Smart Money Podcast: Financial Success Stories – Learn from Listener Wins in 2023

In this episode of the Smart Money podcast, hosts Sean Pyles and Sara Rathner share the best money moves made by their listeners in 2023.
Sara Rathner
Sean Pyles
By Sean Pyles and  Sara Rathner 
Published
Edited by Kevin Berry

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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

In this episode of the Smart Money podcast, hosts Sean Pyles and Sara Rathner share the best money moves made by their listeners in 2023. Some of the wins include listeners who moved their Roth IRA account away from a pricey financial advisor, one who paid off their student loans and started a business, and another who successfully managed their money with ADHD.

In their conversation, the Nerds discuss: Roth IRAs, credit scores, student loans, estate planning, home buying, credit cards, financial advisors, high-yield savings accounts, paying off cars, money market accounts, 401ks, and HSAs.

Check out this episode on your favorite podcast platform, including:

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at [email protected]. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

Sean Pyles:

If there's one thing we know here at Smart Money, it's that we have the smartest, coolest, awesomest listeners in the entire podcasting universe. And for that reason, as we close out the year 2023, we're giving the microphone over to you.

Listener 3:

My name is Melissa and I am based in Denver, and my 2023 money win is moving my Roth IRA account out from under the purview of a pricey financial advisor and into an account where I could manage it on my own.

Sean Pyles:

Welcome to NerdWallet's Smart Money Podcast. I'm Sean Pyles.

Sara Rathner:

And I'm Sara Rathner.

Sean Pyles:

This episode kicks off our Nerdy deep dive into the end of 2023. Sara, it's been a year.

Sara Rathner:

You can say that again. Actually, I have to say this has been a pretty good year for me. I mean, I got a new oven, Sean. It doesn't get better than that.

Sean Pyles:

Amazing. Didn't you also have a bun in your oven for a while?

Sara Rathner:

I did. Also that. No, I downplay the importance. I had a baby, which was a way bigger financial commitment than buying an oven.

Sean Pyles:

Hopefully, yeah.

Sara Rathner:

It's been a really big financial year. We also got a new car. It's been a very expensive year.

Sean Pyles:

Lots of big purchases.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah. Well we are always happy to welcome a new little Nerd and I think I can say that 2023 was a pretty good year for me, too. I didn't have a baby or buy an oven or a car, but I enjoyed some fun travel. My twin sister got married and we answered fantabulous questions from our listeners all year long.

Sara Rathner:

We did. And that's how we usually interact with folks out there in the audience. Through their questions. But today, instead of us giving out advice, we're going to let them do it.

Sean Pyles:

That is right. Folks have been hearing us say for months now that we wanted them to send us the best things they did with their money in 2023, their best money moves. And today we're going to share the responses that people wrote and called into us. Smart moves for smart money.

Sara Rathner:

Love it. I bet good money that I'm going to learn something today.

Sean Pyles:

I'd say that's an excellent bet. All right, well, before we do anything else, we want to bring on a familiar voice who has answered more listener questions than any of us can count. Liz Weston, welcome back to the mic.

Liz Weston:

Sean, Sara, it's so good to be here.

Sean Pyles:

So Liz, we are bereft as we end this year because you are leaving the show, retiring and we just can't stand it.

Liz Weston:

Aw, that's so sweet.

Sara Rathner:

Liz, what can we offer you to stay? Homemade salted caramel cookies, a new home studio, a car, millions of dollars, my firstborn child? What would you love?

Liz Weston:

Sara, you had me at salted caramel cookies.

Sara Rathner:

That's it. Yeah. No child though. That's a lot of work.

Liz Weston:

No, had one of those. That's enough. It's been such a pleasure to work with you and Sean and the whole NerdWallet podcast crew. I'm going to miss you guys, but it helps knowing that the podcast is in such great hands and that I'll still be able to hear your voices every week.

Sean Pyles:

Of course. Well, Liz, it's been the pleasure of a lifetime to host the show with you and to work with you here at NerdWallet all these years. Tell us a little bit about why you're leaving now and what your plans are. Or maybe you don't have any plans and that's fab, too.

Liz Weston:

You know, Sean, I can't even process what it would be like to not have plans, so maybe that'll be a later stage when I've achieved true retirement enlightenment. But right now I'm just booking a lot of travel and getting ready to remodel our house, which means sorting through a couple decades worth of stuff as we decide what to pack up and keep. That should keep me pretty busy for a while.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah, I imagine so. Well, listeners might not know this about you, but you're really into miniatures, right? You do really intricate dioramas and the like. You rehab dollhouses for charity. Will you be doing more of that?

Liz Weston:

Oh, definitely. Right now I'm fixing up an old dollhouse with a groovy '70s theme, so there's lots of orange and avocado green.

Sean Pyles:

Ooh, Cool.

Sara Rathner:

Oh, what's your favorite miniature project that you've ever done? And because I'm contractually obligated to ask, what did it cost?

Liz Weston:

Well, definitely my favorite is my haunted dollhouse. It has crumbling plaster, an alligator in the bathtub and skeletons in the attic who are watching television. And I have absolutely no idea what it cost, but the pleasure it's brought me is absolutely priceless.

Sean Pyles:

I love that. We need some pictures, Liz.

Liz Weston:

Definitely.

Sean Pyles:

Well, we are going to miss you like nobody's business, and we all send you a giant virtual hug and hope to maybe have you on as a guest every once in a while? Well, Liz, before you go, any parting words of advice for our listeners?

Liz Weston:

Keep listening to Smart Money so you can come join me in retirement someday.

Sara Rathner:

Well, maybe one day one of us could afford a mortgage on one of the tiny houses that you put together.

Liz Weston:

Downsizing.

Sean Pyles:

Sounds like a good plan. Well, thank you for everything again.

Liz Weston:

Oh, my pleasure, sweetie.

Sara Rathner:

Thank you, Liz. Most of you listening don't know Liz in person, which is your loss, trust me. But in addition to being an excellent giver of money tips, Liz has also been a tremendous career mentor to so many of us at NerdWallet. And I know that there are more than 100 members of the NerdWallet content team who will keep her advice in our hearts as we progress through our own careers and hopefully also get to retire one day.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah, words can't adequately express how much I'm going to miss having Liz join us in the co-hosting seat. But Sara, I have no doubt that we'll carry on her legacy at bringing whip smart personal finance advice, thoughtful conversation, and a sense of humor to every episode.

All right, well, as we and Liz have said many a time, we always want to hear your thoughts about money and your questions. Maybe now that we're winding down 2023, you can share your money plans for 2024 with us or anything else that's on your mind. Leave us a voicemail or text the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-N-E-R-D, or email a voice memo to [email protected]. Stay with us. We're back in a moment with your best money moves from 2023.

Okay, we're back. And Sara, are you ready to hear advice from our listeners instead of giving it?

Sara Rathner:

Born ready, Sean. Let's do it.

Sean Pyles:

All right. Our first voicemail is from Denise in Brooklyn, New York.

Listener 1:

Three years ago I leased a car and at that time my credit score was below a Tier 3. And when we got to that part of the transaction, the finance person I was working with was pretty demeaning about it and I felt that the whole experience just wasn't a good experience and I felt a bit humiliated. Fast-forward three years later to this month, that lease has ended. I turned in that car and I got a new car from a new dealership. And when they got to the finance portion, my credit was an 802. I was very proud of that because I really worked hard to make changes and they paid off. So that is the best thing that happened to me financially in 2023.

Sean Pyles:

Woo-hoo. Somebody ring a bell for Denise.

Sara Rathner:

I love two things here. First, she's got a great credit score. And second, she didn't have to take any crap from Mr. Nasty finance person this time around when getting a new car. So yay for her on all accounts. Denise, I'm very proud of the work you did. This is a major money accomplishment.

Sean Pyles:

Absolutely agree. I mean, I'm so sorry she felt humiliated in any way, but thankfully that is in the past and she's gotten new confidence and a new improved outlook on money.

Sara Rathner:

And maybe that finance person has been since put on a performance improvement plan.

Sean Pyles:

That would be great. They learned how to be a little bit nicer to their customers hopefully.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah, credit scores are not forever. You got to be nice to people on the way up.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah, it's not a reflection of who you are as a person, it's just a reflection of your history with credit. Okay. All right, well let's hear next from Charlie. They write:

Hey y'all. I'm delighted to share some personal finance milestones I've achieved in 2023. This year marked a significant achievement for me as I successfully paid off my student loan balance. I completed my master's degree in clinical mental health counseling back in 2018, shouldering $50,000 in student loans on a starting salary of $32,000. At that time, I was unlicensed and eagerly accepted the first job offer that came my way. Driven by the goal to eliminate my student debt as quickly as possible and to gain valuable clinical experience, I dedicated myself to work, often including weekends, for the first two years post-graduation. This relentless pursuit has borne fruit. I now earn $72,000 annually as a primary therapist in an intensive outpatient program/partial hospitalization program setting in addition to managing a private practice with a select caseload.

Clearing my student loans, which were paused at $37,000, has been incredibly liberating. It has also enabled me to maximize contributions to my Roth IRA and to save for a down payment on a home. Your show has been a phenomenal resource throughout this journey and it's exciting to share that I'm now pursuing a certification in financial therapy through the Financial Therapy Association.

Sara, I think our job here is done.

Sara Rathner:

Yeah, I think we could just go on vacation till after New Year's.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah, right. Let's do it. Okay. Well the truth is we do have more to come, but this is just the best, isn't it? I mean, you have all of the basic advice we give week in and week out right there in that email.

Sara Rathner:

And better yet, this person is about to become a financial therapist. So if you need additional help, we might know someone.

Sean Pyles:

Love to hear it. What stands out to me in Charlie's message is the power of goal setting. Charlie knew what they wanted to accomplish. They wanted to help people. They wanted to get out from their mountain of student loan debt and to earn more money. And over a few years, Charlie has found more ways to help more people, paid off their debt and more than doubled their salary. That is so, so cool.

Sara Rathner:

Okay, well here's a voicemail we received from someone who didn't leave their name, but let's hear from them anyway.

Listener 2:

Hi Sean. I just wanted to say I'm super excited that my great money thing for 2023 was closing out my grandma's estate and buying a house. So super excited.

Sean Pyles:

Sara, I haven't done it myself, but I know that clearing out a loved one's estate is no easy task. So bravo to this listener for getting it done and then buying a house for their own estate.

Sara Rathner:

Home purchases are one of the most terrifying and awesome things you can do in any given year.

Sean Pyles:

Yeah, right up there with having a baby.

Sara Rathner:

Or buying an oven.

Sean Pyles:

Or a car.

Sara Rathner:

There's so many options.

Sean Pyles:

Well, here's another voicemail and this is a listener we helped earlier this year with a money question about whether they should dump their family's financial advisor and take control of their investments.

Listener 3:

My name is Melissa and I am based in Denver. And my 2023 money win is moving my Roth IRA account out from under the purview of a pricey financial advisor and into an account where I could manage it on my own, select the mutual funds and exchange traded funds I would like for little to no fees, no transaction fees, and overall have more control over the future of this account.

Sara Rathner:

I don't know about you, Sean, but I like to be in control.

Sean Pyles:

I would have to agree, especially control over something as important as your retirement investments. So good for you, Melissa. You will not miss those fees, I'll tell you that. And here's hoping that your portfolio performs better under your management than your previous advisors. All right, on to the next voicemail.

Listener 4:

Hi, my name is Natalie Bernier and I was just listening to this recent podcast episode and I would like to share some of my financial wins of this year. So since turning 18 this year, I was able to get a credit card and then later on about during this time I was able to get a second credit card. Not only that, but I started focusing on my future goals, which one of them is to retire in another country. So I decided to open a Roth IRA with Fidelity. It's a robo-advisor because I would like to do my own research, but I also want the robo-advisor to do it for me. So I'm just setting up money biweekly when I get paid so that they can do it for me. But at the same time, I'm also interested in learning more about the stock market. So yeah, those are my financial wins of this year. And I just want to say I love your podcast so much and I can't wait to listen for more next year. Have a great 2024, guys. I love you. Bye.

Sean Pyles:

And we love you too, Natalie. And you are off to such an amazing start in your financial life. Keep going and let us know how you're doing. Up next is a voice memo from Max, another listener we talked with on the podcast this year. When we spoke, he was deciding what to do with a roughly $100,000 windfall he was coming into after a divorce.

Listener 5:

I ended up taking your guys' advice and using the money for a lot of different things. The first thing I did was I put $50,000 in a high yield savings account as a down payment on a house. I'm going to wait a little bit until I buy though so I can find a place in the Seattle area that I want to buy in and hope this crazy real estate market calms down a little bit. With the rest of the money, I put $25,000 towards a car. I know I shouldn't have, but with car prices what they were at the beginning of the year, I didn't want a large payment. I paid off all of my debts besides student loans and put six months worth of bills in a savings account to have as a buffer and an emergency savings. Even after all that, I've got about $8,000 that I still haven't decided on what to do with. I might take that big trip we talked about on your show because YOLO.

Sean Pyles:

YOLO.

Sara Rathner:

YOLO.

Sean Pyles:

Especially when you're doing such good smart stuff with your money, you deserve a little YOLO. Max, take that trip.

Sara Rathner:

Really very impressive what you've been able to do, so enjoy yourself. It's okay. That's our advice. So Sean, who's up next?

Sean Pyles:

Well, I got a bunch of fun responses when I put out a call on Instagram. Want to go through those with me?

Sara Rathner:

Absolutely.

Sean Pyles:

Okay, here we go. From Kyle T, "Paid off my student loans and was able to pay cash for a car after an accident with the payoff amount after it was totaled. I was lucky enough to be able to put away what would've been my monthly payments during the pause into a high-yield savings account. When the pause ended, I had enough to pay off my loan balance. Love the podcast. Thanks for all you do. Appreciate having someone like me sharing advice on these topics."

Sara Rathner:

From Taren, "Got around to setting up and maximizing a Roth IRA for my spouse and myself, started maximizing my 401k, started investing into Vanguard index funds and got into churning using bank joining bonuses."

Sean Pyles:

Eliza Y says, "I changed companies and finally qualified for an HSA. So nerdy, but I'm so excited to max it out."

Sara Rathner:

Josh A. writes, "We started to cashflow positively every month instead of sliding a little further into credit card debt every month like we'd been for years. It has been hard fought to get there with chronic illness, job loss, a new baby, and other factors, but we are so relieved to see our balances go down instead of up every month."

Sean Pyles:

And here are a couple of short and sweet responses. From Miriam, "Started a business." And from Sarah R, "Hired an advisor. Still mildly skeptical, but I can't do it all." Hey wait, Sara, is Sarah R. you?

Sara Rathner:

No, Sean, I didn't feel the need to write to you on Instagram because I could just send you a Slack message like a normal person. But I do agree that we can't do it all by ourselves. So bravo to the other Sarah R. Sarah R's unite.

Sean Pyles:

And I kind of love how these messages hit on a lot of the big financial areas we talk about all the time on the show: student loans, IRAs, HSAs, starting a business. These are all huge things and I'm so proud of all of our listeners for just getting it all done.

Sara Rathner:

Yes, all of these acronyms, they're so exciting. Okay, next we have a voicemail from Kim and she wrote to us first with a question about managing money with ADHD and then her money win was connected to that.

Listener 6:

With a recent diagnosis, I have officially made a budget and actually stuck to it for an entire month and have lived well within my means for a whole 45 days now. And in my world, that counts as a win. So thanks again for all you guys do and looking forward to hearing more soon. Thanks.

Sean Pyles:

That is 100% a money win. It would be a money win even if you did it for just a week. But 45 days is fantastic.

Sara Rathner:

Yes, keep it up. Pretty soon it'll be 75 days and then 100 days and then it'll just become a part of who you are. And even if you mess up one day, it's okay, because there are all the other days to do what you want. So good on you for working on something that could conceivably benefit you for the rest of your life and take it step by step.

Sean Pyles:

Okay, Sarah, we've gotten to the final listener money win for 2023. I would love to do this every month because it's so cool to hear what people are doing. But for today, Amy is here to finish out the episode.

Listener 7:

I'm grateful to your team for everything you've taught me. Three things. I paid off my car this fall all thanks to your information about a money market account. So now that I have a high yield savings money market account for my savings, my husband and I put all of our savings into one basket. We found out we have not only a nest egg but a little bit extra, so that is fascinating for both of us. We both grew up fairly poor so this feels really good. But I was able to pay off my car literally two weeks ago.

And then the other exciting piece of news was that, and I got that money market account, but now I actually understand exactly how my insurance works from out of pocket versus copays and all of that. So I believe I am ready to have my hips get replaced over the next year. So I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Because of all of the hard work you do and all the information you give us, I was able to not only pay off my car and start collecting more than a nest egg, but I feel pretty good going into the unknown of health with getting my hips replaced so that I can start investing even more in myself by walking again and hiking again and that kind of stuff. So really grateful to you guys. Thanks again. Bye.

Sara Rathner:

Amy, that is amazing. Three cheers for you.

Sean Pyles:

3 cheers, 10 gold stars, 50 huzzahs. We are so proud of you and we are grateful for you for sharing your successes with us. And same with all of you who wrote in or left us voicemails. We truly do love each and every one of you and your advice and comments are priceless. So thank you.

Sara Rathner:

Yes, thank you all. You make this job even more fun than it already is. All right Sean, what's up for next week? Episode two of our 2023 countdown?

Sean Pyles:

Well next week we are reaching back into the mailbag for more from our listeners. And this time it will be the comments they've left us over the year about what they heard on the show.

Sara Rathner:

Can't wait.

Sean Pyles:

And that's it for this episode. If you have a money question for the Nerds, call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-N-E-R-D. You can also email us at [email protected]. Visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you're getting this podcast.

Sara Rathner:

This episode was produced by Tess Vigeland and Sean. Kaely Monahan mixed our audio and a big thank you to the NerdWallet editors for all their help.

Sean Pyles:

And here's our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances.

Sara Rathner:

And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.