• My Journey to Debt Freedom

    This is our BS1 to BS7 story previously shared in the old forums. I was forced to recreate it from scratch and have taken this opportunity to provide more detail and move the story forward from where it “ended” in the original version.

    The purpose of telling our story is to inspire others.

    We started our Total Money Make Over with our first budget on December 1, 2008, but I feel like I should provide a little background so you’ll know where we were coming from.

    Until 2006, I was working for the same automotive finance company that I had started with out of college in 1991. In August 2006, I lost that job as a result of downsizing; however, I quickly secured a very similar job and life continued on.

    That life included two car payments, a revolving credit card balance ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, child support payments, and a $160,000 mortgage. It was a paycheck-to-paycheck existence with Kathy and me making about combined $120,000 per year. We were normal. Fortunately, we did have about $3,000 - $4,000 in what we would later call an emergency fund. And we had both consistently saved 15% of our income in our 401ks. So all was not terrible, but there was certainly room for improvement.

    In August 2008, just four days before we were to close on our current home and move into a more expensive one, I lost my job (again). We moved forward with the closings after determining we could still afford the new place on just Kathy’s salary and my unemployment insurance. While the new home was more expensive, we had a large down payment thanks to home equity and the 5-1 Adjustable Rate Mortgage payment was similar to what we had been paying.

    Thanksgiving 2008 had us visiting my parents in the Dallas, Texas area (we live in Denver, Colorado) and that’s where the subject of Dave Ramsey came up. Upon returning home, I promptly bought TMMO (on credit at the local Barnes & Noble) and devoured it in one day while Kathy was at work. I was sold. After convincing Kathy to read it, we had joint buy-in and we launched our Make Over on December 1, 2008.

    At this point, we owed about $10,000 on our one credit card, $12,000 on a leased vehicle (but just six $350 payments remained before the scheduled lease termination), and about $3,000 on some lingering medical/dental bills. We emptied the money market account down to $1,000 and finished off those medical/dental bills then set about knocking out BS2.

    I also picked up a part-time job dealing free bar poker for $25/shift plus tips to supplement my UEI. I typically made a total of $50-$100 per shift and worked 6-8 shifts per week.

    In January 2009, I secured a new job at a vastly lower wage than I was accustomed to….but it was a job (still in the financial services industry). Our combined income was about $100,000 and we quickly paid off the remaining payments on the lease and finished off the credit card with the help of our tax refund and my signing bonus. We became debt free but the mortgage at the end of January 2009. I bought a 1996 Honda Accord with 145k miles to replace my terminated lease vehicle (DD20 still drives that car today).

    We then spent the next six months completing BS3 and perfecting the budget process. We built a series of Sinking Funds. We refinanced the ARM into a 15-year fixed rate. And we turned BS4 investing back on. All was well for about two-and-a-half years.

    In May 2011, I once again lost my job. This would represent the third loss of my financial services related job less than five years. We were fine financially, but I was devastated professionally, emotionally, and psychologically. My beautiful, loving, ever-supportive wife implored me to do something I loved.

    There are only a few people here who know this, but I am an avid poker player. I’ve played since I was about 5 or 6 years old and have even participated in a World Series of Poker $1,500 buy-in event. I never considered for a moment attempting to play professionally, but poker dealers can make in excess of $100,000 per year if they’re good and work the right shifts. So, with my previous bar poker experience and a few weeks of practice and study utilizing YouTube videos, I auditioned for and landed a position in a small poker room in Central City, Colorado. I started with the crappiest shifts possible (Monday thru Friday opening 10:00 am to whenever….sometimes getting cut at 1:00 pm if a game wasn’t going), but I still managed to earn about $3,000/mo. I enjoyed it, but I quickly learned that the big payday would be years down the road.

    On August 27th, 2011, Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane ultimately killing 56 people and causing an estimated $15.6 billion in property damage. What in the heck does this have to do with a poker dealing banker in the mountains of Colorado?

    Rewind to August 2008 when I lost the second of the three jobs described above. A friend had suggested I give the world of independent claims adjusting a shot. I had applied with an independent adjusting firm, attended a 3-day certification conference in Dallas, Texas, and passed the two certification tests. I was even put on-call in anticipation of Hurricane Ike, but no work materialized at that time for a rookie adjuster. I moved on to another job but never deactivated myself with the independent claims adjusting firm.

    When Hurricane Irene hit, I got the call. This was my “one shot, or one opportunity” as Eminem sang in his hit “Lose Yourself.” Kathy and I spent several frantic hours soul-searching, weighing the pros and cons, researching……then we decided to go for it.

    I packed up my paid for 1996 Honda Accord and began the long drive from Denver, Colorado to Frederick, Maryland. I didn’t get an outside adjuster job that can earn the really big bucks, but I was offered a desk adjuster job which I accepted along with approximately 200 other guys and gals in the room. The hours were 8:00 am to 7:00 pm – seven days per week – until the work ran out. Pay: $455/day. I spent the next four months learning the trade and doing everything in my power to avoid getting that tap on the shoulder signifying I was being released from the site.

    During these four months, I bounced from a Motel 6, to a townhouse basement, to a spare bedroom in the suburbs. The name of the game in the independent adjuster world is minimizing expenses while maximizing income. My goals were to earn ~$13,500/mo and limit expenses to $1,500 which would leave $12,000 to pay taxes and hit the baby steps. I was successful! I did work 84 days in a row before finally requesting a 4-day weekend over Thanksgiving to fly my wife out from Denver so we could reconnect and I could recover physically from this work schedule.

    In early January 2012, that tap on the shoulder finally came and I headed home. Prior to my release, my site manager had communicated a need for adjusters licensed to work in the State of New York. Apparently, the New York licensing exam was extremely difficult and they were having trouble filling the personnel request from the insurance company. Within 10 days of arriving back in Denver, I had passed the exam and received a deployment offer to Concordville, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) to adjust daily claims in an office environment. Little did I know at the time that I would not make the long drive home again until March 2013.

    I spent 13 months in this position in which I slept a grand total of four nights in my own bed back in Denver (over a 4-day weekend I took for my birthday). I worked six days per week and basically put my/our life on hold as we pounded the mortgage down with $10,000 principal payments month after month. I missed my wife, my daughter, my friends, my dog, my home terribly – but we did this with the big picture in mind and our eye on the prize. Kathy did fly out every other month for 4-day weekends and we treated those as our mini-vacations.

    In February 2013, I accepted a permanent, full-time position with this same employer as a catastrophe staff adjuster. The pay was far less than I was making, but I would work no more than 225 days on a 12-month rolling calendar which would allow me far more time at home. And I was on salary. We were about $50,000 short of paying off the mortgage, but I was tired (physically and emotionally) and knew we could make BS7 in the time frame desired (which was before DD headed off to college which we were planning on cash flowing).

    It's nearly three years later and we’ve been in BS7 since September 2013 thanks to our diligence. The freedom is amazing. When DW lost her job of 13 years back in March 2015, it was a blip on the radar. An annoying one, and one that has us shuffling finances a bit, but I can only imagine how stressful it would have been if we were in debt with a big mortgage payment.

    Well, Kathy landed that new job earlier this week and 2016 looks to be amazing.

    If you’re out there struggling, wondering if it’s worth it, doubting the sacrifice……let me just say this. It’s worth it.

    Short term pain = long term gain.


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