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February 10, 2020

Climbing Out Of $1,000,000 of Debt to Achieve Financial Independence – with Wendy Mays

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Being neck-deep in debt can make you feel like all the odds are stacked against you, especially when you reach almost the seven figures!

Today, Andy talks to Wendy Mays on how her family is climbing out of nearly $1,000,000 of student loans, home mortgages, car loans, and other consumer debt. Wendy is the host of the House of FI podcast, a part-time work-from-home lawyer and a mother to six children. 

We talk about how she and her husband accumulated their debt, the turning point that led them to fix their situation and their progress on their journey to financial independence so far. 

How they accumulated their debt

Wendy and her husband went to college and amassed a huge amount of student loan debt. They started their marriage with six-figures of debt, believing that they would eventually be able to pay it all off.

Wendy went to private law school and her husband earned degrees to support his teaching career. When it was all said and done, their total student loan debt was $330,000.

Every time they made more money, they would spend it. They ended up getting a beautiful house in San Diego with a $550,000 mortgage. On top of that, they had a few car loans and borrowed money to renovate their house. By the time they reached their 40's, this brought their total debt to nearly $1,000,000.

What made them want to improve their financial situation

After adopting four children, Wendy realized she wanted a lifestyle change so she could stay at home with the kids.

Wendy Mays and her family
Wendy Mays with her husband Curtis and their six children

But she couldn’t figure out a way. Without her income, they wouldn’t be able to pay the debt. She felt very stuck and hopeless.

Her situation led her to Google a “laptop lifestyle”. One thing led to another and she discovered The Mad Fientist. After doing her research and learning as much as she could about financial independence, she figured out how she could save 50% of her income and improve her situation.

What steps they took to fix their situation

The first step was to reduce expenses. Wendy knew they had to be intentional with their spending. They eventually cut $10,000 from their monthly budget, while she was living on her lawyer's salary of $180,000 – $200,000 per year. Here's how they did it.

Build a Budget and Question Every Expense

To cut their spending down, they need to get aggressive. This meant looking at every dollar they were spending and finding ways to reduce it or eliminate it. By budgeting their monthly spending, this process became a lot clearer.

Reduced Spending on Food

Spending less on groceries and eating out became one of the first areas that they tackled. Their family, even with 8 family members, spent around $2,000 per month on food. It was too much in Wendy's opinion.

Erase the Debt

They attacked their debt with the Debt Snowball, and then they switched to Debt Avalanche for 2-3 years. The debt really took a huge cut after selling their house. 

Once the house was sold, the plan was to pay off all of their debt outside of their student loans and take what was left and get into real estate investing. They are now saving $1,100 per month on housing expenses by renting the place they live as opposed to buying another home.

Related Interview: 15 Ways to Save More Money When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Bringing the family on board

Was Wendy's family happy with this plan?

At first, Wendy’s husband was reluctant. But they had some important conversations about their future and eventually got on the same page. By sitting down and understanding their goals, they were able to work together. 

How about the kids?

Wendy and her husband have been teaching them about how to use money as a tool, about passive income and valuing experiences over material objects. By having little conversations here and there and talking about saving, she hopes they will grow up to be more financially aware. 

Related Interview: 5 Steps to Getting on the Same Financial Page as your Spouse

Their progress so far

When they first started out, their savings rate was 5-7%. Now it’s at a healthy 30%, with a goal to be retired at the age of 55.

They receive regular cash flow from their real estate properties (around $1,100 a month) and want to leave their retirement accounts as a legacy for their children.

Why real estate and not some other investment strategy? Because they found the financial independence movement in their mid-40s and realized that real estate investing would be the fastest method to get them to financial independence. 

In November 2019, Wendy retired from work (or semi-retired, since she has one client!) and is able to stay at home with her kids. Although they still have debt, it’s now their tenants that are helping them pay their student loans.

Related Interview: How We Paid Off $300,000 of Student Loans in 6 Years – with Okeoma Moronu

Wendy's advice for others tackling huge debt

If you’re someone struggling with a lot of debt, Wendy’s recommendation is to attack it as soon as possible. Look at your situation, evaluate your expenses and be willing to think outside the box. 

What is she hoping for her kids? She wants them to be able to get an education without drowning in student loans. She wants them to understand that saving is important and that you don’t need to spend everything you’ve got.

Wendy and her husband had a huge amount of debt but were able to fix their situation with intentional spending, careful planning and clever financial strategies. Their path to financial independence is now clear.


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Wendy Mays and her family

 

 

Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the award-winning writer, speaker and podcaster behind Marriage, Kids and Money - a platform dedicated to helping young families build wealth and thrive. Andy's advice and personal finance experience has been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and NBC News. Trusted as a personal finance influencer and corporate financial wellness speaker by global brands like JLL, Andy’s message of family financial empowerment has resonated with listeners, readers and viewers across the world. When he's not "talking money", Andy enjoys wrestling with his two kids, singing karaoke with his wife and watching Marvel movies.

3 Comments

  • Great job… easy to lose sight of your finances, I’d imagine, when you have 6 kids and all the day to day involvement they bring! Like this family, we want to use what we are building to help our daughter through college so she too can build wealth!

    Reply
  • It’s so easy to get caught up in lifestyle creep especially when you have a professional job that makes others assume you can carry that kind of lifestyle. So inspiring to see someone go against the grain and align their spending with their priorities. We made the same calculation to focus on real estate over traditional paper assets, and it has been a game-changer. Bucking conventional wisdom to rent a residence instead of buying is another great reminder!

    Reply
    • Real estate seems to be a big game-changer for a lot of families in their wealth-building journey! Nicole and I are considering it in the future for sure.

      Wendy has made incredible progress and I’m excited to have been able to share her story.

      Reply

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