It helped him adjust his lifestyle, pay off more debt and save for an emergency fund.

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Mario from Debt Blag served in the military as an artillery officer in a cavalry squadron. While he served, he didn’t spend much money, especially when he was deployed to combat.

But he did save enough to buy a couple rental properties during that time, first in 2004 and then in 2007. These became — and remain — his biggest sources of debt, totaling approximately $300,000.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go well after he left the military. Mario says, “My departure from the Army coincided with the financial crisis. I struggled to find renters for the properties for a few years while taking a series of low-paying jobs, and used credit cards to fill the gaps.”

By late 2012, his credit card debt had increased to $35,000. He didn’t make it easy on himself though. Mario admits he “lived a lifestyle beyond my small wages, eating out, going out, and living in expensive cities.” How much did he spend? He says, “I spent nearly $800 a month on groceries, eating out and drinking at restaurants, cafes, and bars.”

In 2013, he did two things: He graduated with a degree in economics from Columbia University in New York City, and he started his blog. He decided to finish school because “as an artillery officer who served in a cavalry squadron, you could say that I didn’t find a job that matched my experience.”

He started his blog “to hold myself accountable and use it to help others with advice. But I do it more from the point of view that I’m learning alongside the people who ask for advice, rather than strictly teaching.”

His college degree helped him increase his salary, working in IT for the financial regulation industry — but he also graduated with $130,000 in student loan debt. So, he did one more thing. That New Year’s Eve, he made four resolutions that he hoped would drastically reduce his debt…

  •     Pay off all $35,000 of my credit card debt in two years, starting with my high-interest debt.
  •     Get smart about my options for student loan debt, and plan for paying it off.
  •     Do better accounting for my rental properties, and refinance both mortgages.
  •     Blog often to keep myself honest and to keep learning.

Mario busied himself with making these resolutions come true. He first cut his expenses. “The big ways I saved money were simple — I lived with two roommates (in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan), did not own a car nor take cabs, stopped eating out, and drank less if I went out at all,” says Mario. “I also challenged myself in month-long spurts to save a little more — perhaps by not eating meat for a month or by making extra payments to debt.”

He also improved his rental property situation. “I got a steady stream of renters and, after increasing my income, was able to get a pair of great refinancing rates,” notes Mario. “Both properties are pretty profitable now.” As for student loan and credit card debt, Mario proudly says only $58,000 remains in student loans. Nothing on credit cards.

During this time, Mario married and started saving an emergency fund. And he’s very happy he did — because earlier this month he suffered a medical emergency. “I went to the hospital with half a dozen heart attack symptoms, including chest pains, difficulty breathing, and sudden lightheadedness,” he says.

Luckily, the tests showed no life-threatening issues. Mario is thankful for his health insurance, disability coverage, and a flexible employer, but he says his emergency fund also helped lower his stress levels.

“I can’t imagine how much worse it would feel to have to think about not being able to pay medical bills, “says Mario. “Or even worse, having to decide whether or not to see a doctor for a potentially life-threatening episode based on how much money I have.”
Mario offers us this piece of advice: “In light of my recent medical emergency, I think my No. 1 piece of advice would be to have an emergency fund. I could think of half a dozen excuses/arguments against it, but it’s tough to overstate just how important that peace of mind has been to me.”
Get well, Mario.
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Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski


Bienkowski is a contributing writer and is the face of's 'By the Numbers' videos.


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Article last modified on November 21, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Mario Started His Blog to Keep Himself Financially Accountable - AMP.