Planning for your financial future? Give your plans a boost with information tailored for you
Start Choosing Here »

This Couple Learned the True Cost of Living Beyond Their Means

×
Photo courtesy of Travis Pizel
(Photo courtesy of Travis Pizel)

By Mandi Woodruff

As a successful software engineer living in the suburbs of Minnesota, Travis Pizel never had an income problem.

Together, he and his wife, Vonnie, pulled in a cool six figures each year, more than enough to provide for their two children and still take the occasional weekend getaway. And if they couldn't afford something when they wanted it, Travis knew exactly where to turn.

As tales of debt often do, his began with one credit card that eventually became two credit cards, then three, and so on. A few years into his marriage, Travis had 13 open lines of credit and was officially hiding the bills from his wife each month.

"I just stopped talking about how much [debt we were in]," Travis said. "Everyone else would go to bed at night and I would be trying to figure out how to move credit balances around, get new credit cards ... whatever it took to keep our finances going."

Within a decade, he had amassed $109,000 worth of debt.

A Tumbling House of Cards

It was the summer of 2009 when Pizel hit rock bottom. Chase announced a higher minimum payment requirement, and he was suddenly staring down the prospect of hundreds of dollars more in payments each month. It was money they didn't have. His house of cards was on the brink of collapse.

"Marriage is built on trust and I didn't do a good job on that," Travis said. "[My wife and I] had a frank discussion on how we got there ... and when it was all over, we started looking for solutions."

Determined to avoid filing personal bankruptcy -- "We felt really responsible for the debt we racked up," he explained -- the couple hit the Web for alternative options.

They decided to enroll with a debt management company.

When Travis found a debt management company online, he was dubious at best. The entire concept of paying a company to manage debt was foreign.
Debt management companies aren't exactly the golden parachute their name might bring to mind (and if a company portrays itself as one, it could be a scam). They negotiate a low-interest payment plan with lenders on the consumer's behalf. In return, the consumer agrees to pay off their debts within a certain window of time, typically three to five years, and the company disperses a monthly payment across all proper channels. The fees for doing so are typically around $20 a month, though the Pizels pay $50 with their service.

After several hours-long conversations with company representatives, the Pizels signed up for 57 monthly payments of $2,489 each.

There was also a catch: Once enrolled in the service, all of their credit accounts were frozen.

"That was a big commitment to say we weren't going to use credit cards anymore," Travis said. "Even when we enrolled in the program, we had no idea what kind of lifestyle changes we would have to make to make it work."

Living Within Their Means

Plastic-free life was a gradual adjustment. They made all the usual cuts like cable, landline phones and fancy dinners, but it took a year before they started to hit where it really hurt.

"For the first year, we still had a 500-gallon hot tub sitting in our backyard," Travis said. "You start thinking, 'What are we doing here?' "

They almost entirely halted their contributions to retirement savings, and the weekend getaways ended. They got used to $1 movie rentals and family nights, and made extra cash from garage sales. Christmas lists were trimmed to three presents per child.

Little by little, they made headway.

Four years into the program, they have paid down $82,000 of their initial $109,000 debt load and have 13 payments left before they're debt free. Travis now chronicles his journey out of debt at Enemyofdebt.com.

"It's exciting to see the end of that tunnel ... I just wish I would have figured it out earlier," he said. "It's a lot less stressful to have a partner and not trying to shoulder that all by yourself."

More from Business Insider:


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

17 Comments

Filter by:
cslinz62

Their needs weren't met growing up. I got everything I ever wanted being an only child but it was always enstilled into me to work for what I got in life. I'm not in debt today because I live way below my means. Almost impoverished like but I love money and security. I make around $35,400.00 cleaning restrooms/offices but I only live on around $15,00.00yr. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

April 25 2013 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
foxylynx

Better late than never - you have taken responsibility, when many would have field for bankruptsy. I'm sure you have learned your lesson - so when you are all paid up - don't go and blow it again.

April 25 2013 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
virginia

yes i learned the hard way. cosigning for nephews who make much more money that i do and the little ***** never paid back what was owed and i cannot afford it.
now i cannot answer my phone and my credit is ruined. all becasue i tried to help family and they go out for dinner all the time ansd buy a 4 yr old $50 sneakers.
right now if they died i wouldnt give a crap. been burned for more than you can imagine. but my own stupidity.

April 25 2013 at 4:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MsBrightside83

what a bunch of negative Nellies who get itchy fingers to leave their stupid remarks

it's nice to see that you guys acknowledged your debt and took full responsibility for it - many people would have just filed for bankruptcy. racking up $100k in debt is easy, paying it back.. wait.. WANTING TO PAY IT BACK.. now that is hard and glad you two owned up to it and did what had to be done. it probably taught you many lessons during the journey about what truly has value in life and what doesn't. it can be easy for many people to buy $100 jeans without giving it a second thought and it takes sometimes a hard lesson to realize that many joyous things on this planet are actually free or cost little to do.

what pisses me off is that i can imagine how hard it is to live without an extras, paying back all your debt, and feeling really accomplished to have paid it back- and then what do you get as a response.. stuff like "idiots" - people really should just not say a word if they have nothing nice to say. it's an elementary school lesson that many people just never were taught.

March 19 2013 at 8:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
MsBrightside83

what a bunch of negative Nellies who get itchy fingers to leave their stupid remarks

it's nice to see that you guys acknowledged your debt and took full responsibility for it - many people would have just filed for bankruptcy. racking up $100k in debt is easy, paying it back.. wait.. WANTING TO PAY IT BACK.. now that is hard and glad you two owned up to it and did what had to be done. it probably taught you many lessons during the journey about what truly has value in life and what doesn't. it can be easy for many people to buy $100 jeans without giving it a second thought and it takes sometimes a hard lesson to realize that many joyous things on this planet are actually free or cost little to do.

March 19 2013 at 8:42 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
stonewolfco

why glorify a dumbass who spent himself really far into debt? Why not focus on those people smart enough to live with in their means?

March 19 2013 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jfsavo

What I don't undertand is, why did you pay this company to help you when you could have done it yourself. I too was in your position years back. To the tune of 200K credit card debt. When I called the financial debt counselors, I choked at the prices they got. After they explained what they were going to do, I said NO THANKS. The price was not worth it.
I met with my accountant and we set up a plan and it was done with a one time payment of $100.00 for the accountant. Yes, it took time and effort to talk to all of my debtors. After it was all done, I was back on schedule again. I learned my lesson and will never be there again.
As of 2pm this afternoon, my final auto payment was made. I am totally debt free now. 3 houses, 2 trucks and a farm tractor, all debt free.
As a senior citizen, my life is easier to live. I keep 2 credit cards on hand out of necessity for traveling. I use them both once per month for a dinner out so the interest rates stay low. Other than that EVERYTHING is payed with cash.
Good luck!

March 19 2013 at 12:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jfsavo's comment
STEPHANIE

Great statement here jfsavo. You are right--anyone can call their debtors and negotiate a payment and work out a payment plan. I don't think debtors would say no to some money versus no money. I hope my husband and I can be in a similar situation to yours when we retire. We prefer to pay in cash for most things, and only use credit for large purchases, and only if it is absolutely necessary.

March 19 2013 at 10:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
henry

www.30millionstrong.org

March 18 2013 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
henry

www.30millionstrong.org

March 18 2013 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
henry

www.30millionstrong.org

March 18 2013 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply