From Financial Dumpster Fire to FIRE Pursuant

By | 2016-12-01

Long time readers know that we were not in a good place before we got serious about turning our financial life around. But I don’t think I have shared all the parts that contributed to our situation or “Financial Dumpster Fire” as I like to call it.

The story is a little on the long side, but I hope you can relate to the message. Maybe it will even save someone from making a few of the same boneheaded decisions I did.

If you are curious about the usage of the Dumpster Fire phrase, it is what we use at work when a team or project is trending in the wrong direction. Basically, it means a collection or sequence of shitty events finally burst into a unforgivable disaster.

Lack of Financial Education

I have written about the lack of financial education before so I wont go to far into my disappointing Grade School Money Lessons, but I want to focus on the conditioning that contributed to some poor money choices down the road.

Successful people go to college – Skipping college and pursuing a different career or entrepreneurship was not on my radar. College or bust was the only message.

Consumerism is normal, acceptable behavior –  All my friends and their parents had new cars, huge houses, and Nokia cell phones (anyone remember Snake?). No one talked about saving money, or even money in general. The only thing I knew was spending.

Ultimately I am responsible for the upcoming decisions, but these are contributing factors. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Dumpster Fire Kindling

An all to familiar beginning to “adulthood”

After turning 18 and officially becoming an “adult” I decided that I was going to be successful, and we already learned that college was the only answer.

Being a super genius throughout high school, I decided that applying for scholarships was a waste of time, so there wasn’t any “free” money to cover tuition. A combination of FAFSA and private loans were the ticket to an education. A little debt wont hurt, there is a sweet job waiting once that diploma is signed.

Fast forward 4.5 years, and there was an impressively terrible pile of student loan debt built up. Normally this is where that high paying jobs comes to save the day……..

Unfortunately, I graduated when people with experience (of which I had very little) were getting laid off instead of hired. I didn’t want to take a job that was “below” my education level at the time (terrible I know). So I settled on the next best thing……. If no one was going to pay me to stop going to school, I will just keep on going.

Another 1.5 years of building student loan debt* (over $85,000 in total) ended with a shiny new MBA that would surely land a high paying job. This was about to get fun – bring on the cash!

*Building student loan debt defined: Using loans to pay for tuition, books, housing, groceries, beer and vacation

The Fire is Lit

Cue Post Graduation Money Mistakes

Long story short, the whole “high paying job” theory didn’t work out to well. I was lucky to find a job at a growing company starting at $36,000 a year. Paying rent at my friends house and my monthly student loan payment took the bulk of my take home pay. I was to cool to live at home for free.

Bright Spot: Mrs AE graduates and moves into my friends house! It was a tight fit but we were happy to be in the same city again. Up until this point, the dumpster fire was a solo effort – from here I can start using we.

We did not last long being cramped up with all our crap in a small bedroom. We were over the “roommate phase” of our lives and ready for our own space.

Based on the sound financial advice of friends and family we decided to buy a house. Don’t buy a new car until you get your mortgage, I have seen people make that mistake before.

We didn’t have a 20 10 5% down payment saved up and decided to go with an FHA Loan. For a 3.5% down payment we were able to buy a house at the top end of our price range. It came with this thing called Property Mortgage Insurance and a $4,000 property tax bill. You know, things adults pay for.

Completing the consumerism mindset:

  • Adopt a dog (love him, but puppies are expensive)
  • Sprinkle in some credit card debt – “only” $2,000
  • Throw in a lot of Happy Hours, some new furniture and an engagement ring
 Feed the Flames

The American Way

We were on the path to be one of those statistics that gets thrown around when talking about the American population:

  • Saving next to nothing for retirement
  • Couldn’t cover a $400 expense
  • Drowning in Debt

Check, check and check.

The part that I spend hours thinking about, is we were on a socially acceptable path. Some would even say that we were a successful young couple. From the outside looking in, we were college educated, owned our own home, and were making enough money to fund a typical lifestyle.

If you actually looked behind to curtain. We were flat broke with a shitty debt to income ratio that was compounding in the wrong direction. We needed a wake up call, and thankfully one came.

Anyone seen a Fire Extinguisher

A FIRE Pursuant is Born

It came from an unlikely place, a year end Student Loan tax slip that said we had paid over $5,000 in interest over the last 12 months. When you are struggling to pay all your bills every month and had to “find” money to pay for a random expense – The thought of wasting $5,000 on interest will make you sick.

I still didn’t know what FIRE was, and definetely was not thinking about it being a possibility for us. But looking back that was the first step in the right direction. We started paying off the highest interest debt by cutting out some of the stupid things we were spending money on.

The progress was incredibly slow, almost painfully at first. Our incomes started growing, we got better at prioritizing our spending and everything started looking up.

Shortly after this point I became addicted to improving our position and started reading a ton of personal finance books and blogs. Mrs. AE is not as into the actual research and execution as I am, but we share the same end goals so there is not a disconnect in our household.

The dumpster fire is contained for the most part, we still have some debt, but its dropping rapidly as our investment accounts grow.

We don’t have end dates or figures yet, but right now, knowing we are moving in the right direction for FIRE is good enough. We will fill in the details as we go.


Some products that can help you:

Disclosure Policy

Personal Capital: Personal Capital has a ton of great Free features, you can track your spending, net worth and even analyze your portfolio. It has top notch security and I am able to connect all of my accounts. Saves a ton of time!

Sofi – I saved a ton of money using SoFI for a Student Loan Refinance. They are great to work with, the process was super easy (compared to my previous refi) and I got a great rate. If you have student loans be sure to check them out.

19 thoughts on “From Financial Dumpster Fire to FIRE Pursuant

  1. Jon @ Be Net Worthy

    Great story AE! At least you got the FIRE bug relatively early and you have the Mrs. on board too. As long as you are heading in the right direction, you will get there eventually. Keep up the good work!

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thanks Jon, wish we would have caught it a littler earlier but I am sure I am not alone in that category

  2. ChrisCD

    Snake…OMGosh. Awesome game. :O)

    Thank you for sharing the story. We didn’t have student debt, but have amassed a bit. Paid for trips using credit and expected bonuses to be higher. They weren’t. Now we are working through it. Everyday is a new day and a day to change directions. :O)

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Very true Chris, today can you the day for change!

      Appreciate the comment

  3. ChooseBetterLife

    Thanks for sharing your journey. For us, I was the one who wanted to start, but after my husband found MMM he was hooked and took the lead.
    It truly amazes me that student loans don’t have more restrictions. They’re helpful for school, of course, but there should be rules about using that money for alcohol, cigarettes, pyramid schemes, real-estate speculation, and so many other questionable decisions.

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Yea, they let you do whatever you want as long as the tuition is paid. Kinda crazy

      MMM was a got to for me early on as well, such a great blog.

      Thanks for the comment

  4. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    Thanks for sharing your story! I think it’s great you guys got things turned around when you did! It took us a little longer to start taking control.

    I can totally relate to your story – we bought our first house right out of college with an FHA loan and we had a car payment at the time too. I took the same path after completing undergrad…just moved right into grad school, only to accumulate more student loan debt and not make any more money as a result. At the time, it seemed like the logical path, but in hindsight…

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Yea, seemed like a great decision when I made it – the MBA may pay off eventually but hasn’t really to date. Wish I would have waited and had my employer pay for part of it.

      Appreciate the comment Amanda!

  5. Mrs. BITA

    I’m glad you decided to put your past failures out there, allowing people who are now where you were and feeling discouraged to have their A-ha! moment when they realize that if you can do it, they can too.

    “The part that I spend hours thinking about, is we were on a socially acceptable path. ” And this. This is so sad and so true.

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thanks Mrs. BITA

      Hopefully at least on person has an A-ha moment because of this site!

      And yes, it is sad that debt is more socially acceptable than saving. Still blows my mind.

  6. [email protected]

    Love it! I can see myself in some of your “failures” for sure – and fast forward 20 years to FIRE! Keep rocking it – the time goes by SO fast…

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thanks Vicki – Time is already starting to fly around here, the last 3 months is a blur

  7. Mrs. Groovy

    Thoroughly interesting story! Funny how a $5,000 debt can be your wake-up call. FYI, we’ve written about our broke cousins (approaching age 50) in debt to the tune of millions. The husband, who can’t hold down a job because he can’t get to work on time, decided to spend $90K on some online MBA program for healthcare administration – yes, he CAN’T get to a job on time. What the heck is he going to administer? Theirs is not even a dumpster fire – it’s an INFERNO. Sad thing is they’ll never wake up. Bravo to you for turning things around!

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thanks Mrs. groovy, 50 and millions in debt is scary as hell and an inferno indeed.

      Crazy how the simplest habits (or lack there of) can have such an impact on your career. Being late drives me crazy! 90K is roughly 5X what I paid for my MBA

    2. [email protected]

      Those online programs can be such a ripoff. You’ll pay around $90k for a top of the line MBA from a well respected university, rather than an online program no one will accept. Heck, my employer covered mine (except for some of the costs).

  8. [email protected]

    Good work turning things around! We all make mistakes, the important thing is that you recognized there’s a different path and are moving forward. Some people never have that turning point and just keep going in the same old direction, thinking “it’s too late” or “I can’t do it.” Well it’s never too late, and you can do it! Just have to do what you can with what you have, and keep working towards your goals.

    1. Apathy Ends Post author

      Thank you Liz, The “It’s to late” attitude is very common – almost like people are scared to see what they are up against. Can’t really do much until you understand your situation

      Thanks for the comment

  9. Fritz @ TheRetirementManifesto

    Dumpster Fire. Love that phrase (it also rhymes with “DUMP THE FIRE”, which is where it leads!).

    Great story, glad you put out the dumpster fire and started on your path to “Freedom FIRE”. It’s a long journey, but every journey is taken one step at a time. Congrats for seeing the light.

  10. Apathy Ends Post author

    Thanks Fritz, I enjoy the phrase as well

    Definetely going to be a long journey, but one that we are definetely ready for and looking forward to.


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