Today we have the 12th in a series of interviews. During this series we will be show casing other Freedom Fighters from around the world. I am excited to introduce you to our twelfth guest, Even Steven Money. Read Steven’s awesome story below. And if you would like to be featured in the Freedom Fighter interview series then be sure to check out the Guest Posting page for more information (it’s open to anyone that is willing to share their fight for freedom: Time Freedom, Location Freedom, and Financial Freedom).
Now I will turn it over to Even Steven…
My name is Steven and I write about paying off debt and my journey to financial independence over at Even Steven Money. I currently work in corporate America at your typical 9-5 job in the city of Chicago. Each day I wake up and take the train to what I like to call the “Concrete Jungle”, listening to Dave Ramsey each morning as a special reminder to not spend money and instead save, sometimes I forget.
My journey started long ago and not unlike your typical American I was drowning in debt. If I rewind to 2007, I had over 100K in debt. Even putting that on paper I actually get a sick feeling in my stomach. It also says how far I have come in my journey, fighting not initially for freedom, but fighting for air just to survive. I had large amounts of student loans, personal loans, credit card debt, car loan, those were the big 4 for me. I made mistakes financially and what I expected to happen in my life financially did not, early on I slipped and fell with money and my career. I didn’t accept that this was where I was going to be in life, I had many great people around me to pick me up and get to a better position in life.
As I began to get up from my initial slip, I read more about money and experimented with different things like stocks, opening an IRA, and Peer to Peer lending and all while I had debt. I don’t think I really understood the big picture, I thought investing made you rich and wealthy, I was putting in $25 month into a sharebuilder account, but struggling to pay off my debt, f*** struggling I was getting my a$$ kicked. Reading Get Rich Slowly with JD Roth opened my mind to more about money and personal finance I just hadn’t put it together yet.
When I was trying to figure things out I realized debt was holding me back. Invest with $25 or get rid of my $300 plus Mercedes Benz payment? Try to find the next Apple stock or pay off 10K on my credit card? I realized I should walk before I should run. I started getting my money focused on what I wanted it to do and that was pay off debt. I sold the Benzo de Lorenzo (nickname for the Mercedes Benz), I paid off those jerks at the credit card company who lowered my interest rate by 0.25%, and today I’m inches away from paying off all of student loans. I’m the closest to being debt free since I graduated high school. I still have more to go but I proved something, that if the focus turns to good you can kick a$$.
It’s crazy to take a look back and get a sick feeling about where I was and now writing this I explode with excitement about where I am today.
As I was slowly getting my financial world in order I cannot take all the credit, as I have read, show me a successful man and I will show an even better woman behind him. Marrying Mrs. Even Steven I believe was the reason for a major turnaround, because I believe she made me a better person someone who could balance out the big dreams with a harsh reality but still encourage along the way. With her support about a year ago I started Even Steven Money and it is with no surprise that together we have begun to take leaps and bounds towards financial success.
We have made decisions together for our financial future, so much so that one day not long ago, just like a fairy tale we saw others make declarations that they could reach financial independence and retire early. If you thought my motivation and focus was high before, this is the point it soared through the air. I read 1500 Days, Mr. Money Mustache, Early Retirement Extreme, and I started to think that the proclamation of early retirement was possible and that while the very idea seemed crazy and impossible these guys were saying f*** impossible!
I ran the numbers in some spreadsheet I found online and realized it was possible, so today you will find me paying off the remainder of my debt and sharing my very own Financial Independence Day along side Gen Y Finance Guy, I even started a page so that others could get motivated to set a goal and be held accountable to reach that goal with other crazy bastards/like minded people like myself.
What is your definition of Financial Freedom?
Financial Freedom to me means reaching a point in your finances that you have the ability to make a choice without money being the primary focus of your decision. If I want to travel more, spend extended time with family, or volunteer to help someone in need, these decisions are made without money as the primary focus. Instead I am always looking for what I enjoy the most in life. I think early on I painted myself into a corner with the ugly color of debt and reaching financial independence gives me a new paint brush and new color to paint with.
What is your Freedom Number?
I don’t necessarily have a number, but rather a date. My new date to reach Financial Freedom is May 2020. My current plan works a little something like this:
- Pay off my debt, which in turns brings down my expenses
- Have a catalyst investment, which for me is rental real estate that will cover the expenses
- Focus on one thing at a time
When you live in one of your rental properties you are actually able to pay off debt and use this as a catalyst for investing, which allows me to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, strike that save 2 little puppies with just one bone, sounds nicer in my book.
What is my favorite asset class to invest in and why?
Well the cat is out of the bag, seriously people we need to be nicer to our animals with these phrases. Real Estate is what I consider my catalyst, some of which happened on accident and some of which happened on purpose. Mrs. Even Steven bought an investment home while we were dating, she was making good money and decided the real estate market would be a good idea, she bought the home with the intention to live in it, but she went ahead and did something crazy and married me, which brought her to Chicago. This made the purchase of our Home into an Investment Home rather quickly.
Less than a year later after living in an apartment in Chicago we decided to buy. I can honestly say I have witnessed what feels like every foreclosure in every neighborhood in Chicago and what we realized despite getting a large pre-qualified amount was that we wanted to spend less. What we found were rougher neighborhoods and houses that needed more than just paint and carpet. We ultimately decided to buy a multi-unit property to get more house and income to supplement the mortgage payment. So far it has been a great way to learn about investing in real estate as landlords, property managers, hiring contractors, and even a little DIY.
The reason this is my favorite asset class is we were able to get a house in Chicago for 3.5% down and the tenants pay for the mortgage. Ask yourself this question:
Assuming a 200K house, would you pay $7,000 upfront to live in a house with no mortgage payment for the rest of your life? That’s why I prefer real estate and specifically owner occupied rental real estate.
When it comes to building wealth, do you spend more time figuring out how to cut expenses or increase income and why?
When it comes my financial plan I have chosen a plan that is just enough. I asked myself a question not long ago, Do I want to have the opportunity to retire early on an income that will cover my expenses or do I want to try and own the Chicago Cubs? I went with option 1 and currently that includes being focused on cutting expenses. Here a couple of ones that worked for me so far:
- Selling my car and using public transportation, the vehicle that we do have is a 2007 and has been paid off for quite some time
- Switching from Verizon and my iPhone to Republic Wireless and my Moto X
- Cancelling my gym membership
- Going to an Internet only plan (although mine includes local channels and HBO)
I’m also a big believer in focus and focusing on what you like rather than giving up the things that you love. I don’t own a boat, jet ski, Range Rover, camper, RV, or any other toys. Instead we prefer to take trips to visit new and old places, sometimes for an adventure and sometimes to visit family and friends. We love to travel and we make this a priority in our lives, we still look for great prices on flights and places to stay, but it’s not as big of a deal to spend money on a hotel room instead of a $600 monthly payment on a new Mercedes Benz.
I think there becomes a point when you are cutting expenses that you are comfortable with where your expenses are at, for example I’m not going to make my own detergent or learn to knit my own clothes, not interested. At this point the focus tends to drift towards raising your income, both Mrs. ESM and I have been promoted and received raises and bonuses over the last couple of years, we have raised the rent, and I sell on eBay. All of this has increased our income and we will work hard at our 9-5 jobs to do just that. In the same breath we are also comfortable where we are at, we aren’t gunning for the CFO spot with long hours and sacrifices made. We chose life work balance and we choose that we are happy with just enough.
A look into my financial day
My morning train rides includes a podcast and about 95% of the time it is Dave Ramsey, during the day when I have a break or during my lunch hour I will read a few blogs, I mostly go for the article titles that interest me, but I focus more on financial independence and early retirement. On my way home I read a book from my local library, in most cases it’s personal finance related, but I go in genre spurts. Most recently I switched to travel, reading A Walk in the Woods, Vagabonding, and currently Happier than a Billionaire, which might be my favorite out of the three.
After getting home sometimes I work on the blog, read other articles, walk the dog and listen to more podcasts, and of course a little home cooking. When I’m doing my budget and numbers I like to look at Mint and Personal Capital for a big picture overview, but I also like to get my hands on the numbers and enter my information into a spreadsheet on Google Docs.
Although most of my investing is done through our investment real estate, we do have money in our 401K, a rollover IRA with Vanguard, and a couple small investments, where we use Tradeking and Scottrade. As I switch my catalyst investment and attempt to bring more stocks into the Early Retirement Blueprint, I need to make a decision on the avenue and platform I will be using with early retirement in mind.
Where can you find me?
Besides my blog at Even Steven Money, I also love to share on Twitter, and have a growing Facebook page. It’s been great to have the opportunity to share a little bit of who I am and where I have been in my fight for freedom. Thanks for thinking of me Gen Y and allowing me to be part of your Freedom Fighter Interview series it has been my pleasure. Cheers to 1 million or even 10 million as we enjoy the journey to freedom.