With many ups and downs over the years followed by a personal decision to turn things around has given me a unique view on personal finance.
By sharing my story, I hope to show that no matter where you start if you have the ambition to grow and the willingness to change your relationship with money then there really is no limit to what you can accomplish.
One of my other goals is to help bring money back to the “dinner table” where it can be openly discussed and shared within the family. At first glance, it might seem strange, but I genuinely believe that addressing money together can help families grow and become stronger as a whole. It takes active participation, joint responsibility, and a focus on the group without neglecting individual goals and desires.
Growing up, I came from a low-income blue-collar family. Money was always a struggle. The topic itself was regularly met with feelings of negativity and scarcity, so it was typically avoided. For us, shuffling money between accounts and paying bills late was the norm.
Not having much money growing up, I worked part-time in middle and high school but didn’t save. This carried on until graduation where I moved out, started working multiple jobs and began going to college. The aim at the time was to get through college, get a good job, and work there until retirement.
College is where got hooked and became a student loan addict. I quickly went from taking just enough student loans for my books and classes to taking maximums without really thinking about the long term consequences.
Fast forward a few years, I started working for myself and finally making “real” money. Working way too many hours and still not saving this turned into burnout. When that happened, I conveniently found myself in the opportunity to move to Thailand.
While being a great place to live Thailand is not The Land of Smiles for earning money. Soon after arriving, my student loan repayments came back to haunt me, but instead of returning back to the US, I opted to go to graduate school where I got my MBA and postponed my student loans yet again.
While in Thailand, I got married to a Thai and repeated the same avoidance of talking about money that my family had. Without going into all the details, the marriage had the same money struggles. Then in 2007 with many life-changing events coming together, I decided it was time for a change and moved to Japan.
In Japan, I once again ignored my student loans until I maxed my deferments. At one point I was just ignoring my payments until they went into default and collections. As you can imagine this didn’t end well and got more severe. The one difference is that this time, my salary also quickly went from 4, 6, 9, 11+ million yen in just a few years but so did my lifestyle.
This same pattern continued until about two years ago when I finally decided to change and start dealing with the mountain of student loan debt and lack of savings.
A bit part of this change was because I remarried and didn’t want a repeat of the past. As an example of this we, as a family, create and review a high-level monthly budget. This is also where we align our goals, wants, and necessities as a family but also as an individual.
It’s also important to note that my wife and I are now expecting a son in the coming weeks. This reality as nothing but solidified the decision to take full responsibility for my debt but also has poured fire on my drive and conviction to ensure my family is taken care for but also that my son will learn about money from an early age and not fall into the same traps I did.
In only 18 months I went from living paycheck to paycheck to having my student loans rehabilitated, an emergency fund with 3 months of expenses, and almost a million yen in what we’ve nicknamed our “baby fund.”
With this blog, I hope to share the steps that I took to move me from living paycheck to paycheck to living well with growing savings and investments all while reducing debt.
Best of all, this is also only the first step. I will also be sharing interviews with professionals specializing in foreigners living and working in Japan covering taxes, insurance, banking, investing, as well as how to make more money.
UPDATE (May 6th, 2019): Baby’s here! Mother and son are both happy and healthy.
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