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So, she did the unlikely — and things changed.

3 minute read

Kalen, from Moneyminiblog, grew up poor. He and his family lived on a farm and mostly ate what they produced on the land. But eventually, they relocated and discovered city life. His parents also discovered something else: credit cards.

“From then on, we had pretty lavish Christmas mornings and often got what we wanted,” remembers Kalen. “Until they filed for bankruptcy.”

A few years after filing for the first time, Kalen’s parents were “right back into credit-card-madness,” he says.

“We started to have a good life again. And then there was a second bankruptcy,” Kalen says. “This is what I knew.”

Unfortunately, Kalen took what he knew and repeated it when he became an adult.

“My adult life started with a lot of credit cards, car payments that I thought were mandatory, and general extensive spending,” he says. “I didn’t know what the word budget meant or how it applied to people.”

He racked up credit card debt and car loans — what he described as all “stupid debt.”

I asked him what he spent the most money on: “The biggest was probably our food choices,” Kalen answered. “We were used to going out for dinner all the time.”

But that all changed when his wife finally had enough. At the time, she oversaw their finances.

Making a change

“My wife finally got fed up with my spending,” Kalen says. “Then she handed it over to me. I was now in control of our finances. Me. The guy who was probably the most unqualified person in the world to touch a dollar bill.”

Once he realized they were over $24,000 in debt, his attitude changed quickly.

“I got really angry about being in debt and being average,” Kalen says. “I wanted to be better and do more with my life, but debt was holding me back.”

It was around 2010 when he realized that his lifestyle must change. He began reading every finance book he could get his hands on and started working harder.

“When I was paying down the debt, I was working full-time as a general manager for Domino’s Pizza and as a laborer for a local auto body shop,” Kalen recalls. “I also ran a paper route around 1:00 a.m. every morning.”

But working three jobs was not his life-long dream. His dream was to join the United States Air Force.

“As I was paying off my debt, I also realized I couldn’t join the Air Force, because the Air Force has a certain requirement for debt-to-income ratio, and I exceeded it,” Kalen says.

So, he continued working hard, sharpening his financial skills and, as he says: “We basically stopped spending money and started living on a strict budget, while earning as much money as we possibly could.”

By early 2012, Kalen and his wife paid off their debt.

Just a little discipline

Kalen told me that paying off debt is simple, but may require an attitude change.

“Paying off debt only requires a little discipline, but mostly just plain old persistence,” Kalen says. “Anyone can do it, as long as you can get away from making up excuses for why you can’t do it. Some excuses are valid, but no excuses help you in any way.”

In early 2013, Kalen joined the Air Force and is still on active duty. He’s also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics.

He told me that the best part about being debt-free is the feeling.

“It is a very freeing feeling to know that, if we wanted to, my wife and I could drop everything and do whatever we wanted,” Kalen says. “We are not bound by that financial situation anymore.”

Kalen provided me with some advice — things he learned while paying down his debt.

  • The first step is to not get in any more debt.  I see people who are trying to get out of debt, then the next thing you know, they buy a new car and have some great excuse for doing it.
  • Read as many articles and books as you can.  Be a life-learner and always be willing to grow as a person.
  • Listen. There are a lot of people out there who know more than you.  Let them help you, but only take advice from the people who are where you want to be.

Listen to Kalen and get that “freeing feeling” that he experienced when he became debt-free.

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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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