In early 2008 I got on a short kick where I interviewed financially successful people to find out how they made their way. Not an original idea, but an interesting exercise. I ended up having around 30 of these conversations. Most of the details have faded, but two stuck in my head.
One was a young man who preached the virtues of “leverage” and how if you want to get ahead you’re really going to need to leverage all the money you can get your hands on. I found out later he’d filed for bankruptcy.
The other was (likely still is) the owner of a large furniture store north of Salt Lake City. When we talked he was in his mid-fifties, with his kids grown and gone. His advice to me was to avoid debt, but the message that stuck was one of urgency (I wish the “avoid debt” piece had stuck a little better).
When he and his wife got married (around 1970), they bought their first home for $35,000 (around $211,000 in today’s dollars). I don’t remember why, but he told me he felt a serious aversion to debt, and his wife felt the same way. They resolved to pay off their $200,000 (inflation adjusted) home as fast as they could.
“We both worked two jobs for two years, and we paid the thing off.”
To pay off a $200,000 home in two years requires just under $2,000 per week, or over $8,000 per month. We didn’t cover the details of how they did it, just that they did it.
His primary income at the time came from his job selling furniture. After a couple of years on the job, he had an opportunity to open his own store. Although his house was paid off, he and his wife didn’t have much cash on hand. Opening his store would require a loan of $50,000 ($302,000 in today’s dollars).
He borrowed the money, opened the store, and basically lived there until he’d repaid the entire $300,000 loan – in about two years.
I’m not in a position to follow his exact plan for getting ahead financially. He didn’t have kids when he was paying off his house (although they had their first while he was paying off the loan on the furniture store). My wife isn’t employed at all, let alone double-employed.
But it doesn’t matter. The point isn’t that you have to pay off your house in two years. It’s that you want to figure out how to feel true urgency about your biggest financial goal. Not at the expense of health or important relationships, but absolutely at the (temporary) expense of foregone luxury. While you’re at it, make sure you’re working with a good definition of luxury. I loved Mr. Money Mustache’s comment in his interview with Jesse: “Do you have access to a faucet? If you do, that’s pretty sweet.”
As for the young furniture store owner, his business thrived. He was financially independent at a young age.
“You’ll be amazed how easy it is to assemble a big pile of money once you’re totally free from debt,” he told me. I’ll have to take his word for it, but I’m trying to act accordingly.
Your Next Step
Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?