Win with Your Money: From Negative Net Worth to Millionaire (Author Interview)

How did you confront the psychological challenges of being in such a significant amount of debt, and what advice would you offer to others in similar situations?

I avoided it for too long.  I’ve seen many others do the same thing.  We fear what we don’t know.  We don’t want to know how big the debt has grown, so we avoid it.  We try to shove it to a corner and not think about it.

The problem is debt goes everywhere we go.  We carry it around like baggage.

It took me a few years before I made actual changes even though I had calculated my net worth and knew it was very negative.

At this stage, it’s easy to let fear, hopelessness, shame, and guilt take over.  However, I want to encourage everyone reading this there is always hope.  It doesn’t matter if you can see it or not; it’s there.

Could you share a pivotal moment or decision during your journey from debt to wealth that significantly influenced your success?

I had two major turning points which completely changed how I saw money. 

The first turning point happened when I watched a Suze Orman special on TV.  Suze brought a woman onto the stage who was over-spending.  She also brought onto the stage a rack of this woman’s clothes worth $6500 and a pile of cash worth $6500.  Suze asked the woman, ‘would you rather have the clothes or the cash’? 

This is a simple question, but it finally showed me I was wasting a lot of money on stuff I didn’t need.  I realized cash would offer security, groceries, and anything else I needed in the future, but clothes wouldn’t be worth much.

The second turning point occurred when I listed out all my debt accounts and calculated my annual interest expense.  I realized I was paying almost $16,000 a year in interest alone.

I was physically sick and realized I would never retire early if I continued to hold onto this debt.

Your book emphasizes the 'millionaire mindset.' Can you elaborate on what this mindset entails and how it differs from more conventional approaches to personal finance?

We are all raised with the beliefs of those who raised us.  Many of us see these beliefs as facts as they’ve been with us for years and potentially decades.

Creating the millionaire mindset requires that we start questioning those beliefs. 

We stop associating negative thoughts with money.

We stop allowing our emotions and egos to control our spending.

Once we separate our egos from our spending, we can pay off debt and build wealth.

In your experience, what are the most common misconceptions people have about paying off debt and building wealth, and how does your book address these?

Too many people believe the wealthy inherited their money, and there is no hope for them.

I didn’t grow up with money – quite the opposite.

I haven’t inherited anything.

My first job out of college was at a bank where I made around $11 an hour.

Anyone who is willing to do the work and put in the effort can create amazing wealth.

It comes down to the ‘why’.  If someone has a strong-enough ‘why’, they will make it happen.

How do you balance the need for immediate financial relief with long-term wealth-building strategies, especially for those starting with a negative net worth?

This is a great question.  When the relief needed is immediate, it almost always comes down to stopping all payments to ensure your needs are covered (housing, transportation, and food).  When I say transportation, however, I don’t mean the expensive car.  I mean something basic that can get you from point A to point B.  When the need is urgent, you’ve got to eliminate everything other than your basic needs.

Once your needs are met and income becomes stable, it’s time to look at your expenses in detail, build a budget, and create a plan to pay off debt, which I go through in detail through stories and action plans in the book.

I do recommend also setting up a retirement account when you start this money journey, especially if your employer offers a match.  I encourage this to be set up once and completely automated.  Then, don’t think about this account again until all the consumer debt is paid off.

This is a way to guarantee you’ve built some assets when you become debt free.

Your journey includes overcoming a sizable amount of student loan and credit card debt. What specific strategies or tactics did you find most effective for tackling these types of debts?

I am a numbers nerd and took many actions from refinancing to using zero-percent credit cards.  Zero-percent deals were one of my favorite debt hacks.  I transferred debt at high interest rates to zero percent interest and saved over $10,000 in interest over the 5 years it took to pay off the debt.  The great thing is these deals are still available today.

In addition, I used the debt avalanche approach.  The debt avalanche approach is listing your debts from highest interest rate to smallest interest rate and prioritizing the payoff of the debt with the highest interest rate first.  This expedited the pay-off journey significantly.

Can you discuss the role that emotional intelligence plays in managing finances, based on your own experience and the advice you offer in your book?

We are emotional beings who care about our image and enjoy dopamine highs from new purchases.  For many of us, this is natural, but the problem occurs when we use easily accessed credit instead of paying for these purchases with cash.

When we let the power of our ego, image, and emotions determine our spending, it’s evident we are heading for a financial collision. 

It’s only when we can separate these emotions that we will change our behavior, start budgeting, and make real financial progress.

What are some practical steps readers can take to start their journey towards financial independence, especially those who feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to begin?

Because mindset is a significant factor, there are a few actions in the book that have nothing to do with money, for example practicing gratitude.

Someone who is in a rough financial spot may not want to hear this action, but genuinely feeling gratitude for the things we take for granted everyday gives you a new awareness.

More tangible actions include finding every debt account you have – from paper statements to online accounts – and writing them down either in a notebook or spreadsheet.  List their balance, their minimum monthly payment, their interest rates, and then calculate the annual interest expense.

Another action is to track your actual spending from the last two months.  Tracking may not seem powerful, but you’ll gain great insights from just writing it down.

How has becoming a millionaire changed your life beyond the financial aspects, and what lessons from this transformation do you think are universally applicable?

The biggest change for me has been emotional.  Throughout this journey I’ve become more confident.  I no longer feel shame or fear the same way I did when I was drowning in debt.  I no longer want to avoid my money.

A great bonus was my diet and exercise improved as well.  It’s interesting to me how one new habit can have a domino effect in many aspects of your life.

In 'Win with Your Money,' you share personal lessons and experiences. Which lesson was the hardest for you to learn, and why do you think it's important for others to know about it?

I should have started this journey much sooner, but I was stuck in the belief that my salary would keep growing and naturally cover this debt in the future.  I kept pushing off the change because I had different priorities at the time.

I wish I had seen the red flags years earlier and taken them more seriously.  I can only imagine what would have happened if I had made a few different decisions.

No matter where you are today, you have the power to change your circumstances. 

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