money Just for Losing Weight

There’s perhaps nothing better for your health than those awe-inspiring weight-loss stories. You know the ones I’m talking about: “The Biggest Loser” types that result in you saying something like, “If they can do it, I can do it!”

Earlier this year, we told the stories of women who lost a ton of weight… and earned a ton of money.

There’s Teresa Suarez, for one. “It was traumatic to see the scale say 266… I was depressed and constantly getting hurt,” she said. She knew she’d hit 300 pounds at the rate she was going.

She’d been clinging to a gym membership, though never used it. “I basically paid to not go to the gym for two years,” she said.

She saw an article through Facebook about HealthyWage, a company that pays people for losing weight. Suarez thought, “Why the heck not?” and signed up.

She bet on herself: $125 per month for six months to lose 60 pounds.

She had no choice but to lose the weight, or she’d lose her money. Turns out, this was just the motivation she needed. Six months later, Suarez banked $2,415.28.

“The fact that my clothes aren’t plus-size anymore is huge,” she said, no pun intended.

If you’re looking for a happier and healthier 2018, you can follow Suarez’s steps and try HealthyWage for yourself. (The pun there was, in fact, intended.)

3. For Those Who Can’t Seem to Save a Dime…

Read: This 19-Year-Old’s Saved $85,000 in 10 Years. Here’s Exactly How She Did It

Robyn Bri has saved more than $85,000 to date. Photo courtesy of Robyn Bri

Saving money is no easy feat. We see statistics time and time again that highlight this financial struggle. (I’ll spare you the numbers for now.)

But back in August, I chatted with Robyn Bri. She’d been featured in an article on NewRetirement with the headline, “Meet the 18 Year Old Who Has More Retirement Savings than the Average 50 Year Old.”

No way, I thought.

I reached out to Bri, who had since turned 19 and was preparing to move into her dorm room at George Washington University. Sure enough, Bri had been working hard — since she was 8 years old — to save money. To date, she’d saved $85,000.

She shared with me just how she’d done it.

Update: I recently connected with Bri again via email to see how college was going — and if she was still managing to save some money.

“GWU is amazing. I have reached out to different departments and professors, allowing me to figure out all my possible options in order to create the perfect major, which will teach me the skills I need to know in order to get my dream job after college…

“I have been babysitting on a weekly basis and helping take care of an elderly man who just got knee surgery. I have a job lined up for next semester through work-study helping little kids with homework at an after-school program. My goal is to save at least $400 a month. I have applied for a few scholarships within GW to help with books and other school material for next semester so that I am able to pay my phone bill and transportation, along with saving money.

“It’s been a little tricky here having to say no to going out to dinner with friends or going shopping, but overall, I am truly loving GW and working toward my goals that I have made for myself.”

I couldn’t have been happier hearing how spectacularly Bri is thriving in college — and that she’s learning many of the lessons I wish I’d learned my freshman year.

4. For Those Who Are Wallowing in Debt…

Read: I Was $50,000 in Debt. Here’s How I Paid Off $30,000 of It in 18 Months

Lisa Rowan posing outside
Lisa Rowan poses in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. Rowan paid off $30,435 worth of debt in 18 months. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

This isn’t another one of those “I got a well-paying job to pay off my debt” stories. Nope. This one offers realistic advice layered with raw emotion.

Back in February, our senior writer Lisa Rowan opened up about the daunting $51,679 sum of debt she faced in 2015.

“I hated my debt so much I wrote the amount in Sharpie on a yellow square of paper and stuck it on the bookshelf next to my bed,” she shared. “‘$51,679’ was the last thing I saw before I went to sleep and the first thing I saw when I woke up.”

Even so, turning her despondence into positive action proved difficult — so difficult she struggled to pry herself from bed some days.

But Rowan did it. She laid out goals, she prioritized, she hustled — she did a heck of a lot of math.

In the end, she managed to pay off $30,435 in 18 months. Leftover? $20,000 in student loans.

Update: I reached out to Rowan nearly a year later to follow up. She ended up refinancing through Credible, which reduced her interest rate from 6.8% to 3.2%. She’ll now be able to swipe these debts off her plate two years ahead of schedule.

Cheers to a happy 2018, Lisa!

5. For Those Parents Who Feel Totally Frazzled…


a woman standing in a living room with her daughter
Amanda Singleton runs her law practice from home while caring for her 2-year-old daughter, Jane. Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

OK, OK. I know you’re overwhelmed as it is, and reading homework is probably the last thing you want to add to your to-do list. But trust us: These three stories are worth it.

Start with the story of four “super moms,” who let our photographer Heather Comparetto shadow their hectic workdays. Each woman opened up about the realities of being a working parent and offered advice to get through it all.

Next, read about how Sam and Susen Meteer, parents of five, are a Lyft tag-team. Sam is a sixth-grade teacher, so he drives after work, at night. Susen is a stay-at-home mom who drops her kids off at school and continues to drive with Lyft.

The duo manages to make an extra $1,500 a week, which goes toward living expenses. “It keeps milk on the table,” Sam said.

Finally, take inspiration from Andrew and Gabriella Morrison, who moved out of their 2,200-square-foot home and into a 200-square-foot tiny house.

“We started recognizing the financial and energetic cost of living [in the larger home] and how busy we were trying to maintain it,” Andrew said. So, they downsized, which included purging 80% of their belongings.

I’m not even a parent, but these stories motivated me to kick my booty in gear this new year!

Keep Your Head High in 2018

In all, know that life will hand deliver you ups and downs — and 2018 will be no different. But taking notes from these positive stories could give you the inspiration to pull yourself up and move forward.

Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She feels as though 2017 was her best year yet (despite all her financial mistakes…).