The first step to understanding money: Smell Your Sh*t

Showing you it is possible to pay off all your debt and travel the world too

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Hi guys! This post is the first in a serious of personal finance articles my crazy-smart-hilarious-beautiful friend Berna from Hey Berna! has graciously agreed to write for me you all. I’m sure many of you are proper adults who know how to manage your monies, but for those of you like me, and who avoid things like thinking about taxes, bank account balances and have an attitude that “credit cards aren’t real money”  and student loans will pay themselves off, well, this is for you. Berna is here to help!

Berna is thoroughly inspirational human and has proven it’s possible, from paying off over $50,000 in debt, to figuring out how to hack free flights and hotels around the world, to saving up enough money while paying off debt to take off a year of work and travel, and she’s gonna share her best tips for me (and for you too, I guess) on how to tackle the big scary topic of money and travel! Enjoy!

Hello. My name is Berna Anat. And guys, I… am a recovering, terrible-at-money garbage fire.

Thank you for this support at this difficult time.

Seriously, though, admitting you have money problems feels a lot like one of those naked public speaking nightmares that we all dread. But that’s why Liz, out of the kindness and maybe delirium of her heart, is letting me guest-blog here. (and who definitely can’t bring herself to write about saving money to travel no matter how often people ask – shivers). 

I have been to the “Holy shit, I kind of understand money now” promised land. Not only is it delicious, y’all, but it’s 100% accessible to you too. I swear!

You just have to learn to smell your shit.

Yup, I just went there. 

pay off debt and travel the world

I’m Berna, and here’s my face next to a giant flower! Which is ironic, because my money situation was total manure

But first, skrrrt, let me back up.

The reason I have any type of credibility in talking about this is because two years ago, I got tired of being a collector of debts, and I developed a plan to pay off my $50,000 in student loans and credit card debt.

How you ask? Very good question. I will tell all. 

I used sheer will, discipline, and a really annoying Google Doc system. I call it Felicia’s Wallet, and I talk about in the video below.

And here’s what’s really wild: I actually did it. IT WORKED!

Here’s where you hate me: I’m now traveling the world with zero debt. I repeat, ZERO DEBT. 

It’s totally and completely possible! I have enough extra cash to do absolutely nothing but travel for a year. And I have a retirement and emergency savings waiting for me in case I completely screw this up; I’ve even invested in and sold some basic-ass stock. It is possible to pay off debt and travel the world. 

Adult, what?

Most importantly, I’ve learned that the intimidating world of personal finance is simply a game – but if you’re like me and millions of others, no one told us the most basic goddamn rules. In fact, most of us learned to fear it, ignore it, and hope it somehow fixes itself.

I’m here to help captain your SS Struggle Ship. No more of that mess. Let’s sort this out now. 

You heard the Queen – via GIPHY

Some of the stuff I’ll explain in future blogs, written in real normal-human language instead of the foreign crap on :

  • How to create a budget that actually works
  • How credit card points even function (and how to use them to get free flights)
  • What the mother-eff is investing, and do I have to be a rich white dude to play? (Spoiler: Hell no)

All of this starts with one important step: Smelling your shit.


Smelling your shit is more than admitting your fear of money – it’s putting your actual eyeballs on those nasty numbers you’ve been avoiding for so long. Most folks I talk to cannot name exactly how much debt they’re in, and that’s where their problems begin.

Not knowing your numbers gives your debt all the power as this mysterious, haunting shadow-blob. Smelling your shit is how you get your first grip of power over your money.

Do it now.

pay off debt and travel the world

Stinky geothermal hot pools in New Zealand – they reek!

Here’s what you need to do. Sit down. Get ready. Are you ready? Great. 

1. Open an excel sheet, or a Google Doc, or a fresh piece of paper

Doesn’t matter how you record it; just that you do it right now, and on something you won’t accidentally (on purpose) throw away.

2. Write down everything you have in each bank account

Yep – this means doing the “Forgot Your Password” dance with your bank as many times as it takes.

Write down the exact amount you have today in every savings and checking account you have control over, in a grid that’s something like this:

3. Write down all of your separate debts

Yep – this might mean calling customer service reps and literally asking, “How the hell much do I owe you guys, like, in total?” You might be like me and have 3 different credit cards and 10 different student loans, all with different balances and interests rates. Write them all down separately, and then add them up.

That’s your shit! Look at her. Read her backwards. Name her and understand her. She’s yours, for better or for worse.

It’s time to own it.

4. Put this somewhere you can see it

Not on a iPhone or desktop note that you can sneakily minimize, you sneaky b. I know how it goes. Don’t even try.

Print it, write it out and stick it somewhere you’ll always see it. Tack it above your coffee machine. Stick it on your mirror and read it as you brush your teeth. Tape it on your door and whack it as you walk out, like you’re a hormonal linebacker in Friday Night Lights.

The idea here is to look at it every day and feel the sting over and over, until it stings less and less.

Angela Basset = Me when I first looked at all my numbers together – via GIPHY

You might feel shame. You might feel gassy. GOOD. That means you’re doing it right.

You wouldn’t be having problems if your money garden was all sunshine and roses, right? I’ll give you 30 seconds to throw yourself a shitty pity party.

…. Nice. I felt that.

Looking my debt in the eye for the first time – and, in comparison, seeing it next to my teeny paycheck – was incredibly shitty. But it was my shit, and I knew its exact smell.

That’s right, Gwen. OWN IT via GIPHY

It was no longer this unknown monster shit blob, hiding in a cave where my imagination can make up how scary it was depending on how anxious I felt in that moment. My money monster had a name and a shape, and a smell, and it became way less scary.

Need more weird metaphors? It’s like playing Street Fighter and seeing exactly how much green your enemy has in their life bar, so you know exactly how long and hard you need to beat their ass.

Once I defined my money situation at its most basic level, I began to feel the teeniest bit of understanding. For the first time, I felt control. And for me, that tiny sense of control changed my life. It kicked off my entire journey of learning that money problems can honestly, fo real, be overcome – no matter how much of a messy betch you think you are.

You did it. I’m proud as shit via GIPHY

Regardless of where your numbers go from here, you’ve done the scariest part; you’ve gone from total ignorance to understanding. Smelling your shit – defining your numbers – is not only the best way to fully understand your situation, but it’s the most gratifying way to feel that deep appreciation and joy when it starts to get better.

And, spoiler alert? It WILL get better. I’d bet on it.

Join me at and on Instagram in the land of I Kind Of Understand Money Now! We have wine!

pay off debt and travel the world

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16 Comments on “The first step to understanding money: Smell Your Sh*t

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  1. “3 different credit cards and 10 different student loans”
    Wow, I’m so glad I grew up in a country where university is 1000 euros a year and credit cards are not allowed. Sometimes it’s good to realise how lucky we are…
    Thanks for that!

  2. LOL Berna very funny! I feel we add charge to money. Like, fear of loss goads us to do all types of wacky stuff with it. Not good. I see it as something neutral we hand back and forth. An exchange. I trust it is there, and it always is. Even if it is not there, that’s an illusion, and sure enough, when the Universe is done with its cutesey little lesson, more and more money piles up for me. Removing the fear-charge removes the lack which allows it in.


    1. Ryan — definitely agreed. For me, there’s so much fear of losing control over money; there never seemed to be enough, and so the feeling around money was always to scramble, to hold on tight, to scrouge. It’s been REALLY valuable to see money as a game. If you learn the rules of how it moves and play them right (rules which have NOT been evenly distributed to all folks/communities/socio-economic levels of people, sadly), there’s always monies to be had out there!

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