Going from 6-figure debt to financial literacy advocate
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Husband, dad, and IT professional by trade, Brian started Debt Discipline in 2013 along with his journey to recover from years of unintentionally reckless spending. After self-educating and gaining inspiration from other personal finance bloggers, he wanted to share his story to help others. This also eventually led him to do more than just document his debt comeback on his blog. Now, Brian has found ways to get this information in front of people before they know they need it.
In the six years since he started, Brian and his family have experienced:
- Coming to terms with more than $100,000 in credit/consumer debt
- Getting the entire family involved with financial planning—and growing closer in the process
- Managing debt repayment after a medical emergency
- Starting successful financial literacy programs (at Brian’s work and through their local school district)
Brian at Debt Discipline on why his journey didn’t end after overcoming debt
MELISSA: What's a day in the life like for you?
BRIAN: I work a regular nine to five, and often spend evenings and weekends working on my blog, or volunteering my time. I always make time for my wife, kids, and take our two dogs for walks daily. That's not to mention my "to-do" list around the house. So it's a full plate.
MELISSA: Where do you get your inspiration?
BRIAN: I've always considered my dad, my mentor, and model a lot of things I do in my life after him. He faced some adversity and overcame it to be a great dad and husband. He had a great work ethic and was a provider for the family.
MELISSA: Where did you get the idea for Debt Discipline?
BRIAN: Debt Discipline was born out of our failure with our money and racking up $109,000 worth of consumer debt. Once we built a plan for our money and began to get out of debt, I realized how life-changing this information could be and wanted to share it with anyone that would listen.
To get out of debt, you need discipline, discipline in your behavior spending, and overall attitude towards money. So the name Debt Discipline seemed appropriate.
MELISSA: How did you learn to start thinking financially? Did you self-educate?
BRIAN: We started seriously thinking about our money after we could not afford a summer vacation. We were backed into a corner with no cash saving, and five maxed credit cards. With a six-figure income, I knew we were doing something really wrong to be in this position.
I search the internet for the best "get out of debt quickly" advice I could find. What I found was a network of personal finance blogs, and a guy named Dave Ramsey.
I consumed as much information as possible, and read The Total Money Makeover in a weekend. I took all of this newfound information to my wife, and we began to build our first budget. She was a little hesitant at first. The thought of living life without the safety net of credit cards was a bit scary. The first few months were tough, but we made it through, and it got easier and more manageable.
MELISSA: What does it mean to you to be out of debt mean for you/your family?/What were some of the emotions you went through getting out of debt?
BRIAN: The process of paying off our debt took 50 months. It was tough for the first 3-6 months, but after that, it got much easier. We settled into our new behaviors, and stress was lifted since we had a plan for our money.
Over that time, we grew closer as a family. We shared information about our mistake, and new money attitude freely. My wife and I wanted our kids to learn from our mistakes and be better prepared for their financial lives. Money became a dinner table topic for our family.
During our debt repayment, my wife was in a car accident and was out of work for over a year. She's fine today. Our main concern was that she was healthy. This event and the loss of her income was a speed bump because we had a budget, and plan for our money if we didn't would have been a significant stress-inducing event.
MELISSA: I can’t help but worry about things like that all the time and how detrimental they might be financially.
Did the savings plan you had in place already put you in a position to handle that accident OR did you have to pivot your plans to adjust to the circumstances?
BRIAN: We've pivoted. Our main concern was her health. We lost about 40% of her income. Good thing we had disability insurance. Since we had a budget and plan we adjusted it. We basically cut back on our debt repayment for those 12 months. Once she was feeling good and went back to work we ramped up the repayment again.
But the fact that we had a plan made the accident less stressful from a money standpoint.
MELISSA: I bet! And yeah, at the end of the day health is what matters most. What are some of your financial goals for the future?
BRIAN: It's simple, stay out of debt, and continue to build wealth.
MELISSA: The simpler the better! What about the work you’re doing around financial literacy in your community? What made you decide to start giving back?
BRIAN: It grew out of the changes I saw in my own life. Things get easier when you are planning how to use your money to build wealth and avoid debt.
I want others to experience that too, so by sharing our story, our money failures, I'm hoping others can learn from me. It's also an excellent opportunity for young adults to digest this as early as possible. If 17-18-year-olds can learn this information, it can set them up for great financial success.
MELISSA: Do you have advice for people or parents who want to start a financial literacy program in their school district?
BRIAN: Get involved. Schools and school districts welcome parent and community feedback. That's how it started. I've been involved in several board of education committees, and we have developed a K-12 personal finance curriculum. Our ultimate goal is to have a half-year personal finance class as a mandatory graduation requirement. We are awaiting a decision on the requirement this year.
MELISSA: What advice do you have for people or companies who want to start a financial literacy program for employees?
BRIAN: I reached out to my human resources department and asked. It's all about getting involved. I pitched the impacted raises or promotions have on the individual employee if they don't have their personal finances together. If they were expected a 5% raise and only received 2%, my guess is they will be upset and disgruntled. That could lead to all kinds of things, stress, low productivity, lateness, absences, etc.
Often a change in the amount of a raise you receive has more to do with the overall business performance, then your boss holding a grudge towards you. But how often do employees view it that way if they are already stressed about their money?
Imagine if employees were better education on money, saving, budgeting, etc. A few percentage swings in our raise would not matter and not affect their mood or productivity. With happy employees, most businesses perform well, and there are more profits. That sounds like a win-win to me.
MELISSA: What is your favorite piece of content you've put out there?
BRIAN: It is my "We're Debt Free" article. It was the crowning of a lot of hard work, and it was received well. It helped spark a lot of conversation about getting out of debt and how I could help others.
My family and I also called into the Dave Ramsey show for a "debt-free" scream.
Brian (far right) and his family are now debt-free and ready to yell it from the rooftops!
BRIAN: There are many, but I think reading the Enemy of Debt blog really hit home for me. Travis, who runs it, is a dad, husband, and his family was in almost the same amount of debt we were in. It was super motivating to read his story and family accomplishments. It also showed me that there were others out there in similar situations, and reinforced the idea that people need help with their money.
MELISSA: What is the main message you want to share with Think Save Retire’s readership?
BRIAN: I want others to know it’s possible to get your finances together, no matter what you make, or age you are. Sure those factors may speed up or prolong the journey, but it's possible.
There are plenty of people in similar situations. Take my family and me, we had over $100,000 worth of debt at age 40. With a little short term sacrifice, we were about to dump our debt.
Let me know how I can help: