Hey, I’m Johnny.
I was born and raised in Illinois, the second-flattest state. I grew up as the oldest of 4 and we raced BMX bikes. Outside of sports, my passions include: family, finances, travel, and helping others succeed.
I’m the quiet, numbers guy, but I’m also the guy who sets his mind to something and works as hard as possible to accomplish it. The way I view problems is that I can learn how to do anything.
My own personal finance story started with having a goal to be debt-free and have my future wife stay at home with our children.
Inspiration from my Father
Inspiration for this original goal came from my Father. My dad was diagnosed with cancer at age 31. Even with his diagnosis, he was the definition of a workhorse. He did everything in his power to allow my mom to stay at home and raise my siblings and I. With that, unfortunately, came the sacrifice of family time. With long hours and multiple jobs, we really only saw him on Sundays. After being in car sales for 25+ years he decided to make a career change and become a financial advisor near 2006. With his passion for finances and a new career, this would also allow him to spend more time with our family.
Little did we know that the markets would crash in 2008 and make this career change a bit more difficult than planned. This didn’t stop him from working hard as an advisor until his death at age 59 in early 2015 from his long battle with cancer.
I feel I definitely got my passion and work ethic from my father. But I realized with his life being cut short, I wanted to spend my time on this earth working smarter not harder. I wanted to spend as much time with my family: make sure I am home for dinner every night, make it to all of my children’s events and make the best of every day. The last thing I want to do is work extremely long hours and miss out on the best parts of my life.
So that’s when I really decided I needed to find ways to be extremely successful that allowed me to enjoy my life. I knew financial independence and early retirement was the end goal… Now how was I going to get there? But first, let’s start from the beginning.
In early 2011, I started my career.
At my first job, I was making about $42,000. As a recent grad, I was also $53,000 in student loan debt. Like most college grads with a new full-time job, I felt on top of the world. So, of course, I needed to look the part as well. I went out and bought a brand new car. Because… duh, I needed to roll up on the first day in style.
Instead of paying off my higher interest student loan debt, I paid down my 0% car loan so that I could sell it and buy a truck to ride our newly purchased ATVs… Yes, at this stage in my life, thrill-seeking was at the top of my priority list. So of course, the short term goals were focused on that instead of the future.
Mid 2015 – Let’s get Married!
Tabitha and I dated since high school and once we were wed, our finances became one.
Just before leaving for our honeymoon, Tabitha’s car decided to never start again. So, as a financially savvy couple at this point, what did we do? We went to the dealership and bought a mid-sized SUV for our future family. Que another $23,000 in debt to pay off. The funny part is, we really thought we were being financially savvy, basically turning into Dave Ramsey since we bought a certified used car instead of a new car.
Up until this point, we had been making mostly minimum payments on our loans. We were happy with our lifestyle and were freely spending the money we had available.
It was time for a change!
In early 2016, I started trying to track our finances. I had the ‘starting a new diet’ epiphany. I started out strong for a few days, then that slowly faded back into old habits.
Round two of the epiphany came. I knew we needed to make a lifestyle change in order for it to stick. After being just over $100,000 in student loan and vehicle debt. Instead of tracking our spending, since I had already failed at that, I worked backward from when we wanted to have a child (within 2 years).
At this time, our student loans totaled about $70,000. Two years to pay off $70,000?!?!? How in the world were we going to accomplish this? I felt that there was no way Tabitha would be able to stay at home.
In order to pay down our debt, that meant no more extras. What Tabitha heard from that was: no more dining out, no more bar tabs, no amazon purchases, no more vacations. It did not go over very well, so I had to find a compromise. How can I make the happy wife – happy life motto actually become reality?
After some seriously long and challenging conversations, and man do I mean challenging. The reality of marrying a strong-willed female really really came to test my patience and sanity during this time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. After some time, we finally came to a decision that for our family, we would buckle down and pay off our loans.
This meant that we had to budget and be serious about it. We started using software called YNAB. YNAB stands for You Need A Budget.
Little did we know at the time, but the need for compromise fueled our journey into mystery shopping and travel rewards. With both of these tools, our lifestyle didn’t need to change too much while paying off our debts. There have been trials and tribulations along with major successes so far in our journey. Thank you for taking interest in our journey, I hope our ‘to be continued’ story can resonate with you in some way!
And, I’m Tabitha!
I was born and raised in Illinois as well! I grew up swimming and lived life as a fish up until I developed a shoulder injury requiring me to get surgery on both of my shoulders before graduating high school… ouch!
In my current season of life, I am focused on raising our two young daughters (two under two), supporting my husband with our entrepreneurial endeavors, and to strive to be the best version of myself!
Becoming a teacher
Growing up I have always had a passion for helping others. This lead me to the decision very early on that I wanted to be a teacher. I even asked for an overhead projector for my 10th birthday, and yep my parents delivered!
My twin brother hated the fact that I would ‘teach’ him everyday after school. But he is now a doctor, so I definitely am taking some credit for that. I went to Illinois State University after high school and graduated with a degree as a learning and behavior specialist a.k.a a special education teacher.
The passion I have for teaching is undeniable, but once Johnny and I started talking about having children, we thought the best thing for our family would be for me to stay home. So we took every means necessary to make that happen.
I had no clue what I was in for!
I grew up in a family where I had one parent that was a saver and one that was a spender. I definitely inherited the spending gene. Johnny and I were very similar in that aspect of him the saver and me the spender. I knew I wanted to break that cycle with him but really wasn’t ready at first for the change.
As Johnny talks about, we both made decent money right out of college and did the typical spending without budgeting. Together basically living paycheck to paycheck without even realizing it and then wondering where all our money went.
As a couple that loves to travel, we were determined to vacation multiple times a year. We both had our careers, a new home, and felt that we were living the “American Dream”. Whether it was Florida to visit family, or Mexico for an all-inclusive, prior to travel rewards, we would put the trip expenses on a credit card and always said we’d pay it off after the trip.
Our lifestyle was paycheck to paycheck. We were not going into debt further, but we also were not following a path to meet Johnny’s original goal.
Honestly, I didn’t see much of a problem with it because we were able to pay off our credit cards at the end of each month while paying towards our debt but not saving anything. I mean lets be real – I bought my wedding dress with student loan money and thought that was okay!
If it was not for Johnny, I would still be living this kind of life style and be no where close to financial independence.
They say, in order to be growing you need to be uncomfortable.
Boy was I uncomfortable with the changes that we started to make. Johnny started really developing a budget and looking where our money was going. This called for some really hard conversations and disagreements.
I was giving so much push-back. Sure I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but I still wanted to continue to go out multiple times a week to higher-end restaurants and buy the new shoes, clothes, whatever I wanted really.
What made it even harder for me was the budgeting app that Johnny was using made it seem like ‘big brother’ was watching my every move. It took a lot for us to come to a compromise.
I’ll be honest, I hated YNAB at first. I wanted to be able to spend money and not worry about the end game but I’ve grown to love it!
It took a lot for me to change my mindset on things.
Yes, we still go out to nice restaurants and yes, I still shop. But, now it is all within reason or free thanks to mystery shopping.
Its actually empowering to know where all of our money is going.
Anyone that knows me, knows that a few years ago, I would be the last to say that spending within reason is the way to go. I am still able to live the life I want and actually live it better than before! Who can say their 2 1/2 year old has been on more than 20 airplane rides. I can! And yes that is with living life on a budget!
I have to say, Johnny really is the yin to my yang.
He, the level-headed numbers guy and I am the emotional empathizer. We are so drastically different in so many ways, but because of that, we make a pretty great team. I still give push-back on ideas and yes disagreements still occur. But that is life!
I am excited to share our journey and how we navigate through it with you all. Because I can almost guarantee in most relationships where people are seeking financial independence, there is a Johnny and there is a Tabitha.
Starting a Family in 2017
Tabitha was a teacher for 4 years before becoming pregnant with our first daughter. To this point, we had worked hard to try and pay off all we could and we began to crunch numbers to see if she was going to be able to stay home once the baby was born.
Paying off $70,000 in debt within two years was not a small task by any means. It was during this time period that Johnny got serious about travel rewards and Tabitha began helping with some more in depth mystery shops. We were able to still meet our debt pay off goals each month and also continue our date nights.
In addition to budgeting, we began tracking our net worth with Personal Capital. This is a completely free resource and if you sign up using this link, you’ll get a free $20! Personal Capital allows you to link your financial accounts to get a graph of your net worth and see your investments real time!
2018 - Paid off our loans!
With hard work (overtime for Johnny and a 2nd job for Tabitha), we paid off all of our student loans!!! We made sure that our only debt payment left was Tabitha’s car!
Johnny had started a new job that required significant travel for the first six months. It worked out well because, Tabitha was able to take the full 12 weeks off when our daughter was born. Tabitha only returned to work for the last two months of the school year. She has not returned to full time work since. Instead, she substitute teaches occasionally.
We didn’t travel as much for 2018 with our daughter being born…
Okay! Maybe that’s a lie… check out some of our travels here!
Johnny took a leap and started this blog to help log the rest of our journey and help others along the way!
We’re now a family of 4! Our newest daughter was born in the summer.
- As a family, we vacation on a zero dollar budget thanks to travel rewards rewards. Everything we spend towards travel is either cashback or points from a credit card.
- We’re landlords! We dove in and bought not just one, but two rental properties!
- We have ZERO debt outside of our mortgages. We even paid off Tabitha’s car!
Wow! Need we say more? lol
Goals For the Future
- I enjoy the idea of retiring early and often. With Tabitha at home with our two girls, I would love to spend summers off of work with my family.
- Fund our IRA’s with credit card rewards
- My number one goal is to raise caring and compassionate humans that make a change in our world