Last year I felt depressed and I was stressed about money. I’d lost my job and was behind in paying bills. I’d maxed out my credit cards. I’m 30 and felt like giving up — I hit rock bottom. I’m deaf which can make life more challenging. I was staying with friends and had no place to live. I also wasn’t eating well and I’d have too many sugary drinks. I moved to Florida from New York to start afresh and was hired at Walmart. I found out about the Challenge and was inspired by stories on the app. And I was encouraged by my wonderful girlfriend, Erika, who is also deaf — she’s a teacher. 

I started to save money.

Every two weeks, I’d put money away for emergencies and I paid $150 a month toward bringing down my credit card balances. I gradually paid them off. I look for items on sale when I’m grocery shopping and I’ve been following Thrive Microsteps on saving money, like cutting out fast food. I didn’t realize how often I’d go out to grab a meal. I’ve now saved over $2,000. I’ve learned about budgeting, so that stress and worry I used to feel is gone.

I’m cooking at home and eating well.

I make stuffed peppers with ground beef or Italian sausage and sautéed vegetables; I add sauce and mozzarella cheese and it’s delicious. Exercise is super important to keep my knees and ankles limber, so I move as much as possible. My girlfriend and I go for walks and I ride my bike.

By focusing on gratitude, I feel happier. 

I’m thankful for my family members, who are huge supporters. And I’m thankful for my girlfriend who helps me keep me on track. I surprised her and flew us both to Massachusetts for a special trip and she was so happy. It was the best weekend ever! We’ve been together nearly two years and I’m a better person because of her. Sometimes I wish I was a hearing person, but I accept who I am and I do my best to meet every challenge that comes my way.

At work, I’m communicating more and encouraging people to take the Challenge.

Some people don’t know that I’m deaf, but when they find out they are supportive and patient. I’ll use the Notes app on my phone and we text back and forth — I’m always super happy to answer questions they have. Some co-workers, including two of my bosses, are interested in American Sign Language and I’m enjoying teaching them.   

My goal is to get my own apartment.

I’ve never had my own place. I live with my girlfriend and her mom right now, so I’m excited about doing that. I’m also planning to go back to school to earn a degree, maybe in electronics. I’m a really good handyman. I feel fabulous and I’m keeping on with the Challenge because it’s helping me tremendously.

—Vance Dutcher, Neighborhood Market #3414; Palm Harbor, FL; $5K Winner

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