$75k Wiser: Recovering from Bad Financial Decisions

Erik Goodge, CFP® | June 28, 2022

$75K Wiser: Recovering from Bad Financial Decisions

How to Do a U-Turn in your Financial Life

How does one recover from bad financial decisions? Is it even possible? I know it is, because I did it. If student loans, debt, and bad financial decisions are weighing you down, then hear me out; you can change your relationship with money. This is how wasting $75,000 projected me onto a life path of financial responsibility and a career as a financial advisor.

My Backstory: Who I Was and How I Acquired a Large Sum of Money

In high school, I lacked the direction or initiative to do anything besides listen to rap music, go to work, and ignore all academics. In the fall of 2006, graduation was just 6 or so months away. I distinctly remember sitting in (my 3rd rendition of) Mr. Hughes’s Algebra 2 class behind a kid who had just recently entered the Marine Corps’ Delayed Entry Program (DEP). Everyone was mostly in awe of what he was about to undertake, but I saw my ticket out of a dead-end job and maybe a shot at financing a college education. Before even telling a family member, I enlisted. By December of 2006, I had officially entered the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program and shipped off to boot camp in August of 2007. I was 18.

By November of 2007, I was a newly minted 19-year-old, baby-faced Marine. Despite my lack of interest in all things academia, it turns out I scored relatively highly on my entrance exams (ASVAB). I spent the next year and some change training as a Forward Observer, whose job it was to call in indirect fires such as artillery and mortars while deployed with an infantry unit. We trained and trained until early 2009. That is when we were deployed as part of President Obama’s new strategic emphasis on the war in Afghanistan and away from the war in Iraq. Exciting times to say the least!

Until It Wasn’t.

I don’t remember much from August 17th, 2009 except tremendous pain. I couldn’t see out of my right eye. I was going to lose it, I was told. My skull was fractured in a couple places and completely shattered in others. I had a hemorrhage in an area of my brain called the basal ganglia. Three were killed and 10 were wounded (according to various stories and after action reports I collected) in a pressure plate triggered Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that wounded me. My lead-slingin’ days were over. My heart was broken.

On deployment, Afghanistan 2009

After my injury

But there was something shiny in my future that I hadn’t even heard of heretofore; a small diamond reward forged in the carbon of an expended rifle cartridge. TSGLI they called it. Traumatic injury insurance that evidently injured service members had available to them if were severely wounded. $100,000 is what I was told I could expect. All tax-free, all lump sum; cold hard cash.

A 20 Year Old with Six Figures in His Checking Account

I can remember checking my bank account for the first time and seeing a 6 digit sum staring back at me. I guffawed and walked back to my room in a daze (more likely the pain drugs). I began telling myself and close friends and family that I would be “super responsible,” the 20-year-old man that I was, and invest a portion, donate a portion, and enjoy a portion. But I had no idea how to do any of that as I had never accumulated more than a 4 digit sum in my life before then. So I punted, and punted, and kept punting. 20 turned to 21, then 22, then 23. I was half right at least; I did enjoy a large portion of that money; and I did donate a portion of it.

Poor Financial Decisions

But this is also what I did. I bought clothes, phones, guns, ate out at fancy restaurants, drank the finest alcohol, and bought a decent truck. Eventually, when I would check the bank account a comparatively paltry $35,000 sum stared back at me. “What happened?” I wondered.

Afraid that I was going to have nothing to show for my good fortune, I slammed the brakes on my spending, put $30,000 in a savings account and opened my first brokerage account. I was embarrassed by how much had been squandered. I was embarrassed by the fact that I had wasted $75,000 on a bunch of fancy, depreciating (no)things.

The Beginning of My Financial Recovery

I left the Marine Corps, took a civilian warehouse job, and became obsessed with trying to figure out how I could build that wealth back up. I started reading about financial markets. I paid attention to stock market indices every day and pretended like I knew what it all meant. I got rid of all the debt I could. Eventually, I learned that the brokerage company I had invested a small sum of money with was a pretty expensive place to make my investments. I could do it myself I decided. I opened an E-Trade account and began reading everything on which I could get my hands. Eventually, I quit my job and decided to go to college and major in economics.

By this point, I was 25 and I had used the remaining $25,000 that wasn’t invested as a down payment on my first home with my wife to be, Becca. I had saved a ton of money and enjoyed the long bull market of the post recession years. Of course it wasn’t as nice as the $200,000ish I could have had by that point had I knew what to do. But all was not lost.

My Mission to Help Others Avoid My Mistakes Begins

My wife, Becca and I at my graduation from the University of Evansville in 2017

I knew I wanted to help others from making the bad financial choices I did. So, I turned my new-found interest from a hobby into a career. I met a local fee-only investment advisor who was kind enough to show me the ropes. I passed my securities licensing exam while still going to school full time as a sophomore at the University of Evansville. I brought on a small number of clients that would prove enough to get me started out on my own. I graduated a couple of years later and opened up shop. I was determined to help people avoid the same fate while working to correct my own past mistakes.

Looking back, I think it was the experience of having a taste of what a small amount of wealth could afford that drove my interest in financial markets. Shamelessly, at first, it was simply about the money, and all of the gawdy stuff it could buy. But slowly it became more about purchasing more time and experiences. The main reason I’m interested in rebuilding my wealth now has nothing to do with things per se, but more to do with my love of travel, learning, new experiences, and of course spending time with my new family.

What I Did to Better Myself Financially

I did a bang-up job plowing money into IRAs and brokerage accounts when I left the Marine Corp.

I started saving.

But after starting my business, I had to put my savings on hold for a while until my cash flows would support it. I’m nearly 2 years in; however, and I’m finally starting to reach the point where I can continue saving.

I stopped jumping from one shiny thing to the next.

I also noticed something else upon reflection. Looking back at that part of my life– nearly 10 years later as I write this– it was the most miserable stretch of existence I had endured up to that point. I was super depressed, super anxious, and jumping from one shiny thing to the next. It was all for naught. Not a single penny made me one single bit happier, although I’m sure I would have drunkenly argued with that point 10 years ago. I was after life-enriching experiences – not things. I just wasted a bunch of resources on things to figure that out. You don’t have to.

Let’s discuss your goals. Together, we can make them happen.
From Financial Failures to Financial Advising

Everything I’ve laid out to this point is my awkward journey towards the financial planning industry. I never would have guessed that [poor grades + being exploded + wasting a bunch of money] would equal [Financial Planner], but here I am ready to help others.

It is my mission is to guide clients, perhaps with similar stories, along the path of their own journeys from disarray to financial intelligence, wealth, and investing. I don’t have a magic fix for them. I can’t/won’t sell them a sure-fire investment or insurance product that will fix their woes. I haven’t found any ridiculously easy budgeting or get-rich-quick schemes. But I did discover a reliable way of slowly building wealth. When the universe throws you a bunch of absurdity, the best thing to do is to weave an interesting story out of it, but you don’t have to squander away your assets in the process. Regardless, I offer financial planning and advising to clients on all places of the financial spectrum. Let me help you change or better your financial situation.