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EP 13: Digging Out of a Financial Mess with Marcus Garrett, Paychecks and Balances

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Like many of us, Marcus grew up not learning about money. He soon found himself buried in $30,000 of debt, dug himself out, and along the way he learned how he too could build wealth and become a millionaire. Marcus, author of DEBT Free or Die Trying and co-host of the Paychecks and Balances Podcast, shares what he’s learned about getting out of debt, managing money better, and steps on how to build wealth.

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Digging out of Financial Messes with Marcus Garrett

Announcer: Is money slipping through your fingers. Are you missing your opportunity to become a millionaire? Welcome to the millionaire choice where we talk to millionaires and future millionaires about how to build wealth and what to do with it once you have it. We're here to help you do two things, make your millionaire choice and create your own millionaire plan. Here's your host, speaker, wealth coach, and author of The Millionaire Choice. He made his choice, and he created his millionaire plan at age 25; now it's your turn. Welcome your host, Tony Bradshaw.

Tony: Welcome back to the millionaire choice show. Today on the show, I'm excited to showcase Marcus Garrett, uh, Paychecks and Balances, Media, and author of Debt Free or Die Trying, welcome to the show Marcus.

Marcus: Hello, thank you for having me.

Tony: Yeah. So I've loved getting to know you and watching what you guys are doing, you know, after being on your show last year, seeing you guys grow and expand your influence in the personal finance space. And let's tell the audience kind of where your focus is and what you're doing these days.

Marcus: So Paychecks and Balances is a media company that focuses on working professionals, helping them make money, save money, and get out of debt. Rich Jones, who is my cohost, has worked in HR for about a, oh now it actually is a decade. We used to say about a decade and myself I'd been an audit for a decade. And then, as you mentioned, I also wrote a book about my personal experience with debt and struggling. I got buried in $30,000 in debt, mostly through personal poor choices, and then found a way to dig my way out. By age 30, put a book together around that and release that in 2016.

Tony: Yeah. So you and I actually had that in common. We were out of debt in, uh, at age 32, my wife and I. I was at, I personally, let me brag a little bit here. I was actually out of debt, had my, what I call financial awakening at age 25, and then paid off all my debt about two years after that at age 27. And then I got married. And along came, actually, I got engaged and so along came my wife's death. And, uh, so we spent the next few years trying to pay that off. Once you start picking up all those expenses, I had a really good ride at home. I was living at home with my parents, paying some really low rent and, you know, room and board.

And then I had to move out and get a house for my wife. And so that slowed my payoff plan down. But when we hit at the same time, I guess, uh, you know, for me, it was 2001, early 2001. So I was 30 years old. And, uh, you were 30. What year was it for you?

Marcus: That would have been around 2000. You're testing me. I think it was 2009. Um, so I'm an auditor by trade. I people think I'm good at math, but actually, auditors are good at planning. Uh, so I think as around 2009, when I wrapped that up and then as I said, I released a book a few years later.

Tony: Yeah. Now, so I'm an anti-debt guy. I don't like debt. I stayed out of debt. So I actually, a few years ago, decided I wanted to try to get a credit card to log my airline miles and get those free tickets and those free airline miles. And, uh, my credit zero, I found my credit rating had been zero for a little bit too long because all my debt had been paid off, including my house. And I couldn't even get approved for a Southwest Airlines credit card. And so at that point, I decided just to punt, forget that the rest of my life.

Marcus: It's funny you say that, um, and I don't know, maybe they changed the standards because, uh, so for those doing the math at home, that makes me a millennial and I, it seems like any millennial that went to college in the 2005, 2001-ish range. They have this story where yeah, I was walking down the main mall, and there was Discover Card and American Express, and they just signed us all up in mass, you know, 30 million millennials. And then 10 years later, you hear all these debt stories, and you wonder why they're all over CNBC. Because if you walk through the mall, the main mall of any college campus, there's a lot of, uh, representatives from banking institutions at that time.

Tony: Yeah. And, uh, I've heard, I don't know this to be true or not because I haven't been on any college campuses during this time. But even like during the Greek rashes and things that they're allowed to set up, uh, marketing stations and things like that, sign kids up on campus. Is that true? Did you see that experience?

Marcus: I know, so now I'm dating myself, so I graduated in 2005 at age 22. I quickly did the math here, so I was completely off to answer your earlier question. I graduated school in 2005. I moved to Denver in 2009, age 27. So around, 30 would have been around 2012 when I paid off that debt. That's the auditor in me, yeah, I can't be wrong. I'm just not good at math in my head. Um, but to answer your question, they were there selling tee shirts, and I was very proud, I bring it up all the time, but I got a yo-yo for my credit card. I stuck out in the crowd. Um, And I don't know if they're still allowed to, I know they try to reduce the, your ability to get access to 18-year-olds. But I don't know if they're, you know, banned, so to speak from college campuses. To your point, I haven't been on a, I guess that's a good thing, I haven't been trolling college campuses anytime recently, so I'm actually not sure what's going on out there.

Tony: Yeah. So back to my question, are you a total anti-debt guy? Are you more of a leverage guy these days?

Marcus: I'm definitely not anti-debt. And I think that surprises some people. So I still use credit cards to this day being the only difference is that I remain informed, and I try to pay them off in full each month. As you pointed out, I still use points. I actually was trying to qualify for a higher tier of product card because I, uh, before the crises hit. So, whenever this release is before or after COVID, I was trying to get travel points, and I wanted this, I think it was Chase Sapphire. I hope they're listening because I am going to name drop, it is like Chase Sapphire Reserve. It is their like the platinum, although it's blue card and they were like, nah, we're good. You can have this Chase Freedom Card. And I was like; I already had that card. So it was really insulting to my ego, but I still use credit cards. I like to use the points. Uh, I've gotten a lot of free stuff with points, so. Really, what I say is using it responsibly. And I just used it irresponsibly, but like anything, if you can't use it in moderation. And that goes back to the personal side, putting the personal in personal finances, I say, yes, don't use them at all. Don't sign up. I still have friends to this day, reach out to me like, "Hey, I'm thinking of signing up for this card." And I'm like, "Nah, I've known you for ten years. I don't; I don't think you need a credit card." But there are other friends that are like, "Hey, you know, I've got $50,000 in savings, I've got $40,000 in investments, I'm thinking of sign up for a credit card," and I'm like, "yeah, go ahead. Cause I know your personality leans towards being responsible."

Tony: And frugal. I guess that's a big word because I know that people tend to overspend when they use plastic, whether it's a credit card or a debit card, you know, the statistics, it used to be 18 - people on average spend about 18% more money. And I would say that's probably true about me because we use the debit card quite a bit. We're spending our own cash, but it's a lot easier to spend, you know, a debit card or credit card. And instead of having stuff come out of your hands and so you still have to watch it either way and, and, you know, be a good manager. And I think if you've got the right personal financial goals. And that's where I kind of operate is, you know, am I hitting my personal financial growth goals that I want to hit? And if you're hitting those goals, then you can be a little bit lose or lax, you know, with your money.

Marcus: Now I'm on the elderly side, somebody, some advice I got senior, senior millennials, they call it. But I got it really early on; it was very helpful for me. I was too young to appreciate it at that time. Usually, as advice goes was to use your twenties to learn, your thirties to apply in your forties to teach and mentor. So I'm, I'm moving towards the teaching mentor side, and I actually combined systems. Now my, my advice is the best plan is a plan that works. People want to know the best stock, the best plan, the best advice. And I'm like the one that works for you is the best. And I say that because even now, you know, 10, 15 years into this journey, if you will, I still combine systems. So I use an envelope for the thing that I'm least responsible about. I'm actually going to start pulling out cash. Because another thing that this quarantine is, you know, we're not, all of us are not going out eating and doing expensive. I had a lot of downturn, so I'm an auditor. I started going through my financials because that's what everybody does. And I noticed I was spending a lot of money on restaurants and I'm like, okay, that's: clearly, like you said, it's just easy to pull out that debit card, and that's a weak spot for me. So I'm really good at controlling my budget. I personally use Mint for just a general tracking, and if you want to talk about that software, we can, but you know, I use, I look at it, and I'm good at it putting the budget together. I'm good at putting the plan together, but like anybody else, I'm human, and eating food that is convenient is my weak spot. And this unfortunate experience has shown me that I was just wasting a lot of money there. So my lesson learned my call to action. My plan to correction will be - okay, that part of my budget, I'm going to use cash and go back to some form of an envelope system because it's a weak spot for me.

Tony: Yeah, I think that's a good point. And when you talk about planning, you know, I think that's one of the biggest things and I would say I'll admit like my wife and I, we have a family of eight, we've got six kids, three boys, three girls.

Marcus: Wow. Very nice.

Tony: Yeah. And it's a, yeah; it's, it's a chore to feed everybody. And when you look at that budget item, and you understand the principles, and this is what's so important, like your, your, your budget and your money's going to go where you plan for it to go. And for us eating out with a big family like that, it's, it's easy for us to get to a $60-$80-$100, you know, meal ticket. Especially if you include a tip. And so I can feed my family at home for probably around 20 bucks and a really good meal for 30 bucks per meal per dinner, you know, and we go out, and it's easy to drop. I laugh about this, but going to Schlotzsky's Deli, which we love Schlotzsky's sandwiches and I get the check back, and I'm like, that costs us $70? $80? I'm like, I'm glad when one of my kids is busy doing something else. When we go out to eat, I'm like, cause it saves me money, you know? And, uh, but yeah, that's a big hole for us in our budget and just planning around that's good. So let's wind back the clock a little bit for you. So you're on your path. You've started learning about finances. You've made the, the intellectual investment to educate yourself in finances, you've applied the principles. But you weren't always wired that way. And so you grew up in a kind of a more middle income, upper-middle-income family. But those principles didn't necessarily transfer to you. Walk us through that journey, what your life was like as you described it.

Marcus: It is very interesting because if you look on paper, if you were to do like a sociologist analysis of my life, I should be very fiscally responsible. So my background, both of my parents still together, actually been married 38 years. Middle to upper-middle-class income over that timeframe, both retired, I would say fairly early for their age, both in their fifties, you know, went back and worked at it from, from time after that opened up. My first savings account at age 16 helped me put a budget together and promptly, as you heard, I went to college, signed up for a credit card, and buried myself $30,000 in debt. And so people would look at that and say, you know, how can something be? So in conflict with one another. And I think it's because we didn't talk about finances in the home. Now, my mom, who listens to the show, has greatly debated this with me over the years, as she has debated many topics, and she'll probably debate this very show, but I think that's what it is. Is she probably talked about it, as I recall, one time; she probably thinks it was a hundred times. But I think that emphasizes the point of you need to revisit the topic. There is, and I have proven time and time again, no finish line to finances. And another quote that I heard recently, I love to read. It's actually, Atomic Habits by James Clear is people think they rise to the level of the occasion. No, you fall to the level of your planning. And I have fallen many times because I didn't have a plan in place. So when I buried myself $30,000 in debt, I had no plan. And similar to your story, that's actually a very quick timeframe. The time that it takes to get you in debt tends to be longer when you're focused, then the time to get out, uh, depending on the size of the debt, of course, because when you're spending, that's fun. You're going to Schlotzsky's with the family. You know, you're maxing out the card, sliding it through it. Who cares? Everybody's eating extra cheese, extra guac; everybody's having a good time. That's so fun. You know, getting out of debt, putting the plan together. Um, that part it's; actually, we had a financial planner on, and he said your personal finance plan should be boring. It should put people to sleep. And unfortunately, that's true as far as the difference makers. And I think we're going to talk a little bit later about some other things you can do to still make it exciting. But that's what happened for me is they're getting out of debt side was not near as fun as just spending and having fun. And I forgot those principles that my parents instilled in me for 16 years, 18, if you count the next two, which I stayed at home and went off to college and that's how quickly and easily it was to erase all of them, all of that, that they tried to instill in me.

Tony: Yeah. And you mentioned that to me, I thought this was interesting too, is because your parents were upper middle income, middle income, upper and middle income. But you grew up with this poor mindset. You thought you were poor.

Marcus: Yeah.

Tony: That's a very interesting dynamic to be in.

Marcus: Well, my parents also, um, more so on my mom's side, and I think she'll appreciate this. She says my father's middle class to upper, and she was, you know, poor and struggling to get by. Uh, and I say that because I think both of them took from their experiences growing up. That we should not spoil or give our children a lot of money, they provide it for us, and they did very well. And they did provide a lot for me, but it wasn't, I wouldn't say it's so like I could be the next, uh, equivalent of a Kardashian or anything like that. It was more so we were provided a roof over your head. We will provide for college and schooling and the things that we believe will help you get to that next step in life. But I don't think they had that mindset of; we should tell you why, it was more, we are, we're your parents, we run the money, we run the household. Um, and it's sort of like that saying when a kid's like, Hey, can we have McDonald's it's like, do you have McDonald's money? And my perspective of that from kids, I'd be sitting in the backseat, and I was like, I can't wait until I have McDonald's money. I didn't take away that I should be responsible with money and planning. I was like, I can't wait to spite them and have McDonald's money. And so as soon as I got that opportunity to have McDonald's money, which was in the form of a credit card, I went out there, and I went crazy. Like all the borders are off of me. I was like; I'm heading McDonald's every night, there wasn't any right or wrong to that. It's just, now that we're older, we actually probably have more conversations around money and finances (of course, I have the podcast) than we ever did in the first 16, 18 years of my life.

Tony: Yeah. I mean, that makes a lot of sense. It makes me think about my children, too. Cause my parents were lower-income when I grew up and didn't manage th