“I have a goal, and I am going to achieve that goal.” 2019 SaveYourRefund Grand Prize Winner Esmeralda says that savings has always been about achieving self-sufficiency amidst tremendous adversity. “It’s hard to pay myself first,” says Esmeralda, particularly when you have to anticipate emergency expenses like a broken down car. To keep herself on track, she keeps emergency savings separate, going without conveniences to keep the peace of mind that, in the event of an unexpected expense, she would be covered without dipping into funds she has worked hard to secure for buying her own tiny home. But even with her financial savvy and self-discipline, life still gets in the way. Esmeralda, a survivor of domestic violence, spent several years escaping abuse, which required her to relocate so often it was impossible to maintain stability. By securing long term housing in a safe neighborhood, she wants to be an inspiration to other victims who have suffered the same traumas.

Esmeralda, a resident of Chicago who works in logistics, grew up with a particular appreciation for sustainable living. Spending the summers with her grandfather in Mexico, she learned what it looks like to live consciously in regards to human consumption: “If it didn’t rain that day, you didn’t take a shower. It was my first experience of self-sufficiency.” She has carried these values with her throughout her life, and plans to use her $10,000 grand prize on the tiny living lifestyle she has been working toward. Her own tiny home, outfitted with solar panels, will turn her hard-fought dreams of an independent and environmentally conscious life into a reality.

While Esmeralda has worked hard to secure a home of her own, her passion extends far beyond her own shelter. After years of specializing in inventories and other logistics for private companies, she wanted to use her skills to make an impact on the lives of people in crisis. Esmeralda went back to school to study humanitarian logistics in hopes of starting a career in disaster relief. She took a job as a bus driver so that she would have time to study, allowing her to finish her degree in half the expected time, while working contract jobs in the summer. She spent hours studying in the local library, where she noticed a small flyer advertising the free tax filing services of the nonprofit organization Ladder Up. Esmeralda had been a client of Ladder Up for three years when, this year, she found out about the SaveYourRefund campaign and was inspired to tell her story. After years of saving to create a better life for herself, this grand prize will allow her to turn her attention to making a difference in the lives others.

Over the past seven years, SaveYourRefund has encouraged over 18,000 people to save over$15 million of their tax refunds using Form 8888. The promotion is offered by America Saves and Commonwealth.