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For an MSN column, I’m looking for people to interview who have made a BIG change in their lives in order to improve their finances. Things like:

  • Pulling up stakes and moving to a new area
  • Going back to school after being out in the workplace for awhile
  • Starting a business
  • Changing a major relationship

The only requirements: the change involved must have been truly life-altering, and the end result was a significant improvement in your financial situation.

If you’d like to be interviewed, describe your big change and its results in the comments. Include your email address in the comment form–it won’t display here but it will allow me to follow up with you. Thanks!

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Categories : Liz's Blog




I just read your comments on MSN. I need some serious help to get out of some large credit card debt. Do you have any books or suggestions that I can follow to get myself
back above water?


Our change was relocation. The background is that I moved from Ohio back to southern California in 1996. Our family is originally from SoCal and was the only part of the extended family outside California. In 1999 I bought a house. In 2003 I got married and for a short time was a 2 income household. In 2004 our son was born, and we made the decision to have a parent at home, which cut our household income by about 46%. Forward to when our son is 1 1/2 and we starting thinking about schools. Our local school had deterorated badly since I had bought the house. It was now near the height of real estate bubble, and we realize relocating in California on one income was not feasible.

We ultimately decide in mid-2006 to relocate to Spokane, WA where we purchased a home for cash, paid off vehicle loans and credit card balances, with a tidy fund left over. We have remained free of consumer debt since, but the huge benefit is that now our very existence is much more flexible in terms of minimum income required. I was unemployed in early 2009 for 4 months, and between expense management and unemployment we are basically in the same financial position after unemployment as before. The stress of unemployment was greatly reduced and got to spend some serious quality time with my family. This has truly been a life changing decision for the better, but is not without it’s costs – we are now 1000 miles from the nearest relative, and returning to California if we wanted to is probably not feasible for a long, long time.


Since my comment didn’t show up after submitting I wonder if I clicked a wrong button.


10/28/08 — 30% of workforce at Pillar Data, whacked — i was one them — I’d been w/ Pillar almost 5yrs –

1/26/09 — started w/ Dell in Austin

family remains in Denver — we’re spending a lot of time(and $$) on airplanes –

2 children in college now w/ a third to join them in about a year –

working to put kids thru college and afford medical care –



My change might not be what you’d have expected when you made this request. My husband was an officer in the Marine Corps, making great money, but we were still in debt due to poor planning. He left on a 7 month deployment on Oct. 1, 2008, and we were $5k in credit card debt at that time. We also had two car loans, both of our student loans, and no savings whatsoever.

During his deployment he had to make the decision to stay in the military or leave upon his return to the states. Much to my surprise (and relief), he decided to rejoin the civillian world. However, we knew in this economy that jobs would be hard to find, and whatever he did find would not pay close to the nearly $80,000 in pay and benefits he had been expected to bring in that year.

I immediately took two jobs – one at a deli during the day, another at a restaurant at night. We cut our budget by 10%, and really buckled down. By the time he came home and went on terminal leave (fancy word for taking all your vacation time at the end of your contract), we had paid off one vehicle, the credit cards, and put $12,000 into savings.

At this point, we made a leap of faith and moved from our home near the military base to a city five hours away. We again cut our budget, this time by an additional 5%. Neither of us had a job, though he had applied with the city’s police department. Two weeks after we made the leap of faith and moved, we heard back from the city; out of literally hundreds of applicants, he had been one of the select 53 who were hired. He only spent one month without income. However, in that time, I had found a part-time job as a preschool teacher, making about $6,000/year. While it does not pay much, I am very fulfilled by it. We used $8,000 of our savings to move and pay for expenses while he was unemployed, as well as visit our family for the first time in two years. Between our two jobs (he makes about $40,000 a year now) and his GI Bill benefits, we are still in the black, and continuing to rebuild our savings while paying down our final car loan, and our student loans. We are contributing 6% of his income to a 401(k). The city is contributing 3%, and that will increase to 5% when he finishes his probationary period. The state is contributing 6%. Prior to this we had about $5,000 in a thrift account, but were not making regular contributions. In order to continue making ends meet, I will have to take a job over my summer break, but that is fine by me. By the time his GI Bill benefits run out, he should be making enough to cover it, between raises and mandatory overtime. If need be, I will take a second job and he will work voluntary overtime as well. We’ll do whatever it takes to keep our finances on track.

Since he has changed careers, we have also increased his term life insurance policy from $400,000 to $1,000,000 and have decreased mine from $100,000 to $25,000 (as it did not make sense to have more than would cover my debts and final expenses, since he is the primary wage earner and we have no children).

The most important change has been our happiness. He went from being gone over half our marriage on training or deployments and working 60-70 hours a week while he was home, to working just 40, and being home every night. To me, that is more than worth the sacrifices we had to make, and the stability that it has returned to our marriage is the true wealth that we have gained from this transition.


I wrote a book a few years ago called “Deal with Your Debt” that might be helpful. MSN Money’s Manage Debt decision center has a ton of great information and links as well. Good luck!


Wow, Kate, that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it.


Thanks for sharing your big leap. Thomas Stanley (“Millionaire Next Door”) talks about how millionaires tend to live in areas that are easy to live in, meaning easy on the budget. Sounds like you figured out an important key to making your life and your money work better for you.


Naw, I just didn’t get a chance to moderate comments until late in the day. Thanks again for submitting your comment.


I was downsized from my old Law firm of 12 years as a result of the economy. I am now looking for new work either in the legal field using some of my more unique skills. I am looking into FINRA arbitration or perhaps starting a new career consulting venture for Attorneys and Law Firms. I fortunately have saved most of my life and now have sufficient funds to hold out fro a fairly long period of time. I have joined a job hunting group and have been working to develop a network to try to be in a better position once the economy rebounds.


Just a thought on bankruptcy filings. I am amazed that they are not higher. Given the state of the economy, I would have predicted a much higher number. My suspicion is that the filings will peak in the spring after people have recieved their tax refunds. This is especially true for chapter 7 filings as tax refunds are normally lost to the chapter 7 trustee if the timing of filing is not properly calculated. In addition many people who file do so once their financial situation starts to stabilize. It is just good pre-bankruptcy planning.


Good point. People may also be waiting for the refunds so they have money to file. Far from rushing into bankruptcy, it appears a lot of people struggle so long with unpayable debts that they wind up with no money to pay the attorney or the court.


In the last decade, or close to it, I have moved from Los Angeles (where I met you Liz) to Wyoming, and 6 months ago, from Wyoming to North Dakota. I sold the house in Wyoming in May and bought a house in ND in a town of 2500(more than twice the size for half the price–68,000). The beautifully appointed antique house is located within walking distance (3 blocks or less) from shopping, library, etc., so I rarely use my two older vehicles (the truck I have had for 13 years, the car I bought at auction for 1200 dollars in August as a back up) and don’t have to purchase another one (no car payment, and very little gas expense–insurance costs me 33.00 per month for both cars). My mortgage payment (5.3%) is now about 550.00 per month for a 3000 sq foot house (that includes tax and insurance). This will allow me to pay off debt, attend grad schoo in social work, and homeschool my gifted child. In addition, ND is one of the few states that has been nearly recession proof. Bismarck, the state capitol, boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. It was the safe environment, educational opportunites (online grad school), low housing costs, and excellent economic forecast that brought me here.

I am a self-employed single mom and continue to find ways to work less and make more. My goal is to be debt free inside of 2 years, with the exception of student loans (6%) and mortgage. Next I will chip away at the student loans.


My wife and I moved from Minneapolis to Ironwood Michigan in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We moved here for a start-up company I was being recruited to work for. The area we live in has had a depressed economy since the 60′s when the iron and copper mines pulled out. The population has always had high unemployment but the people that live here always managed, especially in a harsh climate where we average over 200″ of snow each season. We took a leap of faith in being able to manage whether the start-up would survive or not and we haven’t looked back. In eleven years of living here we have managed to pay off ALL of our debt, including our auto loans and mortgage(s) of $170k, and we now live debt free. This was not our original intent, but as we lived a more simpler life, it created a vacuum of saving. Food, gasoline and services (including insurances) are more expensive here than what we experienced in Minneapolis, but housing is less expensive. (But choices are very limited as there are no new developments here.) We also don’t have the temptation of big box stores and restaurants around every corner. I believe we would have more debt had we stayed in the Minneapolis area, and would have a more stressful relationship as a result, and we are both thankful for taking the plunge and moving from the “big city”.


About 3 years ago, our family decided to make a radical change in life. We sold everything. The debt, the humdrum, and the noise of regular life was killing us. We decided to sell our beautiful home in suburbia, move into a tiny apartment near work, liquidate nearly all of our worldly possessions, and prepare ourselves to move aboard a boat to sail around the world full time. This year, we will be leaving on our journey having successfully eliminated all debt, dissolved legal obligations, acquired our boat, and put away enough money to take off and go. Everything we did to prepare for the journey changed our lives.

See you on the ocean!
-Bill, Val, KJ, and Dy


Wow, that’s remarkable! Enjoy your journey.


Great to hear from you, Cate! Sounds like you found a great situation.