No one ever built wealth by carrying a load of debt and it is important to maintain a commitment to be debt free. The best way to be debt free of course is to never acquire debt in the first place. That opportunity only comes once in a lifetime and it is much easier to acquire debt than it is to rid yourself of it. But it is not impossible. There have been many who have successfully walked the long road to a debt free life. We have been traveling that long road for some time now and are gaining ground. We have been working hard at keeping it simple.
Keeping it simple is key.
When Worm Digger pulled up to the sales office near where we were standing just inside the door, Rick the sales Manager added to his answer about him saying, “There he is now.” He was not driving an extravagant, expensive luxury car when he arrived there. He could have been, I suppose, since several could be seen by simply scanning his car lot.
No, he wasn’t driving something expensive. He rolled in driving a pickup truck typical of many of the hard-working folks here along the coast in Maine. I do not recall if it looked shiny and new, I do not think so, or I would have remembered that. The truck was very average. Common. With a tool rack in the back. It was practical and suited his purpose as a digger.
He pulled up, got out, and spoke to his dog, “Did you miss me baby?!” She reminded me of Detective Colombo’s basset hound.
Picking her up he placed her into the cab of the truck
and approached to where we were standing.
Rick spoke first, “How did you do?”
Greg tilted his head a bit with a small shrug of his shoulders, “Not bad.” clarifying he said, “187 bucks.”
If $187 was not a bad catch, I wonder what Worm Digger brings in on a good day and how long he has to dig. I do not know how long he was out there digging that particular day. His window of opportunity during low tide lasts around twelve hours but the time you can actually dig is likely much less than that. You have to wait for the tides to recede enough to get out there and also you have to make sure you retreat soon enough to be safe and dry.
We’ll talk more about windows of opportunity and the value of your time in another post. If he made $187 in six hours then that is a pretty darn good catch; a little over $31 an hour. Nice. If however he worked ten hours then he only pulled in just under $19 an hour. Whatever it was by his estimation $187 was not bad. Not bad too considering he would soon make a few thousand dollars from us as we were about to sign for the car we chose.
When Worm Digger approached the sales office of his thriving business he stood in stark contrast to the setting. He was not wearing a business shirt of course. Actually, he was wearing no shirt at all and his tanned torso and sun bleached hair suggested he spent many hours in the sun sporting that look. By his appearance it was apparent that he was not concerned about keeping up appearances.
Keeping Up Appearances
There are many people wanting to make a name for themselves
that are constantly just trying to “Keep up with the Jones'”.
If you’re not familiar with that saying, let me simplify it. They try to keep up the appearance of being well off financially; at least as well off as their neighbor. Keeping up with the Jones’ says, “If I am not at least appearing as well of as them then I am not successful.” Keeping up with the Jones’ says, “What I have is not good enough and I need more to be happy like them.”
Keeping up appearances will never provide the life, the Worm Digger life that we are talking about here. We have to do some deep searching and sometimes clearing out of the motives that keep us from building wealth. Every working American will earn at least a couple million dollars in their lifetime; all will spend at least half of that just on the cost of living and most will spend the other half on things that do not really matter much, just to keep up appearances of success. Others will spend the other half just seeking a thrill. I clarified a bit here of course by saying, “Every working person will earn.” The sluggard, as discussed in the last post, will unlikely see the first million. Keeping up appearances will never provide the life that it seemed Worm Digger enjoys; Keeping it simple will. Keeping it simple is key.
It was clear to me that Worm Digger built a life by keeping things simple. Or at least at some point in his life he decided to do so. Rick, as you recall, I said is his sales office manager. He told me that the tiny ranch office was once Worm Digger‘s home. It was small and the siding was dated. It was very plain. Simple. When my daughter needed to use the bathroom and needed help because she was still very young, I noticed the bathroom too was in need of updates. It functioned but was clearly not ever going to be the talk of the town. There may have been things in his life that pushed him into this casual, calm and cool, pursuit of the simple life, free of any drama. I do not know anything about his relationships, except what I imagine and what I saw through his interactions with those who worked for him. From all appearances, he was a man that now liked to keep things simple. He had a small home, probably paid for it with cash, and was content with its dated decor. Content or unwilling to use debt or investment dollars on updates.
He kept life simple. That is how I saw Worm Digger when I met him.
Keeping It Simple
While sitting on the porch of the Country Club as a youth, I saw a small economy car drive by, behind the wheel a man with a white v-neck t-shirt. It was a common sight since this man lived just up the hill and around the bend in a very well-to-do neighborhood. The houses there in the late 80s were not your average homes and the people who lived in them, most of them, were the elite of the town. Theirs were houses honestly that I coveted in my teen years. And they had lifestyles that I admired and wished to emulate.
The man driving by lived in stark contrast to the rest in his neighborhood. He was common. By his appearance it was apparent that he was not concerned about keeping up appearances. The talk at the club among those of us that worked there was that he was supposed to be some kind of financial genius. But then the talk always seemed to turn to his appearance. “What kind of financial wizard drives a cheap car, wears meager clothing, and has little time for leisure at the club.” As I recall he had a membership there but was rarely seen except for his frequent drive by and an occasional visit to the club with some friends or business associates.
The driver of the economy car was a bit of a riddle for our young minds. After all we knew what success was supposed to look like. Nice cars. Big homes. Long and frequent days of leisure. These were the things that success was made of; or so I thought. I could not see back then what Worm Digger drove home for me now.
Here’s the thing. We will never have the things we want if we do not sacrifice some things along the way. Time and things. Do not miss that. If all we do is spend, spend, spend to keep up appearances we will never build wealth. 1 Timothy 6:9 tells us that “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Put another way, those that seek only riches will fall into many hurtful pursuits.
There is a big difference between seeking to be rich and building wealth. It all comes down to motives, decisions, and our desires. Those who choose to sacrifice now, and live like others are not willing to today, are setting themselves up to be able to live like no others will be able to in the years ahead.
Until Debt Do Us Part
We took our vows swearing until death do us part. We had a wedding on a shoestring budget and paid for our short honeymoon with the money that was provided in the cards we received. We drove down to Kennbunkport and stayed on the ocean. Later that week she moved into my tiny one bedroom apartment in the low income parts of town. We didn’t have much. But we were happy together. We did not use debt to keep up appearances; our use of debt over time we thought was born out of necessity. Our use of debt was slow and incremental.
When the car was almost paid for it was totaled by someone who failed to stop at his light. So we took on a new car payment. I interviewed my way into slightly better paying jobs. So later we moved into a country apartment paying slightly more. Then I burned up my first transmission. Then our first child. My wife became a stay at home mom. My credit was acceptable back then. So we took on a mortgage. Moved in. Bought furniture with money I had not yet earned. Then I burned up a second transmission. Took a loan from the city to make some safety code and efficiency updates to the home. Our second child. Medical bills. Our children began homeschooling and my wife continued at home. The cost of living crept up. Another transmission. Our third child. A larger vehicle. (Cars will kill a budget. Most of the time they are a cost of living and not a wise investment.) Then the endless cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck with little left over after paying for the things you need to live and our debt repayment.
Often we would rob from Peter to pay Paul. This is not an uncommon story. This is not the American dream that most envision when they are starting out in life together.
We struggled a bit, but we agreed in every financial decision we have made. Refinancing the home. We did that together. Pinching pennies to pay down our debt. We do that together. The decision that enough is enough was made together. Now we are working our fingers numb together. She buys and flips what she can on EBay. I get what overtime I can. And we’re making headway. But it is a very slow, slow process. It is exciting when you go from barely able to manage to actually having something to manage. There will be more in future post perhaps about the ease of getting into debt and the cost of getting out but the principle here is there must be an inflexible decision that debt is not acceptable. And it is a decision that must be made together.
Worm Digger, according to Rick, began his enterprise by selling a few cars on his lawn and flipping them regularly. By doing this he did not have to use debt. He could simply buy a few cars, sell them, keep a little cash in his pocket, and buy a few more cars. And repeat the cycle that worked for him all over again. This would not impact his digging or his bottom line.
I do not know his past, if he was ever married or if he has children. I would not be surprised to learn that at least one of those working in his dealership was his own flesh and blood. I do not know that. What I do know is that he did not build this thriving business using debt. Unless debt, as in our case, was the impetus to say, “enough is enough” and to decide that the use of debt and the ‘ownership’ of debt was unacceptable.
Many of the surveys I have seen lists “money issues” as one of the top three reasons for divorce. Some have it as number one. One survey I read said that “Incompatibility” was the top reason. My first thought was that it was likely incompatibility in the thoughts, ideas, and habits where money was concerned. An article in the Huffington Post (here) confirmed that idea with ‘Finances’ as number seven saying, “It’s not usually the lack of finances that causes the divorce, but the lack of compatibility in the financial arena. Opposites can attract but when two people are opposites in the financial department, divorce often ensues. Imagine the conflict if one is a saver and one is a spender. One is focused on the future while the other believes in living for today. One has no problem buying on credit, while the other believes in saving up for what one wants Over time, this conflict can reach such heights that divorce seems to be the only logical conclusion.”
The Minimalist Mindset
My frugal wife adopted a Mimalist Mindset way before I ever knew what minimalism was. She began packing things up and I began making runs to Good Will and the dump. I understood when we sat together and watched together the documentary on minimalism that she had seen. The principle was simple; If it does not bring me joy — get rid of it. Of course there are things you have to keep by necessity but all of those extra things you accumulate over time. They had to go. Craig’s List. EBay. Yard Sales. She began redeeming some of what we spent over the years. Now our kids have adopted a kind of minimalist mindset as well. I do not imagine getting a smaller house but we certainly have more choices about what to do with our spaces.
Minimalism is a denial of materialism and a decision to keep life simple. Keeping it simple is key. This cannot be an option.
Worm Digger kept things simple. He apparently didn’t mind dated decor in and on his home. Whether this was a practical decision or a financial one I could not say. But by keeping it simple, and by not using debt, he built his life.
With my wife leading the way here.
With our revived commitment to become and remain debt free.
We are working our way to our goals together. Maintaining a Minimalist Mindset will be key.
The bottom line in all of this is in the choices we make, and how we spend our time and money. It is all about choices. Without choices we become servants to necessity. And often our choices make us servants to debt and need. It is not that we walk in covetousness and greed. It is simply that we often spend money we have not yet worked for to maintain a lifestyle we have not yet earned.
The tournament was over and I had to drive to the tee of the ninth to pick up the closest to the pin roster and results sheet. While there, I sat on the grass looking down at the clubhouse where everyone was gathering. Placing my arms behind m head in the warmth of the sun I leaned and laid back against the tee. The sun was warm and the grass was cool. I could hear the birds and smell the pines where they were resting. I didn’t have a care in the world. I had a wad of cash in my pocket. My car was paid for. I had no mortgage. (I still lived at home.) There was a deep sense of financial peace that I have rarely felt since that moment. It was only about ten minutes but it felt like time had stopped and I did not want it to end. I wanted to hang onto that forever. Of course, I did not know then that there was a spiritual component too. Debt is a form of bondage, and one of the effects of truth, and benefits of living by truth is the power to be set free.
I saw that same sense of confident peace; the sense of being accomplished and established, on the face of Worm Digger. Somehow with that encounter all the lessons I had learned and filed away, but missed, all became clear to me. The thought that hard and consistent work brought Worm Digger a life of ease. The thought that debt free living, and the simple life, enabled him to build a thriving business and to amass a considerable amount of wealth.
These are the first principles and practices to building wealth.
(#1 – from my previous post) Decide to work hard, be diligent, and persistent. Adopt an ‘I will until’ determination. (#2) Decide that the use of debt is not an option and that paying off any existing debt is paramount. (#3) Minimize. Find those things of value in your life that you do not use and sell them. Find those things that lack value in your life and get rid of them.
I know this was an unusually long post. I thought about separating two of the principles here; debt free living and minimalism but they are so closely related I decided to stay the course. I hope that is okay with you reader. If there is anything here that struck a chord with you I would love for you to share a comment. Thank you for reading to the end.
Kind regards always,
( back to Lesson 1 / to Lesson 3 )