My story

My Early Years

I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan.

The kind of town that had 3 churches yet no stoplight.

The kind of place where the only fine dining was the Subway at the corner gas station (and it was a BIG deal when it happened! ……..we didn’t have that until I was in high school!).

It’s a place where everyone knows everybody, you didn’t have to lock your doors when you left the house, and everyone had a smile & a wave ready when you drove by.

And if you are a Michigan high school football fan, you might have seen this symbol overhanging a bridge in metro Detroit over the last few seasons.

A New Beginning

My parents tried their best to help me pay for college, but could not do very much.

I had been savings to go to college since I was 6 years old, still had to take out a ton of student loans, sold what little I had to pay for college, and worked 2 jobs to boot (school job during the week and the farm on weekends) while going to school full-time.

It wasn’t easy, took a couple of years longer than I wanted, but I graduated!
When I came out of college, I was about $60,000 in debt with various student loans and credit card debt.

It was frustrating.

I worked my butt off for almost 7 years and STILL had a ton of debt (thank you private universities!).

Tired of always struggling financially, I developed a financial plan to be debt-free in 10 years AND I wanted to enjoy my newfound freedom at the same time.

A lifetime of working 70–90 hours a week was now condensed down to 40-50 hours per week.

This means I had free time!
And I enjoyed it!

I started a bunch of hobbies that I had been dying to do.

I learned how to swim, to ski, to ride motorcycles, to fish, and to hunt.

I regularly went to sporting events as well as rock concerts that I had dreamed about doing since I was a kid.

I traveled across the country and throughout North America.

I developed a crew of close friends.

We played sports together during the week, hung out together on weekends, and generally had THE best time of my life!

Life was good!

But what about that financial plan……. I enacted it beautifully!

I had paid off 80% of my debt in 7 years (about $50K)!

I did this while having the time of my life along the way and was planning to retire by 55 (or sooner). 😊

To be honest, I probably could have paid it off totally in 4-5 years but was sick of working 2 jobs to keep afloat and wanted to enjoy my free time! 😊

My career was also taking off with a few promotions!

Lastly, I met this great woman who I fell head over heels for.

Things couldn’t be any better!

So you may ask yourself, “What happened to get you off track?”

Well …. life happened that’s what!

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When Life Decides To Take You Off-Track

I decided to marry that great woman and adopted her son from a previous marriage.

His biological father chose, for a variety of reasons, to not be a part of his life and I chose to be his “forever dad” as I was called!

From the start, the finances took a BIG hit.

We had paid for our entire wedding out of our own pocket, and we developed a plan to pay off the wedding and our student loan debt in about 18 months.

The plan was that she would continue to work for a couple more years (she was a teacher) to payoff those debts, and THEN leave the working world to expand our family and be a stay-at-home mom for a few years.

We soon found out we had to deviate from the plan. Things were not going well for her at work. Her administration AND the parents did not support her which was causing her to burn out.

At the same time, we also found out our then 7-year-old son (now 26… boy they grow up fast! Lol 😊) suffered from an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) called Asperger’s Syndrome now captured within the overall autism category (aka neurodivergence).

He was really struggling in his new school, and we decided that she needed to step down as a teacher and become a full-time, stay-at-home mom to tutor our son (Translation – single income family! 😊 ).

We couldn’t save as much money as we had before, but we were still able to live off my income and to stay on track for retirement.

Our son’s medical bills were astronomical!

We soon found out that the best doctors that could help our son do NOT take insurance so the out of pocket (OOP) medical expenses skyrocketed.

We were paying 5-digits plus for OOP medical expenses. Things were a struggle, but we managed.

In the meantime, another event hit our lives. To pay for these new bills, I took a promotional opportunity with a new company that was a HUGE pay bump AND they had great medical coverage.

This was in 2008, at the start of the Great Recession.

I knew it was a risky move, but I thought I was actually going to a more stable company with better career opportunities.

Soon, I found out that the Great Recession impacted everybody including my new company.

About a year later and due to the poor economy, my company had seniority-based layoffs (the 1st in its history!). Since I was lowest of the seniority scale, I was laid off.

This was a crushing blow to me. I prided myself on being the one my management relied on and here I was on the unemployment line.

We were stuck in the area we lived.

I could not move out of state since our entire support system and my son’s medical doctors were in this area.

Jobs in the area were not plentiful and finally had to reach out to my old company to get my job back.

I was hired back in as a temporary / agency employee at a 40% pay reduction and very expensive insurance.

To compensate for this pay reduction, we were forced to stop saving for retirement and make some severe lifestyle changes just to get by.

I took on a second job just to make ends meet.

My wife still couldn’t work since our autistic son needed her help on a daily basis, so it fell on me to keep our family moving forward financially.

On top of that, our marriage took an even bigger hit.

We were constantly arguing and fighting until the wee hours of the morning. The “insta-family” we created caused some rifts we were both struggling to fix.

It got so bad; the house felt like a war zone from all the tension we had between us.

I can only imagine how it was impacting our son.

Add to that raising an autistic son, and our relationship was on TILT!

It was so bad that we filed for divorce.

Over time and a lot of marital therapy, we found a way to reconcile our marriage.

Then something unexpected and wonderful happened to us that would change our lives forever!

The Event

We had been trying for several years to expand the family but couldn’t maintain a pregnancy.

After several miscarriages that really rocked our family (throw THAT into the Mai Tai cocktail mix of fending off divorce and raising an autistic son!), we felt it was time to stop trying and move on with our lives.

Meanwhile good things started to happen in our lives!

I was hired back as a full-time employee into my old company and made back most of the money I had lost over the last few years.

My wife decided to follow her passion for medicine and become a physician’s assistant (PA).

Our son was a teenager now and we felt he was finally in a good place for her to pursue her dreams. She applied to several programs in the area and was awaiting the results.

In the meantime, we sold all the old baby supplies, toys, and furniture we had accumulated throughout the miscarriages.

And it gets better!

From reconciling our marriage we had an unexpected, yet great miracle happened to us.

Our lives received a blessing….. we became pregnant! While we were apprehensive to get too excited, this time it felt different and soon found out that it was. Near the end of the 1st trimester, and after several ultrasounds, we found out we were having TWINS! 😊

Due to the high-risk nature of this pregnancy, my wife had to stay on bedrest nearly the entire pregnancy and live the last month of it at the hospital. The staff wanted her close by in case the babies came early so they could act quickly.

When the big day finally came (@30 ½ weeks) we could not have been happier! Unfortunately, we were soon to find out more unfortunate news that would rock our world.

Another Curveball Thrown By Life

Our girls were born with severe health issues that caused them to stay at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) twice for a total of 14 weeks before they were finally able to come home.

They both suffered from Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD for short).

It’s basically severe acid reflux on top of being premature.

For an adult, it’s no big deal. We just take some Prilosec, and all is good!

For my girls, it was very different.

The girls refused to eat or learn how to suck. They were literally starving themselves to death because the acid reflux hurt so much.

The doctors called it, “failure to thrive”.

I call it, “absolute hell”.

It became so bad, we had to install feeding tubes directly into their stomach and feed them thru using gravity-fed bottles just so they could survive.

At night, we used special pumps that regulated their feeding for us while we tried to sleep.

In between they had a litany of medicines being given to them around the clock to curb their acid reflux and other ailments.

Want to know how much was given?

Pictures syringes full of medicine stacked around the perimeter of an 11 x 17-inch baking sheet.

We did that for both girls twice a day, every day for several years.

We realized that their health issues were too much for us to handle alone.

We decided to hire 2 full-time care givers to assist my wife during the day while I was at work and my wife & I would split the caregiving duties at night.

After several years including 8 weeks at a special feeding clinic to teach them how to eat, a lot of various medicines / surgical procedures along the way, using special feeding chairs to build up their strength, and ALOT of perseverance, I am proud to say that my girls have overcome their health issues!

They are happy, healthy, and as normal as they can be right now.

However things got worse on other fronts.

Our son was struggling again with life as a teenager and not getting the attention he was used to at home.

Because of the girls’ issues being so consuming, his needs started to get pushed on the side.

He said he understood………. but he didn’t.

He hit a really dark place in his life, and we were scared for him.

Luckily, we were able to pivot and focus on him more to get him through his hump in life.

Life was already a struggle, and this made it significantly worse.

To top it off, our medical bills skyrocketed because of all that had happened the past few years.

With our mounting bills, we had to leverage everything we had to pay for medical bills including burning through our emergency fund, running up credit card debt, and refinancing the house.

Neither one of us could even work side hustles to pay for the mounting medical bills since literally every waking moment went into the care of our children.

We were stuck financially and just had to wait it out until our kids’ struggles were under control.

What’s Happened Since Then?

Once the kid’s issues subsided, we focused on getting our life back on track.

Because of all that happened in our life, my wife’s plans to go to PA school were substituted.

She recently went back to school and is now a registered nurse (RN) instead!

My career aspirations were put on hold because there was no way I could take on a more strenuous assignment and still care for my family.

Recently, I’m able to put a little more time into work and my career is starting to get back on track too.

I don’t work the crazy hours like I used to and am happier for it. As my manager always told me, “Family is first!”.

My son is in a good place as well and recently completed a special program thru the Living and Learning Center for autistic people to obtain a certification in IT cybersecurity.

He is working a job he loves in IT, travels, drives on his own, has his own apartment, cooks his own meals, and is even dating (SSHHHH! Don’t tell his mom! Lol 😊)

And the girls are doing great! We have their medical issues managed and this year they were able to take swim lessons and dance classes!

Below is a photo from one of their recitals:

To get back on our financial track, I developed a plan to be both debt-free and financially independent in 10 years (or less! 😊).

As part of the plan, we both worked side hustles for several years to payoff a lot of the debt we accumulated.

Now that our children’s issues are behind us, our focus has shifted to paying off the remaining debt we have, to planning for their college education, and to catching up on our retirement.

I’m confident we can hit our goal since I was well on my way once and know we can do it again! 😊

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