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How to Create Financial Security (From Scratch!) and Become “Set for Life”

How to Create Financial Security (From Scratch!) and Become “Set for Life”

61 min read
The BiggerPockets Money Podcast

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What’s stopping you from becoming debt-free? Everyone’s answers will vary, but one truth remains the same—excessive debt can prevent you from living the life you deserve. Today’s guest, Joe Bussey, took control of his life once he decided to pay off his $220,000 worth of debt and build a “financial runway” he could rely on.

Joe’s debt accumulated as he did what everyone in his life told him to. He was in pursuit of a college education when his life took a series of unexpected and unfortunate twists and turns. It all started when he got robbed at gunpoint for all the money he saved for college. From there, he had to start from scratch to save up for school. He had to work several jobs, once working five jobs at a time, to keep up with rent and student loan payments. He then went back to school to pursue a better career but ended up in school for five more years—forcing him to take out even more student loans. By the time he graduated, he was $220,000 in debt.

After graduation, Joe was only making $1,000 a month and eventually fell into a deep depression. It was then Joe decided he needed a change, so he wrote out all his worries and came to one conclusion—they were financial problems. After doing some research, Joe came across BiggerPockets and Set for Life. He read the book cover to cover in one day, and a light bulb went off. After reading the book, Joe took control of his finances, saving up $25,000 in his bank account while paying off $100,000 in just fourteen months!

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Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, show number 311, where we interview Joseph Bussey and hear how he simultaneously increased his income by $75,000 while paying down more than $85,000 in student loan debt. All thanks to a little book call Set for Life.

Joe:
I read this thing and I mean I read it in a day. I sat down and I read it cover to cover without putting it down. And I was like, “This makes sense. I have a direction. There’s a plan here. Let’s see what happens if I just start at part one here and just try to save $25,000. Let me just go get a job and see what happens.” We’re in the middle of COVID, everybody’s hiring because nobody wants to work and everybody wants to collect their unemployment or whatever. I’m like, “Let me just … I can know how to work. I have no problem working. Let me get a job and see what I can do and just try to save $25,000. Let’s just set that as a goal and do it. Not worry about paying debt or whatever. Just see if you can just in a bank account put $25,000 away,” and that’s what I did.

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

Scott:
What are you talking about? We’re flying high today, Mindy.

Mindy:
We’re flying so high today, Scott. This is an awesome episode. Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when you’re starting, no matter where you’re starting, no matter how little money you make in the beginning including $250 a week.

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 pay off $220,000 in student loan debt in three years, we’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way, so you can launch yourself towards those dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I’m so excited to talk to Joe today because he has an amazing story of taking some pretty crappy circumstances, wanting something more, learning about how to change his situation, and most importantly, taking action once he figured out what he needed to do in order to change some pretty awful scenarios that happened to him earlier in his life.

Scott:
Yeah, and I think Joe started out or slowly accumulated over a 15-year period a very tough financial situation and to break out of that requires an extraordinary amount of effort, a grind, hard work, all-out approach on the savings, income-generation, self-education front. You’ll see that play out in today’s episode and I think it’s fantastic.

Mindy:
Yup. I don’t want to give away too much of his story because we do go along today. He has a fabulous story and I just want to highlight again, he takes action and that is what is most important in this whole scenario. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t do anything with it, that knowledge is worthless. Today’s guest is Joseph Bussey, a member of our Facebook Group who posted, “I started listening to the podcast around June of 2019. Thanks to Scott Trent’s book, Set for Life. At that time, I had $170,000 in student loan debt and made only $25,000 per year. Life felt overwhelming to say the least. Today, I have $85,000 in student loan debt and have increased my income to nearly $100,000 a year, thanks to the tips and stories of real people on this podcast. What I am hoping to find in this group are some like-minded people to establish some support as all the people in my life are spenders and are not able to understand why I am so strict with my budget.”

Mindy:
So of course, I had to dive into this story a little bit more. How did he pay off $85,000 in student loans? How did he increase his income almost $75,000? I know one contributed to the other, but it’s very difficult to go from $25,000 a year to $100,000 a year in only three years. That takes some real effort. So Joe, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Joe:
Oh, thanks for having me.

Mindy:
I’m really excited to talk to you because I love this. I mean I don’t love the, “I had $175,000 in student loan debt,” but I love the fact that you’ve paid off such a big chunk of it in such a small amount of time. I want to know all the things.

Joe:
Yeah, it’s just one of these you get started and you get on a role and you have some kind of a plan and you just starts to fall into place, but you spend so much time before you start paying it off just not knowing what you’re doing and you get lost in everything.

Scott:
Yeah. So can you walk us through how you got into all of this debt and had the $25,000 a year in income? What were the circumstances that led to that?

Joe:
Oh, yeah, so if you start all the way back at, gosh, with my first job, I was 13 years old and I was shoveling horse crap at a racetrack and that was my first job. And I made like $500 a week or whatever and I’m saving this money, getting ready to get through high school and go to college. And what ends up happening is at 17 years old, I had a falling out with my dad and my stepmom and there’s this huge fight and I end up getting kicked out of my house at 17 years old. And so I used all this money that I’ve been saving to buy my own car, to buy my own cellphone, to go to school. And then of course, student loans became the way that I paid for living because I didn’t have a choice at that point.

Joe:
It was like either go to school or go figure out your life without school and everybody in my life to that point had told me, “Oh, school is the only way that you’re going to be successful in life.” And so that’s what I did, was what I thought I was supposed to do. And here we are later, after basically you’ve got an associate’s degree, I’ve got a bachelor’s degree, I’ve got two master’s degrees, and of course, the $180,000 that goes along with all of those things.

Scott:
So how did that go? Was it four years, six years in college? How long did it take you to accumulate those degrees?

Joe:
So it was a period of time. So I graduated high school ’03 and I earned my last master’s degree in 2017. And so I had a few years off in between because of crazy life things, so two years I got an associate’s degree. So ’05, I’m getting ready to go to a really prestigious art school over in a Seattle, Washington called Cornish College of the Arts. And at that point, my dad and my stepmom, like I said, they had got divorced and she wanted to be a part of my life again and she’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to help you move.” And so we’re on the road here and we’re driving over to Seattle and they came up, and actually, her and her new boyfriend robbed me at gunpoint and stole the $3,000 that I had saved up to go to school.

Joe:
And so I’m here in the middle of I-5 just had all my money stolen. He’s taken a walk down the street because he’s basically left her and took my money and said, “Basically just take it out of what your mama owes me,” and it’s like, “This isn’t even my mom.” And-

Scott:
Oh, my God.

Joe:
Here we are, we’re sitting in the middle of the I-5 just like, “All right,” and so then she starts blaming me for the whole thing. And I’m like, “I can’t do … I’m done. Get out of my car. I’m done with you.” And I left her there in the middle I-5 and I drive off to the nearest exit, right? And I start unloading my U-Haul just into a dumpster. And this is just a crazy thing, everything that you own just going into a dumpster because you have nothing else to do with it because you don’t want to pay extra days on this U-Haul. And so I’m just completely lost. And so I can’t go to school. I have no money to start to pay my rent to anything. And so I-

Scott:
What year is this?

Joe:
This is ’05, summer of ’05.

Scott:
Oh, wow.

Joe:
Yeah, and so that was the first period where I took a year off because I was like, “I can’t go to school. So me go figure life out and get a job for a year and try to save up money to go back to school because that’s where I’m supposed to be, still trying to get through this thing that I’m supposed to do.” This is the first incremental thing that happened along the way here.

Scott:
All right. So we know that there’s a turning point in 2019. Thanks to the intro we heard earlier. What are some of the milestones or crazy situations or tough circumstances that you experienced in this 14-year period between 2003 and 2017 when you got your last masters? Were there any things that set you up for later parts of the story, for example?

Joe:
Yeah, so this is the huge thing and then I have to figure out where I’m going to be going to what I’m going to do. So for a year, I worked with my uncle in Arizona doing landscaping, just 115 degrees craziness, trying to save money to go back to school and I’m trying to figure out how to get back. And I end up taking this full year working with him and then I saved up some more money and I called back to my old, where I got my associate’s degree and say, “Hey, where have you sent people that’s affordable, that I can go to school because this is just not doable to go to this private art school anymore?” And they sent me to North Dakota. So I drive my car up to Grand Forks, North Dakota where it is, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced -70. I know you guys are in Colorado, but like -70 is a whole other life.

Joe:
And so I’m up there just freezing my life away and I do two more years there. And so I graduate with my bachelor’s degree in 2008 and I go do this New York showcase, right? I’m an actor, so I got my degree in and I go to do the showcase where you get to go perform in New York and you show off your talents. And I start to get these people contacting me like, “Hey, we want you to come audition for this,” or, “Hey, we want you to come in and meet with our talent agent,” or, “Hey, we want you to,” whatever these things, opportunities that start coming my way. But then you start to look at your life and you’re like, “Oh, no, I can’t do any of that because New York is expensive and I have $40,000, $50,000 in student loan debt and I don’t know how I’m going to pay for that and live in New York.”

Joe:
And so I got stuck. I just stayed in North Dakota and I got a job and I became a manager at a Kohl’s department store and did that whole life for about four years. So from 2008 when I graduated to 2012, I’m literally just working. And I realized, “Hey, even at that time, manager wage was 12, 25 an hour or some craziness, but I realized, “Hey, this isn’t even enough to pay back my loans and pay my rent and eat and all of these other things.” And granted, I was not as frugal then as I am now, but I was just like, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this. So what do I do?” I’m like, “We’ll get another job.” And all of a sudden, I’m working four jobs. I’m getting up at 2:00 AM every morning to go deliver newspapers or whatever it is to get the first part of the day done and then I go open a Kohl’s department store and count all their cash office and work with them. And then I go work at a Hollywood Video. If you remember Hollywood Video, that’s a whole other time and I started picking up night jobs.

Joe:
At some point, I was working five jobs and I would work 18, 19 hours a day and I would sleep for a couple of hours and then get up and do it all over again. And I did that for about a year and a half and was, gosh, right about 2012, I guess, is when I had from my undergraduate program, she was the director of the program and she came through my Starbucks drive-thru, I was working at Starbucks at that time. And she’s like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “I’m doing this. I’m putting coffee out the window every day. That’s my life.” And she’s like, “You should come talk to me.” And so I was like, “Okay.”

Joe:
So I went to her office that day and we started talking and all of a sudden she’s like, “Yeah, you should look into grad school. We can maybe get you down a track to start teaching theater and that would be a way to use your degree and we can figure it out.” It’s like, “Yeah, that sounds great. Of course, I can also write off all these student loans and put them back in the backburner and not have to pay them because I’ll be back in school. And of course, these are the mistakes that you make because everybody keeps saying, “Go back to school. Get this degree. You can do this instead.” And then you start to realize after two years you get an MA in theater, so it’s 2014 and-

Scott:
Were you able to pay off any of the debt or begin getting positive while working the multiple jobs for that long time period?

Joe:
Oh, no, because what ends up happening is you’re so crazy from working so much that I … And then there’s several situations that go into this, but for me, I got just completely absorbed and I actually had a complete mental breakdown and I went into a mental hospital for about six to eight weeks. It’s a blurry time because I was on a lot of medication and I don’t really remember a lot of it, but it was about six to eight weeks there where I was completely impatient at the mental hospital because I could not cope with between what was going on in my life, my grandfather had passed away and he was the main father figure in my life and there was just all of these things that compounded all at once. So I wasn’t paying any debt off. I was only accumulating hospital debt.

Scott:
Geez.

Joe:
And so it was just adding to fuel to the fire, if you will. And so this is where I’m just like, “Okay, yeah, school sounds great. Let’s just put all this debt in the backburner,” and see, I didn’t actually pay, I was only accumulating. And of course, also when you do that and you’re working five jobs and you’re working the last one of the days you work in a restaurant, is, or actually it was a little bar and grill, you start to get off work and have a drink with everybody and then you start drinking and then that’s keeping you from sleeping because you’re drinking at night just to get through the next part because it’s your really only social life. And it’s just this crazy series of events that just continued to compound until you … Like I said earlier, you just don’t have a plan in life anymore. You’re just living to get through the next day. And so yeah, no actual payoff of anything, just hoping that I can maybe find a job that I enjoy where I don’t have to work 19 hours a day to get through.

Scott:
Wow. Okay. And so at this point, you’re now back into grad school and you’re doing that for two years, accumulating more student loan debts. And at that point, you’re able to get a job, that’s easy-peasy and the situation improves?

Joe:
Yeah, that’s the end of it. No, not at all. So you find out that, “Hey, with an MA, that’s not a terminal degree.” So I have an MA in theater, which you can’t teach with or at least you’re looked down upon in terms of the hiring process, so it’s difficult then to get the job that you’re going to try to get. And so they’re like, “What you really need is a terminal degree, so you can go do these auditions in Chicago and buy a plane ticket and go to Chicago and audition for grad schools to get a terminal degree which is the MFA in my case in acting, so master’s of fine arts. And so I do. I go do these auditions in Chicago and I get a bunch of interest and I end up going to school in West Virginia and I do three years to get my terminal degree after I’ve already done two years because none of it transfers across, you have to take an additional three years.

Joe:
And what they don’t tell you is that when you do things like theater, in terms of being an actor in theater for your degree, you go to school, right? And then when you get done with school, you have your homework and all these things that everybody else has. But then let’s say you have to do the show because that’s part of your degree, is you have to go perform on the main stage. So when you get done with school, you then have to go to rehearsal. So you don’t really have time to work these outside jobs or anything else because you’re in school from 9:00 to 5:00 and then you go to your actual rehearsal from 5:00 until 10:00, 11:00, midnight, 2:00 AM, depending on where you’re at in your rehearsal schedule and you’re getting up to go to school again. So you really don’t have time to work, so you can’t pay for anything, so you have to take out these loans. So this is how we get into the situation we’re in.

Scott:
Wow. Okay, so what time did you finish the MFA, the master’s in fine arts? And what does your situation look like at that point?

Joe:
Yeah. So what that’s about 20, gosh, 2017. Yeah, ’15, ’16, ’17. Yeah, so 2017 I’m finished with my graduate degree. I’ve got the shiny piece of paper and I did all of that to eventually just get an internship with a, and I won’t mention the name of the place, but I got an internship with a Shakespeare company. And so I’m like, “Cool, I’m going to go do the Shakespeare thing,” and then they … I don’t know if you know about internships, but they don’t tend to pay very well. So you go work 10, 12, 14, 16-hour days for $250 a week. And yeah, my housing is paid, but $250 a week, I don’t know, but the student loans got to be paid now. So I’m doing this intern-

Scott:
How much were the student loans?

Joe:
At this point, we are up to, this is where we’re at that $180,000-ish. And like I said, some of this student loan debt I took on not as a matter of taking on to go to school, but actually to pay off the hospital bills. So I refinanced my … Because I didn’t pay the hospital bills because I didn’t have any money, so that goes into collections. And then instead of negotiating, as I’ve learned through the podcast here, you can negotiate some of those hospital bills, I just refinanced it all into student loan debt because you don’t have to tell people what you’re doing with your student loans, you can literally pay anything with it. And so I just refinanced a lot of debt into … That was at 20, 30% into a student loans. And so by the time we’re all said and done, we are there at about $180,000-ish and that’s just in the regular federal student loans. I also had, which I don’t always count, because I didn’t … When I put everything into Mint, it doesn’t show up, but I had about $40,000 then also in private student loans, which I’ve paid off first.

Scott:
Wow.

Joe:
So those were paid off before the 180. So I would say, all in, we were about a $220,000 or so.

Scott:
And you’re making $250 a week?

Joe:
Yeah.

Scott:
So how long does this situation continue for?

Joe:
So $250 a week lasted about six months and then through no fault of anybody, my stepdad got cancer and my mom, she lives in the Bay Area and just out of need to go help family and be a part of … This is a not on the side that left me stranded in the middle of nowhere and stole all my money, but this is my actual mom, her husband, my stepdad at the time passed away or who was on his way to passing away. We didn’t know that we knew he was really, really sick at the time. And so I came out there and I canceled the whole internship and went to go help out family. And that’s how it sort of ended. So this is about Christmas-ish end of 2017, beginning of 2018 that I went back home and basically living home for the first time since I was 17 years old.

Scott:
And so what happens from here? How has the situation proceed?

Joe:
Yeah, so what happens now is I’m there. I’m in the Bay Area. I’m like, “There’s all kinds of theater in this area. Let’s do this acting thing. Let’s actually give it a try.” And through my time with the Shakespeare company and through this, just my tenure overall, I was part of the acting union or I was on my way to get my equity card. I could have applied for it at any time, but of course, there’s money that you got to pay to do that. And so I’m like, “Well, let me just go audition. Let me just go meet these people, get myself out there and just see what happens. And so I start driving from Santa Rosa in California which is about two hours from the city, an hour and a half, two hours, depending on traffic and I’m driving every day from over the bridge into the city to do these auditions.

Joe:
I was working at one point at an old Navy stockroom going in at 4:00 AM and doing that and then doing Peet’s Coffee in the morning and doing all these jobs in the morning, so that I can get over to the city to actually go audition and get that done. So I’m spending everything that I’m bringing in. This is still, making maybe, gosh, like $1,000 a month, maybe $1,500 a month, just enough to pay my gas and get myself over the bridge and just craziness, but I was doing it. I was doing the starving actor thing that everybody idolizes in some ways. And I’m realizing, “Hey, this is just not going very well. I’m getting callbacks. I’m getting into shows. I have seven or eight shows lined up,” but what they want to pay you is $900 for three months of work.

Joe:
And I’m like, “This is not feasible. I’m not even paying rent right now. I’m at my mom’s house,” which is a blessing all in its own. For the first time, I have a little bit of reprieve, so I can literally just focus on this thing that I want to do. And I’m like, “This is not feasible. You can’t do this. There’s no way that you can make $900 for three months of work driving across [inaudible 00:21:34] barely pays the bridge and the gas to get there and back.” So I basically was forced, at this point, because we’re coming up on 2019 now and that’s when COVID happened. And then that spiraled me into this next deep depression. I was like, “I can’t do this thing. Everything just seems to be stacked against me. Everything’s bad. Everything’s …”

Joe:
And you get into this whole negative self-talk and then I start to go, “All right, well, what are you going to do about it?” And I finally just had this realization, “What is this thing? You can do it, but what do you do now?” And this is where the big turning point is I actually take this sheet of paper, and being in theater, I’m a writer. I want to actually write things out, I’m not a typer. And so I take this sheet of paper and I just start writing out the problem. “What is the problem? What is it that is stacked against you?” And you start putting it on there and everything came back to money, “Money, money, money. Money’s bad. You have no money and you can’t do anything because you have no money and debt, debt, debt, debt.”

Joe:
And so what I did was I started researching how to make more money and I came across BiggerPockets. And the first thing that came across was the original BiggerPockets Podcast and the housing market and started to look at … So I’m like, “Okay, well, how do you get into buying? How do I buy a house? I have no money and I have all this debt, but let’s see how I can buy a house.” That’s where I’m at in my life and so I realized, as I’m reading these books, that I can’t buy a house, “Well, why can’t I buy a house? Oh, we’re back to I don’t have any money.” And that’s when I stumbled across Scott Trench’s book and I found Set for Life.

Joe:
And I read this thing and I read it in a day. I sat down because I’m not working, I’m not doing anything else, I sat down and I read it cover to cover without putting it down. And I was like, “This makes sense. I have a direction. There’s a plan here. Let’s see what happens if I just start at part one here and just try to save $25,000. Let me just go get a job and see what happens.” We’re in the middle of COVID everybody’s hiring because nobody wants to work and everybody wants to collect their unemployment or whatever and I’m like, “Let me just … I know how to work. I have no problem working. Let me get a job and see what I can do and just try to save $25,000. Let’s just set that as a goal and do it, not worry about paying debt or whatever. Just see if you can just, in a bank account, put $25,000 away.” And that’s what I did and I realized when I actually started working full time at a real job and-

Scott:
What was the job?

Joe:
The job, I got a job with a little winery in Kenwood and it was $18 an hour. It’s not a ton of money, but it was more than I’d ever made in my entire life. And then you get tips because you’re now a hospitality employee. So you’re actually making a little cash here and there and all these things start to come together and you’re like, “Okay, well, now I’m making, instead of $1,000 a month, I’m making $3,000 a month. Oh, well, I’ve been living on $1,000 a month, so now I’m saving $2,000 a month because I know how to live on $1,000 a month and $2,000 starts getting put aside.”

Joe:
And I’m like, “Well, what if I get another job?” because this is who I am and so I get a job at a little bar and grill and I basically am working then again from 9:00 to 5:00 and then 5:00 to midnight. And the other job then becomes just complete income that’s going into this savings account, including the cash. And I had to go open a bank account in town because I had been with an online banking thing for so long, but I actually go and I open this bank account. And every time I get cash the next morning, I don’t care if it was $7 or $170, I would go to the bank and I would put that $7 or whatever it was directly into the bank because I know if it’s in my pocket, I’m going to spend it, I’ll buy dinner or whatever. And so I start just accumulating this cash, and all of a sudden, I realized, it’s like two or three months, I have $25,000.

Scott:
So you’re working two jobs. You’re going from doing, it sounds like not working and struggling with this acting. You’re working two jobs and sounds like a lot of hours. How many hours a week are you working with those two jobs?

Joe:
I’m closing in on probably 60, 70-ish hours a week which is still less than I’ve ever worked when I was trying to do theater.

Scott:
How did you feel about it, the situation while you’re working those 70 hours?

Joe:
Well, when you start seeing the money show up, you’re like, “This is awesome. You just have to go to work and you get paid. That’s how that works.”

Mindy:
No, no, no, no, no, no. What I’m hearing you say is, “I used to go to work and I worked and worked and worked and worked to worked and didn’t have any sort of plan in place. So I spent everything and I didn’t really think about what I was doing or where I was going, so nothing was working for me. But then I read this book and I figured out, step one, I need to save $25,000.” There’s more steps beyond that, but you weren’t thinking about all the other things you have to do. You can’t do these other things until you do this one thing. So that was your main focus. And you could have worked at your job making $3,000 a month and let lifestyle inflate and save a couple of hundred dollars a month and taken 15 years to save $25,000 or you could go from, “I was making $1,000 a month and living off of that,” to, “I’m still making $1,000 a month and I’m going to live off of that and everything else is going into this bank account because I have this goal.”

Scott:
And you’re still able to spend very little, right? So what are your expenses during this period?

Joe:
Nominal because it’s the student loans at this point or the federal student loans anywhere are at 0%, no payment required. I have, at this point, about $35,000 in these private student loans that are killing me. They are at like 15.5% interest, just ruining my life and it didn’t realize it. And so my expense is I’m living at home, so I have no rent and my food is pretty much taken care of unless I’m out. I have no social life because I just moved here and it’s COVID and I know nobody, so I’m not going out or doing anything except working. So just the basic bills, your gas. We’re talking, I’m probably living on $400 or $500 a month and making $3,000-ish at this point. And just, like I said, every dime went into that savings account and then I realized, “Hey, I made it. I got $25,000.” And then you take this ownership, this pride all of a sudden you’ve accomplished something.

Scott:
So how long did that take you? How long did it take you to get to 25?

Joe:
Three or four months, just socking money away because it was literally everything I was making. And what ends up happening is, see, you have $25,000 and I’m like, “Okay, this is where Scott bought a house. I still can’t buy a house because I’m living in the Bay Area and I still have all this debt, but I have 15% interest. What if I just take half of it? Let’s say 15,000, little more than half, 15,000 and I just pay off the student loan. Now I don’t have that bill anymore and then that extra 100 can go right back into that savings account. We can get back to $25,000 again.” So that happened, I just paid it off, done. All of a sudden, money frees up. And then I was like, “Okay, now I have this other one that’s $20,000,” and I get to 25,000 and I just paid that one off, just lump sum.

Joe:
But I kept making the goal to go back to $25,000 because if I knew if I had the $25,000, not only can I live for a year on $25,000 very comfortably at this point, but I know that there’s some goal, there’s something that I’m working toward. There’s a plan. And so I get that the $25,000 and I pay that one off and now I have no more private student loans. So right now, all of my debt then is so I have no credit card debt, I have no car loan, I have none of these other things. It was just student loans. So now it’s down to just these federal loans which is where we come in at that like $170,000-ish or whatever, $80,000, I think it was and like, “Okay, so now I just have this one giant loan that’s 0% interest and what do we do now?”

Scott:
And what’s the balance on this loan after you’ve paid off those debts?

Joe:
So this is where we’re at the 180,000 because this is all … When I started with your book, I joined Mint and I put everything in there and that’s where-

Scott:
220 in total debt when you started.

Joe:
Rough.

Scott:
Paid off 40 and now you have 180 left in federal student loans.

Joe:
Correct.

Scott:
Plus 25 grand.

Joe:
Plus 25 grand in the bank.

Scott:
Awesome. And what month and year are we at right now?

Joe:
And so now we’re at 2020 March, we’re in a year into the pandemic. So March 2020-

Scott:
2021, so March 2021.

Joe:
Yeah is roughly where we’re at, and then, I started going, “Well, instead of having both these jobs, what if I could find one job that is just a regular schedule and not have to do both jobs and I could free up some of my time, so that I’m not crazy?” And so I start looking around and I find this job at another winery and I go in and I talk with them. It’s in a little ritzy area and so it’s a little better spot in terms of clientele. And I go in and I talk with them, and mind you, I have no real wine knowledge. I’m making things up and learning as I go and studying all this stuff on the outside.

Mindy:
I knew.

Joe:
Yeah. And so I go up and I talk with the owners, and basically, they hire me and they said, “You just have this energy about you. You have this thing that’s just we’ve been looking for people like this.” And she’s like, “What are you making right now?” And I said, “I’m making $18 an hour and I have this going on in my life,” and I’m just very honest and upfront. I find that’s usually the best way to be with people is just like, “This is the real me. I’m not going to come into this interview and blow smoke and try to make you feel like I’m something I’m not.” Just go be yourself and see what happens. And it works, especially in this case, it’s a small family business and she’s like, “What do you want to be paid?” And I said, “Well, let’s just say we start at 19. I’m at 18. You want to pull me away from my job. Let’s start at 19, and if you feel I’m worth it, let’s talk about a raise in the next three months.”

Joe:
And so that’s basically what we did. We started $19 an hour. There’s no commission, there’s no sales thing, but it’s more of a restaurant because they’re doing food and wine pairings which drives more tips. And all of a sudden, I’m making basically what I was making. I’m $19 plus tips there or $18 an hour plus tips in the first place, $19 an hour plus tips here, but I’m finding out that the tips are almost double what I was making at the previous place, so I don’t need the bar job anymore. And I literally was able to find a job that paid the same as both of those jobs combined and my hours went from 9:00 to midnight to 11:00 to 7:00. And it’s like-

Scott:
That’s awesome. Did the 25,000 in the bank account help you feel comfortable with making that switch? Was that a factor at all in the decision or ability to change the jobs?

Joe:
Oh, absolutely because what are they going to do? I can always find a job. I’ve never had a problem doing that. So if I’ve got that there, I have a year basically to go find a job if I don’t like this one. It’s just a, not resting on your laurels, but a sense of ownership. You’re like, “I have provided for myself for a year in the bank account.”

Scott:
Awesome.

Joe:
Without any question. And so, yeah, so here we are, we’re working at this job and I’ve got this steady stream of income coming in and I realized, “If I’m no longer making $3,000 a month, I’m making like $5,500 a month after taxes,” and so it’s like, “Oh, this is like $85,000, $95,000 a year and only half of it’s being paid by my employer and the other half is coming in these tips.” And at this point too, because of your book, I started listening to the podcast as well. And I came across that episode with David Greene who is talking about all these things that he did in the restaurant and I was like, “Oh, I could do that. Yeah, I can do that too. Oh, yeah. I can go just work really hard at the one job and get people to trust me to do all these things.”

Joe:
And so now all of a sudden, I’ve got my boss telling me, “I don’t want you to be my manager. You’re too valuable in all these other places. I would rather just pay you now $25 an hour and not have you be my manager because I don’t want you bogged down with managerial stuff. I want you talking to my guests. I want you dealing with my clients. I want you pouring the wine and serving the food and making people happy because that’s what you’re good at and that’s where you should be.” And of course, that benefits me more too because if you get bogged down with the manager stuff, you stop making the tips, so-

Scott:
I love that mentality, right? Like here you are making $19 an hour, right? And you’re saying, “No, I’m going to take ownership over every aspect of this restaurant and see what happens there, right? Just because that’s the mentality I’m going to adopt because I’m listening to something that will hopefully self-help me improve my finances or just in general improve whatever.” That’s awesome and David Greene, obviously, has applied that across a 10, 20-year career since his days working at a restaurant to incredible heights into a large degree that’s real estate. If you were interested and you’re listening for that episode, that is episode 12 of the BiggerPockets Money Show Podcast. You can go find that one at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow012. Sorry, continue.

Joe:
Oh, yeah. No. So yeah, now we’re here, it’s $25 an hour and then it’s just crazy. I remember I went from making $250 a week to $25 an hour. In a day, I’m making what I made in a week and you start to realize that, “Oh, yeah, so we have these things,” that you guys talk about all the time, “these levers that you can pull,” and you’re like, “Okay, so I now earn more, I spend less, I’m doing all these different things and I’m now at a point where, yeah, I have about, I think, 84,000 in student loan debt and I’ve got that 25,000 in the bank and I’ve got money invested now that I didn’t have before.” I was just like, “Oh, I’ve got this money in this thing, and well, there’s this Roth IRA thing I keep hearing about. Let me just max this thing out. I have no 401k. I have nothing else that I’m investing into, but let me just make sure I’ve got for sure $6,000 for the next two years, so I’ve now $12,000 in Roth IRA that’s just there plus the $25,000.” And so you’re like sitting at like … My negative net worth of -52,000 and it’s like the most money I’ve ever had in my life.

Scott:
Well, you’re building runway.

Joe:
Right.

Scott:
You’re making an intelligent decision to build runway that will give you flexibility prior to paying down your debt, right? And there’s all sorts of math, “Oh, I can argue the math. It’s better if I were to pay it off than keep,” no, there’s a freedom and a sense of opportunity and opportunism that comes with that runway and consciously making that choice to build that as a primary component which you’ve parlayed a little bit here and I suspect will parlay even more on a go-forward basis as certain opportunities may materialize in front of you and your career as things progress here with this. So I love it. In 2021 in March, we’re sitting here, you’ve been doing the job. You’ve paid off your $40,000 in private student loans. You’ve got your $25,000 runway. You’re taking on more responsibility at the winery. What exactly are you … You said you’re putting it into a Roth. How are you making the decision about student loans versus Roth one more time?

Joe:
So my theory was I’m not saving anything for retirement. I have nothing planned. I have no plan for any of that, but I can’t contribute. I can now at this point in my life contribute to the 401k, but at that point for 2020 and 2021, I had no way to do anything for that, but I knew for sure I could open one, either a traditional or a Roth IRA and I figured, since at that point I was making, I’m still making right around that 100,000 mark, I might as well stick this money into this Roth IRA and know that if it absolutely comes down to it, I can always get back to it, but if I’ve got 25,000 in the bank, I can for sure put 6,000 of it into this Roth IRA, so that at least have something going for my retirement which starts to even give you more sense of security because you’re thinking, “Okay, not only do I have this money in the bank, but I’m starting this runway for even the retirement aspect of it, right?

Joe:
And so yeah, does that $6,000 maybe go better toward my student loans? I’m not sure. I’m not going to try to guess whether the 4% interest on my student loans or the possible gains on the stock market, who knows, but we’re dabbling with percentage points instead of just the actual feeling of what it gives you of, “Hey, I actually am doing something with my life. I have retirement savings for the first time ever,” and that’s worth everything just to have that financial peace or peace of mind which is based in financial security.

Scott:
My mom calls it six of one, half a dozen of the other, right? So there’s no right choice here and the fact matter is you have a plan, you’ve made a choice and you have a large surplus and you’re applying that with the way that feels best from there. So one way you get rich, one way you get rich. And so I love it. All right, so you’re applying the money into the Roth, which is just five grand. Where is all the other money going from here, oh, six grand, sorry, 6,500?

Joe:
Yeah, all the other money, when the bank account, the savings account hits that 25,000, everything else gets dumped to the student loan. If something happens, like I had this thing happened a couple months ago, I had this problem with my car, and all of a sudden, I got to go get a tire replaced and I’m like, “Okay, well there’s 300 or 400 bucks.” Well, I’m able to pull that out of the 25,000 and then you cap that back off, so I’m finishing up back to 25,000 and then everything else goes back into student loan. And so that’s where we’re at right now is just keep the $25,000 in the bank and everything else becomes student loan payment until that $84,000 is paid off.

Scott:
So you went from $180,000 to $84,000 in the last year.

Joe:
Correct.

Scott:
We’re recording this in early May, so it’s about 14 months since that March time period, you’ve paid off $100,000.

Joe:
Yeah, crazy.

Scott:
That’s incredible. That’s awesome. So by this time, next year, you’ll be completely student loan debt-free with your $25,000 runway.

Joe:
Ideally, yeah. It’s all dependent on the kindness of strangers, but yeah.

Scott:
Yeah, yeah, so this is a great, great thing here. So you’ve paid off all of these student loans. What is your opinion on the subject of the forbearance? Because actually we’ve discussed on this podcast some folks are consciously making the choice not to pay off the student loans and invest elsewhere because some of the loans are in forbearance and they’re not accruing interest. What made you decide to go to muscle it through and pay it off?

Joe:
Absolutely, so what happened was I actually listened to that first episode and I forget the gentleman’s name that was on the episode, but they were talking about the forbearance ending and how we needed to make a plan for this forbearance ending and having to go back into payment. And I’m thinking, “Oh, well, if these come out of forbearances, I’m going to be owing 7.5% or something because I was in trouble before and I hadn’t made payments. The amount I owed was higher on my percentages. So I was like, “Oh, well I’m going to refinance all of this before this all happens, so that I’m prepared and I can drop that amount down,” which ended up being the wrong decision, because they ended up extending this thing several times now.

Joe:
But I still look at it as I made this decision. I refinanced it all at under 4% which is awesome because the interest rates were so low that I was able to basically refinance that money and I paid an additional … That’s when I made the big lump sum payment, just before I refinanced this. So I went from, at that point, it was like 130,000. I paid $40,000 toward it and then refinanced it all down. So I basically got about 190 or I had a 95,000 left that I refinanced at 4% and that’s what I’ve been paying on now since then. And it’s just a decision I made. I’m not saying that there’s a good or a bad to it. I wish I would’ve left it at 0%, but the idea that I have this plan and goal is I think worth more to me than wondering, “Oh, is it going to get forgiven? Is it not going to be forgiven? Are we going to wait and see maybe, ‘Oh, it’ll be $10,000′?” Well I saved $10,000 just in interest by refinancing the thing.

Joe:
And the other thing about it is, [inaudible 00:43:31] listen to those episodes, but if you go back and look at, it’s like you’re still going to owe a gigantic tax bill. That’s going to be more than the amount that you took out anyway. So why not just … If you’ve got the means and I know that everybody is able to, but if you’ve got the ability, just take care of the debt that you took on. Because like I said, I took out those loans to pay off other loans, so it’s really money that I took out, so it’s not really even a student loan, but I used those student loans to pay off my personal debt. So it’s something that I’m responsible for. And I think that the responsibility is part of it, taking ownership and saying, “Yes, I did these things and I have to solve this problem for me,” and then of course help along the way.

Mindy:
I’m glad you brought that up. There is some level of, or not some level, there is a level of personal responsibility with this, you did take these loans out and you’re referring to Robert Farrington from The College Investor. He was on episode 267 and then again more recently on episode 297 talking about what you should do when the student loan forgiveness ends or I’m sorry, student loan forbearance ends and how to think about paying for college in the future. There is the idea floating of student loan forgiveness and I have heard $10,000, I have heard $50,000, I’ve heard waiving interest, I’ve heard a number of things. I haven’t heard anything official because there is nothing official. I like what you are doing. Like Scott said, you came up with a plan and you’re working towards it. And that is-

Scott:
Joe’s plan is official.

Mindy:
Joe’s plan is official.

Scott:
Joe’s going to pay off his student loan debt 100% after tax just by crushing his personal finances and he’s going to get it done by this time next year.

Mindy:
Yes. Look at all the success you’re having with your repayment plan. It’s amazing that you have decided to pay it off and you’re paying it off. That is going to feel so amazing when you write that last check. My husband had $40,000 in student loans or 60,000 or whatever. We paid them off at the last check because I’m old enough that I wrote checks to pay them up. And you write that last check and you’re like, “Yes, I want to write a bad word on this check, but I don’t want to because I want you to cash it. Go away. No more student loans. Yay.” Write a check for the last one, it feels so good.

Joe:
Oh, absolutely. And I actually, I set these little $10,000 mark. So I like to have this little mini-celebration every time it rolls down from like -50 to -40 to -30. So every $10,000 is this little milestone that like, “You’re getting closer. You’re getting closer. You’re getting closer.” And so it keeps you motivated. That’s gamifying the whole thing, is this little celebration that happens every time you watch it creep down below another 10,000 mark.

Scott:
So what are you going to do when you pay off all the student loan debt and go into, I guess, wealth accumulation phase? What’s the plan on a go forward basis for you?

Joe:
Oh, well, we’re going to jump to part two, then we’re going to house hack.

Scott:
Love it.

Joe:
And that’s the plan here is you have the $25,000 and then you probably need more than that in California here where I’m at, but that’s the next phase of the whole thing, will be to house hack, so that I can catch up on the years where I wasn’t saving anything. And I think proven time and time again just listening to the podcast through BiggerPockets and everything that’s the quickest way to hack the entire situation and get yourself in a better situation than you were when you started. So that’s the plan anyway.

Scott:
Awesome. So what is your current role at the winery right now?

Joe:
I like to tell people I have no responsibility. I’m just the dude that works there which is great because my responsibility is just to make that people come in and are happy and have a good time. It’s incredibly freeing as well because you talk about all these people who have these high-pressure, high-stress jobs. My high pressure is when I have somebody who’s having a bad time and I have to go over and pour them some more wine and say, “Oh, now look, time got better, didn’t it.

Scott:
I love it. But that’s a leadership role at your winery to make sure like, “I’m just going to solve problems wherever they pop up with this role,” that was invented for you with that. Is that right?

Joe:
Absolutely, yeah, and we actually have all these different locations too, so just wherever I’m needed, I just bounce around and help out. And whether it’s washing a rack of glasses or talking to people or seating people or whatever it is, there’s no job title. It’s just, “Make sure things run without getting bogged down and not letting things run.”

Scott:
So let me ask you this. Would you ever consider owning one of those types of wineries or whatever?

Joe:
I don’t think so. And the reason being is that the joke in Wine Country right now is that if you want to make a million dollars in Wine Country, you need to start with 10. Stick with somebody who’s figured it all out. I think once the student loan stuff gets completely salted away and I’m finished with it, I’ve started working on it already, but I am putting together a blog and I’ll be putting a lot of my stories and things out and I have … What I’m actually going to use is my degree and I’m going to find a way to use my degree to help people because there’s all these little things that we learn in theater that I think are helpful in goal setting and I want to take like what Scott did for me in terms of giving me a plan and actually create a goal setting plan using acting technique. And so that’ll be a subject for a different podcast on a different day, but that’s something I’ve got down the pipeline here that I’ll be hopefully getting up and running soon.

Mindy:
Awesome. Well, let us know when that’s out and we will link to that and share that around, maybe make a video for our YouTube channel with your acting skills.

Joe:
All right.

Scott:
Absolutely. So in two years from now, you’ll have your student loans paid off, you’ll ideally have a house hack, you’ll have your blog and you’ll be continuing to stockpile. You’ll have accumulated another $150,000 in cash deployed how you will.

Joe:
That is the plan.

Mindy:
Okay. Well, I want to take a little trip back a couple of minutes and say that I think the best use of your house hack would be some Airbnb or short-term rental house hack where you can use your Wine Country hospitality skills along with people who are coming to Wine Country and have a nice little place for them to stay with a bottle of wine upon entry, “And hey, here’s the map of all the wineries. And this one is best and this one is best for this kind of wine and yadi-yada,” And I know they all do that too, but why not make money off of that as well? “And here’s a discount. Come into my place,” and you can use your connections in a way that other Airbnbs around you can’t and make even more money by, “Here’s $25 off of my restaurant.” They come in, they tip you big and they already stayed at your place.

Scott:
Yeah. And this might be a place where it sounds like you’ve really impressed the owners of the winery that you work at with. This might be a place to potentially talk with them about, “Is there a synergy here?” Could they accelerate that, the house hack for you to some degree? And is there something nearby, one of the winery locations or whatever, that would make a lot of sense for short-term rental that you might be able to manage? So might be something to think about as you’re making these plans.

Joe:
Absolutely.

Mindy:
Yeah. Oh, that’s a good-

Scott:
Well, wow, what a story. Are there any other pieces of it or factors that should we uncover? Actually, one of them that I wanted to dig into was self-education. During this period, it sounds like you read Set for Life and you listened to this podcast, but what was your orientation around self-education with respect to personal finances or self-improvement following this pivot in 2019?

Joe:
Yeah, so upon reading that I jumped straight in and I was like, any book that was recommended at the end of the podcast, I went and found, whether it was the library or I found a digital copy. And I just took incremental things from each of them, so like Your Money or Your Life. I read this book and I have this habit of just like reading things cover to cover because I get entrenched in the whole thing. And so I read this book cover to cover and I’m like, “Oh, my time. What is enough for me? What is my time worth?” And so I take this little piece from that. The other book that really rang home for me was The Early Retirement Extreme. And I’m not saying that’s a book for everybody, right? But if you want to see what a baseline is, what it takes to actually just survive, you can design your life around that and go, “Okay, well I need a little more than this or a little less than that, but I definitely need these things.”

Joe:
And it forces you to figure out, “What do I need as a person just to be a person and go from there?” And so this whole self-education became just, “What is it?” and taking the things that work for you because not everything’s going to work for you. You guys have episodes of the podcast that are talking about being married and kids and like, “Oh, this really doesn’t apply to me,” but there’s things within there that people talk about them like, “Oh, I can take that. I can take this little piece here,” and whether it’s a little budgeting tip or whatever, but you just take little pieces of all these things.

Joe:
And the most important thing that you can do is actually write them down and keep a list of them because you’ll forget it if you don’t. And you can go back to your list and go, “Oh, yeah, no, there’s this thing,” and let it just always be there in the back of your mind, so it becomes just a part of who you are and not just something that you read.

Scott:
How many hours cumulative do you think you put into reading or learning in this fashion over the last two years since 2019, since your pivot point?

Joe:
Oh, it’s like having a graduate degree, right? You go and you read these things. I’ve been through enough school that I know how to teach myself. I have a degree in teaching, so I can basically do that. And so we’re talking 400 or 500 hours of just, whether it’s consuming the podcasts. Of course, your podcast led me to choose out five podcast and so on and so forth. It just starts to branch and you just start to accumulate more and more. But I’d say we’re probably pushing probably a thousand hours at this point of over the course of three-ish years of just consuming content and getting these things in my head.

Scott:
And I think that’s so important because the grind that you’re doing, it’s not normal, right? You’re not going to encounter people a lot like around your day-to-day life if you’re not intentional about it that are willing to or have done or are currently going through that grind to pay down the student loan debts, that’s the willingness to work 60, 70 hours, the healthy pivot to the sustainable job that you currently have with this, but the content that you’re consuming, when you consume a thousand hours of that content, it helps you feel much better about it. And you see, “Oh, this is something that I can health healthfully do and sustain. And there are going to be benefits and there is a plan behind it with that.” And I think it’s a major motivating factor that keeps you going to a certain degree if you’re in the middle of this.

Joe:
For sure, especially when you don’t have other people, like you said, that are on this journey with you. You have to surround yourself with what you can and that’s been the two of you and it’s been several other people that are just through the podcast or reading their books that becomes the people that you’ve surrounded yourself with. It all comes back to what I’ve discovered is this little acting technique that we used to do and that was focused on what is attention and what is intention, right? And so attention is this mental process and it’s really where a lot of negative self-talk comes from because you start paying attention to the things that are bad, like I was telling you earlier, debt, “Oh, the money, I have no money. I can’t do this. I can’t do that because I have no money.”

Joe:
And if you never get to the intentional part, which is to set the plan, create the plan, figure out what you’re going to do to solve the problem, if you don’t get to that part and you never have any intention to change it, all you’re doing is paying attention to the negative. And it really is a matter of creating the plan and then making it small enough into bite size chunk so that you can actually get something accomplished. And once you accomplish something, all of this positivity comes around you and you can just start to solve problems because you’re like, “I can do that. I did this thing. Now I got this thing I can do,” but it’s about making it small enough and chunk wise for you to deal with. Otherwise, it’s this overwhelming thing, “How do I pay off $225,000? I don’t know. I have no answer for that, but let’s see if I can just save $25,000. Yeah, I can do that.”

Scott:
I think you’re really like a book I just recently finished called The Gap and The Gain that highlights this concept. Everyone’s stuck in like the gap, “Hey, this is where I want to be,” or, “This is the problem. It seems insurmountable,” versus, “Here’s what I just did yesterday and look at that. That was a big win. Here’s where I was two years ago. Look at that. Look at those huge wins.” If you live your life measuring backwards and thinking about where you’ve come from and how you’ve gotten there, you’re going to feel much better about it versus comparing yourself to something on the horizon or a goal you want to achieve and that’s still out there with that. And you seem to have this mentality coming in today, which I think is really healthy and going to serve you really well, but you may like that book.

Joe:
Absolutely. Thank you.

Scott:
Any other topics that we should talk about today?

Joe:
There’s a lot of other things that went along with a lot of this story and I don’t know how much of it you guys want to touch on, but I dealt with my own issues with alcohol. My family did and it’s all become part of that and that is all part of just … It’s part of who you are, right? Because you go through these things in your life and you learn from the people who were there. So my parents were alcoholic, so I learned to be an alcoholic. And that is part of the reason that I ended up in the situation I was in. They didn’t teach me, “Oh, here’s personal finance and here’s how you solve your problems and this is how you pay for school.” And so I think there’s just these things that set you up in the wrong way for life. And that is where my background was and I don’t know if we can go into that or not go into that, it’s totally-

Scott:
Well, how did that affect your journey here and what is that, how have you managed that in the last couple years to achieve the success you’ve achieved?

Joe:
Yeah, so what I learned was when you have hard things in life, you drink. That’s how you forget those problems. And of course, I don’t know if you know this, but alcohol costs money. And so you start spending a lot of money toward this addiction that is the way that you’re coping with your life, and of course, will eventually, as it did me, put you in some form of hospitalization or some reckoning that you’re going to have to deal with. And that’s not to say that alcohol is necessarily bad. It’s the misuse of it, but I went through this entire journey during that time where that I was so thankful actually to go back to school at the time because it gave me something to focus on besides just continuing to drink yourself into a hole because that’s the only thing you could do for those two or three hours before you had to get up and go to work again.

Joe:
And it becomes this just really tough thing that you have to work through. And the way that you work through it is give yourself something to do. You can’t be the thing that you do, you can’t be to just go drink. You have to have, again, a plan. You have to have something that you’re working toward because if you do that, you can self-motivate yourself if you have something you’re working toward. If you don’t, yeah, it’s easy to grab a beer out of the fridge or go to the bar. I got addicted to gambling for a while because it was something to do to fill time when I was coming after work because there was a blackjack table …

Joe:
Right after I walked out of the kitchen, there’s a blackjack table there and I’d take my paycheck and give it to the guy at the blackjack table and he’d cash it for me and I would gamble my paycheck right there after I just made it because I had no concept of what to do except, “How do I get through today? What’s going to make me feel good right now?” and not a concept of what was going to make you happy later in life and then you end up 34 years old and you have to have this come to the real-world moment and that’s where we were there at 2019, 2020-ish.

Scott:
I’ve wondered aloud and this may not be com be completely correct, but I wonder aloud if this, some … How do you use that as a strength in some cases? Can you addict yourself to making progress against your goals, for example, with that or harness some of that? Because I don’t think I’ve ever had a struggle with alcohol or anything, but I think I have that kind of addictive personality where I’ll go all in something and do it for 10 hours in a row or whatever with this and I try to harness that towards something productive. And it’s certainly in my life been harnessed towards unproductive things there. Is that something that you found? Have you been able to harness that productively in the last couple of years?

Joe:
Oh, for sure. You don’t accidentally consume a thousand hours’ worth of content. It’s this thing that you find something that really speaks to you and it’s just how I’ve always been. I’ll go all in. There’s no halfway way to do it. And because I know if I do it halfway, I won’t do it at all or I’ll give up on it halfway through because you’re only doing it halfway. So I’ve always been one of those people that just throws myself into something, and in this case, it happened to be personal finance and now I’ve got people that I work with that are asking me like, “Oh, how did you do that?” And they’re starting to ask me questions and like, “Oh, this is what I did and here’s some things you can read,” and try not to tell people how to do it because it’s not my arena necessarily, but to give them the same tools and it still has to be up to the person to go and actually do it.

Joe:
“I can’t do it for you. I can only do it for me and that’s how I approach it and how I do it.” So that the addictive personality thing definitely helps and the effect that I can run on four hours of sleep and a lot of people can’t because I’ve grown up doing that, but I’m going to throw myself all in kind of person, so it definitely helps.

Scott:
Yeah, I think we’ve heard a couple of stories over the years on the Money Podcast here of folks who have struggled with addiction in their past and then go all out into the self-improvement and personal finance space and then really maintain that for a large number of years and that the transformational power of that can be really, really powerful. Obviously, there’s a huge, there’s lots of challenges there, but perhaps some folks are able to re harness that, some of the things that may lead to addiction into something positive in some cases.

Joe:
For sure.

Scott:
It sounds like you’ve been able to do that.

Joe:
Yes, and yeah, don’t get addict to school. That’s the other. That’s the other thing I would recommend. Don’t use it as an escape for life because life is still going to be waiting for you when you get done with school, whether you want it to be or not. In fact, I would go out as far as to say, “If you want to get a degree in acting or anything theatrically, you don’t need to go to college for it.” I would go as far as to say that and the main reason is that there are so many just acting schools that that’s all they’re going to teach you. You’re not going to have to spend time in a geology class learning about rocks and minerals and things that aren’t actually going to apply to what you’re trying to do.

Joe:
You can go to LA and there are acting teachers that are professionally connected that you can pay them. They’ll pay them a lot less than you’re going to pay for a college education and they will teach you what you need to know. And they will tell you right away if you are going to be able to do it or not and you will either listen to them or not because a lot of people take things as motivation. So if somebody tells you can’t do it, you’re going to go do it anyway. And then some people will give up, but it will save you if you give up. At least, it’d save you all that money. And if you don’t and you go through and you make it, you didn’t spend what I spent to go to school, you can go be an actor without having to deal with a college education.

Scott:
Last question here on this, you spent 15 years attempting to become an actor here and now you’re not doing that right now. You’re building wealth and you seem very proud and pleased with your progress, I think you should be and things are going very well. Where is acting going to fall in your career on a go-forward basis? How do you see that on a go-forward basis for you?

Joe:
Sure, I think that the blog is probably one way that I’ll be able to use those things that I learned, but I’ll use them in a more educational way to teach people how to solve their own life problems which is basically what I’m doing now is taking things that I’ve learned and approaching them in a way that makes sense to me. And I think that’s one great thing that I can do. There’s always the option, if I get to this point where money is not an issue anymore, which is obviously 10, 15 years down the line, but there’s always people looking for people to teach theater to kids. There’s always that kind of thing that you can do, that is more on a volunteer basis, you’re not going to make a lot of money doing it, but you can go fill your soul if that’s what you want do is be a theater teacher. There’s places to do that.

Joe:
There’s also so many community theaters that will hire you to do a show. They may not pay you anything or they’ll pay you 50 bucks, 500 bucks, whatever it is for the three months of work, but when you don’t need the money, when that $500 is really negligible, you can go do it for free for somebody just to volunteer time because you enjoy it. It becomes a hobby. It becomes what you actually … Like I said, that soul filling stuff, as opposed to, I don’t know what I’m going to put on my table tonight to eat because I’m trying to figure out how to make money with this thing that is just not financially viable in a lot of cases unless you’re able to make it on a TV show or pull that one big commercial or whatever the case may be there.

Scott:
Awesome. So you think it will still be a major part of your life perhaps in a hobby or part-time capacity for the love of it …

Joe:
Absolutely.

Scott:
… on a go-forward basis?

Joe:
Yeah. Which again, you didn’t need to go to school, as a hobby.

Mindy:
I was going to say if you didn’t go to school for all of that time, what would you have been doing?

Joe:
Well, I would’ve been working and I don’t know. Actually because of where I was working, I don’t know what would’ve happened. School in a lot of ways was an outlet for me. Like I said, I became, in a way, addicted to school. It was something that I was told by my dad when I was growing up, “You go to college. You stay in school as long as you possibly can because it’s scary out here.” And that’s exactly what I did. Anytime that I got in trouble and I got scared of life, I went back to school and I found a way to get another degree and put off what I had to do with my life. And I don’t know, in some ways, maybe the school did prepare me in a lot of ways. You have some life experience because you have gone through these different things through school, but I can’t really say for sure how I would be different because of not going to school. So it’s a difficult question that way.

Mindy:
Well, we don’t have a time machine, we can’t go back and change it anyway.

Joe:
Right.

Mindy:
We just learned from it and move on. I think you’re doing great, Joe. I think that you were dealt a really cruddy set of circumstances from starting at age 13, where you chose the job to shovel horse poop and then when you got robbed at gunpoint. I hope that guy gets diarrhea every day for the rest of his life, but these are all learning things and you could have said, “Well, I guess life just sucks and I have a bad time of it.” You could have just drank all the way down to the end of that bottle every single night and said, “Hey, this is great. I love it.” You chose not to do that. You’ve done a really great job of taking non-ideal circumstances and turning them into situations that you are now thriving in. I love what the future holds for you.

Joe:
Thank you.

Scott:
Yeah, I’m excited to see what happens over the next couple of years, see that house hack, see the wealth continue to grow and I don’t see your blog flourish and all those other types of things. This is such a great story and such a powerful story. So thank you for sharing it with us.

Joe:
Thank you.

Scott:
Well, before we go, we should go through the Famous Four and hear about some of your favorite books that you’ve read, for example, over the last couple of years. So I’ll let Mindy ask that one. Go ahead, Mindy.

Mindy:
Okay. Joe, what is your favorite finance book?

Joe:
Well, outside of Set for Life because that’s the one that started it for me, I really think that The Early Retirement Extreme, and I’m going to butcher the name of the author, but I won’t even say it, Early Retirement Extreme-

Mindy:
Jacob Lund Fisker.

Joe:
Yes, and it was just, like I said, a great baseline just to show you like what your bare bones can actually be and then you can add in the things that you need for yourself. And so it became this just baseline, call it the cheese pizza area where you add your toppings from there and say like, “Oh, yeah, I do need the pepperoni. I’m good, but pepperoni’s probably going to be necessary.” So I like to use it in that way and I think it’s good for anyone. And like I said, I’ve been in school for so long, it’s a very textbooky, so it was easy for me to read, but maybe not for everyone.

Mindy:
It’s very aptly named, Early Retirement Extreme. It works for Jacob. I think some people have been introduced to early retirement through that book and said, “Oh, no way. I’m not doing that,” and don’t further explore. It is absolutely the bare bones, basics, beans and rice, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but he’s okay with that and that’s fine for him. I think you’re right. It’s a great book to read, but it’s definitely not for everybody, but it’s still a great book.

Joe:
Yup.

Scott:
What was your biggest money mistake?

Joe:
Using school as an escape from life, saying that, “Oh, if I go to school, I don’t have to worry about this debt. I don’t have to worry about these things that are going on in my life because I can go focus on this other thing and pour everything into that.” And so that was probably the worst thing that I ever did, was continue down a path that I had no plan for. And I would say like, “Don’t take out the money unless you have a plan to pay it back,” and I just avoided making the plan.

Scott:
That’s a great way to frame the mistake. I think that’s a really wise advice.

Mindy:
What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Joe:
I would say there’s so many things, create a budget and set up, make a plan. There’s all of these different things, but I think what you have to do is what I did and that is just write it out. “What is the problem? What is the problem in my life?” whatever it is, whether it’s money, it could be anything, but write it out. And when you think you’ve written everything you can write about it, write some more because you’ll find that there’s more in there and you’ll continue to narrow this down and narrow this down and narrow this down and you’ll get to something that I like to call the deeper wish. It’s like, “What is this thing that I need in my life? Find that thing that makes you the happiest.”

Joe:
And you’re going to find out that it’s not actually going to be money, it’s not actually going to be some material thing, it’s going to be this sense of what makes me happy and that is having time for me. It was having time with family, having time to do these things and money was the tool that I needed to get there and I’m still working on, right? But you have to write these things out, and when you get there, continue writing and then when you finish the writing part, make the plan. Actually, you’ve done the attention part, now be intentional about it and make the plan for yourself and take whatever help you can get along the way.

Scott:
Yeah, I think it parallels this concept of a vision, right? “Do you have a vision? What do you want to be? What do you want your life to be like in a few years at a future date and how do I back into it?” And the plan comes from that. And it’s so hard to help someone or to give advice, for example, on a Finance Friday if that’s not crystal clear, right? Because it all depends on what you want and you can back into it from there.

Joe:
Yeah, there’s no one size fits all.

Scott:
Awesome. Well, what is your favorite joke to tell at parties or at wineries?

Joe:
Oh, at wineries, there’s a really bad one that, I might tell you, but-

Scott:
Perfect.

Mindy:
Love it.

Joe:
My favorite of these style of jokes is, “Did you hear about the peanut in Central Park? He was a-salted.”

Scott:
I love that one. That one cracked me up. What was the winery joke?

Joe:
The winery, so we have this truffle gouda that we serve with one of the wines and it’s this cheese from Holland.

Scott:
It sounds like a place where you got to get good tips.

Joe:
Yeah. So the gouda itself has truffle inside of it and then we put truffle salt on top of it and I tell people, “That way you can get into double truffle.”

Scott:
That’s fantastic.

Joe:
That goes way over their head and they don’t laugh at all or they really appreciate it and they’ve grown a lot and then I feel really good about myself.

Scott:
And this increases your income?

Joe:
It does surprisingly. See, Mindy. There you go. It’s financially responsible.

Mindy:
Financially responsible, terrible jokes. Okay, Joe, where can people find out more about you?

Joe:
So you’ll find me at actingfi.com There will be the first blogpost and the second blogpost and the third blogpost because I’m going to really do this as I do most things, I throw myself into it and don’t look back so-

Scott:
Awesome, so actingfi.com and we’ll link to that in the show notes at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow311 and then you can also find Joe, as you said, in the BiggerPockets Money Facebook Group, which you can find at facebook.com/groups/bpmoney. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. This was a wonderful, wonderful story and I think lesson that we’ve learned from you here today, Joe. Congratulations on the incredible success over the last couple of years. Thank you for the nice plug for Set for Life and for listening to the Money Show. And I cannot wait to see how things progress for you over the next couple of years. We’ll have to have you back on and see how the house hack and the next phases of the journey go.

Joe:
Definitely.

Mindy:
Yes, I am super excited to talk to you again soon.

Joe:
All right.

Mindy:
Okay. Thank you, Joe. We’ll talk to you soon.

Joe:
Yup. Thank you.

Mindy:
Holy cat, Scott, I absolutely love Joe. He could have easily allowed himself to succumb to a very cruddy set of circumstances and his life would be incredibly different, but he wanted something different. He forced to change and now look at where he’s at.

Scott:
Yeah. We hear it so often on the show, right? Someone has a tough set of circumstances. They’re building towards something that’s completely unsustainable, and then boom, a pivot point happens. I’m proud and grateful that, for Joe, part of that pivot point was Set for Life. That’s awesome to hear and so thank you for plugging that, but that pivot can come from anything, can come from a podcast, any one of hundreds of books, hundreds of blogs, conversations, whatever. And then after that pivot point, the journey progresses in a completely different way and things transform, the self-education protocol changes where that’s, “I’m going to begin the process of absorbing a thousand hours of content on this.”

Scott:
Probably really more than a master’s degree or an undergraduate degree for self-education if we’re being honest because we’re paying attention and trying the whole time while we’re self-educating in a way that maybe some of us, at least as students, maybe we’re doing a little less of. We’re paying attention, of course, but maybe it’s not like, “Eh, I’m not really that interested in geology. I’m interested in bettering myself or becoming financially free.” So that changes, the orientation towards savings changes where there’s a discipline in tracking with that and the orientation at work changes where, “I’m going to start saying yes to opportunities and trying to go above and beyond because I want those opportunities to materialize in front of me, even if they don’t directly in that day translate to more income.”

Scott:
And you can see all of that playing out in Joe’s journey and it’s really awesome and it’s a complete ownership mentality, right? And it’s simple. Even in spite of a thousand hours of self-education, Joe’s like, “I’m not even going to bother pretending about these student loans, whether they’re going to get forgiven or whether the moratoriums going to end. I’m just paying them off. I’m just paying them off. I’m going to continue with it because I made my decision and that’s, where I’m going after with my refinance and all this.” And I think that simplicity and that approach is super healthy. It’s not for everyone. We’ve certainly had great debates about the merit, the pros and cons of that, and have plenty of folks on the show who have gone in a different direction and are not paying them off early, especially with moratorium.

Scott:
But I just love how that’s what he’s decided based on his education. He’s plowing forward, executing his plan and doing it aggressively month to month. And he seems happy about it and cheerful and things are going his way because he should be because he’s winning. So that’s my rant on how much I loved Joe’s episode.

Mindy:
He’s winning because he has chosen a plan of action and he is taking steps towards completion and that feels very good as you watch the balance owed from 220,000 to 80,000 to 40,000 to 10,000 to, “There’s my last check. I don’t have any more debt.” It is this huge weight that is lifted off of you when you know what you need to do and you can see progress every single month. And he is and that’s what’s exciting. And I’m so excited for what the future holds for him because he has a plan and he is taking action. All that education he has is worthless if he doesn’t do anything with it. So he is using that to push himself down the path to financial independence and that starts with paying off his debt. I love him. I love him.

Mindy:
We found Joe through our Facebook Group. I want to give another plug for our Facebook Group. You can talk with fellow money nerds. Joe said that, in his original post, “Is there anybody around here who …” Actually, let me read it again. I have it up here. “I’m hoping to find people in this group who are like-minded to establish some sort of support because all the people in my life are spenders and aren’t able to understand why I’m strict with my budget as I am.” That’s what we created the place for, the Facebook Group for, a place to connect with other people because not everybody is surrounded by people who have the same goals and the same mentality. Not everybody understands the concept of skipping going out to dinner because you’re trying to pay down your debt or you’re saving for something and that’s great.

Mindy:
The Facebook Group is a great place to come and talk with your fellow money nerds. We are at facebook.com/groups/bpmoney. We have a few rules and number one is don’t be mean. People have different circumstances, and if you come in and you start making fun of people, I will kick you out.

Scott:
Mindy will kick you out.

Mindy:
But if you want, I will kick you out.

Scott:
We have some people who are not fans of Mindy in that group.

Mindy:
That’s okay.

Scott:
But the rest of us are very grateful.

Mindy:
If you don’t like me, then that’s not the right group for you and that’s okay. There are other groups, but we want you. This is a safe place to talk about money, so come in and ask questions and have conversations. And oh, oh, oh, oh, Scott, do you have a new version of your book coming out, Set for Life 2.0? Is this the five-year anniversary edition with updated content?

Scott:
Yeah, we’ll talk about this more I’m sure on another time, but yeah, Set for Life Version 2 is coming out in July of 2022. And what is version two? Basically, when I look back at Set for Life, I’m very proud of the path that is laid out there and it’s the path I would’ve taken again if I was to start all over for sure. But I think I could have toned down some things about calling middle-class America ridiculous maybe 20 times throughout the book, that was unnecessary and there’s language there that was a little harsh. The points are still valid, but I changed a lot of the tone. I updated everything for inflation, the significant inflation that’s happened in the last five years, particularly in the last year. It’s all updated as of early 2022 is when I did the bulk of the updates in Q1 this year.

Scott:
And then we add some things around Bitcoin. I added a bunch of things around travel rewards that I didn’t know at the time, around insurance frameworks that I’ve developed there that didn’t make it into the book, more clarity on some of the retirement accounts, and yeah, lots of updates. I think we made 10,000 minor edits throughout the entire book, but obviously, of course, the plan remains the same. So I would love feedback from folks, what they think of the new version and I hope that it continues to help people.

Mindy:
Okay, so that version is available all over America on July 12th, but you can get it next week on June 27th at biggerPockets.com/store.

Scott:
That’s right.

Mindy:
Or probably biggerpockets.com/setforlife.

Scott:
Thank you, Mindy, for the plug. I appreciate it.

Mindy:
You’re welcome. I think that’s a really great book, and clearly, it is changing lives as you heard today from Joe. You changed Joe’s life.

Scott:
And as a reminder, Mindy and I also have another book out there called First-Time Home Buyer, which I forget what that one’s about. What was that about, Mindy?

Mindy:
The stock market, Bitcoin, Set for Life or … I quit. I quit. I quit.

Scott:
It’s about some topic. You could also check that one out even where books are sold or at bigger podcast.com.

Mindy:
Why is biggerpockets.com/sfl not a short link for your book?

Scott:
I guess biggerpockets.com/setforlife. That’s where you can check out Set for Life and you can check out The First-Time Home Buyer book at biggerpockets.com/firsttimehomebuyer. So thank you for entertaining the few minutes of plugs here. We’re very proud of our books. We hope you enjoy them.

Mindy:
Okay, Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
From Episode 311 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, he’s Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying got to go, Joe.

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • Financial runways and how to create financial security from scratch 
  • How to become “set for life” and the actionable steps you can take to start your journey to financial freedom 
  • Living off less than half your income and the importance of earning more and spending less
  • Using your Roth IRA to maximize retirement savings and find financial peace
  • The benefits of paying off student loans now and how to refinance them
  • And So Much More!

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