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Two Emotional Money Stories I’ve Never Shared in Public…

in Do What You Love, Money Basics, Our Financial Journey, Travel

Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.

“What the hell are you doing, son?”

The words sounded muffled in my head. I sat frozen – gripping the steering wheel on the side of the dark, empty interstate.

“Shut your engine off, get your license, and put your hands back where I can see them.”

I did as I was told, silently.

Upon glancing at my license, the office immediately glanced up and locked eyes with me.

Starting at the beginning, I told him everything…

Story #1: The $10,000 Wake Up Call…

I was addicted to gambling.

Now, this was before getting back together with Courtney (before we were married) and far before Milligan was even a thought. We have to go back to the period between me failing out of college – and getting my life back on track.

At this time in my life, you’d be hard-pressed to find me awake and not sitting around a card table or in a poker room.

We lived and breathed it. We played most of the day – and when we weren’t playing, we were organizing tournaments and cash games (or dealing them for addicts).

During one six-month period, I worked one day each week (a 20-hour shift) dealing one of the largest cash games in Indianapolis. I made around $60/hour in tips and would take home anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 in one sitting.

I did this every Monday night – and spent the other 6 days playing video games and online poker with my two roommates (neither of whom had their own job).

This was the most “stable” I had been in years.

*****

A few months later, I found myself pulled over on the side of the interstate – convinced I was about to be violently arrested.

I had just passed a police car going 130 m.p.h. at 3 a.m.

You see, I had just worked the entire day, taken my overpaid cash wages, and sat down at the poker table. A couple hundred dollars quickly became a thousand, then $3,000, then $10,000.

At 21 years old, I wasn’t content with $10,000 for two hours of work. It wasn’t real money to me. I wasn’t content unless I had every chip at the table. I wasn’t content until I sent every degenerate at the table home to their mortgages they could no longer pay.

Over the next 90 minutes, I lost the $10,000 as quickly as I had amassed it.

I don’t remember leaving the poker room or getting in my car.

*****

“What the hell are you doing, son?” The officer’s words echoed in my head.

Upon glancing at my license, the officer immediately glanced back up and locked eyes with me.

“Adam *Baker*… you wouldn’t happen to be ______’s son, would you?”

I swallowed. “Yes sir, ______ is my father.”

“Adam, what the hell are you thinking?”

He listened to all of it, before giving me a breathalyzer (I hadn’t been drinking).

The next thing surprised me the most… He let me go.

No arrest, no ticket, not even an official warning (although he had plenty of words for me).

At one of my darkest and most irresponsible times, I was pulled over by the only state police officer in Indiana that had grown up with my father.

Coincidence? I’ll let you decide what to call it.

On the rest of the drive home – moving a good 15 m.p.h. under the speed limit – I fought back tears as I vowed to finally change the direction of my life.

Story #2: Trapped in the Most Beautiful Place on Earth…

Flash forward five years.

“Get Milli and crawl slowly out of the car…”

I should’ve been scared, but for some reason I wasn’t. Even so, I wasn’t about to move.

Through the passenger door, I saw the waterfalls that were streaming down the mountain side and I took in the bluest sky I had ever seen.

As I turned to my left, gravity pulled my head toward a mangled mess of tree branches.

I squinted to make out what was beyond the branches.

… nothing …

Only a few trees stood between me and two hundred feet down the side of the mountain.

As I snapped back to reality, Courtney was twisting her body to unstrap a dazed Milligan from her car seat. She was fighting gravity to try and lift the rear passenger door and climb out.

I didn’t dare move.

*****

We had come to New Zealand 8 months earlier on a last-second decision from Brisbane, Australia. We had spent the last few months living in Auckland as Courtney taught a few semesters at a local elementary school.

It was one of the most freeing times of our life.

We had spent the last two years transforming our financial life. We had paid off $18,000 in consumer debt, sold all of our possessions, and set off to backpack Australia.

Somehow our journey had now brought us to the side of this mountain outside of Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand.

I didn’t dare move…

*****

After what seemed like the longest minutes of my life, I let out a sigh of relief as I saw Courtney and Milli climb out of sight to where we had slid off the road.

“I guess it’s my turn,” I thought.

I moved as slow as I could given the awkward angle. The car was nearly on its side.

As I stretched to try and force the passenger door open, I thought for sure the trees would snap under my shifting weight.

Luckily, they didn’t budge. Not a single inch.

As weak as they looked, the trees grouped together to form a safety net that had kept us from sliding down the mountainside.

Up on the road, we pulled out our cell phones and confirmed our suspicions – absolutely zero bars. We were 90 minutes from the nearest town on a road that is sparingly traveled that early in the morning.

We had no choice but to sit on the side of the road and wait.

Irony hit us hard as we soaked in the visualization of being trapped in the most beautiful place on earth.

*****

48 hours later, I found myself talking to an old man that owned the closest tow-truck company.

An Israeli family had found us stranded on the road – and had taken us to the only lodge within two hours of the sound. I rode in the back with their groceries. Milli rode on Courtney’s lap.

The lodge was booked solid for months, so after 18 hours of discussion (to make a long story short) we finally shared a single bunk bed with the employees of the lodge for a few hours of sleep.

I had spent hours on the phone over the last two days, trying to coordinate police, rental companies, and tow-truck drivers from a city 90 minutes away from the accident site.

*****

“Well, this isn’t going to be pretty…”

The seasoned tow-truck driver almost felt sorry for me through the dollar signs in his eyes.

He poetically laid out all the expenses he had incurred in retrieving the car.

Earlier it had been carefully explained to me that since I took responsibility for the accident that we’d have to cover the tow-truck charges ourselves (though the rental company would cover the damage to the vehicle).

“Yeah, I was there”…  I mumbled back to the tow truck driver.

I remembered waiting several hours for the driver to wind his way through the mountains.

I remembered the driver and I blocking the road for 45 minutes as we tried to figure out a way to rip the car out of the trees it had nestled in.

I remembered the gas, the after-hours calls, the size of the truck that was needed to do the job.

I knew all along the price tag of this operation would sting.

We ended up negotiating it to around $800 New Zealand, which was around $600 in U.S. dollars.

Keep in mind we were camping in a broken tent to save money at this point in our road tour. An $800 tow charge at this time was extremely demoralizing after all our frugal hard work.

But here’s the difference between the two stories…

We paid the tow-truck driver in cash.

There was no negative thought, no added stress, and not an ounce of worry.

As shitty as that 48-hour moment in time was… I was proud.

It was the first time in our life we had a fully-funded $5,000 emergency fund, and the first time we had to use it.

In the first story, money controlled me. It controlled my actions, my emotions and my relationships.

In the second story, we controlled our money. It didn’t dictate our actions in this emergency. It didn’t change much of our emotions at all.

As I handed the old man $800 in cash… I was proud.

How much worse would this situation had been without an emergency fund?

How much extra stress, arguing, and worry would have come with it?

I lived my life for years like that, and I don’t even want to think about it.

So we did the only thing there was left to do.

We buckled back into our mangled rental car (with deep gashes running down the left side and no front bumper) and finished our driving tour of the South Island of New Zealand.

We weren’t going to let sliding down the mountain keep us from finishing what we started. ;)

*****

Taking back control of your financial life doesn’t prevent this kind of stuff from happening.

It doesn’t keep you from getting into situations where you are trapped.

But when shit does hit the fan, having a flexible financial life makes all the difference in the world.

Trust us, we know.

The goal isn’t to make it through life without any scars…

The goal is to empower yourself to break free, heal, and bounce back quickly.

The goal is flexibility.

The goal is freedom.

*****

Note: Up until now, I’ve only shared these two stories with our You Vs. Debt students. Several of those students pushed me to share them publicly… thanks to them for the nudge.

*****

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Adrianne January 18, 2012 at 1:30 PM

I think you skipped a lost career in story-telling. I was terrified in your second story. These are amazing stories. Two very hard moments with very important lessons.

Thanks for sharing

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jack foley January 19, 2012 at 5:51 AM

Great Post,

And well done for turning your life around – most never do..

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Jo January 18, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Thanks for sharing these. The gambling story is especially poignant because this addiction, like many others, has destroyed lives and families. Casinos, lotteries and gambling places don’t make money off those looking for entertainment…they make money off those suffering from gambling addiction.

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Michelle January 18, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Great stories. Very eye opening.

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Matt January 18, 2012 at 2:38 PM

Baker, thanks for sharing two such emotional stories. And thank you for shining a light on the emotional aspect of how behavior with money impacts our lives.

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Nick January 18, 2012 at 3:19 PM

Great to see how far you’ve come! Thanks for sharing.

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Caz Makepeace January 18, 2012 at 7:00 PM

“The goal isn’t to make it through life without any scars…
The goal is to empower yourself to break free, heal, and bounce back quickly.”

LOVE this and is definitely a belief I have always lived by and am writing some material on now.

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Jed January 18, 2012 at 7:58 PM

Thanks for sharing your stories with us. Such good thoughts from both experiences! Very inspiring.

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Visakan V January 19, 2012 at 1:11 AM

This was really great, and affirmed a lot of what I’ve been feeling. Thank you, Baker.

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Sheyi January 19, 2012 at 7:21 AM

Thanks for taking a good turn around to live a better life and people are now learning from you. You rock and keep been the best you’ve always been.

Sheyi

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Iris January 19, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Brilliant reading, both motivating and totally inspiring! Thank you very much.

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Jeff Crews January 19, 2012 at 9:21 PM

I remember back when money didn’t mean anything to me. I remember looking at my debit card, and my mom saying where did all your money go. I couldn’t tell her because I had no clue. Luckily, I learned from those times and am now blessed to smart financially.

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Mitchell Roth January 20, 2012 at 1:48 AM

What a journey you’ve been on! I’m on the verge of taking a similar adventure. I’ve got the debt part taken care of (thanks to your inspiration) and next is a long-term vagabonding trip through Central and South America starting in August.

I appreciate the stories and your willingness to share them so others can draw inspiration from them. Thank you!

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Miranda January 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Thanks so much for sharing these stories. They are truly inspirational, serving as proof that anyone can move from a position where money controls them, into a position in which they control their money.

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Aaron January 22, 2012 at 9:34 AM

Glad things got turned around for you. Too many don’t. And if they hadn’t there’d be many who wouldn’t get to learn from your story and now your teaching here at the blog.

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debtgirl January 22, 2012 at 9:20 PM

I agree with the poster who said you are a great storyteller! I can’t wait to come back and read more!

Come see my new blog, I just started it and I am really excited.

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J.G ( I Heart Travel) January 23, 2012 at 12:46 AM

Adam these stories are truly amazing and scary!
The second one really hits home as I am a father as well, and any type of harm coming to my daughter is always frightening.

I really like the message of the second story. Having financial freedom is very liberating no matter what situation arises !

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Paul January 23, 2012 at 11:31 PM

I am fighting back tears at the end of both stories. I feel excited and empowered to take control of my own life, a journey I began about 3 weeks ago by making my first real, true budget. Your podcast and website motivate me to work even harder, and claim the life I want, rather than the story i’m told to live.

Thank you.

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Patricia GW January 24, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Truly incredible. I’m so glad those trees were there so keep the vehicle from falling down the mountainside, and that your family is safe. You’ve changed your life around from that traffic stop… you have every right to be proud of yourself now :)

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MIKE January 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Great writing dude! I am following your site now and learning a lot. Keep up the good work! Mike

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Craig January 24, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Very inspiring stories – It’s these experiences that shape us though. Indiana does weird things to you – whether it be delivering state troopers just in the nick of time or somehow drawing you back every time you leave. My wife and I just took a large pay cut in coming back to Indiana because we missed it so much. Happiness is worth so much more than money – that’s the bottom line.

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JoAnne Schaub January 24, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Crazy stories! I get your point. When we live a flexible financial we are free. Not free from life’s ups and downs but freely empowered to handle them.

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Earn Save Live January 29, 2012 at 5:30 PM

Thank you for sharing your stories. I can’t imagine that this was easy to write – or to relive!

I think that, for each of us, there are certain lessons that we need to learn in life. These lessons keep getting presented to us in different forms until we *get it*. It sounds like you had that moment, in between these two stories.

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Rachael January 31, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Adam, this post more than any other hit close to home for me.

2 reasons for that:

The first (and more basic) being that I live in the South Island and I know how deserted our roads can be and what that wait must have been like. I am so pleased that you and your family were safe.

The second (and more compellng) was your story about your gambling habits and the lifestyle that was leading you into. Before I discovered that my husband was also firmly in the grip of a major gambling addiction he had built up over $100,00 worth of gambling debt. I wish he had had a wake up call like yours much earlier, before it got to that level but we each have our own paths to follow. Thankfully he did eventually come to a place where he dealt with his addiction and we got to work paying off every last cent of that debt.

These stories must have been valuable in seeing where you have come to and I hope you hold some pride for yourself in the decisions you choose over the years. Well done!

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John | Married (with Debt) February 7, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Wow. Very compelling and well-written stories. Making and losing $10,000 that quickly almost hurts to hear about. Thanks for sharing these.

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Louise February 19, 2012 at 4:34 PM

Hi,
I love your stories, I was fed up from living pay check to pay check, I didn’t buy an RV though.
I bought a house in Bulgaria, I sold everything in the UK and moved myself and my 3 babies there.. I decided I could grow my own organic food, and not have such a need for material things.
Even though I am mortgage free, I am not completely out of debt.
My final big expense is just about to end. The ciggies have got to go!
It is an addiction that you put before most things, even food at times of stress, but I have found these V2 cigs and they are working.
Once I have conquered this, I am debt free!

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