BiggerPockets Money Podcast

BiggerPockets Money Podcast 134: Paying Off Debt (& Avoiding Debt Relapse) With Chris Browning From Popcorn Finance

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Chris Browning had dreams of creating movies for Pixar—until he started art classes in college and realized that wasn’t his calling. He was also taking a personal finance class and thoroughly enjoyed it, so he changed his major to finance and never looked back.

Given the circumstances, Chris should have perfect finances, right? Well…

Chris found himself in debt after graduating in 2009 and working as a bank teller, trying to impress his girlfriend (now wife). He took control of his finances, telling his girlfriend that they needed to rein in their spending so he could pay off debt. But once his debt was gone, he started saving in earnest for an engagement ring, spent everything he had on that, and found himself in debt again when they started planning their wedding.

Life happened, debt continued to stack up until they realized they were $27,000 in debt, with salaries just over that amount—all while living in Southern California.

Living paycheck to paycheck makes it hard to throw extra money at your debt. Chris and his wife reviewed their spending and were shocked. Once they knew where their money was going, they were able to drastically reduce their spending and throw more money at their debt.

It turns out, tracking your spending and sticking to a budget are both excellent pieces of advice that can help anyone turn their financial situation around and start down the path toward financial independence.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Scott and I often record episodes in advance to make sure our schedules never get too full to release a new episode every week. We planned to bring you stories of debt paydown earlier in the year, starting with Chris Browning from Popcorn Finance on March 16th. But when the U.S. effectively shut down the Friday before, we decided to put Chris’ episode on hold so that we could cover the new biggest topic of the year.

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Mindy:
With unemployment claims skyrocketing, we felt it would seem out of touch to tell how Chris paid off his debt and hope to be able to release them in the future. Chris Browning’s story is still a great story, and while the world has changed since we recorded this episode, there are still great lessons to be learned from his journey. So today, we bring you Chris Browning’s story of paying down debt. As you listen, please keep in mind that this was recorded in January in a very different time, but we hope you find as much value in Chris’ story as we do. Thanks for listening.

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, show number 134, where we interview Chris Browning from Popcorn Finance and get his story of debt, debt payoff, reaccumulation of debt, and how he finally broke the debt cycle to pursue financial independence and his best life.

Mindy:
Hello, hello, hello, and my name is Mindy Jensen and with me, as always, is my always adaptable cohost Scott Trench.

Scott:
I just love the evolution of your introductory adjectives, Mindy. Thank you so much.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, and show you that, by following the proven path, you can put yourself on the road to early financial freedom and get money out of the way so you can lead your best life.

Scott:
That's right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big-time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business, or simply change your identity and how you think about your profession and your world view, we'll help you build a position capable of launching yourself towards those dreams.

Scott:
I’m very excited for our show with Chris today. It’s going to be a great story about how to get out of debt, as you mentioned earlier on, and how to break that cycle of debt, and just the way his life has gotten so much better as he hit rock bottom, attacked the debt, got to zero, and is building towards FI now is just really incredible.

Mindy:
Yeah. Again, we say this over and over every week, but one of the things that makes his story so great is that it’s so repeatable. It’s very easy for somebody to get into debt, but it’s also very easy for somebody to pay off the debt once they start paying attention to the amount of debt they have and paying attention to how they’re going to pay it off, come up with a plan.

Mindy:
We talk about Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps in this episode. He’s got this really great plan called the Debt Snowball, where you line up all your debts, list them out from smallest to largest, and you attack the debt. Attack the debt. Attack the debt. You get a win, you take all the money that you were putting towards that debt, and attack the next debt. And it’s having the psychological win of actually paying off a debt to zero is huge.

Scott:
Absolutely. Yeah. Before we get to Chris, I wanted to bring back the quick tip, the actionable item you can take this week to better your personal finances. And today, we’re going to start with, I think, the most basic thing of all, which is literally, mechanically, how to buy an index fund. From time to time, folks have a little trouble actually understanding how to begin purchasing these when they’re beginning to invest.

Scott:
So the way that I personally buy index funds is I use an app on my phone called Robinhood. It’s a free app. You can download it. And this is not an ad for Robinhood. We’re not affiliated with Robinhood, but it’s just what I use. It’s a free app. You type it into your iPhone or other phone, Android. Download the app. You log in using your bank account, and then you transfer money from your bank to the app. Then you search for whatever the index fund you’re going to invest it.

Scott:
So for example, if you wanted to invest in a popular FI index fund, you’d type in VTSAX, which is the acronym or the ticker symbol for that particular index fund. Or you could invest in another one like VOO. So look up a couple of index funds, choose which one you’re interested in, if you’re looking to buy an index fund, and go through that process and learn how to mechanically purchase a stock. You don’t have to hold it. It’s not investment advice. But just go through the process of doing that so you’re comfortable buying stock.

Mindy:
Yeah, that’s great. You can’t get started until you get started. So what we hear over and over again from everybody that we talk to on the show is index funds. There’s a variety of index funds. It’s not just one. The VTSAX is the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, which I believe is a share of every company that’s publicly traded in America on the various indices.

Mindy:
But yeah, a great book to talk about index funds is JL Collins’ The Simple Path to Wealth. That’s an excellent book that gives you the reason to invest in index funds, the why behind it, and I believe he also talks about how to actually do that.

Mindy:
Chris Browning from Popcorn Finance, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. I am so excited that you’re here today.

Chris:
Oh, thanks so much for having me, Mindy. I’m really excited to be joining you guys today.

Mindy:
I met Chris, I don’t know, 100 years ago, and I’ve been trying to get you on this show forever because I love your … I hate to say this. I love that you were in so much debt. I love your story. I don’t like to say that, but I like how you look at things. And I really consider money and finance to be a lot like weight and health. And when you have been overweight and you lose a lot of weight, it’s very easy to have that come back on, just like when you are in debt and you pay off your debt, it’s very easy for that to creep back up, and, “Oh, it’s just a dollar. Oh, it’s just a little bit.”

Mindy:
So we’re going to talk about the psychology of getting out of debt and staying out of debt. Chris, I want to hear your money story. Let’s talk about where your journey with money begins.

Chris:
Yeah. So my journey, I think probably just from the very beginning, my family, we didn’t talk about money. That wasn’t a conversation that really ever came up, so I had no idea how our family was doing. I knew times were tough at periods of my life, times where we’re okay. But I just never got the conversation. It was, “You’re the kid. You go to school. You worry about that, and we’ll worry about this side of things.”

Chris:
So when I went to school, I initially went into the college as an art major, because I had this dream of working with Pixar. I just loved the work that they do. And so I got there and I was like, “Oh, yeah. I’m going to be building all kinds of movies and things like this.” And you start off with the most rudimentary art classes. And they were just the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I was like, “There’s no way this is for me. These people are way more passionate.”

Chris:
So just by chance, one of my general education classes was a personal finance class. And I was really enjoying it. We were learning all kinds of things I’d never heard of. I’d never been taught this in school, never heard it from family. And I was like, “I think I could see myself doing this.” So I went to the Business Department and I asked them, “What do I have to do to change my major to finance?” And they gave me the paperwork and I changed over that day. And I ended up choosing financial planning as my emphasis within my finance degree. And that was my start to learning about money and getting involved in all of this, really.

Mindy:
So you were an art major, and then you switched over to finance. That’s slightly different. But when you said that, I’m like, “Wait. Isn’t art, one of them is right brained and one of them is left brained?” And to be into both of them, that’s cool. So you’re a personal finance major. So then your finances have always been perfect, right?

Chris:
Oh, of course. That's exactly what that means. I've never made any mistakes whatsoever. No. No, actually, so I graduated in the middle of the recession. So I graduated late 2009. And I was basically … There was no jobs out there. It was so difficult to find anything. I was working at a bank at the time. I was a teller supervisor and I just was like, "I guess I'm just going to be a teller supervisor for the rest of my life because I can't find a job." I couldn't find any financial planning positions. And what I was getting offered were hardcore sales jobs, and I was like, "I do not like sales. I'm just going to stray away from that."

Chris:
And to my mom’s delight, I ended up becoming an accountant, because that’s what she does for a living. And during all that time, I had built up a little bit of credit card debt. Basically, I ended up in around $3,000 worth of credit card debt because I was trying to impress my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. And I wasn’t really making a ton of money so I was just, hey, pull out the credit card, swipe it, and I’ll worry about this later, and it just spiraled out of control.

Chris:
And so eventually, I managed to get things under control. We had a talk and I was like, “Hey, we’ve got to cut back a little bit. It’s getting a little too crazy. I don’t have the money to go out to eat as often as we would like to.” And I managed to pay that credit card debt off. It took me a little while because my earnings were a little low, but I managed to pay it off just by saying, “Hey, let’s do some free and cheap things around the area.”

Chris:
But it didn’t last very long because, essentially, we paid off that debt and then I started saving for an engagement ring because we were planning to get married. And the moment I bought the engagement ring, I spent all the money I had, and then that’s when all the real expenses started kicking in for the wedding. And we slowly built debt back up again, and we ended up in … I think by the time the wedding actually happened, we ended up in around $14,000 worth of credit card debt because we had no cash. We had nothing and we were basically trying to build this wedding we thought we should have and everyone told us, “This is what you do. These are the things you pay for.” And we ended up hitting that $14,000 mark, and that was just the start of us building up an even greater amount of debt.

Mindy:
Well, you deserve it, Chris.

Chris:
Yeah, right?

Mindy:
You deserve it. So don't worry about that. Don't worry about how you're going to pay for it. Charge it now and figure out payments later. Let's backtrack just a little bit. When you graduated from college, did you have any student loan debt?

Chris:
No. Fortunately, my parents were able to pay for my college. And it was a much different world in 2005 when I went into college. I think my total degree cost me about 12 … it cost my parents, I should say, about $12,000, so nothing compared to what college costs now. It was a significantly cheaper degree back then.

Mindy:
Where did you go?

Chris:
So I went to a state university out here. I went to Cal State Fullerton and I graduated right before … Literally, the semester I graduated, the next year they doubled tuition and it continued to grow every year after that.

Scott:
Oh, man.

Chris:
Yeah. So I just barely got out before it went crazy.

Scott:
Well, so can you walk us through your household spending and income while you were building up the initial debt out of college, and then how that transpired for your wedding?

Chris:
Oh, yeah, for sure. So basically, I think I was earning … It fluctuated because I was basically working part-time while I was in college. I maybe worked 30 hours a week. And so I’d say my income fluctuated anywhere from $18,000 when I was first getting into college to maybe maxing out somewhere around 30 by the time I graduated. So I wasn’t making a ton of money. And I live in California, so that’s … Somewhere else, $30,000 will work. In Southern California [crosstalk 00:11:13].

Scott:
But you’re doing that while getting a degree.

Chris:
Yeah, exactly.

Scott:
Yeah. So that’s awesome. Yeah.

Chris:
So I was trying my best to never ask my parents for money again, but it was definitely tight living. And then once I managed to pay off, it was maybe roughly $3,000 in credit card debt I’d built up, when we started racing up the credit card debt for the wedding, I think combined we were making somewhere around maybe $40,000, maybe 45 on a good year. And so still, not a lot for living out here. We were actually renting a place from her parents because rent is crazy. It’s crazy expensive out here. So I think we were paying maybe about 800 bucks a month for this tiny [crosstalk 00:11:49].

Scott:
Where is out here?

Chris:
Oh, sorry. So in Southern California. I’m maybe just 30 minutes south of Los Angeles without traffic.

Scott:
Got it.

Chris:
Without traffic. Three hours with traffic is how far we are from LA.

Scott:
Okay. So you’re making a combined household income of $40,000, $45,000, renting a place for $800 a month from family, and you’re able to cash flow this situation and save up a little bit, except for an expensive wedding. Is that of the summary of that circumstance?

Chris:
Yeah. Basically, I was able to save up for an engagement ring on my own. When we got married or leading up to the wedding, we basically charged everything because we didn’t have enough cash flow the … Well, yeah. The wedding that we thought we needed to have, we didn’t have enough money to cash flow that.

Scott:
All right. So you have this beautiful wedding and you’re now with $14,000 in credit card debt, right? So what happens next? What’s the mentality?

Chris:
So we were like, “Okay. We’re going to move in together,” and I had been living with a cousin. We were roommates. And so, two guys, we had no furniture. We had a couch and a bed, but that’s the extent of the furniture that we had. So we’re like, “Okay, I guess we need things for our new place together.” So we rolled down to Ikea, and of course, again, we don’t have any money. We don’t have any cash. So we’re like, “Hey, we’ll charge this, and then we’ll furnish our place and we’ll worry about paying this off. We won’t go too overboard.” So that was, I don’t know, maybe $1,500, $1,600.

Chris:
And then, my wife was still in school, and then there were some unexpected expenses that came up. Basically, she dropped a class and it ended up dropping her below full-time. She lost her full-time financial aid and they ended up charging her for the classes. I think that was … There was some weird situation where they ended up charging her a few thousand dollars for classes that were no longer covered by her aid.

Chris:
And then after that, when was it? She ended up going to, I think, the emergency room. We had a few medical bills pop up, and these little things started stacking it up, combined with the fact that we weren’t really budgeting and tracking our expenses at all. We were just winging it. And when it was all said and done, about two years into our marriage, we were at about $27,000 in credit card debt.

Scott:
And what year is this?

Chris:
So this would have been … We got married in 2012. This was late 2014 when we hit that peak.

Scott:
Okay. And what was the mentality at that point? When you looked it all over and saw that you were at the peak, what was going through your head?

Chris:
So I knew things weren’t going well. I was the one watching the budget and the finances. And I went to school for this. I studied financial planning. I knew what you should be doing, but I never really wanted to look at it. I didn’t want to think about it, so I never added it up. I was like, “We’ll make some payments on it,” but then we’d end up charging more that month than we paid and the credit would just keep growing and growing.

Chris:
So I was stressed. I would think about this all the time at work. I was like, “What do I need to do to make more money? What are we doing? When is this ever going to be gone?” And so one day I was like, “Well, maybe I should just sit here and add it up and see where we’re at.” And that’s when I realized that it had hit $27,000.

Mindy:
Did you have any sort of emergency fund, or was this more of a paycheck-to-paycheck situation?

Scott:
Oh, this was definitely paycheck to paycheck. Maybe we had $100 sitting around somewhere. It was literally, if I would have lost my job, I don’t know if our family would have evicted us, but we would have been eating noodles every day basically.

Mindy:
Okay. That’s interesting. You said just a moment ago, “I know what I should be doing,” and I think that plays into the whole, I don’t like to use this word shame, but that’s a really great descriptive word. The shame around being in debt is, “Well, I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but it’s hard to turn a whole ship around.” And you only get married once, so you should have a big, lavish wedding because you deserve it. And it’s easy to get really caught up in this. What was the first thing you did once you added up all your numbers and you’re like, “$27,000?” What was the first step?

Chris:
Other than freaking out, which is my first reaction, was like, “What am I going to do?,” because that was over half of our take-home pay, what we had in debt. It was really like, “Okay, where’s our money going essentially?” I was like, “We’re spending so much money and I literally have no idea where it’s going,” because we didn’t have the best furniture and TVs. We weren’t going on trips. We weren’t doing anything. And so I was like, “Well, I guess I need to figure out where our money’s going.”

Chris:
So I sat down and I started using, I think it was Mint, to just throw my bank accounts in there and look at where my money was going, and then to really hone in, “Where is our money going and where can I actually make cuts to actually start putting more money towards the debt and make a real impact?”

Mindy:
So what did you cut?

Chris:
So the biggest thing, this was the biggest shock when I saw our transactions: food. I think that’s the answer for most people. Most of us are spending ridiculous amounts of money towards food. And I think one of the months right in the very beginning stages when we were looking at everything, we spent like $1,200 on food. And I couldn’t believe it, and I was like, “How?” I was like, “One, we didn’t have $1,200 to spend on food.” And we didn’t go anywhere fancy. We didn’t even go anywhere nice. I didn’t have one beautiful steak dinner or anything like that that month. It was just these little transactions that we were basically eating out three times a day and not paying attention to it, and it just hit an astronomical amount. At least for me, that feels crazy.

Mindy:
It feels crazy to me, too. Let me confirm for you that that was crazy. Twelve hundred dollars for two people is a lot. We interviewed Justin the Saving-Sherpa, and he spends $60 a month on food. And you’ve got to ask him his story. He’s shopping the sales. He’s not really buying a lot of meat unless it’s on super sale. He eats a lot of sweet potatoes and cheap vegetables, and I don’t want to say cheap, inexpensive vegetables that fills him up. But yes, $60 is one extreme, $600 is another extreme.

Mindy:
But it is so easy to just hit the drive through in the morning on the way to work, and it’s so easy to just grab something really quick at lunch, and, “Oh, dinner. I’m so swamped. I’m just going to go out to dinner.” And I don’t know how much I’ve spent on food specifically, but I know it’s way closer to Chris than Justin sometimes.

Mindy:
But it’s just as easy to prepare breakfast burritos on Saturday and make 30 and put them in the freezer, or breakfast sandwiches, or a breakfast bowl or something and take it to work with you or grab your lunch as you’re leaving.

Mindy:
So food was your big one. What changes did you make?

Chris:
So the biggest thing was, probably the first time in our marriage, I sat down and I wrote out a budget. Then I said, “Okay, this is how much we know we’re bringing in. This is clearly all the money we have to work with. Now, where are our expenses that we can’t get rid of? We have to pay for a place to live. We have cars. We’re going to need gas and insurance and things like that.” So I wrote down all the things that had to happen.

Chris:
And then, whatever was left over, I was like, “Okay, how much of this are we comfortable putting towards debt? How much of this can we sacrifice and say, “We’re not going to spend this and it’s going to go towards our debt?”” And that’s basically what we did. So food, I think I cut us down to, I think I said it was maybe $200. I think [crosstalk 00:18:54].

Mindy:
From 1,200 to 200?

Chris:
Oh, no. It wasn’t that. It was $200 a check, so it was maybe like $400, $450 a month.

Mindy:
Oh, okay. But still, from 1200 to 400, that’s a big difference.

Chris:
It was massive. And we didn’t do it the first month. I’m going to just be honest. I said, “This is what we’re going to do.” It did not happen. It took several months for us to get closer to that mark, but it definitely brought us down. It was a gradual realization of these habits that we had that we had to change because there was no way we could live the way we were living and survive and have any type of true progress.

Scott:
Was this a system shock? So you did the work to analyze your budget and all that kind of stuff and come up with these numbers. Was it a system shock to your wife? How did you approach the conversation?

Chris:
It was tough because I'm not someone who enjoys having difficult conversations, and I knew it was going to be a very difficult conversation just because you're telling someone, "Hey, we're going to spend drastically less money." But it had really got to a point where it was wearing on me. I would be at work and I would be constantly looking for another job. I was like, "I don't make enough money. What are we going to do?" And I would be just worried about making the payments and the interest I was accruing.

Chris:
And so for me, I had got to a point where I was just so overwhelmed with the situation that I went and had a conversation that I probably wouldn't have had if I wasn't just so stressed with this feeling of the debt that we were carrying. So I think she knew. My wife could tell that I was stressed out and I was worried about it, because I was the main one looking at the finances, because I think just by default I ended up being the one who did all of the budgeting.

Chris:
And so when I came to her, it was basically, “We have to do something. I’m so stressed out. This is not working. We have all this debt and I really think we need to make some changes.” And I think because she knew how big of a deal this was and could see how it was wearing on me, she pretty much was on board. I’m not saying that we didn’t have our discussions after the fact, after I presented her with the changes I wanted to make, but I think she could tell what was going on and how serious the situation was and how it was just going to stress me out forever if we didn’t do something about it. So she definitely came on board with me when we talked.

Scott:
Okay, got it. So walk us through how you were gradually able to get, over the course of a couple of months, to your target budget.

Chris:
So really, it was a trial and error type thing. So essentially, I opened up Excel, I made my quick little spreadsheet showing the budget, and then I would say, “All right, this is what we’re going to aim for. We’re going to aim for these amounts.” And I would just check in periodically and say, “Hey, this is where we are,” and go from there.

Chris:
So essentially, we would just try our best to stick to these numbers. This was probably the wrong way to approach it. This is probably why we failed so many times. It was like, “This is our goal. We’re going to try our best,” and it was not a very good attempt. And we would essentially, every month, look at it and say, “Okay, we were way off the mark. We weren’t even close to what we thought we were going to do.” But we were able to make a little bit of progress on our debt. And I was like, “Hey, well, this feels good. We actually paid the balance down this month.”

Chris:
And from there, it was really these little tweaks when we’d have to say, “Okay. Well, all right. We did okay, but can we not buy this item?,” or, “Do we have to get this when we go to the grocery story every time?,” or, “What can we do to find some free things to do around the area instead of going around and going to the movies, going to restaurants every time we feel bored or feel like we have to go out?”

Chris:
So it was a gradual shift. And my wife, she got really into thrifting because she was a big … Her and her mom were … That was her thing to do, was go shopping. And that was her routine and that’s what she did when she wanted something to do. And so for her, she said it was really hard to give that up. But going to the thrift store, she could still get that same feeling, but knowing that, one, we were spending a lot less money, and also, she was like, “I feel better about it socially, environmentally by buying things that were already in production.” She didn’t have to go buy some new fast fashion type thing. She could help by basically reusing and recycling clothes. So that became her thing.

Chris:
And all these small little habits started to develop and changes in our lifestyle just grew over time. We didn’t really notice it, but it just started to change as we were striving to reach this goal.

Scott:
And what was your household income during this period?

Chris:
So when we started out, so in … Well, in 2012, when we built up the debt, we were around, what did I say, low, mid 40s, like 40,000, 45,000. And I’d say, by the time we hit the peak, it hadn’t grown very much at all, maybe a couple thousand over that two-year period.

Chris:
But then when I got serious about it, I really started looking for better work. I was like, “Okay, I can stay at this job where the pay is fine. It’s okay.”

Scott:
And what was the job?

Chris:
Oh, so I was an accountant. I was a payroll supervisor.

Scott:
Accountant. Okay.

Chris:
So I was working for a school district and I managed their payroll department.

Scott:
Okay.

Chris:
And I was like, “You know what? I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to find something better.” I was like, “There has to be something that pays better than this, a better use of my time.” So essentially, I was looking around and I ended up finding a job that gave me, it was roughly a $1,200 per month pay raise.

Scott:
Wow.

Chris:
So it was pretty significant. I guess I was getting drastically underpaid for the work I was doing because I didn’t realize that until I started to look around. And so that was probably one of the bigger significant things that helped us accelerate our debt payoff. And that became my thing. So every couple of years I would say, “Okay, I’ve done this long enough. What’s next?” And I would do whatever I could to join professional organizations where I worked, to take on new trainings. That way, I could build up my resume and then throw that into the next job, and then hopefully lead to another raise. And that was my trend to help us accelerate our debt payoff.

Scott:
Got it. So all this time, could you walk us through maybe when did you get that new job? How many months after your peak?

Chris:
So in 2014, when we hit the peak of our debt, I’d say it was about a year later when I made my first jump to a new job, and then I made another one roughly … I think roughly two years after that.

Scott:
Got it. And so what was your debt paydown looking like? It sounds like it was very slow at first and accelerating over time. Is that right?

Chris:
Yeah, exactly. So essentially, we were able to do … I think when we first started off, we were able to do somewhere around, it would fluctuate between $500 to $700 a month free income we had available to put towards our debt. And then every time I would change jobs, I would say, “We’re going to take all of this, if not …” as much as we could, and put it towards the debt, because eventually we did end up moving out of the place we were renting from our family, so our costs went up slightly.

Chris:
So we were able to say … I’d say it went from anywhere from $500 to $700 range to roughly close to about $1,500 to $1,700 a month towards our debt at probably the peak, right before we paid everything off.

Scott:
Awesome. So how long did it take to pay off the debt?

Chris:
It took us roughly, I would say about two and a half, three years to pay it all off, because we started around November 2014 when we realized where we were, and it was about late January 2017 when we paid the last payment off on it. And during that time, we did other things, like I took on a bunch of side hustles to try to earn some extra income to accelerate it on top of working new jobs to accelerate it and get it out as soon as I could, because once you see the end, you’re like, “I’ve got to get rid of this. I’m so close. What can I do to get rid of this debt?”

Scott:
So you come into a position where you’re piling up debt, $40,000, $45,000 a year in household income, and that’s not enough, you’re not covering it. And you go to paying that $27,000 off in two and a half years. As you’re approaching zero, what’s your income and expense situation and what’s going through your mind from a wealth-building perspective?

Chris:
So I would say, so towards the end, let me see if I can remember here. I think we were somewhere around close to $60,000, maybe $70,000, I think, at that point, right before we reached our final debt payoff mark. And so during this time, one thing I wish I could have done a little bit differently was we weren’t really saving anything. It was I was 100% focused on paying off debt. I was like, “Every dime I have that’s available is going towards debt.”

Chris:
And I really felt uncomfortable with that because I was like, “If anything happens, we’re just going to be completely derailed,” right? And it happened several times throughout the process where an unexpected bill would pop up or we’d have … I think my wife got in a car accident one time and we had to cover the deductible on that. And it was these things that, every time something happened, we would just grind to a halt and we could no longer put anything towards debt because we had nothing in savings to help cover these expenses.

Chris:
So for me, as we were approaching the end, I was like, “I want to know what it feels like to actually have a real amount of money in the bank, to have a real savings account with something in there that would make me feel comfortable.” So that was my number one thing, was I want to actually have an emergency fund, I want to have something sitting there to make me feel comfortable, to not feel like at any moment I could just fall back into the cycle of debt that we had been in for so long.

Scott:
Got it. So what did that look like? How did you go about building that up?

Chris:
So what I did was, immediately after we made our final payment on debt, all that money that we were paying towards credit cards went into a savings account. I kept the exact same lifestyle, which at that point had gotten very extreme. We were still living as if … When we first got married, I was like, “We’re not buying any … We’re not getting a new TV. We’re not buying new furniture. Everything we do, we’re staying exactly the same.” And I think I was a little too extreme at points in time because I would say, if we wanted to go do something, I was like, “Hey, we each have 20 bucks a month. That’s going to be our fun money. And we’re not going a penny over that because everything we have has to go towards debt.”

Chris:
So even once we paid it off, I stayed in that same mentality. And I think, looking back on it now, it was just the fear. I had built up these … I was just so nervous and stressed all the time that I couldn’t shake it. And it wasn’t very hard for me to ever loosen up. But it definitely helped once we got out of debt to not fall back into old habits because I was just so focused and so, “We got to keep doing this” that basically all that money just rolled into an emergency fund for us.

Scott:
So how did that go over with your wife?

Chris:
I would [crosstalk 00:28:32].

Mindy:
Let’s get her on.

Scott:
Yeah.

Chris:
I would get looks, so I don’t want to bring her. I don’t want to hear what she was thinking while that was going on. But I definitely would get looks. She would say, “I think we need to get this,” and I’m like, “Mm, do we really?” At that point, I was just being cheap for the sake of being cheap. I had no real reasoning to hold on to the same habits, but it was just so hard to shake it. I just said once you’ve been in a place where you have this debt, it creates this feeling of just despair and regret. And I was like, “I don’t ever want to go back there.” So I know I definitely held onto that probably a little bit longer than I should have.

Scott:
One of the worst things about the debt is that feeling that you had there. And it sounds like, in paying off the debt and getting to zero, you were not able to actually get to that feeling of feeling safe, feeling secure, or feeling comfortable with money in general. So did that begin to change downstream, or can you walk us through what you needed to do to get to that point?

Chris:
Yeah. It definitely took a while. I would say maybe in the last year is when I’ve been able to shake that feeling. So we paid it off in 2017. So what are in we in, 2020 now? And yeah, probably early 2019 is where I finally was like, “Just breathe. Just relax. Everything’s going to be okay.” And I think for me, it was I felt so behind. I really beat myself up over the fact that, all right, I let us get to this point where we made mistakes and I was like, “We shouldn’t have made these mistakes,” and we missed out on all this time to be saving for retirement or for a home and all of these that weighed on me.

Chris:
And it was really difficult to give myself any grace and say, “Hey, we all make mistakes, things happen, and everyone’s journey is going to be a little bit different. And just don’t beat yourself up about it. You are where you are now and move forward.” And it took me a while to really accept that and to say that it’s going to be okay even though I made mistakes.

Chris:
So I think it was a lot of talking to people, which I didn’t do when we were in debt. No one knew we were in this debt. I wouldn’t talk to any friends, any family because I was just afraid of being judged and people saying, “Why did you do that?” And we made these … I just thought people were going to beat me up if I told them.

Chris:
And it wasn’t until after we had paid it off that I started to talk to other people about it and found out how many people were really dealing with the same thing I was. And to be able to talk about it and understand that, “Hey, I’m not judging these people for their situation and the mistakes they made. No one’s going to do that to me.” And it wasn’t until I could really accept that that I was able to start to move forward and release some of that fear and anger that built up over that time.

Scott:
You’re pouring money into your savings account, right? What’s the wealth situation that you build towards where you actually begin to get that feeling of security? I think there’s a link between the two, is why I’m asking that question. So [crosstalk 00:31:22].

Chris:
No, that’s a great point. I think you’re exactly right. Yeah, it was around the point where we hit, I think it was around four months of our expenses and our emergency fund where I felt like, “Oh …” I think when I started to see a comma and five digits in a savings account, I was like, “Oh, I can breathe a little bit now. I’m not going to be homeless if tomorrow I lose my job.” And that definitely added to the security and the feeling of, “Okay, I can release a little bit. I can breathe a little bit more.”

Scott:
All right. So I’m going to be a little smart Alec here to a certain extent. I think that, once you paid off $27,000 in debt in two and a half years with the grind that you put together, I do think that you can up your fun money expense from $20 to something more. But I feel like you’re actually really very appropriate to have that mentality of continued emergency mode until you got to that $10,000 and four months of expenses in the savings account, because to me, that’s the position where, now, you are not in danger of having to go back into debt, right?

Scott:
And so I think maybe you could have bumped it to 100 or 150 a month in fun money, but I think I actually agree with that mentality frankly, because I think that that’s safety.

Chris:
Yeah. No. I agree 100%. I’m happy that I didn’t just fall back into old habits right after paying off the debt because I think it would have been so easy just to end up back where I was again. So it was good caution, I think, along with being a little extreme at the same time.

Mindy:
But it’s extreme in the right direction.

Chris:
Yeah.

Mindy:
You can always, if you only have $20, you can always spend another $20 once your debt’s paid off. But if you’ve already spent $100, you can’t pull that back. The movie theater’s not going to give you your money back because you regret seeing the movie. Did you follow Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps?

Chris:
No. I had no idea who Dave Ramsey was during that whole time.

Mindy:
Oh my goodness.

Chris:
Yeah, I had never heard of him. And so, yeah, no. I inadvertently did a little bit of what his path is, but no, it was just by accident.

Mindy:
Yeah. I like the first three baby steps, save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund, and I believe he recommends that, as once you figure out you want to change your finances, continue making the minimum payments on everything and save $1,000, because you’re going to get in a car accident or you’re going to have a doctor copay or you’re going to have this flat tire. Now, you need new tires. That helps you to not just be like, “Ugh, I’m never going to get ahead. Forget it. I’m just quitting.”

Mindy:
So the first $1,000 in your emergency fund is great. If you’re looking to figure out your finances, get that peace of mind emergency fund. And then step number two is pay off all your debt except your house, and step number three is save three to six months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund. And then he starts talking about saving for retirement, but he talks about saving 15% and I like a higher rate of savings. Pay for kid’s college fund. This is something that I’m … I don’t know what to do about that, so I’m just ignoring that one right now. Pay off your home early. I have a super low interest rate. I don’t want to pay it off. And then baby step seven, give wealth and build. I shouldn’t say I don’t agree with that. I agree with that one, too.

Mindy:
But the next three, I have a problem with. But those first three, it sounds like that’s what you were doing. At what point did you loosen up the purse strings?

Chris:
Yeah. So I would say we loosened up right around that part, right where we hit about four months. My goal was still to hit six months, but around four months, I felt comfortable, because, like you were saying about building up, for example, the first $1,000, there’s something … And even Scott, you were mentioning this, too. There’s something about seeing that, the fact that you hit a mark in your savings that you never thought you’d ever get to. There’s something empowering about that and comforting about it, about hitting that mark.

Chris:
So I think once we hit four months, it was more money than I’d ever saved in my entire and I was like, “We can do this. We’re not going to just fall off the boat and just end up back where we were.” So once we did that, I was able to say, “Okay, maybe we can go on a trip every now and then, or maybe we can spend a little bit more money on fun every month.” So I would say that’s where we were when we started to loosen up, at around there.

Chris:
And then for me, it was now, “Okay, we have a little bit of cash set aside. Now, I really need to start thinking seriously about retirement, and what do I envision as retirement, what is it going to take to get there, and really just actually actively putting more money toward hitting a goal and actually not working at some point in my life.”

Scott:
I’m sorry. I know we’re jumping around a little bit here in the story, but one other additional comment I wanted to make about your journey out of debt is the fact that you did not have that savings, any savings, I think really hurt your journey to a certain extent, because you mentioned that there was a few times where something came up and it derailed you completely from that. I also think that there’s an ongoing day to day advantage to having $1,000 in the bank, where you can make decisions like, “You know what? I’m going to buy bulk toilet paper or paper towels or cleaning supplies because it’s on sale right now,” and I suspect that those little decisions added up over time maybe worked against you to a certain extent. Is that a fair statement?

Chris:
Oh yeah. No, I 100% agree with that. If we would have focused on at least saving something in the very beginning, it would have relieved so much pressure and then stopped those setbacks, because it’s almost having maybe a snowball in that once you end up pulling that credit card out again to cover an expense, it makes it that much easier to use it again and again, and then you end up falling back into old habits.

Chris:
And there was times when that happened, where we would pull out the credit card, “Oh, well, we had this medical bill. We probably should take care of this.” And it’s like, “Well, while we’re out, I really want to check out this place,” or something we really needed … We really needed this item for the house. Why not just grab it now? And it definitely throws you back into that cycle where, if it was pulling from my savings account and I saw my balance drop, I would be less likely to say, “You know what? I want to make this drop even more.” So I definitely wish I would have done that in the beginning.

Scott:
Awesome. Yeah. And I just wanted to go back there because I just think it’s such an important point for folks that are trying to get out of debt there. So, sorry, we can go back to the story now.

Scott:
So you’re envisioning retirement. What does that look like to you? What is that process and how do you go about planning for retirement?

Chris:
So I didn’t really … When I started, I had no real clear vision of what I wanted to do. And everyone around you is like, “Well, 65 is when you retire, so that’s what you should aim for.” So, okay. Even when I was in school, that’s what we would talk about. Typical retirement age is 65. They plan everything around that, and that was the norm.

Chris:
And then, I was introduced to the FIRE Movement, and this was through a couple of friends I met through doing podcasting. Jameela [inaudible 00:38:17]was one of them. She started talking about it, and I was like, “Oh, this is interesting. I never heard about this. You’re telling me people are retiring earlier than 65?” So that was a revelation for me to hear something like that.

Mindy:
So what are your steps towards saving for early retirement? I’m assuming that you’re now investing. What does your financial position look like with regards to retirement?

Chris:
So for me, right now, the biggest thing was coming up with … Well, one, it was actually hitting these milestones that, for me, I never thought I would get to. I know for 2020, one of my biggest things was I wanted to max out my retirement plan, because I had never actually done that. You always hear people say, “Max out your plan.” And I was so focused on all these other things, I’d never actually reached that goal. So for me, that was my biggest thing. It was like, “Okay, I think I’m in a position now where I feel comfortable, where I can still sacrifice and I can hit that mark.”

Chris:
So what was it? One, maxing out my retirement plan at work, and then it was also really figuring out my why. What is it that I want out of retirement? What do I think this should be? Because I think it’s … For me, it was easy just to chase maybe the savings rates and these different milestones, but I didn’t really know what do I want out of retirement and what should it look like. Is it a full, complete retirement? Is it I’m just going to stop doing everything altogether? Am I going to move on to something that I’m more passionate about that brings me more fulfillment and joy in life? Because that was my biggest thing was to sit down and say, “What is it that I would like, I guess, the back half of my life to look like?”\

Chris:
So that was the biggest thing. I’m even doing soul searching now to say … building that out and building a vision, because I think it’s so much easier to hit a goal when I know clearly what it is that I would like to strive for. But for me, right now, it’s dipping back into some of my old habits of focus and putting aside as much as I can.

Chris:
So it’s primarily through index fund investing, and I would say the majority of it is through a pre-tax retirement fund through my employer right.

Scott:
this is mid-2017, right, is when you have the five figures in savings? When do you discover FIRE in relation to that moment?

Chris:
I would say this would have been late 2017 when I first discovered FIRE. That was when I was first introduced to it. And then probably it was 2018 when I really understood what it was all about and really got to hear more impactful stories. I think it was ChooseFI, Jonathan and Brad. I’ve learned a lot from them. Jillian Johnsrud, they’ve all … The way they present it has really been impactful to me and seeing that the power and the freedom that comes with that and not saying, “I’m going to just defer … I’m going to just work until I can’t work anymore,” and then just give up and just say, “All right. I guess I’ll rest now when I can’t do anything else.” And just hearing it put in that perspective, I was like, “Whoa, there’s so much life left. Do I want to spend it sitting at my desk working on Excel spreadsheets?” And the answer is no, I don’t. I don’t want to do that.

Scott:
I love it. I think that’s fantastic. All those are great resources that, if you’re listening, you should go and check out and learn from there. What is your vision for retirement? What is the latest thinking on that?

Chris:
So I’d say, right now, as I’ve thought about, I don’t envision it now as just doing nothing. I think it’s more about being able to pursue things that I really, truly enjoy and not worrying about is that going to be able to support me financially, because I want to be able to put myself in a position where I can choose to do whatever I want.

Chris:
So as of right now, it’s been a lot of doing podcasting, financial education, things like that. And still at the back of my mind, I know I still have to work. I still have to do something to support myself. So I couldn’t, at this point, switch over to that full time. But I would love to be able to spend my time helping other people learn about money, without myself having that worry in the back of my mind that I need to monetize this in some way. So being able to give freely of my time and not worry about the whole financial side of it is something that I would really love to do in the future.

Scott:
Love it.

Mindy:
That’s awesome. Quick question, do you still have credit cards?

Chris:
Oh, I do. I still have credit cards. Most definitely do.

Mindy:
Do you participate in that travel hacking credit card bonus thing that you hear so much about in this space?

Chris:
Yes. That was the biggest thing, a reason why I still have credit cards, is that, along with learning about financial independence, I learned about the credit card hacking or the travel hacking. And I never traveled growing up. We would take road trips. We would go anywhere you could take a car to in a reasonable amount of time is the amount of travel that I got to do as a kid, and it always ended up being going to Arkansas where my dad’s family lived. So that was the final destination to every trip we ever took. It was not the most exciting place in the world to go to. It’s beautiful, but they live in a small town. They didn’t even have a movie theater. They had a Walmart. That’s all they had. So that was not the best destination for a 14 year-old kid to go to.

Chris:
So once I found out about this … Because I didn’t want travel to take me back into debt, I didn’t want to end up derailing all the progress we had made just to go on a few trips. So when I found out I could sign up for credit cards and use these bonuses strategically to allow me to travel and see parts of the world and a country I’d never seen before, I was all in on it. So we’ve been doing that probably over the past year and a half, more seriously getting into travel hacking.

Mindy:
Okay. And now, I want some tips for people who may leery of credit cards. There are a lot of people who I have talked to who have a similar story, “I got into credit card debt, I finally got out, I never want to be in that credit card debt again. So I’m just going to pay cash for everything.” Dave Ramsey also has an envelope system, which is actually really brilliant. You take a bunch of envelopes, and this is my grocery envelope, and you put the cash in at the beginning of month and that’s all the cash you have for groceries or food or whatever the envelope is for.

Mindy:
So then that’s great. The psychological concept of spending actual cash is way different than just swiping the card. So a lot of people don’t want to fall back into that. They shun credit cards completely. How can somebody use credit cards responsibly and do this travel hacking. What tips do you have for people for that?

Chris:
Well, I think that’s a great point you made there too, because it is so easy to fall back into those habits.

Mindy:
So easy.

Chris:
I was very leery of it. That’s why I didn’t give it a try while we had any debt, because it was like I was still nervous about that. I was like, “I don’t want to end up back in that position.” So for me [crosstalk 00:44:26].

Mindy:
That’s a good point, is that you didn’t do it while you were in debt. Getting a free airline trip is great, but if that breaks your concentration on paying it off and, like you said, once you pull out the card, it’s so much easier to do it again. So that’s a good point. I’m sorry that I interrupted you. Continue.

Chris:
Oh, no. That’s okay. And the other thing to take into consideration, too, that I’m not sure you mentioned that is, okay, yes, you can get your flight covered, you can get your hotel covered, but you’re still going to want to do stuff when you get to these places. I’m not going to travel five hours, 10 hours to just go sit in a hotel room that was paid for with points. I’m going to want to go outside, I’m going to want to eat, I’m going to do touristy things. And so those things are going to obviously cost money.

Chris:
So you don’t want to do this in a position where you’re still focusing on paying off debt or you don’t have enough saved to cover an emergency, because you’re going to be spending money. You’re going to spend way more than you think you’re going to spend too once you get to these destinations. So I would say, for one, make sure you’re just in a stable position, you’ve taken care of your debt, you’ve saved some money to cover an emergency, and then give it a try.

Chris:
And then the next thing for me was I almost always immediately make payments on the card when I use it. So I don’t wait for the statement for come. I don’t use the card all month long and then the statement shows up and I make a payment, because I can’t trust myself to have that money still there once the statement arrives. So for me, I will literally … I’ll go to the gas station, I’ll buy gas, I will use my credit card, and I will immediately sit in my car, open up my app, and send the payment right there, just so I don’t forget, just so things don’t get out of control.

Chris:
Because in the beginning, when I first was giving this a try, I would use my card a few times, and then I’d say, “I’ll get around to making a payment,” and then I’d end up … It’s time to make the payment and I don’t have enough money to match what I spent on the card, and I ended up, “Okay, this is going to get dangerous. I’ll pull from savings and then I’ll cover that, so that way, I’m back at zero.” And I was like, “This is not going to work because I’m going to end up spending all of my savings just trying to hit these spending requirements on these cards.”

Chris:
So I’d say, if you can, whether it’s daily or maybe a couple times a week, sit down and, if you’re going to use the card to hit these spending requirements, just make the payment, get the cash out of your bank account, get the card balance back down to zero. Then that way, you avoid falling back into the habits of building up debt.

Mindy:
That’s a good tip.

Scott:
Going back through your story, rock bottom is $27,000 in debt, right? And I imagine that that’s the worst you felt about your prospects financially throughout this journey. Is that right?

Chris:
Oh yeah. For sure.

Scott:
At each point during this journey, it sounds like you’re still a long way from FI, but now have a plan to get there. At each point in this journey, have you felt better? Has your outlook on your journey improved throughout this process since starting that first budget?

Chris:
Oh yeah. For sure. I definitely … My optimism for the future has increased exponentially since getting away from that point because definitely, in the very beginning, I could not envision a point where I would be, one, debt free, and then, two, the thought of retiring at a younger age never even crossed my mind.

Chris:
Like you said, I’m not there. I’m not going to be able to retire tomorrow or five years from now. It’s still a process. But I can at least see it. I can envision a point in time where I can pursue whatever I want and I can live a completely different lifestyle than I live now. Whereas when I was back then, it was just so hard to ever get to that point, to ever see that as an option.

Scott:
Yeah. What I love about this is, when you’re at rock bottom with that $27,000 in debt and have that weighing over you, right, life is terrible. You just have all these different things going on. While you’re fighting out of it, you’re back in control. And so you feel at least in control of it, even though you had a struggle for two and a half years to get out of it.

Scott:
Then, you have $10,000 or, what, five figures, you said, in savings. Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief, and now you’re moving towards early retirement. I’m assuming you’re able to enjoy your life exponentially more than at any point in the last several years leading up to that. You’re able to travel hack and put together some great trips and vacations. And so it’s not like you have to wait until you retire early to reap the benefits of what you’re doing. You’re realizing them in real time every month. With every passing month, there’s continual improvement is what I’m gathering from your story.

Chris:
Yeah. That’s 100% correct. It’s a completely different life now. And I’m at a point now where I can … there’s things that I can see that bring me joy and that I can experience now that I never saw as a possibility at all. And it all came from, I would say … I don’t think I would enjoy life the way I do now or feel the way I feel about money in a more healthy way if I hadn’t have gone through those things, if I wouldn’t have. As much as I hated it, as much as it caused me to feel depressed and anxious, going through that experience and learning from it and being able to overcome something like that, it’s definitely changed my perspective in so many ways about life and about money and it has allowed me to enjoy things in a way that I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I wouldn’t have gone through this.

Scott:
Love it. And on a month to month basis now, is it pretty automatic? Do you just earn, save, it flows through to your investment account, and you get a little richer with each passing month?

Chris:
Yeah. Right now, I pretty much have it on autopilot. Something I’m doing differently this year than I’ve done in the past is I will actually sit down and I wrote out all the big money goals that I have for myself and prioritized them, because I had a habit of writing down 20 goals that I had for myself and there was no way in the world that I was going to accomplish any of those thing. It was just all these great things I would like to do now.

Chris:
But I’ve been trying to focus on what do I truly care about and what is the real priority for us and sit down and write out those goals and then use that to build my automated plan for the rest of the year. So this is my first year really implementing that and really giving that a try, so we’ll see how that goes. But no, so far, so good. It’s nice to have a direction in the year to focus and then go from there.

Scott:
Love it. Do you have any children?

Chris:
No, we do not have any kids right now. It’s just me and my wife.

Scott:
Got it.

Chris:
But it definitely helps.

Scott:
Yep. Fair enough. Well, this has been awesome. Mindy, do you have anything else to add, or, Chris, do you have anything else to add before we go into the Famous Four?

Chris:
I would just say, for me, the biggest thing was just giving myself some grace when it came to my finances, and it took me a long time to understand that and to be able to push away some of the anger and fear that came from money. But definitely, anyone can do it. It’s just a journey. And just keep that in mind, that everyone makes mistakes and you can overcome it, because so many people have.

Mindy:
That’s a great way to end that. Okay. It’s now time for the Famous Four. These are the same four questions we ask of all of our guests. Chris, are you ready?

Chris:
Yes.

Mindy:
Okay. What is your favorite finance book?

Chris:
My favorite finance book is The Year of Less by Kate Flanders. It’s not a typical money book. It’s not going to teach you how to invest per se. But it starts off with she’s going to do basically a year of not spending, because she found herself in a spot where she was getting out of control with everything and so many things were happening in her life that she just … Basically, it was like a reset.

Chris:
And I thought it was going to be just a story of someone not spending any money for a year. I was like, “This sounds interesting.” But it ends up being this journey into understanding why you spend money and what triggers these habits in your life and the things you learn about yourself when you give yourself time to breathe and just break away from basically healing yourself by spending money, making yourself feel better by going out and going out to drink and eat and shop and the power that comes from giving yourself a break from all of that and really learning about yourself.

Chris:
So for me, that’s probably my number one money book.

Mindy:
I have not read that book yet, but that sounds like a great book. I’m going to have to pick that up. I like that [crosstalk 00:52:17].

Chris:
I read it probably in two weeks because it was just so interesting. I couldn’t stop. So I’d definitely say that’s my number one book.

Mindy:
Awesome.

Scott:
Awesome.

Mindy:
Thanks.

Scott:
What was your biggest money mistake? What’s the number one thing you’d point out in this story?

Chris:
I would say, so this was back in maybe 2011, so this was right before I got married. I bought my first car myself. Family helped me prior to that and I was like, “You know what? I’m going to buy a car.” And I never had a new car, so of course I went and bought myself a brand new car. And it was a Hyundai Sonata. I remember. And I was so happy about, and it ended up being a lemon. It was all these issues with it. And I was like, “Why did I do this?”

Chris:
But I'm sure the fixes could have been very quick. It could have been very quick and cheap. But I was like, "You know what? I'm going to trade this car in and I'm going to lease a sports car." And I leased this car and I regret it every day, because I got it and I immediately was like, "This is not that great. This was fun for like three hours." I'm like, "I'm in LA. I can't even drive it fast. I'm in traffic all the time." And I look back and I was like, "If I would have just kept the first car, fixed it, it would have been paid off and I'd have a car and no car payment." But instead, I got rid of a car, leased a car for two years, and then just had to buy another car after that. So I look back on that. I was like, "I just really messed that one up."

Scott:
I love it. Thanks for sharing.

Mindy:
The first car, the brand new car, or the car lease is frequently our biggest money mistake. You deserve it, Chris. You should have kept that car. What kind of sports car did you have?

Chris:
So it was an Infinity, I think it was a G37. I think that’s what it’s called. They keep changing the name, but I think it was an Infinity G37.

Mindy:
Okay.

Chris:
So it was a coupe two-door. It was a beautiful car, but it was not a great decision.

Mindy:
That’s okay. That’s okay. We’ll forgive you. What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Chris:
I would say, again, going back to what I said towards the end, it’s figuring out your why. What is it that you want out of life? What is it that you’re striving for and you want to see for yourself in the future? Because that’s going to make it so much easier to reach a goal.

Chris:
If you’re just chasing this savings rate or this ideal of financial independence, but you don’t really know what that is going to be for you, I think it just makes it harder to stay on the journey long term, because it’s just abstract. It doesn’t really look like anything. So I would say just sit down, take time, and really think about what do you want your life to look like in 10, 20, 30 years and build this vision for yourself, and then use that to keep you motivated and moving towards your goal.

Scott:
Love it. And I’ll add if you can’t figure out what you want, which can be a year’s long identity struggle, maybe just write down a couple of things you don’t want and that can be a good starting point, right? Because a lot of people, I think, they don’t know exactly what they want to do after FI, but they know they don’t want to be working their job for another 30 years. So that’s one way to start out. But I love that advice. Once you have clarity on your vision, you could just execute towards it. Everything becomes crystal clear.

Chris:
Yeah, so true. And it is hard. I’ll second that. It is very hard to figure out what that is.

Scott:
All right. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Chris:
Oh, this one was tough. I was going through, I was like, “What is something that makes me laugh?” And I was like, “This is going to be a total dad joke because I’m not a dad, but I love dad jokes for some reason.”

Chris:
So, okay. So there’s a farmer and he goes out to a field and he decides that he’s going to count up his cows. So he counts 196 cows, but then when he rounds them, he ends up with 200. That’s my dad joke.

Scott:
Wait. I [crosstalk 00:56:00].

Chris:
Because he rounds the 196. Round it up. It’s 200.

Scott:
Ah, I see.

Mindy:
Oh okay.

Chris:
That’s why it’s a dad joke, because it’s horrible and it makes you think too hard about it.

Scott:
Yeah. I’m sorry I pasteurized that joke. Alrighty.

Mindy:
Ugh, that’s Scott’s favorite kind of joke.

Scott:
Where can people find out more about you, Chris?

Chris:
Oh. Well, definitely don’t look for me for my joke telling ability, obviously. But you can find me over at PopcornFinance.com. That’s where I post all the new episodes coming, and you can send me a message and reach out to me if you want to ask a question or just say hey.

Scott:
All right.

Mindy:
What’s the tagline for Popcorn Finance? I love this.

Chris:
Oh, well, thank you. It’s where I discuss finance in about the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn, so short-form podcast.

Mindy:
Yeah. And they’re great. Chris tackles one topic at a time and it’s just a really quick … I almost said it’s a really quick little show. It’s a really quick show that just covers one topic, so you’re not all over the place like we are.

Chris:
Yeah. Well, no. And Mindy, you were on as well.

Mindy:
I was on. I was talking about real estate, my favorite thing.

Chris:
And you were great, so thank you. Appreciate that.

Mindy:
Well, thank you, Chris. This was a lot of fun. I take little notes while we’re talking and little quotables, and I have about 1,000 from you. This was just really, really great. And one of my favorite parts about your story is that this is something that anybody who is listening now can repeat. Somebody can emulate you and say, “Oh, I am in debt and I need to stop. So I can do all the things that Chris did.”

Chris:
Well, thank you. I always appreciate talking with you. And thank you for letting me share my story. It helps me remember where I was and to not lose track of the journey and how I felt and how other people are dealing with the same thing.

Mindy:
Yeah.

Scott:
Yeah, I think a lot of people are going to benefit from this, so thank you.

Chris:
Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks.

Mindy:
Okay, great. Chris, we will talk to you soon.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Chris’s journey with money
  • Wedding debt
  • Paying off debt
  • How he approached his wife about making changes to their budget
  • His emergency fund
  • Dave Ramsey’s baby steps
  • Retirement planning and saving for early retirement
  • Discovering financial independence
  • How to use a credit card responsibly
  • Tips for travel hacking
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books:

Connect with Chris:

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast is for anyone who has money… or want to have more! Join BiggerPockets Community Manager and Podcast Director Mindy Jensen and CEO Scott Trench weekly for the BiggerP...
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