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No. of Recommendations: 306
June 28, 1998 - October 2, 2002.

That's the length of my 'Debt Sentence.' Of course, I had been in debt longer than that, but that day in June of '98 is when I decided to COMMIT to a plan of action. No one else had gotten me into that position -- I was responsible for it. So, I had to do something about it or I would be lost for a very long time.

To those of you who have read previous posts about others who have paid off all of their debt, I am merely one more. Yet, each time I read about someone's success story, I truly felt good for them and looked forward to my time to celebrate and share my story -- I'll condense it down for you as best I can.

I was 38 years old, single and $42,385 in the hole. How I got there is no less typical than many other stories about debt -- credit cards, car loan, taxes, bank credit line, etc. I was nearly to the point of filing for bankruptcy. On top of it, I had a heartbreaking break up with a potential future wife, was depressed, not going out with friends, etc.

As time passed, I came to a crossroad. And, to my friends out there, I realized that being too far in debt TAKES AWAY YOUR DREAMS. When the bills keep coming, there's nothing to look forward to because all of your resources are going towards that black cloud hanging over you and it never seems to dissipate. Money comes in, but you watch it slide right out of your hands and into someone else's kitty while you're left with next to nothing and wishing time away to the next paycheck. It got old and I felt like I was a loser.

After some long contemplation, I went and saw my Dad. We're pretty close, but with hat in hand I went to him for one thing -- and it wasn't money. I swallowed a ball of pride the size of a beach ball and asked him for his signature on a consolidation loan from my bank. Without sharing all of the conversational details, he agreed. It was the first time I had asked my Dad (my idol) for any kind of financial help since my first year out of college -- 15 years. It was tough.

After that is when I made the choice -- to Live Below Your Means.

I gave up a lot, as I'm sure many of you have that have gone through this process. I went without a girlfriend for 4 years (some guys can't), had NO DATES for 4 years, bought clothes only when they wore out, cut out frivolous trips in the car to save on gasoline costs, cut back to $50 a week for groceries, got rid of the cable TV, cut back on long distance phone calls, rarely went out for lunch or dinner, etc., etc.

And you know what happened?

It melted away.

Sure, four years is a long time to 'go without.' But, amazingly, it clarified so many things. Frivolous friends (I call them 'acquaintances') fell by the wayside and revealed TRUE friendships. They supported my efforts and had me over for dinners and gladly sent me home with 'bachelor care packages' of food for the week. They invited me out to simple and casual (and minimal cost) gatherings so I didn't feel like I was restricting my social life. I turned off the TV and read books -- something I hadn't done for a long time and wanted to do ANYWAY. I went to occasional movie matinees (save $3.00!), rode my mountain bike, drove to the beach and enjoyed the day, etc., etc.

Now, I don't want to paint a picture of ease -- it wasn't. Some things were difficult to endure. One is my health. It has diminished as part of it -- the gym membership was dropped and that has been difficult. But, I'm not so bad that 6 or 7 months back in the gym couldn't turn me around.

Making the transition from 'spender' to 'budgeter' was like trying to lose 30 pounds in a week. It didn't happen right away and I didn't like doing the work, but it gradually occurred. Another incentive was my Dad. He believed in me by co-signing my bank loan and I gave him my word that he wouldn't have to ever worry about it.

The Motley Fool and all of you out there who've posted your successes was also a big part of my transition. It made me realize:

#1 - It can be done.
#2 - I'm not alone.
#3 - I'm not a loser.

Last week, on October 2, 2002, I made my LAST payment.

The car loan was paid off 9 months early. My taxes were paid back 4 months early. My Dad's co-signed loan was paid off ONE YEAR EARLY. And, finally, my bank credit line account is at ZERO!

What's most important from all of this is that I've grown to appreciate the real friendships around me for their support and love. I have my Dad to thank for his help and his wisdom along the way. He saved me. I love you, Dad. Thanks for being there, even after all this time. I've also learned a lot about myself and have a better perspective on what's important in my life (it's NOT Armani suits!) and I believe in myself again.

Oh, and during all of this, with the help of my employer's contributions, I now have a SIMPLE IRA with $11,485.00 in it toward my retirement (accumulated in the last two years)!

Pretty neat, huh?

So, whoever chose to have read THIS far into my example of 'Serving Time' in debt, I want to say that you can succeed, too! If I can, YOU can. If you commit yourself to the task, your dark cloud WILL dissipate and when you make that last payment I will look forward to reading YOUR story of freedom!

Thanks, fellow Fools!
Another joins the ranks of financial freedom!

Houston, Texas
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