Now he teaches students and his former coworkers about personal finance

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Brian from Debt Discipline and his family never planned for their financial future. When he couldn’t afford something, like a family vacation, he just charged it on a credit card.

“We used credit cards to live beyond our means and pay for things when we didn’t have the cash,” remembers Brian. “We typically took a vacation once a year and for a family of five that could run three or four thousand dollars with airfare, hotel, etc. — and that always went on the cards.”

He thought being in debt was normal. Everyone else suffered from high credit card debt, so why shouldn’t they do the same? “We felt that if we managed minimum payments each month that we were fine from a financial stand point. We didn’t realize how it would affect us long-term.”

In June 2010, Brian hit rock bottom. He and the family maxed out five cards and were over $109,000 in debt. He cancelled the family’s summer vacation and vowed to change his financial habits.

“We wrote out all of our income and expenses on paper,” says Brian. “Once we laid it out, we decided what ‘luxury’ items we could cut — things like subscription services, personal care, etc. We also tracked expenses for two or three months, saving and recording all receipts to see what money habits we may have developed.”

Brian realized that they spent too much money on convenience. So, things like frequenting restaurants immediately stopped. His wife also started working part-time, which generated extra revenue that they put toward their debt.

By 2014, Brian and his family became debt free, an amazing feat that proves how hard they worked toward paying down debt and changing their lifestyle. That year, Brian did another amazing thing. He decided to share his story and pass on the financial lessons he learned.

“I initiated a financial wellness program at my former company,” says Brian. “I approached my management and human resource department and pitched that if we educated other employees on personal finance, and if they took better control of their money, it would improve morale.”

He explained his family’s financial journey and how it reduced stress and left them less dependent on pay raises. But let me pause for a moment. You’ll notice Brian said, “former company.” Unfortunately, in 2015 the company eliminated his IT position. He worked at the company for over 20 years.

“Losing my position was a shock, but we did not panic,” remembers Brian. “We were debt free, had a budget, and emergency savings. I also received severance pay from my company. We cut back on spending and used our cash reserve until I found another job.”

Brian and his family are living proof that preparing for emergency situations, budgeting and maintaining a financial plan makes surviving such a desperate situation possible.

But losing that job didn’t stop Brian from helping other people. He is a committee chair on the local school board. He pitched an idea to the superintendent of the school district.

He said, “Handling money is a lifelong skill, and if parents are not aware of handling it well themselves like we were, how will they be able to teach their children? The school system should play a part.” The superintendent agreed and they recently received approval for a full K-12 personal financial literacy curriculum for a student body of 6,000 students.

Brian also offered his help to our readers. Here are a few things he recommends:

  1. They call it PERSONAL finance for a reason. A one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist, but if you follow the basic principles of budgeting, spending less than you make, and avoiding debt, you can have success.
  2. Communication is key. You must be on the same page with your spouse/partner, and children about your money. If you are single, find someone you trust to be your accountability partner.
  3. Money management is 90 percent mental and 10 percent math. You must break away from your past habits and change to have success.

I hope others learn from Brian’s journey and pass on the financial knowledge they gained as they solved their debt problems.

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing – and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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