How to Fess Up and Pay Off $60,000 of Debt

Getting into a big pile debt is too easy nowadays.

But admitting to yourself your wrongdoings and making a pledge to get out of it, says a ton about your character.

Jason Larkins found himself being suffocated under $110,000 of debt at the early age of 23.

He could have given up, filed bankruptcy, crawled under a rock and pretend it didn’t happen.

He didn’t though.  He made a commitment to pay if off and has currently paid off $60,000 of it. Here’s his story….

First of all for those that don’t know you, tell us a little bit about your background and why you started your blog.

Well, my name is Jason Larkins and I’m a financial advisor with a Registered Investment Advisor firm located in Kansas City, MO. The decision to become a coach/advisor really spurred from my personal struggle, and eventual successes, with money.

After a lot of pressure from one of my close friends, I started my blog, WorkSaveLive, in November 2011. After much thought and contemplation, I couldn’t ignore the reality that having a blog would extend my reach and ability to impact thousands of peoples’ lives – why only help 500 people a year when you can get thousands that visit your site on a monthly basis?

What first caught my attention was your tweet of how you were able to pay off such a large amount of debt in a relatively short amount of time. (See the Tweet below)

Can you talk about some of the reasons that led to you getting into so much debt?

Work Save Live Tweet

The Tweet That Caught My Eye

During my “younger” days (yes, I’m still only 27) I viewed myself as just a normal person. Much of how I learned to manage money was through witnessing what my parents did as I was growing up, and seeing what my friends and others around me were doing at the time.

This lack of true financial education: knowing how to budget, understanding the importance of living on less than you make, and saving for the future, led to making some extremely stupid financial decisions such as:

  • Going to an out-of-state school to play football (despite any scholarships)
  • Spending far more than I made (taking friends out, partying, and eating out for every meal)
  • Having no understanding of priorities (choosing to go out rather than paying my rent on time)

What was your “aha moment” that made you realize that your debt had gotten out of control?

I’ll preface this with: I know that many people reading this will be shocked about how dumb someone can be, but I’m comfortable with what I’ve learned and where I’ve come so being brutally honest doesn’t bother me. I’ll also willfully acknowledge that I was extremely stupid and stubborn at the time.

Despite receiving multiple collection calls a day, having a bank account that was negative for 30 days straight (thank goodness I had another one), and being so afraid and stressed out that I didn’t know what to do, my ‘AHA!’ moment didn’t come until:

A night that I took my girlfriend at the time (wife now) to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. I had done a pretty good job of hiding all of my struggles from her, but in the middle of dinner I received a call from my roommate notifying me that our rent check had bounced.

I was responsible for paying all of the bills: the roommate would give me her portion of the money (terrible idea at the time) and I would “pay” the bills. Who wouldn’t trust a roommate that was making $50,000+/year at 21 and lived a life that appeared to be to be that of someone with no financial problems?

So, realizing that I now had a negative balance in my OTHER checking account, I just looked at my girlfriend and told her the mess I was in. I didn’t really want to borrow the money from her so I offered to ask the Cheesecake Factory if I could do the dishes for the night, but she ended up paying for dinner and loaning me $1,000 on top of that.

Since that day everything has changed.

Once you had the aha moment what steps did you implement to begin the get out of debt process?

The first step was simply learning to get on a written budget and limit my spending. At that age I thought I was invincible because I made quite a bit of money, but the reality is that I still had bills to pay and I couldn’t keep living the lifestyle I wanted.

Dave Ramsey loves to say that finances is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge and I’m a perfect example of that. Budgeting isn’t hard. Managing money well is REALLY SIMPLE!

The problem is the person you look at in the mirror. It’s the unwillingness to make sacrifices, to be disciplined, and to tell people “NO!” That’s the difficult part and that’s why so many of us fail.

In my upcoming book I talk about having a battle buddy. Someone that supports you in all your endeavors. How important was it having a battle buddy in getting out of debt?

I don’t know if I would have ever been able to do this on my own. I dated my wife for 4 years and we’ve now been married for 2 1/2. She’s seen me at my worst and she’s been with me through the best.

Despite our progress, we’re certainly not at the end of our journey and even to this day it’s vitally important to have somebody that’s willing to tackle the mountain with me; to encourage you when you fall and to be your cheerleader when you succeed.

What were some of the hardest obstacles that you faced in trying to pay off all your debt?

There have been, and will continue to be, many obstacles. Shortly after that Cheesecake Factory dinner I decided to make a career move and take a job making 50% less than what I had been.

Talk about a tough time: I obviously didn’t know how to limit my spending when I was making around $60k so thinking I could live off of $30,000 was rather scary.

However, after I had got on a strict budget I realized I could make the sacrifices necessary to drop down to $30,000/year.

It was extremely challenging and the budget was very tight (considering all of my debt payments) but it worked out!

Our obstacle today is continuing the grind that getting out of debt is. When you start $110,000 in the hole (with the majority of the debt being student loans), the only way to get out is to sacrifice for a LONG period of time. It’s been 5-6 years now and we still have a few more to go.

Did you allow yourself to celebrate any milestones in the debt paying off process?

The first year and a half that I was on “the plan,” there was no play or celebrations: no eating out, no vacations, no movies, concerts, or other entertainment. It was all business.

It took me a little while but I eventually realized you can’t live like that forever, so we have scaled back our intensity and live life while still being responsible.

Over the past 6 years we’ve: paid cash for two cars (an old beater and two weeks ago we bought a 2011 Camry), we paid cash for our wedding, wedding rings, honeymoon, and we’ve gone on two vacations in addition to that as well.

What advice would you give to others that are in a similar situation but feel hopeless that they’ll never be able to actually pay all their debt off?

The remedy for hopelessness is progress and seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve done some of the dumbest things a person can do, and I knew nothing about managing money, creating a budget, or living on less than you make.

If I can do it, then anybody can. (That isn’t intended to sound arrogant or any other way somebody wants to misconstrue that).

It starts with getting on a budget and creating a plan.

I firmly believe that a budget is the foundation to establishing a solid financial plan.

Once you know what your disposable income is, then it’s all about figuring out what you’re willing to sacrifice to increase that number (if it needs to be). I help all of my clients realize that sacrifice is a real thing and there are only 3 things any person can do to get out of debt faster:

  • Some may have to increase their income by taking part-time jobs or figuring out a long-term career path.
  • Others may simply need to cut things out of their budget.
  • Some may have to sell some of their cars and start driving some beaters around to get those payments out of their life.

The question is are you willing to make the sacrifices that your goals demand?

Thanks to Jason for being so transparent in his past. Be sure to read more about his debt journey and other tips on personal finance at his blog Work Save Live.

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Comments | 21 Responses

  1. says

    Inspirational story, there Jason. You have done a great job in paying down a mountain of debt, and done it all on half of your previous salary. That is amazing.

    BTW.. Work Save Live is one of my favorite financial sites, and is highly recommended for everyone. It is awesome that you chose to feature Jason’s story, Mr. Rose!

  2. says

    That is a great story. Very inspirational, I think some people get so far in that they think there can never be a light at the end of the tunnel. This story shows the exact opposite. My wife and I are in the process of tackling our CC debt that we knowingly put on while my wife stayed at home with our 2 kids. Now the fun part paying down those bills and man it feels great.

    • says

      It is a lot of fun when you start making progress and start winning! It’s difficult to start but once you get the ball rolling downhill it’s tough to stop!

      Good luck Christopher!

  3. says

    Jeff,

    I appreciate the opportunity to do the interview and I’m glad I was able to share parts of my story.

    There’s no doubt that your questions were quite challenging but I believe they reveal some of the core issues that I faced (and that many of us face).

    Thanks again!
    Jason

  4. says

    I really enjoyed this interview! Jason is such an inspiration to all of us. I totally get where he was coming from when he said this –

    The problem is the person you look at in the mirror. It’s the unwillingness to make sacrifices, to be disciplined, and to tell people “NO!” That’s the difficult part and that’s why so many of us fail.

    This is SO true. I remember feeling this way after swimming in consumer debt, granted I was only $10k in debt, but still – when that $10k was a result of all the sacrifices I WASN’T willing to make, it was awful. I had to really sit myself down and discipline myself. At the time it was rough, but it pays off. Also Jason and his wife remind me of my BF and I when we work on our finances together. Awesome interview.

    • says

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      It’s so important to communicate well with your spouse or BF. If you aren’t on the same page financially it’s only a disaster waiting to happen.

    • says

      Yeah, it was a pretty awful night. I wasn’t going to answer the call but the roommate called like 5 times! Good thing she did though because the debit card would have been declined and then it would have made for a more awkward situation.

  5. says

    Wow! Congrats on your progress and best of luck with your continued success!!! I tried picturing myself at the Cheesecake Factory with my future husband in this situation and I truly hope that I would be as sympathetic as your now wife was. You found your “one”, congrats on that too!!!

    • says

      Yeah…we hadn’t been dating for that long of a period when she loaned me the money so I was pretty fortunate that she gave it to me.

      I’m certainly lucky to have her though and I’m glad she put up with all of the non-sense in my “younger” days. My struggles did help us get on the same page with money though because she is/was a saver. If I wouldn’t have gotten my act together she probably wouldn’t have stuck around. :)

  6. says

    I absolutely love this article. The fact that you have been able to do what you have done after you took a cut in pay is absolutely incredible. Hiding from any problem will never get it solved. You have proven that facing up to your problems is the only way to get them solved. Kudos.

    • says

      Hiding is certainly what I tried to do. Having been there myself and also having coached people through tough times, I’ve learned that the fear associated with debt, the situation itself, and the unknown is tough to overcome.

      It boils down to the fact that many are just clueless about how to get started. They’re unsure of what to do and they’ve fallen into the trap of believing there is no way out.

      Thanks StR!

  7. says

    This is such an inspirational story. Congratulations on working your way out of that massive debt! The first 18 months must have been the toughest: all work and no play. But it’s all worth it now! A great example of how we should all keep our “eyes on the prize”.

  8. 'Annie' says

    Oh my word! Good for you! I’ll be 23 next month and I’m crying over my $2,000 debt, lol. All the best, and good luck paying that off! :P

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