My Path to Founding Centsibly

Valle Frances, Torres del Paine 2017

Hi there!

Natalee here! I’m the Founder and CEO of Centsibly, and I’m excited to share my journey to building Centsibly with you.

Money was tight growing up, so I’ve always had an appreciation for how monetary resources can play a part in every decision you make. After my parents split, my mom being 21 and unemployed, took me and my sister to Magna, Utah. We lived on my grandparent’s farm for a bit before taking up residence in a nearby one-bedroom house, affectionately called, The Love Shack. That house was a cute little thing, but it wasn’t in the best neighborhood — my mom would lock me and my sister in the closet every night and sleep with a police baton within reach — so staying there long-term wasn’t ideal. Even so, The Love Shack was part of our family for decades. It was originally owned by my great-great-grandparents who lived there with their eight children. Thereafter, that house was passed back and forth between most of my relatives — aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family — who, like us, moved in when they didn’t have other options. The Love Shack left me with two ideals — always take care of the people you love, and fight hard for the things you want (so you can get your ass out of the shack to leave room for the next person).

I’ve always been a big budgeter and saver. I still remember the first time I spent money — it was a big deal in my little world. My sister and I waited until we were home alone, then hopped on our bikes. We rode for what seemed like hours, though more likely five minutes, before dropping our bikes next to a gas station window. I was sweating profusely and had NO idea what to do after the attendant asked how he could help me. My response was barely audible, “A sprite and blow pops, please?” I handed him four dollar bills — though the cost was two dollars and change. I still have the receipt from that transaction. Time has since eroded the ink, but the content never mattered. I kept that piece of paper as a physical reference to a significant milestone in my life — the first time I realized money is just a tool to help you get the things you want. I.e., money=candy!

Fast forward a decade or so, and I am graduating from college, wondering what the heck to do with the rest of my life. Should I fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a motivational speaker? Should I run away to Europe and become an au pair? Should I get a 9–5 in DC? SF? This was when I decided I wanted to travel. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know when. The only thing I knew for sure was traveling costs money, and I only had 100 bucks in my bank account.

So I set a goal. Save 100K, then formulate a liftoff plan. I was able to hit that monetary goal within 3.5 years of graduating from college, with an average salary of 67K. Honestly, I don’t recommend trying my original saving strategy unless you’re willing to stay home and do nothing. I didn’t shop. I didn’t go out to eat. I lived at home with my dad. I want to point out here that I know how lucky I am — not having student loans and having a free place to live for a few years. These two things gave me a tremendous head start, and I don’t take it for granted.

After saving that money, I was ready for a different dream — moving to San Francisco. I planned to live in SF for 3–4 years before traveling abroad. I wanted the experience of feeling out of place before I committed to feeling that way for an extended period in a different world.

Once I booked that one way ticket I had two weeks to prepare for my arrival in the Bay. There was a lot to do. I didn’t know anyone in SF and I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job lined up either. But because of that monetary safety net I built, I could afford to make a blind move from Virginia to California and figure everything out along the way. Within a week I had sold my car and packed my things into a ubox. I started aggressively interviewing and reaching out to people on Craigslist about apartments. As luck would have it, within 24 hours of my plane touching down, I had a signed offer letter and lease in hand. That might have been the most anxiety-inducing 24 hours of my life.

About a year and a half into my new life in SF, I found myself in one of those rare “now or never” life moments. It was time to do the thing that I had fought hard for (and get my ass out of the country).

Growing up, we didn’t talk about the world, and we certainly didn’t go and see any of it. I had no idea what was in store, but I knew it was going to change me. In the end, I lived out of a backpack for a year and a half traveling to 165 cities in 39 countries. I took 61 flights, recorded 920 videos, and took 29,000 photos over the course of this trip. You can see my experience here.

As you can probably imagine, budgeting during this time was complicated. I had particular needs and wasn’t able to find a product that worked for me. I ended up resorting to spreadsheets because I needed the flexibility. Even though manual expense tracking was a nightmare, it was worth the effort because I came in $467 under budget for the entirety of the trip.

Centsibly is the product I needed.

I built Centsibly to be extremely flexible so that it would work for anyone who wanted to keep an eye on their spending. So how does it work? We pull all of your transactions (from your credit cards, investment accounts, bank accounts, etc.) and put them in your inbox. From there, you can “tag” those transactions however you want. While traveling, I needed to be really granular. For example, I would have liked to tag a lunch transaction as “South Asia”, “Nepal”, “Kathmandu”, “lunch” instead of being forced to put that transaction into one meaningless category. With Centsibly, I would have been able to quickly drill down into spending for each of those tags. I could’ve found out how much I spent in South Asia, Nepal, and specifically Kathmandu. I could’ve discovered how much I spent on lunch around the world. I do know the answers to these old questions, but it took collective days of my life to sort it all out.

Once you tag your transactions in Centsibly, those tags become the building blocks for custom charts and budgets. The charts are easy to make. For example, it would have taken 15 seconds to create a bar chart comparing my week over week spending in South Asia. Fifteen seconds is not an exaggeration — I’ve timed it. As for budgets, they are incredibly flexible. I wasn’t in Nepal for a month so a monthly budget wouldn’t have worked for me. With Centsibly, you can create weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or all-time budgets. Similar to charts, it takes about 15 seconds to set up a budget. And if you want to be notified about reaching a certain percentage of your budget, you can set an alert. You can set alerts for all of your budgets, none of your budgets, and everything in between.

As time passes, budgeting needs change. I no longer budget in a granular way. Instead, I use Centsibly to tag everything I didn’t need to buy with “lavish”. I have one chart and one budget for this tag. That’s all I need for now. It works for me. And whatever works for you, will work with Centsibly.

So far, life has led me to believe that every great adventure starts with one thing, savings. If you want to find a new shack, if you want to move across the country, if you want to travel the world — you need to save your money. Decide what you want to fight for and put in the effort. We’ll be here to support you along the way.

With love,
Natalee

Natalee is the CEO and Founder of Centsibly. Her passions include personal finance, mental health advocacy and travel. @McintyreNatalee on Twitter