How Debt-Freedom Helped Kendall Launch Her Own Business

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On this episode of The Wealthy Neighbors Show, I talk to Kendall Berry of Berry Personal Finance.

Kendall and her husband found themselves over $53,000 in debt and paid if off in only 7 months.

But they didn’t stop there.

They built a nice savings and started investing which gave them the flexibility for Kendall to quit her job and start her business.

Listen to her story below:

Michael: 00:27 Welcome back for episode 14 of the wealthy neighbors show. I came across a stat the other day that said 20% of small businesses fail within the first year, and also that by year five, about 50% of small businesses have failed. These stats come from the U S Bureau of labor statistics, so they're pretty accurate. And here's the thing, 37% of those businesses that failed fail due to financial reasons. And that's crazy because I know most of us start businesses for reasons that aren't necessarily financial. Like, yes, we want to make a little money with our business, but we started because we see a need in the market or we see a group of people that we want to help, or there's just something that's tugging at us that just won't let us go. And we're super passionate about it. And so to hear that almost 40% of businesses fail due to money. Just start something up in me. And so that's why today I wanted to bring on financial coach, Kendall Berry of Berry personal finance Kendall was going to share how paying off $53,000 in debt helped her become financially stable enough to walk away from her job and start her own business. So first things first. I want to say thank you for coming on and agreeing to share your story with us from our first question, I want to know how you and your husband found yourselves $53,000 in debt to begin with?

Kendall: 01:49 Oh, you know, I feel like it really creeped up on us. We were, it was back in 2016 and my husband and I had been married I guess three to four years at that point. And we were living the young newlywed life. We were having lots of fun spending lots of money going out on the weekends and we really didn't have a financial plan at all. We both had great jobs. My husband's actually in the military. He's a pilot and I was a social worker at the time. So we had good incomes and we felt like if we have good incomes, we really don't need to worry about our finances. They'll figure themselves out. But what caused me to start thinking about it was we started talking about how we wanted to grow our family. And I'm thinking to myself, I've always wanted to be a stay at home mother. Is it even gonna be possible for us to live on just one income? So I got out my student loan statements, our car statement, and get a brand new car. We had just bought a house, we had credit cards, and I had a lot of debt from the college that I went to and realized that we had $53,000 in debt. And wow, with all of the huge payments that we were making monthly, there was absolutely no way for me to stay home with kids. So that's when I realized that we were deeply in debt.

Michael: 03:14 Oh man. Okay. So let's talk about that because I mean, you said you had always had this vision of staying at home and here this debt was standing in the way of that. So what was that conversation like when you figured that out with your husband?

Kendall: 03:28 So I was devastated because, you know, this really was something that I had always seen for myself, but somehow had never put the pieces together that you've got to have it, you have to have your financial house in order in order for that to be possible. So I realized we had all that debt and quickly started Googling how do you get out of debt quickly and already found Dave Ramsey's plan, the seven baby steps. And I was already working a plan in my head and then I presented that to my husband and you know, he was, he was on board. He wanted to pay off the debt too. He really wanted for me to be able to stay home if that was what I wanted to do. But I don't think he was quite as certain that the plan that I was so gung ho about was going to work for us.

Michael: 04:21 Do you remember what some of his reservations were about just the plan and all that?

Kendall: 04:26 I think with most things you know, you feel like you should already be good at them. So with, with with our finances we just sort of felt like, you know, we know this stuff, you have to spend less than you make and we probably should keep a budget. Do we really need somebody else telling us what plan we should follow? So he was a little skeptical. I think he figured that we could figure it out on our own and we didn't really need somebody else's opinion about it. And I probably would have felt the same way if somebody was coming to me with, you know, we need to change what we're doing.

Michael: 05:02 Yeah, absolutely. So a little bit about our story. I mean, I was the one who figured this whole thing out for us and then I brought it to my wife and you know, she was like, yeah, this sounds great. Like getting out of debt. And then I laid out the plan and it was like, Oh, we gotta cut back spending here and there. And it was like, nah, I'll pass bro. We're not [inaudible]

Kendall: 05:25 Well, much fun. So why would we want to stop having fun?

Michael: 05:28 Right, exactly. Exactly. And so, I mean, talk about that a little bit. What were some of those changes you guys had to make in the early days?

Kendall: 05:35 Well, we got into the financial peace course at our, our church almost right away. And so that really addressed to us some of the spending habits, but I don't think we realized that we had and we needed to scale back our lifestyle. So deciding on a grocery budget and sticking to it, deciding on a restaurant budget instead of going out every single weekend or every night if we wanted to. Actually funny story with that. One of the first exercises that we did was we read through our financial statement and categorize each of the spending expenses that we had done that month. And we realized that we had gone out to eat 31 times in 30 days. Like when you are not limited to, you're having so much fun, biggest things to our spending habit was just being intentional and setting the limit for ourselves, especially for food because I love to eat.

Michael: 06:37 Right, right. You know, it's funny that you say that because we also did that exercise and the first month we did that exercise, I realized we had spent more money on food than we had on rent the previous month. And, and I was just like, the no way. There's no way there's gotta be a miscalculation somewhere. But it was all there. Right. And so it was just kinda like, like you said, just taking that step and focusing on being intentional, how challenging for you guys were, was making some of those changes?

Kendall: 07:08 Yeah, I think for my husband, I think it was probably easier for him because he was always a saver. And he, you know, before he met me, he was living the bachelor life. He was happy eating ramen noodles and chicken patties for dinner and he is a very good saver. Whereas I was a big spender. So for me cutting back on shopping and buying anything I wanted as soon as I saw it and going out to eat, that was, that was a lot harder of an adjustment for me. Thankfully I do like to cook, so eating more at home was was okay. It just takes, it just takes getting used to it. And I think once we quickly saw the momentum building with our debt payoffs, then I was totally on board. Like how quick can we get this done?

Michael: 07:58 What was your income around that time?

Kendall: 08:00 So our income at that time was probably, I'm going to say around 130,000

Michael: 08:08 And then, so you guys got on a plan until then. What were some of those, again, we talked about the food, but I mean what were some of the more practical things you guys did with your finances? I mean, were you living on a budget prior to that? And now you're budgeting kind of how did you lay everything out and then start taking, you know, the steps forward to get out of debt.

Kendall: 08:26 We definitely weren't on a budget or maybe we thought we were on a budget and I do find this a lot this sometimes people think they're on a budget that really, that just means they know how much they spend on their bills, but they aren't tracking their other expenses. So for us, this was our first time making a real monthly budget. That was our plan before the months began that we were going to stick to. And that really helped. I can't say enough about having a budget. It's, it's so simple and it's so easy to do, but it's the hardest one to follow through with I think. And so finally making that change and being intentional with our finances was how we ended up seeing so much progress so quickly.

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Michael: 09:10 And so you mentioned you guys got started you, you did. Your, Google's kind of like me came across Dave Ramsey. You took financial peace. Were there any other voices in your head around that time that you were kind of looking into from the personal finance space? Like did you read any other books or anything like that?

Kendall: 09:26 No, I was a Dave Ramsey girl. We went to his class and I was all in and so Dave Ramsey, Rachel Cruz, Chris Hogan, pretty much everyone in the ramsey crew and I was on board.

Michael: 09:39 Yeah. Okay. And so then you guys find out you have the debt, right? This is sparked by you wanting to stay home and then you figure out that this is impossible with the current numbers that we have, this is just not going to happen. And so you devise a plan, you start working the plan, and how long did it take you guys to pay off? $53,000?

Kendall: 10:00 Sure. So we were fairly fortunate because we did have a decent income and we also started with a bit in savings. So we had had some savings that we use to initially get started with our debt snowball. So I guess from start to finish when we decided to really get on this financial journey was September of 2016 and then we paid off our debt in April of 2017. So that's like, I don't know, six to nine months, eight months, something like that. So it did go fairly quickly for us.

Michael: 10:36 You guys become debt free fairly quickly. What was it like when you hit submit on that last payment? Like walk me through kind of that day in that moment. I mean, what was going through your mind around that time?

Kendall: 10:47 It's so surreal. I remember we decided to make the last payment together, so we were sitting on the couch and we had the iPad out and we're like, okay, you know, let's click it together. And I just remember feeling well. It didn't really feel that much different, but in my head I'm thinking, wow, this is like changing our life. Then I think we got up and like danced around the room or something and just tried to go a little crazy with it. Yeah, it was, it was super surreal and I don't think it totally kicked in until like the next month when we didn't have payments coming out and we could start really hitting our emergency fund and, and saving up for that. But it was, it's definitely been incredible and I think that the effects of it has just been amazing to different degrees. Like the further out the further out that we get from, from being debt free.

Michael: 11:42 Yeah. You know, let's talk about that because that's interesting. I kind of have a similar viewpoint on that. So what were some of those affects that being debt free had on your marriage?

Kendall: 11:51 Hmm. So that's one of favorite things. I mean our marriage was wonderful before we got started with this, but we know that money fights are one of the leading causes of divorce in our country. But for us, our finances are, are exciting. It's a area where we are on the same page. We've hit goals together and we know that we can do hard things together. And so for us, anytime that we sit down to do our budget meeting or to plan for the future, it's just exciting for us. And it's fun. And I do think that, especially being so young in our marriage, working towards those goals together and getting on a plan together and learning self control and not enabling bad spending habits, mostly my bad spending habits or this sense of entitlement to just go and buy things. I think nipping some of those bad habits at the, at the bud is only gonna help improve our marriage going forward. And it's also an opportunity where you've got this goal and then I want to buy something and then my husband says, can you remember we have this physical that we want to hit together and it's a great like checking balance. Thanks for us. And so I think it's only been good things.

Michael: 13:09 Absolutely. Absolutely. So you know, I got gotta ask this question because you kind of labeled yourself as a spender and so as the spender, now that you're debt free, what's your favorite thing to spend money on now?

Kendall: 13:21 Well, like on the small end food. I love to eat, I love to cook. I'm in like a boujee grocery store with an unlimited budget and I'm just in heaven, but definitely traveled to, I love travel. We've got a goal of seeing all the national parks and you've seen about, I think we've seen five of them so far and I just, I just love to travel around the country. We try to take one or two vacations a year if we can. And yeah, I could spend some big money on travel too.

Michael: 13:57 Yeah, we are big time travelers ourselves. And that was part, I mean when we were dating we would go on vacations together and we traveled together all the time. And then, you know, during our marriage, obviously we paused that while we were paying off our debt. But it feels so different now to travel debt free. Like has that been the same experience to you? And if so, kind of talk about that a little.

Kendall: 14:17 Sure. Yeah. So the fact that we're saving up for trips before we go and we have a budget before we go. And then when we come home, we're not worrying about checking the credit card statements or Oh shoot, I overspent while we were there. We really just think go and totally enjoy ourselves and you know, feel like we can splurge a little bit because the money's there and we've built that into our budget. So it really just makes travel all the more fun and all the more of a stress relief for us.

Michael: 14:50 I mean, again, kinda been my

Kendall: 14:51 Experience as well. I love like coming home and not worrying about, okay, how are we going to pay the bills next month? And like, you know, how are we going to pay for the credit card that we put everything on and just all those thoughts that you naturally have when your vacation and while you're in debt, you know, for us, I think right now, I mean, I feel like right now we're still trying to be a little bit frugal. And we had a few house issues that popped up this past year. We had ended up having to put in a brand new kitchen because our kitchen flooded. And so we spent some big money on the kitchen and now we're playing a little bit of catch up to put some savings back in there. But we had the ability to do that, which was really nice. And then just planning trips. We'd love to go on a trip to Ireland, Scotland maybe in the spring and yeah, eating good food and not having to do as many things, I guess.

Michael: 15:55 That's perfect. I love it. I love it. I love it. So I mean, you've mentioned home ownership, you know, we bought a house last year as well. We thankfully have not had any big expenses like that. But can you just talk about, I mean, how do you think you would have handled that a few years ago versus how you were able to handle that now? Because now you just said you tapped in the savings and you're just replenishing that savings. But a few years ago that probably wouldn't have been the case for you, right?

Kendall: 16:21 No, I mean, when we were still in debt, if an emergency happened, we probably would have just put it on the credit card and worried about it later. If I could go back and do things differently, we would have waited till we were debt free and had our emergency fund in place before buying a house. But we didn't. So you know, we got out of debt as quickly as possible. We put that six month emergency in place. But let me tell you our house, while it has been a blessing and a wonderful place to live, it has left us with no end in repairs that we've had to do. It's about a 25 to 30 year old house, so everything's coming up to be replaced. And then the last three years that we've lived here, we have replaced every single appliance. We've had to redo the basement that's finished basement twice for being flooded.

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Kendall: 17:15 And then we had to replace our whole kitchen because our dishwasher flooded the kitchen and basement again and like destroyed everything. So, yeah, when I talked to people about home ownership, I just like, you've got to have savings because for us, having savings meant that we, yeah, it was really annoying and frustrating and we had to live with a kitchen that was completely torn up for several months while we were getting it put back together. But it wasn't a financial worry. It wasn't like, do we eat or do we fix the kitchen or do we pay our bills or do we fix the kitchen? It was okay, yeah, this sucks. You know, insurance isn't gonna cover all of it, but we have savings. We can do this. It wasn't our timing to do a brand new kitchen right now, but we can do this. And then we'll just work hard to replenish our savings after that. So it's really taken a lot of like the stress and anxiety out of homeownership, but there's still going to be those things that pop up.

Michael: 18:18 Sure. This is great that you brought that up. I mean, what would you suggest for a person that's looking at home ownership? Like, how much would you suggest that person have saved?

Kendall: 18:27 So I think you need to be debt free. I think you need to have your six months emergency fund in place and then save up a 20% down payment if you can. And then if you have to take out a mortgage, which most of us do, most of us aren't, aren't able to just pay for a house fully with cash, which is of course the the goal. But if you're able to first save up your 20% down payment and then it's like a mortgage where your monthly payment is no more than one fourth of your monthly take home pay. So you want to keep your house expenses low so that you're not house poor and so that you have money to cover those emergencies that pop up and still live a really full life. I think so often for people in our generation or the younger generation, we see our parents living in these beautiful houses and we want to attain the same level of prosperity that they are currently living in. And so our eyes get bigger than what our budgets can actually take. And we ended up making poor financial decisions because we're trying to keep up with somebody else. So I really want to encourage people to just be on your own schedule. If you need to rent for a few years, that's okay. I think renting is an awesome tool to help you get to the place where you need to be financially before you purchase a home.

Michael: 19:58 Yeah, I mean talk. So talk a little bit about that because you know, a lot of people do say, okay, if my rent's $1,500 a month, I could go get a mortgage that's $1,300 a month and I'm saving $200 a month. I mean, talk a little bit about that because that's something that we hear and see quite a bit.

Kendall: 20:15 Sure. And I totally get that logic, but it's also not factoring in risk. It's not factoring in the fact that you don't have someone else you can call when something breaks, you got to cover that yourself. It doesn't factor in, you know, all sorts of things that could happen when you're owning your own house. And I don't mean that to sound negative, but I think there's so many other factors. You know, it's not the end of the world if you buy a house while you're still in debt, but if you want to be in the best financial place to buy a house, being out of debt and being in a place where it can totally be a blessing to you and where you, you know, you're not going to get foreclosed on because you're not paying your bills. I think, I think waiting is a good thing. Sometimes.

Michael: 21:05 I kind of want to go back to your personal journey a little bit. So you guys pay off your debt, you build your emergency fund and you get to that place where your emergency plans built up. But then once the emergency fund was built up, what were you guys doing to actively build wealth for yourselves going forward?

Kendall: 21:22 So we follow Dave Ramsey's seven baby steps. So after we had our six months emergency fund put together, we started investing at 15% of our income. So we contacted a local financial advisor in our area and got set up with Roth IRAs through them. And then my husband also gets his match through the military at work as well. So he invests up to his match, which is about 5% and then we invest the other 10% into a Roth IRAs separately.

Michael: 21:55 I know for you, part of your story is, you know, you were able to leave your job and now you're a financial coach for others. What financial decisions did you guys have to make to get you to a place where you felt comfortable walking away from your job to become an entrepreneur?

Kendall: 22:09 So one of the biggest things, biggest piece of advice that we got that has been so helpful to us was you need to be living on the income that you're going to be making before you are living on that income. So for us that meant, okay, we know we're going down to one income now. Originally it was we, we thought we would get pregnant right away. So we hoped that I'd be able to stay home. So we decided to start living on just my husband's income and taking our expenses out of his income well in advance of when that would happen. So I think for anyone who's wanting to be an entrepreneur to go off on their own, realizing first of all it's, it's amazing, but it's also super volatile, your income. And so you need to, as as Dave Ramsey often says, make sure you bring the boat a little closer to the dock before you jump off it.

Kendall: 23:01 So whether that's working to your side hustle and your regular job at once until it builds up to enough money that you can actually pay your bills. But really just planning several months ahead of time or even a year ahead of time to start living off the just one income or the just this is what I'm going to be making early so that it's not a complete shock when you have to switch to that income. For us, I ended up leaving my job a year and a half ago in July. I was a social worker and I, while I loved my job, I was incredibly burnt out. That and also with trying to get pregnant and how much stress we were going through with all of that because it, it wasn't working out for us the way we had planned. We just decided, okay, maybe we don't have children right now.

Kendall: 23:54 But that had provided a way ahead of time by having us go through this financial journey that when I needed to leave my job, I could. So I came home lived a few months of just trying to de stress and feel like myself again. And then I realized, okay, I, you know, I do want to do something with my time. What makes me incredibly happy? What's something that I would even do for free because I love it so much. And I realized that I just cannot stop talking to people about how wonderful being debt free it is and trying to help other people with their expenses and their budgets and to be on the same plan that we were. So that's when I decided I want to be a financial coach. Now, thankfully my husband makes a debt to income and we were already living off of just one income. So it wasn't a huge deal for me to then devote my time and a little bit of our resources to taking a course and starting my business and doing some of those professional development things before I got started. And then I've been, you know, he's been supporting me as I get my business up and running.

Michael: 25:05 Okay, so now you, now you're a financial coach and so your job is to help other people get their start. And so in your opinion, I mean, what is a good first step for people that are listening, who may be want to become debt free and want to start building wealth and want to do these things for themselves, but maybe they just don't know, like where to start. What should that first step be for that person?

Kendall: 25:26 There's so many important things, but I think the very, very first step is figuring out your why. Because having a why, a reason is what's going to carry you through the journey from start to finish. And it has to be a strong enough why. Dreaming about what life is going to look like after you're debt free. So that those thoughts and those dreams can really carry you through the difficult times. But then practically a first step would be doing your first monthly budget. It's not going to be pretty, it's not going to be perfect, but you need to know where every single dollar is going before the month begins.

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Michael: 26:03 So where can, I mean, what are some tips you can give somebody who's maybe never done a budget before on how to kind of optimize that? Because as we know, you know when you first start, I mean you're going to stumble through it and no matter what kind of advice you get, right, there's things maybe that pop up that you just didn't anticipate because again, you're new at this. So what are, I mean, what are some things that you can kind of give to people to help shorten that learning curve a little bit?

Kendall: 26:26 Yeah, so have grapes. Look yourselves, know that it's not going to be perfect, but start with your income or at least your best guess for what your income is. Now, your income may be variable, but I want you to take your best guess and maybe aim a little bit lower than you typically make so that you have some room to expand. If, if you do end up making more than that, so start, you know, very basic budget here. Get out a piece of paper, start with your income at the top of the page and then subtract your bills, the known expenses that you know are coming up and get out your calendar. Look at the month ahead, what's coming out, right? Because we know December looks a lot different than June. So what are those variable expenses? Okay, I'm going out with friends this night, I've got a birthday this day.

Kendall: 27:16 What are those expenses that vary from month to month? Subtract those as well, and then hopefully have a little bit extra that you can put towards your goals, whether it's debt pay off or savings, something like that. Now, ideally you would take your savings or your debt payoff off the top, but I think for your first budget just knowing what your bills are and knowing what your variable expenses are and then if there's something left over, putting that towards your goals as well. Now you may find that when you make your budget that things don't add up. You don't have enough money to go around for all of the things you want to spend money on. And, and that's a hard thing, especially if your mindset for so many years has been, okay, well don't have the money, let me put it on a credit card. First thing you got to do to get out of debt is stop adding to it. So if you find that you don't have enough money to spread around for all the things you want to purchase or all of your expenses or goals, you've got two options. You can either increase your income or decrease your expenses or ultimately do both.

Michael: 28:27 Yeah. So I want to go back to something you said earlier. You said you were a Ramsey girl and part of those Ramsey steps is investing 15% and so you guys have an advisor. And so why did you settle on that decision versus going, you know, more in the the, the self investor, I guess, route.

Kendall: 28:47 So for me investing is not an area that I feel incredibly comfortable in. I don't know a lot about it. And so for me, I was really important that we worked with somebody who's an expert in their fields, who has the heart of a teacher. Somebody who's going to teach me about my investments so that I understand them better. And so that we get the best optimization for the money that we're putting into it. I thought it was really important for us to go to a professional for that. I'm always impressed by the people who do investing on their own. It's, I think it's important to know your strengths. And for me, I, I, it's not something that I felt very comfortable in, but I do feel really comfortable with our advisor. We met with a few different ones to interview them and we really take degree who again has that great heart who teaches us, he shows us what he's doing with our money so that we understand it and and then gives us updates on what's going on.

Michael: 29:53 So, you know, you said something interesting there again, you know, you guys met with a couple of them. So what was that vetting process like and then why did you ultimately decide to go with the one that you went with?

Kendall: 30:07 So we went through Dave Ramsey's website, and again, I'm a deep, my rescue clothes. We found the ones that were in the area and we were looking for people who lose ideas about money lined up with our ideas about money. So I don't want somebody who's gonna push me to buy things that I don't want to buy. I don't want to work with somebody who's going to push me to stay in debt or to not pay off our house early. So we had a lot of questions for them about their philosophy, about money and to make sure that we lined up. And we also wanted to make sure that when we were asking questions that they weren't either condescending or clocking way over heads if they really made an effort to teach us and that we left with more knowledge about what we could do with our finances than when we came.

Michael: 31:02 Gotcha. So you guys that are listening out there, you guys, I mean this is some valuable information. Kendall has walked you guys through how to set up a budget, how to get out of debt, how to find someone to help you invest and build wealth. This is incredible. So I hope you guys are listening and taking notes on this because this is basically like a coaching session here. Kendall, you know, again you've been so fantastic. I do want to give you this opportunity to just share where people who are listening to this who love your teaching style can find you, can follow along on your journey and if they want to work with you they can get you know, work with you.

Kendall: 31:42 Sure. So I have an Instagram account, it's called varies on a budget, so you can find me at, at Barry's on a budget, B E R R Y S on a budget. And you can also find [email protected] and I offer free consultations for coaching. So I'm always happy to give you a bit of my time and chat about what's going on in your life and whether having a coach is a good fit for you.

Michael: 32:14 Awesome. Well. Hey, thank you again, Kendall for agreeing to come by the neighborhood and share your personal journey with us. I'll be sure to put a link to all of those profiles and your website in the show notes which you listeners can find at winningtowealth.com/episode14 that's winning to wealth.com/episode 14 also, if you enjoyed this chat with Kendall, be sure to share this episode on social as that is the best way to support this show. Since I mean it is a free show, not only that, you'll get to introduce some friends to some educational info that could help them get on the right path financially. If you set a goal to be better with your money this year and you haven't gained as much traction as you originally thought, be sure to swing by the neighborhood. The neighborhood is our online community where you can ask your money questions with zero judgment and get all the help you need to really start moving forward. You can find that over at winningtowealth.com/neighbors again, that's winningtowealth.com/neighbors to join the neighborhood and Oh yeah, let me mention that. It doesn't cost a single thing. It's absolutely free, but thank you again, Kendall, for coming on and sharing your story and thank you for listening to another episode of the wealthy neighbor show. We'll talk soon.

Key Moments To Listen For

How Kendall Found Herself In Debt [1:48]

How Kendall Got Her Husband On Board With Paying Off Debt [3:13]

The Necessary Lifestyle Changes To Become Debt-Free [5:29]

Income At The Time [7:59]

How Debt-Freedom Changed Their Marriage [11:41]

Tips For 1st Time Home-Buyers [15:58]

Preparing Your Finances For Full-Time Entrepreneurship [21:56]

Practical Steps To Your First Budget [26:05]

Connect With Kendall

Follow Kendall On Instagram

Check Out Kendall’s Website


Most small businesses run out of money within 5 years. Learn how Kendall was able to start and grow a small business after paying off $53,000 worth of debt.

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