Hello! Today, I have a great debt story from Marcus Garrett. He is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestselling book, D.E.B.T. Free or Die Trying: How I Buried Myself $30,000 in Debt and Dug My Way Out by Age 30. Enjoy!
Interesting enough, most of my personal debt ($26,000 to be exact) actually came from one impressively ignorant debaucherous weekend of spending. Today, I have an 800 FICO Score, a business focused on personal finances, branding, and helping people establish their own personal systems to achieve their goals.
I am living proof there is life after debt.
I’ve often been asked, “Do you regret spending that $26,000 in 72-hours?”
To understand my response, you first have to understand how I went about burying myself $30,000 in debt by age 23.
It was one of the funnest weekends of my entire life. It was the case of a classic Texas two-step.
How I Buried Myself $30,000 in Debt
I’m from Texas. But, this wasn’t like the famous country two-step of the same name. Although, as is Texas law when you are a citizen here, I am proficient in that two-step too and challenge all comers and takers who dare enter a country bar with me. Alas, I digress.
The Texas two-step I want to write about today involved opening a credit card at age 18. Like most college students–before this became an illegal practice–I was enticed into signing up for a credit card for schwag (a yoyo) and promises of cheap money.
In fact, before graduating college at age 22, I’d open two more credit cards. I couldn’t believe all the cheap money the banks were just giving away to teenagers with minimum wage jobs.
“Suckers!” or so I thought.
I graduated college with about $9,000 charged across those three credit cards. That wasn’t too bad. Nothing a reasonable budget and a debt snowball couldn’t melt away in a few years, amiright?
Well, in the second act of my debt story, I received a consolidation loan offer in the mail. It offered even more cheap money. It promised to “consolidate” all those annoying, multiple credit cards into one cheap, low monthly payment.
I couldn’t lose!
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$26,000 in Debt in Seventy-Two Hours
When the weekend began, a young Marcus awoke with about $9,000 in debt. My debt diary would have looked something like this:
- Credit Card #1: $4,000
- Credit Card #2: $3,000
- Credit Card #3: $2,000
As a point of clarity, I had not — and actually never have — maxed out any of my credit cards. I’ve never reached a credit card limit in my three decades of life. This is an interesting point because contextually, it means at age 22, with no real job or sustainable income, banks across the country had already issued me credit limits in excess of $10,000. They would only go on to increase those limits from there. In fact, today while I have several credit cards with $0 balances, I have over $60,000 in available credit limits (that I never plan to use, I think).
However, do you know what inevitably happens when you direct deposit to a 22-year who has never even remotely demonstrated responsible spending habits or made more than $9/hour in his first two decades of life on Earth $10,000?
Youth is wasted on the young, and while I don’t remember exactly what went through my young mind at the time, I do remember being confused when I woke up to $10,000 in my bank account. I had assumed that the responsible Consolidation Loan folks at Bank I Will Not Name Because I Don’t Want To Get Sued would kindly pay off my creditors for me. I would simply be responsible for that low, consolidated monthly payment they promised me. That, of course, would mean we live in a world governed by rules and logic. Therefore, that is the exact reverse opposite of what actually happened in real life.
Now I don’t pretend to know what kind of 22-year old you were (or are), but unfortunately the 22-year-old I was proceeded to buy everything that wasn’t bolted down with that $10,000.
Within 72-hours (one weekend), my debt ballooned from $9,000 to $26,000.
I did buy a litany of assets! But, none of which would appreciate in value. Actually many depreciated in value instantaneously (alcohol, clothes, etc) and others depreciated as soon as I drove them off the lot (used car). Others, I write with a straight face that I can’t even honestly remember. I do know that when it was all said and done the financial debacle of the weekend concluded with:
- $13,000 used-car (with rims, because I have taste!)
- $10,000 consolidation loan for three credit cards (I only paid off two and used the other money to TREAT YO SELF)
- $3,000 credit card
For those of you granted with the gift of good math skills. You have already determined that the above accounts for the 72-hours and $26,000 in debt I spoke off. For added measure, I also “purchased” a $3,000 flat screen TV on a 0-percent interest loan a few months later. What?
We needed a bigger TV for the bigger apartment we upgraded to! This spending all made perfect since in my 20-something mind. I had just graduated college. I was on my way to making six figures! That’s what you go to college for after all, right? To make six figures?
As you might have guessed by now, life didn’t quite go as easily or linearly as 22-year-old me forecasted.
I Hit Rock Bottom at Age 27
In my experience, tragically, my most meaningful lessons have come at my lowest points. Reaching the “Rock Bottom” point for my debt was no different.
Several years removed from the exuberant highs of my debt-fueled weekend, I was now working three different jobs to pay it off. I had a traditional 9 to 5 post-graduate job (not even making half of six figures, by the way), I worked evenings ceiling a “new” cell phone called an iPhone to customers for commission, and I worked nights at a local hotel chain. When the option presented itself, I’d also pick-up contract work on the side putting computers together.
I did all of this work, three jobs and more, to pay off one weekend of fun. While I thought life couldn’t get worse, which is always a dangerous assumption to make about life, I would soon find out that I still hadn’t quite reached rock bottom, yet.
Perhaps in all the confusion of working three jobs and the deliriousness of not getting a full 8-hours of sleep a night since roughly 2005, I missed my first and only credit card payment. I didn’t know it yet, but overnight my credit card interest rate immediately ballooned to 29.99% interest!
When the next bill arrived, I finally realized the “error.” I had been a customer of this company since age 18. As fate would have it, it was one of the original credit cards I opened years earlier. Remember earlier in this memoir you’re reading back when I was just a young 18-year-old who wanted a t-shirt and a yoyo?
I figured I’d call and get everything worked out, right? We’d been in a relationship for a decade now. Surely they’d have sympathy, understand, and reverse the interest rate, right?
If you believe that I admire the optimism you still have and that was stolen from me that night. When they refused to reverse the payment — and in fact demanded this and last month’s payment immediately at the 29.99% interest rate, I realized two things:
- #1 Despite working three jobs, I literally could not afford to make the minimum payments anymore, let alone one at 29.99%; and
- #2 Whatever it took, I would never allow myself to be in this position again.
I decided that night — or soon thereafter when I had to beg yet another multi-billion dollar conglomerate to extend 27-year-old me a loan to cover all the other credit cards and debt I also couldn’t cover — I was going to become Debt Free or Die Trying.
I Dug My Way Out of Debt by Age 30
I won’t pretend that it was an easy journey. It was fraught with errors, mistakes, and outright failures. In fact, in total it would encompass 7-years of my life on Earth to pay off those 72-hours at age 22.
I’ll be honest here. I do regret derailing my personal finances for 7-years, because of the mistakes of one weekend of ignorance in my 20s. However, for your consideration, I did have the time of my life spending that $10,000!
I’m just saying.
Technically, I was always trying to get out of debt. At age 22, I made a vague commitment to be “debt free” by age 27. My thinking? I wanted to be debt-free in five years. What I have learned since failing at that claim is that it is not enough to simply declare a goal. Just look at anyone (you?) that has made a New Year’s Eve resolution. The success/failure rates are abysmal.
If you truly want to succeed at your goals, you need a proven system to move you from goal-setting to goal-achievement. This is the entire focus of my new program. My goal is to reach back to help as many struggling individuals reach their goals because there was no one there to help me when I was just trying to make ends meet and figure my life, money, and personal finances out.
I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or three. After getting out of debt, I went on to read 15 personal finance and investment books written by the experts. I also managed to write three of my own books and establish a personal finance brand that helps millennials make money, save money, and get out of debt. We reached over 2 million listener downloads before I stepped away to establish my own brand under The Marcus Garrett.
Here is a quick overview of the steps I took to become debt free. Remember, the best plan is the plan that works, but I hope these tips help you find your way or motivate you to map your own path to debt freedom.
Four Actionable Tips to Become Debt Free or Die Trying
I’ve managed to summarize my tips for getting out of debt into four simple steps.
While in total it took me 7-years to get out of debt, the majority of this is because I lacked focus for the first few years. At age 27, I finally got serious about getting out of debt. I put a plan and a personal finance system together that I could actually follow, and I didn’t look up until I was completely debt free.
Here are the four steps that worked for me.
D – Define the Problem
How much total debt do you owe?
A lot of people have no idea. I recommend you “Define the Problem” by downloading your free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Yes, you can access this information from some free apps, however, Annual Credit Report is the only federally required and recognized website. Each of the three major bureaus–Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian–are legally required to provide your credit report to you at least once each year. In fact, during the pandemic, it is available every week through April 2021.
At this website, you can pull your credit report from each Bureau. In some cases, you can even dispute and immediately correct errors found on your credit report.
Most importantly, you can validate that all the debt reflected on your credit report is accurate. For many people, this may be the first time they see all their total debt in one place. The first step to coming up with a solution to become debt free is to accurately diagnose and define the problem.
Once you know how much total debt you owe…
E – Establish a Plan
The best plan is the plan that works.
I’m indifferent to whether you pay off your debt with popular methods, like the Debt Snowball (lowest debt first) or Debt Avalanche (highest interest debt first). For the purpose of information sharing, the Debt Snowball is the method most people are emotionally likely to follow because it financially rewards you the quickest. The Debt Avalanche will save you the most money because it prioritizes paying off high-interest debt first.
However, if people were good at math, we would never open up a credit card. Instead, I recommend you choose the plan that works best with your financial goals and lifestyle.
For example, did you know that making the minimum payment on a $6,000 credit card debt with an 18% interest rate will take you 40-years at a cost of over $16,000 in interest?
Well, you would know that if you consulted this free debt calculator.
Know better, do better. I like to work with my followers or clients and consult these calculators to help us find a baseline that works with their financial goals and lifestyle. Being debt free and living life do not have to be mutually exclusive.
B – Build a Budget
Once you’ve Defined the Problem and know the Plan for Payoff, you can build a better budget system that fits your lifestyle goals.
A budget shouldn’t feel like a punishment.
Your budget should help move you towards your financial goals each month, not make you feel like a child on timeout.
My favorite budget happens to be the 50/30/20 Budget System. That’s 50-percent for needs; 30-percent for wants; and 20-percent for paying off debt, saving, or investing for retirement (or all of the above). I like this budget, because it gives me maximum flexibility while still allowing me to meet my personal finance goals. In fact, this is the exact budget I followed on my way to paying off the original $30,000 in debt. If you’d like to see if it is right for you, you can use this free online 50/30/20 Budget calculator.
I’ve also switched to an 80/20 Budget System at different times. This budget is even simpler, allocating 80-percent to spending on whatever I want and 20-percent dedicated to saving and investing.
The point is to find a financial system that works for you. No one can tell you “the best” system, only their preferences. Once you’ve found the combination of systems that work for you, you can get back in the driver seat of your life. Money can accelerate your goals, but it will never replace you as the driver.
T – Trust the Process
There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that says, “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
Trust the process. The time will pass on its own. As with most things, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is today.
If you’re drowning in debt like I was so many years ago, the best time to start on a new path was yesterday.
The next best time is today.
I know this four step process works and I go into even more detail in my book. Remember, the best plan is the plan that works. The choice to not make a plan is a plan too. It’s just not a very good one if you want a different outcome than the one you had yesterday.
About The Marcus Garrett – The most frequently asked question I receive is, “How much debt can I afford on a 30, 50, or $100,000 salary?” You can find out for yourself at TheMarcusGarrett.com/salary, or follow me on Instagram at TheMarcusGarrett and YouTube: TheMarcusGarrett for more free insights on building a brand, personal finances, and much more.
Do you have debt? What are you doing to pay off your debt?