This is a guest post from my friend Brett. Don’t leave – this story is both hilarious and sad! I promise you’ll enjoy it.
Debt has the power to take away a lot of things. Your car. Your home. Your ability to quit a job you hate.
I’m fortunate enough to have never gone through anything like foreclosure or a car repossession. Still, I’ve had to make some tough life choices due to personal debt. Most notably giving up on a dream of mine I spent the better part of 5 years actively pursuing.
The Pursuit of a Dream
What was the dream I gave up on due to debt? Becoming a full-fledged rock star. Feel free to roll your eyes at that particular goal. I find the sentence quite humorous as I write it today. But a few years ago this was no laughing matter.
You see, a combination of musically inclined friends from both high school and college had started a band during our university years. The journey began humbly enough. We started playing a few shows, got recognized by some bar owners locally and began earning a few hundred bucks per night playing to college kids and old timers alike. Eventually, we scraped together enough coin from performing to pay for a produced full-length studio album. As a result of this album we were fortunate enough to be discovered by a father-son management company that agreed to support us (partially) financially in addition to helping promote the band in Southern California. This opportunity came just as I was graduating college. The timing was perfect and my band packed our things to travel west in pursuit of fame and fortune.
What I’ve left out of the story (so far) is the bad financial decisions I was making during college that eventually caught up with me shortly after graduation. During college I acquired just under $40,000 in student loan debt. I also compiled a few grand in high-interest credit card debt. Nothing compared to some of my other friends, many of whom piled up 5 figures in debt purchasing laptops, televisions, and game systems over a period of years. Still, it became difficult for me to pay off much more than the minimum payments when combined with my student loans and living expenses.
After moving to California, I was able to scrape by and pay my financial obligations each month. I didn’t have anything left over, but I romanticized the experience as being the period of time I would look back on after I made my first million during the band’s breakout tour. Unfortunately, that breakout never occurred.
That’s not to say our band didn’t have ample encouragement that we would be successful, financially speaking. We played a lot of showcases, recorded albums, got sponsors, did interviews, had meetings with successful industry vets in Beverly Hills, but the big paycheck never came. Living on the edge financially, however, did catch up with my personal finances.
The problem with spending everything you make on living expenses is when those unexpected expenses inevitably occur. During my first 18 months in California, the following unexpected problems occurred that required extra money to resolve: 1.) My car broke down and needed to be fixed. 2.) I had a flat tire that needed to be replaced. 3.) My car was broken into and window was smashed to gain entry. 4.) My guitar was stolen. If you’re already spending everything you make on food, rent, insurance, gas, and a cell phone bill, these expenses often end up on the credit card that continue to grow with each unplanned event. That’s exactly what was happening to me.
Making Tough Choices
Eventually, I maxed out my credit cards and was really living on the edge. One more car break down or simple accident would have literally required me to beg my parents, family members, or friends for cash to resolve the issue. I had reached the end of the line and had to make a very tough decision.
In my eyes, I had two paths that I could take:
1.) Accept a job back home that paid comparable wages with better benefits in a low cost part of the country. Then move back home with my parents for a while, live cheap, and rebuild my personal finances. It wouldn’t be fun, but at the very least I’d have food in my belly and a roof over my head.
2.) Continue doing what I had been doing for the past few years and hope to get a big record deal that solves all my problems. There are plenty of stories of musicians that persevere against all odds to achieve their goals. There was still a chance that I could make it next week, next month, or next year.
I decided to take path number one. Looking back I’m glad I made this choice, even though it was extremely difficult and depressing at the time. I was giving up on something that I was incredibly passionate about. I also worried that my bandmates would end up getting signed and make a mint while I was resigned to grinding it out in a cubicle for the remainder of my days. Fortunately, I didn’t have anything to worry about in that respect.
I’ve got to give the rest of my bandmates credit for sticking it out for about 2-3 years after I left – playing shows, attending meetings, and promoting themselves online. However, eventually the group disbanded without the big payday we had always dreamed about. Now with the 20/20 perspective of hindsight, I’m thankful I made the tough choice when I did. It would have put me back years, financially speaking, and I wonder sometimes if I’d have even been able to afford rent at a crappy apartment had I continued down the same path.
What My Personal Experience Has Taught Me About Debt
The silver lining is that I learned about the power of debt while I was still relatively young and changed my habits. There are countless others that have experienced similar stories (or worse) and still haven’t take the time to understand the actions that contributed to their debt.
Debt, I’ve learned, has an incredible knack of hanging around. For example, you might have purchased a laptop years ago that no longer even works. Yet, you must continue to to pay off this expense with interest long after you remember what you even did to acquire the debt. It sucks and is extremely demoralizing.
My simple advice to help others stay out of debt:
- If you don’t have the money to pay for something right now, don’t spend it.
- Always live below your means and make sure you’ve got some room to breathe financially. Unexpected expenses will always come up. Be ready for them.
Stick to the simple advice outlined above and you’ll be much less likely to ever lose a home, car, or have to give up on your dreams because of debt.
About The Author
In addition to cutting expenses and fighting debt, Brett Lindenberg recommends taking actions to increase your personal income through entreprenuership. You can learn more about him by reading his blog at 500aMonth.com.