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The Story Behind Paying Off $61k In Only 16 Months

Emergencies happen. be prepared.

Despite what you may believe, I have not always been Michael of Black Sheep Finance.

Truthfully speaking, there was a 3 year stretch where I made almost every financial mistake you imaginable.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I actually used a credit card.

It was February 2011 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

I was 21 at the time, and can vividly remember carrying around this credit card in case of an emergency.

I’m unaware of any 21 year old male who thinks that he can’t take on the world. That’s exactly where I was.

I never expected an emergency to actually happen, but I figured I needed to have this credit card with me just in case.

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: Emergencies will happen, and what worse time to go into debt than during one?

For this reason, we recommend having an emergency fund of 6+ months of expenses set aside.

Unfortunately, that’s not a lesson I would get until a few years later.

I can remember coming into Wisconsin for a work trip 2 weeks after the Packers had won the Super Bowl. Not only was the city buzzing with excitement, it was reeling from a recent snowstorm.

I still have never been as cold as I was during that week…but that’s another story.

My debt journey – the three years where it seemed I was in a race to rack up as much debt as possible – was just beginning.

After driving 20+ hours and working a few days in the worst weather I’ve ever experienced, I was more than ready to get home.  It was a Saturday after business hours when my crew and I finally left to head back to Texas.

I remember leaving the parking lot , getting 10-15 minutes down the road, and seeing my car begin to smoke. (What a wonderful sight when you’re 20+ hours from home, right?)

The crew went to a few stores and grabbed some fluids that they thought would help, but they didn’t work, and just about every mechanic shop was closing for the weekend.

A gentleman saw us working on the car and stopped to offer assistance. He had a friend who was a mechanic and got us in contact with him.

The mechanic friend worked on the car for about 2 hours. He, then, handed me a bill for over $400 dollars. In that moment the light bulb went off- EMERGENCY CREDIT CARD!

I swiped the card and made it back to Texas with no issues whatsoever.

I wish I could tell you that $400 was all I ever had to pay, but, unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

By the time I married my wife in 2014,  we had both racked up over $61,000 in debt.

it’s bigger than you

So how did I go from only using the credit card in emergencies to $61,000 in debt in a little over 3 years? Unprincipled living.

See, my life had become dominated by impatience and greed. If I saw it and wanted it, I bought it. Period.

There was no budgeting process, no financial goals to save for, or anything of the sort.

We went on nice vacations, bought 2 brand new cars, fell into the 90 days same as cash trap for big-ticket electronics, and whatever else we could think of buying on credit.

The only debt we never had were student loans and a mortgage.

My first wake-up call would come in the early morning hours of June 30th, 2014.

I had been hanging out at my parents house with a bunch of family members. I remember leaving around 12:30 AM to head home.

The instant I entered the freeway, I was blinded by the brightest lights I’d ever seen coming my way. I immediately swerved into another lane and missed what I later discovered was a drunk tow-truck driver going in the wrong direction.

The next morning I awoke to a news story that stated the same truck I had missed struck a family of 5 at speeds north of 100 mph. 4 of the 5 family members lost their lives.

Once the shock and survivor’s guilt began to wear off, I started to see life differently. I was here for a purpose, and I was not being my best self. Every area of my life, including my finances, had to be examined closely.

This wasn’t an overnight process. I do, distinctly, remember having brand new, financed furniture delivered to our house days before our wedding 3.5 months later.

It was on our honeymoon that I really grasped just how much better I had to become. Life was officially not just about me anymore. I now had a wife who looked to me to lead us, and we were going in a terrible direction financially.

It rained for 80% of our honeymoon, which gave us plenty of time to actually talk about our financial future more in-depth, and really iron out some details on how we needed to live once we got home.

The spark I needed to move forward came when I realized that my financial decisions were bigger than me. My legacy was on the line.

I didn’t want to struggle my entire life, and pass that mentality on to my future kids. I wanted better for, not just me, but for my family for generations to come.

Immediately, I started searching for personal finance leaders to follow on social media and books I could buy on Amazon or checkout at the library.

Shortly after that, we got on a debt snowball plan, and really went into attack mode. We went from splurging on nice trips to taking a stay-cation for our 1st anniversary.

My sales bonuses were no longer spent upgrading our lifestyle to a level we couldn’t afford, but, rather, cleaning up our past mistakes.

That’s what happens when your “why” is strong enough- you do things you never thought were possible.

dealing with adversity

Again, I’d like to end the story right there and make our debt-free journey look super easy, but anyone who has endured this process can tell you that’s never the case.

Less than a year into our journey, I found myself unemployed, and would remain that way for almost 5 months.

It was such a stressful season to endure. Imagine yourself on the right track, doing all the right things, and then BAM! Life happens!

The stress became a lot for my wife, who battles Lupus, and she would miss almost 1 full month of work that school year. Not only was it a financial loss, but it hurt mentally and emotionally as a husband.

The beauty in this part of the journey is that it drew us closer together, and we discovered even more areas of improvement for when I was back working full-time.

Also, it was during this season that God gave me the vision to start Black Sheep Finance. Our purpose is to help others achieve their own financial goals.

I’m a firm believer that obstacles can push you towards your breaking point or towards breaking records.

Once I became employed again, we really ramped up our efforts to get debt out of our lives. We only included necessities in our budget, and every extra dollar went straight towards debt. The final result was paying off over $61,000 in 16 months.

We celebrated by going on a 7-day cruise to Cozumel, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. The beautiful part was that we paid for it with our own money instead of the banks.

I remember coming home ecstatic because I knew the only thing we brought home were souvenirs and memories. There would be no credit card debt lingering from this trip or any others in our future.

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Now the fun part…

Since the cruise, we live off 51% of our household income and don’t borrow any money. Our plan is to purchase our first home with cash instead of obtaining a mortgage.

We hear all the time how unrealistic of a goal that is. We, however, trust that God will provide us the perfect home at the perfect price at the perfect time.

A burning desire to help others navigate their finances is what led to the creation of Black Sheep Finance. One of the many personal finance gurus I studied was Dave Ramsey.

I fell in love with the practicality of his teachings. As a result, I decided to get my financial coach training at Ramsey Solutions.

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In addition to starting Black Sheep Finance, I believe the greatest benefit will be, someday, having children who grow up in a household that never has any debt, and teaching them how to win with money early.

Imagine that. Going from $61,000 worth of debt, to having children who never experience debt while growing up. The feeling of changing your entire family tree is amazing. The journey getting to this point was worth every sacrifice.

To those currently on the debt-free journey, keep striving through adversity. I know the sacrifices are tough, but, in the end, they are so worth it. Stay focused and always believe in yourself no matter what.

A few years of sacrifice can’t begin to compare to a lifetime of freedom.

To learn the method we used to pay off $61,000 in 16 months AND get the exact spreadsheet that kept us on track, click here

For those needing personalized assistance with their financial wellness journey, I’m willing to work with you in a private session whenever you are ready to begin.

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