Step 1: Finance

This is a cautionary tale.

When I was young, all of 19 or 20 I think, I entered credit counseling. This was due to the fact that in about 2 years I had managed to run up almost $7,000 in debt working only a part-time job and thinking: “Somebody has given me access to all this money, I need to find a way to spend it.”

Nope, not very smart.

Still, by 1991 I was 22-23, I had recovered, paid off my debts, learned my lesson, and become one of the most careful money managers I know. Netter and I were married by then. (Yes, she was a great factor in my growth as well.) We paid off bills as they came in. We had very little debt. We were living by the book. Saving. Planning. Doing things the right way as they say.

Then in 1994 we lost Meghan Joy and our entire world changed. We decided that we weren’t going to wait for anything ever again. Life was too short we reasoned. We were going to seize the day and make things happen, no matter the cost.

For 11 years or so that worked. If we wanted to do something, buy something, live something, go somewhere, go to college (me), stay home and do day care to be with our girls (Netter), whatever - I found a way to make it happen. Cash, credit cards, savings, loans, mortgages, 2nd mortgages - you name it, I used it. There had been some bumps along the way, even some roadblocks, but I always found a way... We lived the life we wanted to, without apology.

Looking back, it was a lot of what might be termed “grief spending,” or maybe even “grief living.” Of course, we didn’t identify it that way then. We had no idea. A friend tried to talk to me once about the house of cards I was building. I didn’t hear him. In my mind I was doing what had to be done, and quite honestly I thought I was brilliant. We were spending, but we never missed a payment, we had never been late, and we always had what we needed, (or what we thought we needed anyway). It would be years before I realized my friend was right, and honestly I only just admitted that to him a couple months ago.

In 2004, as Netter was beginning her second year back in the real work world, I realized that our spending was going to be a problem going forward. From 2000 - 2003 while she was doing daycare we were operating at a significant loss. I just didn’t do the math until it was too late. So, by the time the summer of 2005 hit, I knew something had to be done. We had to make some changes, and they needed to be significant.

In the fall of 2005 we undertook a major financial overhaul. We refinanced. We paid off debt. We formulated a plan to pay everything off - and it was working - until the economy began to crash in late 2008.

Of course there was no immediate answer to dealing with the economy, and so we’ve ridden a roller coaster of uncertainty for the last 3 years.

As you might guess I feel very responsible for that uncertainty and I'm kinda tired of riding that rail. I'm also a lot more comfortable these days admitting when I need help and when I can't, and I'm remarkably unemotional about the whole thing believe it or not. For a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, that’s sort of saying something.

Netter, that wise woman who I don’t listen to enough, has been saying to me for years: "you can't kick yourself for what happened in the past."

Yes, I should listen to her more often.

… and so we are looking for a solution.

I did some math and discovered that if I quit my job and cashed in my retirement I could take the 30% penalty and still pay off the majority of my student loan, our credit cards, and our second mortgage, which would make for a savings of a little over $1,500 a month in payments and more importantly mean not having all that stress, not riding that roller coaster.

I have to admit I’m more than a little tempted.

I’ve mentioned this to a few folks and the opinions are kind of split. Some worry about giving up all my time at the library, some worry about giving up all that money. But it’s not really all that much money, and the time at the library is really more an emotional attachment than anything else. There’s something to be said for peace of mind; comes the reasoning from the other side of the fence.

I also have one child heading into college, and another not far behind. I’d really like to have some financial freedom to be able to help them with their education.

I don’t know. What would you do?

*Note: This is not a poll where the reader will make the decision for me or anything like that. We do plan to seek the advice of a real expert, but I’m also interested to hear what other folks think. Would you be tempted? Or am I off my rocker? Let me have it...


Wendy said...

It's easy to think it's not that much money but remember - you will only get the money back that YOU paid into PERS and the funds that CML paid will go back into the PERS black hole, which is a significant amount. Don't forget - you will get old, eventually, and that money is for your future.
My two cents!

Jim Brochowski said...

I'm vested Wendy. I get the money that CML paid too.

Kathy Hennessy said...

I know this sounds stupid, but alas, I am completely stupid on money issues, except that 2+2=4, and if that's all I have and something costs 5, I can't afford it. With that said, and knowing that I can't give a remotely intelligent response to your inquiry, I would 100% call Dave Ramsey with that question. Using what common sense my parents have given me and following his guidelines has given us a lot of financial freedom, and he's fantastic with cutting to the chase and figuring out what makes economical sense.

La-Juice said...

Oh Jim, this is tough. I wish I could tell you what is the right thing to do. 30% is a lot and you are a young man, you will need your pension for many years. I know the stresses of our financial world right now make it almost crushingly overwhelming, ( I have a underwater condo financed by an ARM that reset to a colossal payment.) but you are not alone here in this economic mess.

good luck my friend.

Sarah said...

I think that you are digging a bigger hole. Follow Dave Ramsey!

Jim Brochowski said...

Not said in the post is that we are going in the hole every month. It would be impossible to "dig a bigger hole."

Jim Brochowski said...

I want to thank everybody for your feedback. Ultimately, I don't know where we'll end up. Still, it's good to know I have such great folks pulling for us!

Ed Gizmo said...

A couple of people have mentioned Dave Ramsey, and he is an expert on this kind of thing. He has a book out called The Total Money Makeover that has a great plan for getting out of debt. We have a bunch, so if you're interested in reading it let me know and I'll ship one down to you as a gift from us.