Most Americans have a tough time imagining life without debt.
I mean the average American under the age of 35 has roughly $68,000 worth of debt.
Sonia Sears was able to make her dream of debt freedom a reality after she paid off $79,000 worth of debt in only 2 years.
But the dream was short-lived as Sonia found herself right back in debt shortly thereafter.
Listen below as Sonia shares the mistakes she made that led her into a 2nd battle with debt and how she plans to ensure that there isn’t a 3rd time.
Key Moments To Listen For
How Sonia Found Herself in Debt [1:42]
What Sonia Would Have Done Differently [6:14]
The Moment Sonia Realized Something Needed To Change [7:18]
Lifestyle Changes Needed To Become Debt-Free [11:12]
Challenges Of Moving Home With A Parent [13:12]
Next Steps After Becoming Debt-Free [18:47]
Going Into Debt A 2nd Time [20:57]
Staying Motivated During 2nd Debt-Free Journey [24:55]
How To Avoid Debt For A 3rd Time [29:11]
How To Build Your Own Community Of Supporters [35:28]
Read The Transcript
Sonia (00:00): It was, it's no longer about paying off this thing. It's about having a life where I'm financially independent, where I can be able to create generational wealth where I can be able to build upon what I've already done and help other people and not make the same stupid mistakes that I was making.
Michael (00:42): Welcome back for episode 19 of the wealthy neighbors show. This week we are going to be talking about debt. Now, most Americans have a really tough time just imagining life without debt. I mean, according to a recent study done by the federal reserve, the average American under the age of 35 has roughly $68,000 worth of debt. And so I wanted to bring on today's guest, Sonia Sears, who was able to make her dream of debt freedom, a reality after she was able to pay off $79,000 worth of debt in just over two years. But that debt free dream was very short lived as Sonia found herself. Right back in debt shortly thereafter. We're definitely going to get into how you found yourself back in debt a second time. But Sonya, let's start at the beginning. I mean, how did you find yourself so deep in debt for that first time?
Sonia (01:42): Oh God, how did I, how did I not, it's probably the question. I think in the early two thousands. I mean, I was just a thing that people were doing, right? So 2001 I started aging myself. I started a college and when I started college, I, thankfully it was a part of the education opportunity program, which is a public program that gives funds to students who kind of fall a little bit in between, maybe not the smartest kids in the class. So they didn't get a scholarship and they're not the, uh, you know, they kinda like they need a little bit of funds and they need a little bit of, um, academic help too. So I was thankful that I was able to get into that program, but they didn't cover everything. So I was able to get a set of loans just to cover that. But I feel like I was just being greedy. So like you get on campus? I come from a house where I shared a room, we had two sets of bunk beds in the same room and very small rooms and I think I just wanted to have like my own space and I started like, I sort of buying out the other side of my, uh, my dorm room. So between that,
Michael (02:42): hold on, hold on, wait, wait, wait, hold on. Say that again. You bought out the other side of your dorm. How does that work?
Sonia (02:48): So the program pays for one side of your dorm room? Well, you know, it was a double occupancy, so they pay for your side of the dorm room. And my roommate got a, well my suite mate rather, she got to become an RA and I was like, man, you got this whole big bed for yourself, this whole room. They look took the two bunk beds and they just made it into one big bed. And I was like, that's so cool. I want to be able to do that too. So I did. I went down to financial aid and I was like, Hey, I want to buy out the other side of my dorm room. And they were like, Oh, you could use your loans to pay off the other half. And I guess in retrospect it probably took up a huge chunk of my refund check, but I still was getting a refund check. So that money that for that loan was that I was getting it just ate up the other side of the room. You don't pay for a second meal plan, you just pay for what? Whoever is not going to be using that bed. I'm paying to have the other side of that room. And it was great for those two years, my junior and my senior year. But I paid for it. I had to pack, paid it back, I had to pay it back.
Michael (03:43): Wow. Okay. So that's, that's how you got your start was basically in school. You were, I mean, you were just kind of living it up. I mean, go talk a little bit more about that time.
Sonia (03:53): So I was, I don't, I like to say like my siblings, they always say all the time that I'm really, they say I'm cheap, but so, so I'd never get somebody who like spent like lots of money and haven't really been into brand names, but I'm really about the experience. So I love to travel. And so between buying a side of my dorm room, I wasn't really spending money on like clothes and stuff like that, but I was like, Oh, let's go here. Let's go there, let's go everywhere. So I was like, Oh, I'm, I started using our refund checks too. I would get the nice that loan, then use some of my refund check to be able to go and pay to go to like carnival. Um, my family is of Caribbean descent, so I love soca music. I love being able to like joy, enjoy it in that full experience.
Sonia (04:31): So I would go and I'll get a costume costumes costing hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Just taking a trip to go to carnival can cost you thousands of dollars. I didn't have a car. I was like, I don't need money for this. I want money for this. And I was just spending money on, I don't, I don't want to say that I regret those things now because I feel like it was really great at a good time. But at the same time there was a moment where I was just kind of like, how much money did you spend on this? How much money did you spend on that? And when I started to realize how much it was and how I didn't have anything, I kind of was like, okay, I gotta I gotta put a pin in this.
Michael (05:01): So where were some of the other places you were traveling to? Cause you said you were, let me, let me get, let me make sure I'm getting this right. So part of your actual tuition was pretty much covered. Right? And so you were using the refunds from the loans that you had gotten to travel and buy out the dorm, the other side of the dorm? Correct. And so where were some of those places you were going?
Sonia (05:25): Most of the places where after I graduated, so then I started like making money and instead of paying down my loan, cause I was always paying my loan, but it would be like, Oh I know I'm income sensitive, so give me what's the least amount of money that I can pay, which was probably just paying the rent interest and I would do that. But majority of my paychecks I was, I wasn't really saving it. I was just kinda like going out spending it. I went to Aruba twice, I went to The Bahamas three times I went to my family's from South America. So I went to Diana a couple of times as well. And just kind of like, Aw man, I would go to Atlanta every, I have family that live down there. And I just used to love to just go and just hang out and chill new Orleans twice. Like I've been to Palm spring and the Cali, LA, Florida, Miami like, cause they have carnivals there too, you know, like all of these, all of these different places. I was just kinda like, I was having a good time. I was.
Michael (06:14): And so you did this until you were around $80,000 in debt. And so thinking back on that right now, was there anything or is there anything that you wish you would've done differently as a student that maybe could have kept you out of that much debt?
Sonia (06:31): Oh yeah, definitely. So I work at a high school now and I'm constantly telling the kids, if you have to take out student loans, it's not the worst thing in the world, but don't, you don't have to take out all those loans. One, two, when you get your refund check, pay the money back immediately. Like start paying that money. You don't have to wait until you graduate to start paying that money back. Three. I tell them all the time like, make sure that when you are graduated you start paying down whatever it is that you borrowed. I wish that somebody would've talked to me about just the difference between the income sensitive and stuff like that. Like a lot of that you can actually pay and we just choose not to pay. Granted there are some people, and I'm a social worker, so I get it. I wasn't making the most money when I graduated, but the money that I was making, I wasn't using it to pay down this debt. I clearly was using it to go to a, but that second time.
Michael (07:18): So let's, let's, let's switch gears a little bit. So you're in school and then you graduate and you start living this great life. You're traveling the world, everything's going great. I mean, right, like right. And so everything feels good. So I mean, what happened? What made you realize that? Like, okay, this is great and I'm having a blast. But something needs to change financially because a lot of people never have that realization. They just kind of keep going. Like, this is fun. I'm enjoying it. I'm living my best life. So what was it for you that made you sit down and go, man, you know, something's got to give?
Sonia (07:53): Well, you know, it's funny because when I look back on that time, I feel like you seeds were being planted for a really long time. So I, my first job outside of my master's program, I worked for a agency where there were homeless people. And um, I worked as a supervisor there. And you see like though you see people at the very bottom of the barrel financially, these people don't have much and you look and be like, dang, how did they get here? And then on the flip side too, like some of the people that I was supervising, they had kids and I was, I know some of them were on like public assistance and I knew I made maybe a little bit more than they did. And I kind of started thinking like, how can people afford to have kids? And families and the only making this much money, like I can't even imagine what's going to happen when I get to that place.
Sonia (08:38): That's where it, I move on to another job and I'm working with foster kids and kids who are being adopted by families and I'm like, these people not only just have one, two kids, they have several kids and they have an a take kids in, you know, and utilize the funds that we're giving them to be able to make a real life with these kids. And then I also, I got a car and I was thinking to myself like how am I going to be able to do all the things that I want to do? Con continue to do all the things I want to do. And now moving into a different phase of my life, I was in a relationship and we had been talking really seriously about getting engaged and getting married and having kids. And I remember his student loans was like $300 am I just $51,000 just the student loans.
Sonia (09:18): And I was like, I bet I probably should just try to pay off my student loans. And I started looking into forgiveness, you know, things, but they say it's forgiveness, but you have to jump over hurdles just to be able to qualify. And then when you qualify, like one of them told me, Oh, okay, well you have to pay for 10 years. And I had already been paying for seven years at that point, but they said I had to start over to year one. And I was just kinda like, but I've already been paying all this money. We did that go, it went to interest. It legitimately went to interest. So that's when things started clicking for me. It started really clicking for me and I was, remember I was sitting in my apartment and I was in my sixth year, maybe almost six year.
Sonia (09:56): And I was like, okay. My boyfriend at the time, we were like, let's think about getting an apartment together. You know, we're thinking about getting married and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then as things kinda got a little shaky with that relationship, I decided, you know what, instead of trying to get an apartment here, let me get an apartment for myself. And as I was trying to do that and I saw how expensive it was, I was like, man, if only I have own place to live. And I didn't. And I started just tallying up how much money had passed through my hands in the last couple of years. And I was like, I could have paid off my student loans in this amount of time. I could have put down money to purchase a property in as amount of time or even to just like put plant with somebody else to put something together to get a property, something.
Sonia (10:33): And all this time had passed and I didn't have anything to show for it. And I felt really, for lack of a better word, I felt dumb. I felt like I was so smart. I had gotten my master's degree before all of my friends and I done all of this really great stuff and I was a supervisor and blah, blah blah. But my financial life was a mess and I want it to be able to do more with my life, even though this relationship was feeling a little shaky, like we still had plans to keep moving forward and to do more. And I was like, how was I going to pour into this relationship as hopefully a wife and a mother if I can't even take care of myself? And so I really just at that point was like, we got to do something about this. And I started trying to figure out how I was gonna make it happen. Paying off the student loan. That's it. That's, that was what I was thinking at first.
Michael (11:12): Yeah. So, you know, let's talk about that. I mean, how did you have to change your lifestyle in order to eliminate $80,000 in debt? First thing I had to do,
Sonia (11:22): say goodbye to my beloved department. Um, it was, uh, it was such a gorgeous apartment and I mean, to this day I had a friend who was just telling me the other day, man, I'll miss your old apartment. I knew my apartment that I live in now. Within my home. It's almost the exact replica, but it's a situation where I loved my apartment and I loved the freedom that it gave me, but I knew that that was probably the thing that was costing me the most money. I had a roommate, but the rent each month was almost $2,000 so I knew I had to get rid of that. And thankfully my younger sister who lived at home was moving to at the time, so I kind of asked my mom if I can move into the room that she was in. So I did that. I'd already started working side hustles.
Sonia (12:00): And so at the time I said maybe if I can be able to work a side hustle and I get rid of my rent, I can have at least a thousand dollars extra to put towards student loan. Because when I had did the math for the public service loan forgiveness, even if I paid under their program, they wanted me to give almost $600 a month, which was like more than double what I had been paying each month on my student loans at that point. And I had to do it for 10 years and I was like, by the time I paid ed, it's going to be $60,000 and I only want to owe 51 if I doubled down right now I can pay this whole thing off and it might take me two and a half, maybe three years if I just do everything in my power to throw as much money towards it as possible.
Sonia (12:39): And so I was just like, I'm just going to do what I need to do. Got a couple jobs, sat at home, lived there for three years. I've put myself on a travel ban because clearly I had a problem. I also put myself on a really, really strict budget. Like I didn't buy new clothes. I spent a lot of money on food and I just kinda was like, wherever I see the money is being spent, I'm gonna stop it, I'm going to stop. I remember at one point I took all my cards out of my wallet and I also would be like, I have a $30 budget every week. My oldest sister would be like, Butch at gas, it's like $20 I'm like, I'll figure out how to make that $10 stretch. I'm gonna make it work.
Michael (13:13): So you go from being this jet setter, right? And going where ever you want to and doing whatever you want and live in this life of ultimate freedom to then like asking to move home. And like when you said that, I don't know if I ever could have done that after I left. So one, how did you approach that conversation with your mother? But then two, what did that feel like for you? Having to move back home after again, living just a really extravagant lifestyle.
Sonia (13:41): Okay. So let me preface all of this by saying I'm the middle child. So I don't know all the stories that you've heard about middle children is true. I just can't help myself. Sometimes I could be in hand and sometimes I could be a very big problem for my mom growing up, we were also very much alike, so we butted heads a lot. And so when I first got the idea about going home, I talked to my siblings and was like, what y'all think about this? And they was telling me like I'm crazy, cause they already knew that it was going to be like world war three and a house. I'm probably going to be arguing with my mom. And I said to myself, no, I know what I'm gonna do is if we start getting into something, I'm gonna just look, I'm gonna pull up the screen, I'm gonna go to fedloan.org and I'm gonna pull up the screen to see how much I owe and how much I've paid down.
Sonia (14:20): And that's gonna cut the argument short because essentially my mother was going to let me stay there for free. So I reached out to my mom and my mom was like, yeah, whatever you need to do. It's like, again, regardless of the fact of whether or not like we had the best relationship, it was a situation where I know that my mom loves me and she wants the best for her kids. And so it was like, if I can help you do this thing, we going to get it done. So thankfully that wasn't a super hard conversation, but I be completely honest with the exception of like maybe one other time in my life. That was probably the hardest time in my, because I was in a, I was in a very small room. My mom has space but you know she doesn't have like all of the space in the world.
Sonia (14:58): It was the house that I grew up in and I had a twin bed. I went from having this beautiful bed set, King side knocking size queen sized bed to a twin bed and I essentially like lived in that room and if I ever had a day where I needed to just kind of like be for myself and just kind of sit on the side and just cry, whatever was going on, I didn't have any way to do that. There was even a point in time where I have several God kids and two of two of them, they have the same mom and she fell on hard times for a while and they needed a place to stay. I gave them my room and I slept on the couch for awhile. And um, thankfully at the time I was dating someone at a new person at that time and they had their own place.
Sonia (15:35): I was able to sleep by them a little bit, but if there was an issue with that relationship, I would legitimately like live in my car, not sleeping there. I would always go home, but I would come home at like 10 30, 11 o'clock just so I could just sleep, get up in the morning and go to work, be out all day and just come back to sleep. That's how I was trying to like get through it. But if I had a moment where I needed to sit and cry, because again, it's like it's not a huge apartment and my mom is like most moms, they're nosy. I kind of had to be like, I'm gonna just go drive to this side of town and I'm just gonna sit in my car and cry if I need to. Whenever I felt like the weight of all of what was going on, that's what I had to do. And so that was tough. Um, for awhile.
Michael (16:12): How long was it that you had to be in that situation and how long did it take for you from the time you kind of had that wake up moment until you made that last debt payment?
Sonia (16:21): I think it was maybe like June, June of like 2013 I started thinking about getting a property and that's when I started doing the tallying and trying to figure out how it was going to be able to pay for a lot of stuff. By July of 2014 I officially moved back home. When I moved back home, the plan was to be there for two years. I was like, I'm going to leave, do whatever I gotta do when I walk out of this house. When I move out this house the next time I'm moving into my own place. That was the plan, but it took me a little bit longer than that. So in 2017 is when I officially moved out of my mom's house in June. I paid off the student loans in 2016 in may. And so it took me from 2013 starting to just have the ideas manifest and kind of like plan or how I wanted it to work too. I started working a little side jobs to actually move it out in 2014 to actually paying off the debt in 2016
Michael (17:18): wow. So let's talk about that moment when you finally paid off that last day. What was that like? Because you again, you went from living this lavish life to living in a tiny bedroom on a twin bed. And so you did that. You made that sacrifice so that you could reach that moment and then you finally reached that moment. What was that like?
Sonia (17:40): I think like I hear like you, you, you see a lot of deputy three stories and you see like people say like felt so flat, it did not feel flat for me. I so excited. I remember feeling like, like I was going to cry. Like I remember feeling like I was going to cry so I didn't cry not in that moment, but I felt like you just felt like this super swelling of emotion. I just remember thinking to myself like, man, I'm going to get paid and I don't have to give any money to anybody because by the time I had paid it off, I was paying my regular payment, which was about 300 and I think it was $323 and then I would add on an additional $2,300 on top of that payment. So I was paying $2,600 every single month. And I just remember thinking to myself, I'm going to have so much money. Cause I was like, if I'm not giving $2,600 so this and I already paid off all the rest of my debt, I was like, man, there's going to be so much money down my head in my account. That's all I kept thinking about. And by then I really started thinking of the ability to own a home, an investment property. And so I was like, I'll be able to move out in six months. That was, that's what I thought was gonna happen next. That that didn't happen the next, but
Michael (18:47): okay, so, so what, so what did happen next? I mean, so you've got $2,600 a month coming in. I mean, were you saving like kind of, what wasn't it?
Sonia (18:55): So one of the things that I didn't think I was gonna do, but I, I'm glad that I did, is I started upping up all my different savings accounts. So at the time, I think I was maybe paying, putting $25 into savings every month. No, every time I got paid. So every talk I paid at $25 is going into like a savings account. And I said, okay Sonya, you have all this extra money now you need to be able to go ahead and like put money aside for the things that you do want to do. So one of the things I thought about again, like what do I really love? I love Christmas, I love traveling, I love food. So I started putting different accounts to speak to those things. So I started a vacation account so that if I did start traveling in, excuse me, when I was gonna start traveling again, I wasn't like just pulling money out, if any, or using a credit card that I was going to use this fund that I've been saving to be able to take care of it.
Sonia (19:40): And I said to myself, now you can afford to buy clothes again so you don't have to live so strict. So my oldest sister will always joke and be like, this girl didn't buy sweaters for years. I would be the queen of buying a tank top for like four or $5 and I'd wear like a billion different cardigans with it to dress it up, dress it down. I'm weird. In a fall, summer, spring, winter didn't matter. I started buying sweaters so much that winter I was just so excited to own a sweater. I just kind of like, I gave myself a little bit of space to let loose and then at the same time I started saving at least a thousand to $1,500 every single month so that I can start saving towards buying a property.
Michael (20:16): So did you, did you accomplish that goal of, of buying that investment property that you wanted?
Sonia (20:21): Yes, I did. And I did cry then that that time I did cry. Somebody had told me about NACA and I was like, all right, I'll try it out. It'll be great that I can be able to get a house without having to put no money down and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So I started meeting with a counselor there. I started working with this other program and he started to allow me to take classes. I took a landlord class, a homeowner's class. I was like, I'm going to take whatever class y'all want me to get so I can bring the certificate so y'all can give me more money. And I started doing all this work and I started getting from people who were like, Oh you need to work with this particular realtor, with this particular lawyer. And through those connections with both of these different organizations, I found a house,
Michael (20:58): you know, I know part of your story is you paid off your debt, you became debt free. Right? And then you found yourself back in debt again outside of the house. Right? Not necessarily the house purchase, but like outside of the house you found yourself back in consumer debt again. And so what was it that led you back into debt after you had made all of these sacrifices to get that free?
Sonia (21:20): Interesting enough, like I said, I was young and dumb and when I first originally started my debt free journey without thinking of it as a debt free journey, like originally all I wanted to do was pay off my student loans. Like I wasn't thinking about paying off cards, credit cards or paying off like my car. It just sort of happened in the process and I was debt free, which was great. I saved up this money and I was able to kind of like put something aside to get a house and then I've got the house and everybody was like this is what you need to do. You need to get a seniors card. Cause if you get a serious card you can be able to purchase all of this stuff so that you can be able to get a, what does it know APR, no interest rate, no for a certain amount of time and you'll be able to pay it off before it goes away.
Sonia (21:59): Trust me. So I was doing what again, what is normal, what lots of people were saying that I needed to do, I needed to fit the house with all appliances and needed renovations. I've got a home Depot card and they also had all of this, Hey if you spend over this will have no interest for a certain amount of time in the course of this time. I also got married and we started thinking about, okay, we're going to pay this stuff off because we have these two incomes and we're going to be able to do it this way and that way. And then very shortly after getting married, I became separated and I had to figure out how to pay all this stuff off by myself and then we were able to get things back together and it ended up getting separated before ultimately the demise of that marriage ending.
Sonia (22:40): And legitimately the second time that we separated, I was like, I can't do it. Like I did it before. Like I need to be prepared to be able to get stuff done. The first time I had been using my card to supplement for when I didn't just have the money to make all of the things neat. And prior to that time I felt, Oh God, I was, I mean, so feeling myself. I was like, man, I pay off my credit card bill every month. And it was just like, I was so proud to be a part of that community. I was debt free, I was paying off all my balances every single month. I also had like over an 800 credit score and I just, I was, maybe it was a little bit of ego like you, I got so excited about where I had been. I didn't think you could find yourself back in that situation.
Sonia (23:20): And that's exactly what happened because I didn't plan for it. I didn't make sure that I had been making smart money moves opposed to just thinking, Oh well I don't have to pay that anymore. But I went back to doing some of the same mistakes. I wasn't traveling now and I was buying things that I needed, but I wasn't buying it in a very smart way. And then when life happened as it always will, because life is going to always happen, I wasn't prepared. So like I didn't have a real emergency fund. I kind of set myself up so that if something happened I was going to be able to pay for this or pay for that. And I just relied on credit cards to help me when I was by myself the first time. And then the second time I was able to get a second job.
Sonia (23:57): So thankfully I was able to, you know, pay for things, but I still was using my credit card a little bit. And at that point I was, when I was debt free, I was like, Oh, I'm using my credit cards because I'm getting all these points. And so I still kind of was in that mindset. It took me forever to stop using my credit card because I was like, but I'm still getting points for this, but I'm like between paying off, they having a conversation, which you sell, you ain't paying off the bill every month. But I love the points though. No, no, no, no, no. You're not paying off the card every month. So I had to go through this whole process with myself to kind of like really learn what I needed to do to, not just to be content free again, but to stay debt free. And I think that is, I would say honestly was the catalyst to me kind of having a really big shift in mindset about how I want to live my life from that point on. Cause it wasn't, it was, it's no longer about paying off this thing. It's about having a life where I'm financially independent, where I can be able to create generational wealth where I can be able to build upon what I've already done and help other people and not make the same stupid mistakes that I was making.
Michael (24:55): Right. So you know, a lot of people would, I guess, you know, once you've paid off debt and you made all those changes and then you find yourself in this situation again, I'm almost certain that a lot of people would, would go into that kind of feeling defeated and, and kind of give up hope a little bit. How, how did you stay motivated that second time around?
Sonia (25:17): Well, I would say one of the things that kept me motivated is like I mentioned, I'm a believer, so I'm like, I was very aware that I was, that this was not the life that God has for me. And so I was like, he didn't let me taste what it felt like to be debt free for me to live in financial bondage again. So I said that was something that really helped me to get jump start that situation. Um, another thing, I kind of looked at what I did wrong the first time around in terms of like trying to pay off that debt and I said, where do I need assistance? And so one of the things I did is that people knew that I had paid off my student loans and all this stuff before. And um, I had a lot of people kind of come in to me and saying like, how did you do this?
Sonia (25:56): How did this happen? Like how can, like, can I have some moral support? I had some friends who would, they would just automatically make financial goals for themselves and then they would email me or text me whenever they felt like they needed some sort of accountability. So I started a group, I was like, listen, I'm about to get on this journey again. If you guys can help me by like just meeting with me and we could help each other. Because that part I think too was really, really hard because in those moments while I would sit and cry in my car, it wasn't like there was a lot of people that I can go to. People don't understand what you're doing when you're, when you're going against the norm of not owning a lot of people money. And so it wasn't a lot of people that were around me that first time that were encouraging.
Sonia (26:35): Um, like my family always encourages me, but they didn't, they still didn't understand like it took, uh, it took years for them to see what I was thinking back in 2013 back in 2014 so I started the group, I started the group in 2018 actually we just did a full year and then we just expanded it who started with maybe 10 people and now it's 20 of us call ourself money movements and we meet once a month and we just kind of sit and we talk about like how you feel about money. We keep each other in courage, we hold each other accountable. And um, that helped a lot. The second time to kind of like keep myself grounded in this is what I wanted to do. I actually sent them a message today and I was like, I was having a conversation with somebody earlier and I still haven't been traveling and when I tell you I love, I love to explore new places.
Sonia (27:25): I love to like just immerse myself in a culture of a place. And I was talking to somebody and they had been traveling extensively and I was like, man, I have all this stuff. Like I've just beautiful home. I have this, this and the third. But I ain't been nowhere in so long. I spent most of the day like just looking at different places to go and I told the group like I had to stop myself for a moment. I said like next year the last credit card that I have to pay off will be paid off godly. If I stay on track next year, that's going to happen. I could go anywhere I want after that if I just stopped looking right now being like, but I want this right now. I haven't traveled and blah blah blah blah. So that's kinda like how I keep myself. I'll do vision boards, I'll talk to the group. They really are good about holding me accountable and kind of like pushing me to see what more I can be doing. It's just, I just feel like it's, it's just a great space to be in. I tell people all the time, like it's, it's really tough. And if you kind of put yourself around the right people, you can make it happen. I think sometimes people talk themselves out of doing stuff. So that's been helpful for me the second time around.
Michael (28:31): That's, I'm glad that you found that sense of community. I think that's really important. Um, I know for us, when we were on our journey, there weren't a lot of people that we could talk to that, you know, understood. You know, so like people would be like, y'all make good money. Like, why won't y'all come out to eat with us? Like, you know, why aren't y'all traveling no more like, why are y'all ain't doing all this stuff? And it was like, we're on a budget, like we have doors. So, you know, it was just, it was, and, and so I kind of, I get what you're saying with that. Like, it's, it is a challenge when you don't have anybody that you feel like gets it and you know, is in your corner. And, um, so I'm glad that that you have that, that you've set that up for yourself. And so my next question is, you know, what are you gonna do differently this time that you didn't do last time so that there's not a
Sonia (29:20): yeah, cause we ain't doing this again. You're not going to do this again. The plan right now is to, I really want to get to a place where I've manage my money. I don't let my money manage me. And I think that's how I found myself to hear the second time around. So this time it's been a situation where I'm like, all right, I'm going to go ahead, I'm gonna pay off stuff and then I'm going to immediately start filling an emergency fund, filling my emergency fund for my home fill, filling my emergency fund for my personal life. Like that kind of thing. I want to have it separate. So I'm really thinking more about like, how can I have something available? Cause I've been now now having followed like free community hashtags and being a part of the group with all of these people.
Sonia (30:02): It's like a mastermind of how we can live our best life and build wealth. Um, I know so much more than I did the first time. And so it's kind of like I've set up all these different savings accounts. I'm planning on, um, being like really keeping myself on a budget. So I would, again, I didn't really like spend money frivolously the second time around. I thought I was being more frugal, but even right now, like if I can't buy it with my debit card, then I'm not buying it. So I want to go on a trip next year to commemorate finally being done with all of this. The only debt I'll will have is my mortgage and I'm like that trip on pain with money I saved up. I'm not using a credit card to pay. Then if I use a credit card to pay is only to get them points I missed out on and of cash is going to be ready to pay it off right after I'm done.
Sonia (30:52): Like that's it. That's, that's, that's how I want to live. And so I know in order to do that I need to continue to live with the mindset that I have. Even now, like not spending money just because I'm making sure that I'm saving and also making sure that I'm being mindful about the type of people that I'm putting in my life. Making sure that we have the same money mindset. Um, I think that's really important too because you know, like, I don't know exactly where I heard this quote, but it's like if you want to go, um, if you want to go alone, you can go fast, but if you want to go far you should go together. And I think about like your story actually heard your story way longer before I actually started following you guys and I was like, man, that's so awesome.
Sonia (31:28): They were able to do that together. And I think to myself, like, I'll put that I want to pay off the mortgage on this house. I want to buy another property. I want to be able to kinda like give people a space to be able to do things like I've been doing, not maybe not the same way, but in their own way. But people can't do that unless they're educated. I'm a social worker by nature, so I want to help. I want to be, I can't help nobody if I'm in a space where I'm having to do this debt free journey a third time. And so I feel like there's a greater responsibility now. And so I'm much more protective of my own finances because I know that I want to inspire others to be protective over their own. So this is like more on it this time.
Michael (32:05): Awesome. I love that answer. So let me, let me ask you this. I mean, are there any books or tools or resources that you've discovered that have kind of helped you and shaped your perspective? Because, um, you know, again, you've gone through this journey a second time, so is there anything that you've come across that, that you just like, Oh yeah, if you're just getting started, definitely check this out or are definitely listened to this or whatever, you know? Do you have any tips for our listeners for that?
Sonia (32:35): Definitely. So on 2015, I did, uh, the total money makeover. They did a class at my church. I did that, Dave Ramsey. If you are even remotely close to thinking about doing the debt free journey, I would strongly suggest that you kind of like, just check out what he's about and you don't have to, I don't live exactly the way that he does. I'm not very good with holding cash, but it's a really good place to start, I believe. Um, another thing, I am a consumer of information. I love listening to podcasts. I love watching YouTube videos about people who are doing things. And I also love reading, um, the millionaire next door. I love that book. I love that book so much because it really talks about how the different things that we do create the life that we say that we want, um, and versus what the reality of it is. And so that book was really, really helpful. Um, the richest guy in town, uh, I listened to redefine a wealth podcast. Uh, I read the blog for the frugal Feminista. I followed my fab finance on Instagram. I follow you guys.
Sonia (33:48): I just, I feel like, um, you have to really be intentional about being immersed in that lifestyle because again, you're going to have days where you just are like, man, I want to buy lunch. I bought lunch in months at this point, but I will cook my food and honest on a weekend. I'll take my lunch in every day. And it's like a situation where I want to be able to do that. If I wasn't on my way to work, listening to somebody podcast and listen to somebody else's debt free story, I wouldn't be able to do that if I wasn't checking out Patrice Washington's, um, redefining wealth prod cast where she's talking about not just the money piece but like redefining what we think wealth is and not just thinking about the money part about, but everything else like holistic wealth, um, listening to things like Brown ambition with the Budgetnista and I cannot remember the other hole, so I'm sorry.
Sonia (34:41): Uh, but where they talk about just going beyond just what we're doing, like building business, um, like all of these things, they keep me grounded and keep me focused on the goal. And the goal is not just to be rich, um, but to pay off so that I can be able to help others pay off so I can build generational wealth. I don't even have kids, but I already have so many plans for my grandkids. They going to be able to live a different life from what I, what I've lived. And it's, if I don't keep those things in mind, I feel like that's going to have any fallen off. So it's like just immersing yourself. If you can debt free community hashtag like that's a great thing to follow. There's just so much information I don't have to do is open yourself up to it and find somebody to help you or at the very least hold you accountable, you know?
Michael (35:29): Yeah, I get it. So another thing is, you know, money is one of those taboo subjects that people don't like to about. Like people will talk like, I mean out loud or even on social, people will talk about their sex life before they talk about money. Right? Like it's so crazy. So to hear you say that you've put together this, I mean little mastermind group that's got like 20 people in it. How do you suggest somebody that's listening to this go about creating their own mastermind in their community? I mean, because again, people don't really want to talk about money. So how did you set that up?
Sonia (36:02): So I'm a very open person. I'm really open and I also, and I, I don't take it lightly that I come with a specific set of skills, no, take it. But I'm a therapist by trade, so that's how I work each day. And so I knew that in order to have this happen, I needed to just put that out there. Money is very emotional for people. It's a very personal thing for a lot of people. Even though I say like I'm really open about money, like it still has a very personal feel for me. Like I didn't grow up with a lot of money. So there are certain things that may make me feel one way versus somebody else. And so asking people if they wanted to be a part of the group, I talked about all the benefits. I'll have somebody accountability, we can help each other with our goals.
Sonia (36:42): And then on our first meeting, that's the whole thing that we talked about the first time. I was just like, money is very emotional. Let's find out how we really feel about money first. And I think that just kind of being open about the fact that it's going to be hard was probably what drew people in. Now granted everybody in the group is not putting all the business out there, but I think like just knowing that there's somebody who's willing to listen and somebody who's willing to share information with you, um, made it a little bit easier for people to kind of say like, this is where I'm at. I'm really struggling with this budget. I really feel like I have to use the lot of money in my emergency fund and I don't have anything to put it back in right now. Like I think just it became kind of like framily like friends and family together.
Sonia (37:27): And uh, I feel like even for me, like some of the people in the group have businesses, like we help each other and kind of pull each other out. Like one of the people in the group is one of my tenants and if she saw anything come from online store, she would be like, um, is that in the budget? Like you need somebody to be able to do these things that I think sometimes you have to let your ego go so that you can be able to have that. And if you kind of put that at the forefront, I think it's a little bit easier and you can start really small. Uh, the intention was to be like four or five people and I was okay with that and I was really grateful that I had 10 people who were willing to sit and start this with me. And then when we were going to grow it, I was like, Oh, we're going to add maybe like two or three people. And next thing I knew it was like it was 20 of us. And I was like, wow, okay, what are we gonna make this work? We can't add nobody else though because there's a little too much in the daytime.
Sonia (38:19): You just, I think, I think there are people who want to do it and I think if you just open your mouth and you ask, they would be willing is just, you just got to find them. But in order to do that, you have to be open enough to kind of like put yourself out there. And I think that's the part that some people kind of struggle with. Cause
Michael (38:37): no, that sounds great. That's, that's an awesome tip. And thank you so much for sharing that. And so my last question to you is I'm sure that there's, you know, somebody out there right now that's listening to this and they feel completely hopeless, right? They don't know where to start. They're overwhelmed, they're crying in their car right there. All those things, all those different emotions that we've talked about today. And so if you could just share a little bit of encouragement for that person who feels like there's no real way for them to get on this path, get on this journey and actually finish and see it through.
Sonia (39:20): Mmm. I think about that. And when I answer, I feel like I'm speaking to myself. When you brought the client in the car, I'm like, man, like that was so real. If I could, if I could tap on the window of the car and tell my past self, I would tell her, I know it sucks right now. It sucks a lot. But if you just keep pushing, like don't even worry about next week or next month or next year. Like just tomorrow, tomorrow, do the thing, do the thing tomorrow and then let the next tomorrow be the next, tomorrow, the next, tomorrow, meet the next part. Just keep doing the thing. Don't think about all the other things that you have to do. Just do the, the one thing that you know that you can do and whenever you can add the next thing to it. And again, because I'm a believer, I pray like for me, even if it's, if you're not a believer, I think, you know, it's really easy to just sit and talk.
Sonia (40:12): Even if you feel like you're talking to yourself, just talk, kind of figure out what it is, talk out loud, give yourself an opportunity to kinda unscramble all of the things that are in your brain. Because more often than not, you're overwhelmed. And the process can be so overwhelming. Like when you start, you see, you see all this stuff, you see all the mistakes and you're like, how can I possibly, how can I fix this? And I sometimes I'll tell my clients, like you find yourself in this situation. It took you 15 years to walk in. It's not going to take you 15 minutes to walk out. So be patient with yourself, be patient with yourself and just do the one thing every single day. And then one day you're going to turn around and you're going to see how far you came. And I know for me, like the day when with the house, I know that's why I was crying because I was thinking like I didn't even think I was going to get here.
Sonia (41:03): And sometimes when I do things like this and I talk about my story, it amazes me how much hour I've already done and how much I've already been through. Because in my mind I still feel like I have a ways to go. I feel like I'm still stuck some days. And so when I sit back and I think about this kind of stuff, like I'm like, man, like you've already done so much. Well you got to keep doing this. Keep doing the thing. Like today the thing was to click off Expedia from my browser and it was to start pulling out my calculator and finding out the date for when I'm going to be debt free again. That was the thing that I needed to do today and that's what I did and it kept, it keeps me on track. So do the thing, just do the thing. It's okay to cry, just be patient and do the thing.
Michael (41:46): Love it, love it. You have dropped so many gyms today. I'm going to give you a couple more snaps on that. So the last thing I have for you is just tell people, I mean, where can people find you if they want to follow you and just be encouraged by your story, by your journey. Where can people find you on the interwebs?
Sonia (42:07): Okay, well one, you can definitely find me on Instagram. I'm on Instagram on to black money magic and I legitimately spend majority of the time laughing at myself like laughing at those stupid things that I have to deal with with this journey. And I'm hoping one day that black money magic will kind of like grow to a place where again, you can be able to really serve people on a lot much larger scale. I can't do 50 groups of 20 people, but maybe one day we'll be able to serve each other and kind of like, like you said, they can start their own mastermind group and we maybe can have different places where we are able to do this where I'm not at another group in Texas or in California. You know, we again, we can walk together and we don't necessarily need to follow each other, but we can walk together.
Michael (42:50): Awesome. That sounds fantastic. And Sonya, thank you again for just taking this time and being so open and being so transparent in sharing your journey with us. And I'll be sure to link to your profiles as well as all of the books and tools that you mentioned in the show notes, which all of you neighbors can [email protected]lth.com slash episode 19 also, if you haven't yet, be sure to hit the subscribe button wherever you're listening to this so that you're notified every single time a new episode releases and if you're feeling inspired as a result of Sonya story and you want a blueprint for your own personal journey, be sure to download our winning to wealth money guide that'll give you simple steps you can take to help you get to the next level of your financial journey. Whether that be debt freedom, getting started with investing or whatever other goals you have, you can find [email protected] slash guide it's totally free and again, that is winning to wealth.com/guide as always, thanks again for listening to another episode of the wealthy neighbor show and we will talk soon
Speaker 2 (44:14): [inaudible].
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