Six things one listener did to ditch $20,000 in debt

Margaret Aery May 6, 2013

Six things one listener did to ditch $20,000 in debt

Margaret Aery May 6, 2013

Ten years ago, Marketplace Money listener Greg McKenna was over $20,000 in debt and had a handful of different retirement accounts from previous employers.  

Today, he’s debt free and has a nest egg worth over $100,000. 

How’d he do it? Greg wrote in to Marketplace Money and shared his story.

1) He traded his nice car in for a cheaper one

“I knew it was time I got serious — my friends say draconian — and turned my spending habits into savings habits,” said Greg. “I sold the truck that I was barely making the payments on and fixed up a $500 Honda.”

“It looked horrible,” he said, “[there were] rust spots and duct tape holding it together.”

But that didn’t stop Greg from driving the Honda Civic for years — and saving up some cash in the process. 

“Everyone assumed I was broke,” he said. “I overheard a rumor about me once that I was in some serious gambling debt, [but] this was at a point when I was well on the way to improving my circumstances.”

2) He moved back home

In addition to trading in his truck, Greg also had to swallow his pride about his living situation.

“I owe a lot of my success to a tolerance — my siblings say an inhuman tolerance — to living with my parents,” he said. “I actually had to insist on paying rent.”

3) He consolidated all his retirement funds

He also had to get smart about his savings.

“I consolidated my retirement accounts into a rollover and found I had a decent little nest egg,” he explained. “I then built up a little emergency fund and have been thankful for it on more than one occasion.”

4) He was lucky enough to be in a recession-proof industry

As a tree care professional, Greg credits his career choice as well. He made under $40K a year until only recently, but during the recession, he said he saw friends — many computer professionals — suffer lay-offs and foreclosures.

Greg helped them out when he could.

“I found a spot for them to help out for a day or two so they could make their bill payments,” he said. But he “managed to stay afloat and even thrived somehow.”

5) He set up automatic withdrawals

“Besides that automation and education have been my friends,” said Greg. “Having those automatic withdrawals from my paycheck have certainly added up over the years.”

6) He picked up a few finance books — thanks to Marketplace

As a faithful listener of Marketplace, Greg also “picked up a book on financial planning once in a while,” taking down some titles from the show. He recommends:

Today, Greg says he is debt free and has saved over $100K in retirement accounts. He also has “a healthy emergency fund” and says he’s “not so draconian anymore with the occasional international trip.”

Do you know anyone who’s turned their fiscal life around? Or have an inspirational personal finance story of your own? Share your comments below.

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