For most of my life I had NO IDEA how money worked and I actually kind of hated anything that had to do with the whole subject.
And as I groped my way into adulthood, it became clear that I just wasn’t going to be very good with it.
And if you knew my back story, this would be seen as kind of surprising given that my mom put a constant and vocal emphasis on the virtue and practice of frugality.
But I think our poverty and the feeling that money was this hyper-scarce resource that only “those rich people” had more than enough of, cast a long dark shadow on my perception of frugality.
So I grew up, went into the army, then to college and through osmosis adopted all the “middle class attitudes” about money:
In today’s video, I want to outline my journey to becoming a “minimalist”, and how this mindset was instrumental in helping me obliterate 1) $174,000 worth of debt in 2.5 years and then 2) helped my wife and I reach a $700,000 net worth (into a sort of “Lean FI”) in another 5 years AND how you can use these simple principles to get control of your own money… for good!
So, I graduated from college, got a fantastic job in yellow pages advertising sales back when that was still a thing and proceeded to completely suppress everything my mom had tried to teach me about money.
And it took about 5 years, a horrendously painful divorce, a dead-end corporate job and a move to a brand new city where I didn’t know anyone for me to hit rock bottom and to be forced to face my financial “music”.
So, next I want to talk about 3 stages that lead to my “landing” on minimalism:
78% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck.
I mean, think about that. Isn’t it crazy that 8 out of every 10 people we interact with on a daily basis live paycheck to paycheck and many would have a hard time covering a $400 emergency.
How is that possible?
Actually, I know how. Because I lived it.
My decidedly torturous season of paycheck to paycheck living started after I went through a horrendously painful divorce and relocated from where I had lived in Southwest Florida to Atlanta, GA to start a “new life” and to try to remove myself from the immediate environment that elicited all the painful memories I’d just spent about a decade accumulating.
And I did remove myself from some of those painful memories, sort of. I used my newfound lucrative career to learn just how to embody all the middle class attitudes I outlined earlier.
What I was ACTUALLY doing was using my new city and network to drown my sorrows in overtly silly financial decisions.
I leased a car. I bought a condo that was out of my price range. Paid for TONS of dinners out for my “friends” and generally lived like I was just going to keep making more and more money indefinitely.
The problem was, on top of the unrelenting grieving process I was going through, I ACTUALLY hated my job. Even though it was the most lucrative job I’d ever had and I knew that, if I could stomach the job, the company and all its bureaucratic and political nonsense, I could continue to make even more money.
But it just wasn’t going to work. In April of 2001, still grieving, still completely lost, I quit my corporate job to pursue my “dream” career of being a full-time musician.
And while I still believe that it was the right move both emotionally, psychologically and career-wise for where I was at that stage in my life, the financial part of it was just not jiving. Like, at all.
Almost overnight I went from multiple 5 figure paychecks per month to… well, as they say “peanuts”. And I was not prepared for it in any way. No budget, no savings and a HELOC as my largely untapped “emergency fund”.
So suddenly I was living hand to mouth and dealing with the consequences of not being responsible with my money.
And the following 3 years saw my financial and emotional life devolve into paycheck to paycheck living and a whopping $174,000 worth of debt that culminated in my hitting absolute rock bottom in the winter of 2004.
Rock bottom showed me A BUNCH of things about myself. Rock bottom was the clearest, cleanest, most crisp mirror I had ever looked into.
It showed me that I had to change and that I had to change now. There was nothing left for me to hide behind.
In real terms that meant that my $43k HELOC was totally tapped out with paying off my car, buying music gear “I needed” for my career and then ultimately to cover living expenses due to the extreme shortfall in my income. AND on top of it all, the $131,000 mortgage was something I just couldn’t afford.
And even though I was emotionally destroyed and completely beat down, there was a strange sense of hope I felt.
I had recently discovered Dave Ramsey’s material I had started dabbling with and they started to give me a glimmer of hope that I actually COULD climb out of this deep dark crater I had so carefully constructed for myself.
So, filled with this odd sense of hope, I decided that I would (very reluctantly) venture back into corporate sales for a season as a primary job, keep my music career as a side-hustle and work like a madman to pay down this debt SO THAT I could ride off into the sunset of my gloriously conceived music career.
I updated my resume, put it out there and literally almost immediately got two job interviews and two solid offers.
I really couldn’t believe it.
So, I took a job with a pretty well known software company that produced a contact management software (what would later be known as CRM) and proceeded to work like a madman.
In short order, I became the top salesman in the office, rookie of the year AND proceeded to all their sales records.
Rock bottom was giving me some rocket fuel.
So what does all of this have to do with minimalism? Well, it has everything to do with it actually.
Once I started to realize that I was the one who was both responsible AND able to do something about my financial mess, things REALLY began to shift in my mind.
I’ll never forget the moment whenI logged into my online checking account, looked at my balance and almost lost consciousness. That was THE pivotal moment that everything changed.
Not only did I go on the OFFENSE in terms of going back into corporate sales to earn more money, but I also started playing hyper-focused DEFENSE in terms of:
Those 4 critical elements very naturally put me in a minimalist frame of mind. A natural part of my defense was to start going through my belongings to find things I could “liquidate” for cash.
Now, the primary reason for the liquidation was the cash, but then I slowly started to realize the “lift” I was getting by decluttering my life from all of this “cruft” that I’d accumulated over the years.
The “lightness” I felt as I went through this process became positively addictive.
During that period, I sold $20k worth of music gear, books, misc items “laying around” for years, (Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist (before FB mktplc).
THEN, I proceeded to put my condo on the market, which I ultimately sold and moved into a friend’s basement apartment.
THAT decision forced me to liquidate even more things like: my ginormous 5 piece bedroom set replete with a California King sized bed and a monstrous armoire, my couch, my second giant living room armoire, desk. I mean, I decluttered and minimized to the max.
So, if you’re curious as to how I initially engaged in the process that pulled me into minimalism and frugality, you can download my free “Debt Elimination Quick Start Guide”.
This little guide outlines the first steps in the process that helped me pay off $174,000 in debt in 2.5 years and then went on to build an over $700,000 net worth (and lean FI) in the next 5 years.
For maximum results, use this guide alongside our FREE YouTube Companion Video Series: 30 Day Debt-Elimination Quick Start Challenge.
And my discovery and journey toward financial minimalism is woven all throughout the story.
So, leave a comment below and let me know your biggest financial goal and how you plan to use minimalism to accomplish it.
And don’t forget to smash that like button, it really helps our content reach more people who are interested in financial minimalism.
Now, if this decision process is something you struggle with and you constantly feel isolated about, I’ve got some great news for you and it’s free.
Our private Facebook group, ZeroDebtTribe. It’s a group of like minded people that are all somewhere along this P2P/debt-elimination/on their way to FI continuum. So click the image above and apply to join us. :)
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All that said, let's keep on building your financial acumen and make this your best year yet!
Thanks so much for reading and we’ll see you in the next video post!