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It left the Notorious D.E.B.T. writer and her husband hopelessly in debt — but they're making a comeback.

4 minute read

As a child, Lindsay from Notorious D.E.B.T. grew up in northern Michigan. Her neighbors owned a racing kennel full of sled dogs. She loved them — and also being outside, challenging the elements and her own strength.

In 2003, at 16, she started her own kennel. But Michigan wasn’t wild enough for her: She wanted the ultimate challenge. So she moved to Alaska.

Her first winter, during the 2005-2006 season, she “worked full-time for room and board as a dog handler, helping to train the dog team, and made $100 a week delivering newspapers.”

Unfortunately, dog racing wouldn’t offer her a career. “After I realized that working as a dog handler wasn’t a real job, I found homes for all my own sled dogs in 2006,” says Lindsay.

In 2007, she met her future husband on MySpace. He was in the Army at the time. She says: “We met later in person, and within a few months he proposed. We were married within seven months of first meeting each other online in January 2008. I was 20 and he was 24 at the time.”

He shipped off to Iraq and they banked the money he earned. When he returned, Lindsay says “we found out about this crazy invention called a VA loan.”

She and her husband decided they should buy a home, like all grown-ups. “The bank told us we didn’t even need a down payment on a house,” remembers Lindsay. “We took all that money we’d banked, around $14,000, and spent it on fancy furniture. Then we bought the house for around $175,000 in 2009.”

The house sat on two acres and backed up to a state forest, which suited Lindsay’s love for nature. But after a closer examination, the scene wasn’t all that idyllic. Lindsay notes, “Unfortunately, it was built outside of city limits, so the builder took some shortcuts we didn’t find out about till later.”

Shortcuts such as not using special construction methods for a house built on permafrost — permanently frozen ground, which is common in Alaska. The result: “The septic tank kept burrowing further down as the ground melted,” remembers Lindsay. “The water tank in the ground also kept collapsing and the buried supports for the porch started to fail, and the whole deck and entry to the house became unstable.”

In 2014, Lindsay and her husband moved to Fort Collins, Colorado leaving their unsold house behind. Her husband, already discharged from the army, started studying construction management. Lindsay says, “We rented the house out and kept shelling out money for repairs. We tried to sell it the next spring, but no luck. We then rented it out for a second winter.”

They finally received a few offers on the home in 2016. By then, she and her husband had spent over $30,000 on repairs. And it gets worse: “We paid for it with credit cards, personal loans, and our own savings,” says Lindsay. “We just started saving for the first time by then, so it was difficult to see our savings efforts wiped out.”

As for the offers, they were revoked after an inspection revealed the home needed a new $45,000 custom-engineered septic system. The final straw.

“We were flat broke by this point,” says Lindsay. “We couldn’t rent it out, we couldn’t sell it, and we couldn’t afford the mortgage and rent for ourselves. So, we eventually decided to give up the home through a deed in lieu of foreclosure.”

Her husband’s credit score plummeted from nearly 800 to 690.

The hard road to financial recovery

A quick step back in time. During her time in Alaska, Lindsay earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology. She flew out in a helicopter to the middle of nowhere in Alaska and helped capture newborn caribou calves and helped raise them at a research station. Pretty cool. She was making $11 an hour.

She also, among other things, worked to develop a lab method to measure the digestibility of caribou food. Lindsay says, “The method I developed is now being used around the world.” She “dabbled with some methods on how to track what caribou are eating,” and published the results in three journal articles — one still to come out soon.

But things changed quickly when they moved to Colorado: She couldn’t find a job in her field. But that didn’t stop her. She worked as a transcriptionist online, “working all day and night to the point where I fell asleep on the keyboard for $75 a day.”

Finally a job opened up working with lab animals at the same university her husband was attending, in 2015.  She thought it would be a research position, but… “I was strictly a janitor.” She earned about $2,000 a month as the primary breadwinner.

During this time she and her husband still didn’t cut back on their spending. “We tried to spend like normal,” says Lindsay. “We spent $800 a month on dining out! It was crazy. We were dragging ourselves deeper and deeper into credit card debt.”

Things finally changed. Lindsay says, “I listened to podcasts while cleaning at work. I started listening to Listen Money Matters because A) they talked about beer, and B) they had a guitar solo at the start of the show. I am a metal-head myself.”

From there she became hooked. She started learning more about personal finances and now, even though they still owe $84,815.65, Lindsay remains hopeful. “I update our budget each morning and manually enter in our expenses and pay off our credit cards from the day before,” says Lindsay.

She started Notorious D.E.B.T. in 2015 as a creative outlet. Lindsay also started freelance writing full-time in 2016. She says “It’s been great so far — I’m earning way more than I ever have, although I’m always looking for ways to increase my income.”

Lindsay provided me with two great tips for anyone in debt and looking for a financial rebirth.

“You don’t have to do everything all at once,” notes Lindsay. “I was reluctant to learn how to manage my money because it felt overwhelming. Retirement, savings accounts, paying off debt, budgeting — it’s so much. But you don’t have to do it all at once. Just take it a step at a time. Learning one thing like budgeting will improve your financial life.”

And most importantly, make more money. “We tried scrimping and saving as much as we could, but that didn’t pay the bills,” says Lindsay. “The thing that moved the needle was bringing in extra money. I made almost $11,000 in my first year of freelance writing. That helped us get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.”

Lindsay’s comeback continues.

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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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