By Alan Prahl

Would you like to increase savings or decrease debt? For the last eight years, people have been getting their finances “made over” by participating in the Money Smart Week Fox Cities Financial Makeover Challenge.

Kay and Chris Hillmann of Neenah won this year’s challenge and received the $3,000 cash prize. In just four months of working with a financial coach from FISC they paid off more than $10,000 in debt and generated more than $3,000 in new savings.

Anne and Eric Marsh of Neenah took second place and received a $1,500 prize. The runners-up, Barb Ayres of Green Bay and Sarah Obiala of Kaukauna, each received $625. As a combined total, the four participants generated more than $16,000 in new savings and paid off more than $20,000 in debt.

How did they do this? Each of the participants worked with their financial coach to gather information about their income, expenses and debt. They talked about the types of challenges they faced and what they wanted to gain through the challenge. The coaches helped the participants identify steps they could take to reach their goals.

To reach some of their goals, the Hillmanns created designated savings accounts for needs like home maintenance. Simple tools like this work. They had a $300 plumbing issue, used savings to pay for it, and it didn’t feel like an emergency. Now, money is a lot less stressful.

Many of the participants tracked their spending to learn more about where their money was actually going. By using limited amounts of cash for expenses like groceries and eating out, they are spending much less.

The Financial Makeover Challenge demonstrates that it often is possible to make significant changes, build financial strength and gain peace of mind about money. To watch videos featuring the challenge participants, click on Financial Makeover or Videos on the FISC website.