Amanda Neely has an interesting spin on building her wealth.

Becoming debt-free is said to be a notch on the belt toward financial progress. It’s widely admired, longed for, and sometimes even praised by ‘financial experts.’

But the truth is, paying off debt may be risky…or in some cases unnecessary. Amanda Neely shares why.

In today’s episode, you’re going to discover exactly why becoming debt free isn’t all its made up to be, and why instead, you need to be laser-focused on growing your net worth to become financially free.

Here Are The Show Highlights of Amanda Neely’s story:

– A powerful financial lesson every adult should learn…and why you probably weren’t taught it ([3:10])

– What your number ONE priority must be from this day forward if you ever want to be financially free ([8:20])

– The secret to making your business work for you…not the other way around ([15:45])

– The ‘night and day’ difference between building your net worth and paying off your debt…and how it can positively affect your financial future ([17:20])


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If you’d like to see how Grandma’s timeless wealth strategies can work in your life, schedule your free 15-minute coffee chat with us by visiting…just like Grandma would want us to do.

Read Full Transcript

A hearty welcome to Grandma’s Wealth Wisdom with your hospitable hosts, Brandon and Amanda Neely. This is the only podcast for strategies to grow your wealth simply and sustainably like grandma used to. Without further ado here are your hosts.

Amanda: Hi, I'm Amanda and welcome to Grandma's Wealth Wisdom where we work with you to build wealth grandma would be proud of.

Brandon: Greetings. I'm Brandon, and thanks for joining us today. This is a very special episode of the podcast, not only is it the first of the year or the end of the year, whichever time you're listening to it, but we're also going to be returning, if I'm going to be returning the favor that Amanda did to me on making me spill the beans about my story with money, the challenges and all that stuff. [0:01:00.5] Now I get to return the favor and interview her about her story with money.

Amanda: You know what, I'm an open book, let's do this.

Brandon: I'm glad, I might ask some really, see how open book you are. We will try.

Amanda: Okay.

Brandon: I know a lot of this, but our listeners may not. So probably not. So Amanda, what was money like growing up for you?

Amanda: So when I was born my parents were both together on public assistance, and my mom decided to go back to college in order to provide for the family, and so she was in the midst of doing that, she was in college classes when I was born. She was in her 30's when she did that. We weren't super wealthy growing up, my mom, even after college, she got a job working in the college, and it is a rural place in southern Ohio, so no one made a lot of money there, the standard of, or the cost of living was pretty low so that wages were pretty low as well. [0:02:03.6] I didn't really know any better, that's what I grew up in, so I wasn't like expecting to have like fancy stuff or anything like that, we just lived and we ate what we ate, we did what we did, and if anything, in some ways I felt fortunate because I've got 10 older brothers and sisters, so the closest one to 6 years of age, like older than me, I'm the youngest, and the others are considerably older. So when they were growing up, there were four, six, you know, like multiple kids in the house and there was a lot less to go around. But by the time I was there, and especially by the time I got to remember something when I was like four or five, it was really just my brother and me. And so in some ways I was almost spoiled compared to the other kids because there were fewer kids in the home and there is more for me to have, because I wasn't having to share with all those other kids. [0:03:01.7] In some ways like I felt really fortunate, even though we still didn't have a lot comparatively, like that's kind of my mindset where I was coming from.

Brandon: We recently went back to Ohio and you ran into some of these people that you grew up with, even teachers. What was your thoughts going back and seeing some of these people, seeing your teachers? What came to mind after being an adult? You're thinking about this episode, being an adult now, spending most of your adult life in Chicago, but going back, what did you notice?

Amanda: It was kind of interesting going back to where I grew up as an adult now. I mean I've been back for Christmas and stuff like that, but never really seen a lot of the people that I grew up with, and you know, you mentioned running into one of my high school teachers and that he's retired early, but he's working at a funeral home. That was why went back, it was for a funeral. [0:03:59.5] And it was kind of interesting to see like even though he's a retired teacher, that he still has to have a job or he wanted to get a job for whatever reason. He told me one of my other high school teachers is working in the sporting goods section at Wal-Mart, and I know that teacher is considerably older, probably did not retire early, if I were to guess, but that they have to do that in order to make ends meet, or that maybe they wanted to do that. I don't know, that he just wanted to keep his
hands busy so that he got that job. I know from, you know, just the outside looking in, that that's not what I would have expected my high school teachers to be doing when they're retired.

Brandon: Yeah, I found that interesting. Also, if I remember correctly, you helped your family, your mom and dad doing budgeting and some other things.

Amanda: Yeah, there was one time when I was an early teenager, maybe like 13 or 14 that my parents are fighting a lot because my mom had gotten into some credit card debt that my dad either didn't know about or hadn't authorized or something like that. [0:05:09.6] And so they were fighting and I was like, "This fighting has to stop." so I intervened, I made my mom sit down with me at the kitchen table, we piled up all of her bills and we calculated everything and we put a budget together and figured out how she was going to get out of this credit card debt. Then each month I would have her sit down with me again and we would pay her credit card bills, go through how she had stuck to the budget or not that month and so on and so forth. My dad was really frugal, he never really spent a lot of money or anything like that, so he didn't really need a budget, because he would just not spend more than he had or whatever, but my mom needed that sort of accountability, and I learned a ton doing that with her.

Brandon: You were how old at the time?

Amanda: I was maybe like 15 or 16 when we were doing that. [0:06:03.3] Yeah, I wasn't that old, that was in high school for sure.

Brandon: So then you were kind of, leading into this next question, you were starting to do the adulting your parents.

Amanda: Yeah, I learned a lot about adulting through that, although I will confess when I went to college I had a bunch of money saved up for my summer job for that year between high school and college, and I blew through everything that I had saved during that first quarter of college.

Brandon: Did you use on beer?

Amanda: No, I was good, I wasn't drinking, I was going out to dinner though with the people in the dorms, that's what they were doing, I thought that's what I was supposed to be doing. I bought Christmas presents for everybody in my family, or a lot of the people in my family and didn't really care how much they were, I just I wanted to buy them presents, and that sort of thing. So I got back in January for the second quarter of college and I had whatever I could earn at that point. [0:07:01.2] I didn't have any savings. So even though I knew this principle of not going into debt, not racking up credit cards and how important it was to stay away from that, I still blew through my entire savings in one quarter of college, and then basically live the rest of college just with what I could earn, and still, you know, having to pay tuition, still take out loans to help cover tuition and all that kind of thing. And so when I graduated college, I was basically starting from zero still.

Brandon: Did you eat a lot of cereal? Was that how you make sure it was at zero?

Amanda: Well I mean I was living in the dorms for two years and then the third year I worked in the dorms, so I would get room and boarding included with that job or whatever, so I was eating the dorm food. But my fourth year I lived in a studio apartment off campus, and I did this kind of thing, there was some kind of pizza place across the street from my apartment that had a $5 large pizza on Monday, and so I would every Monday would go buy the $5 large pizza and I would eat it for a dinner like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. [0:08:03.9] I mean at least I had some vegetables there with the tomato sauce on the pizza.

Brandon: Yeah.

Amanda: Better than cereal.

Brandon: I don't know.

Amanda: If you don't get that reference about cereal, go back to the last episode.

Brandon: So any major things that happened to you that transformed how you thought about or used money post-college or during college?

Amanda: I definitely like remember graduating and going to the whatever office and getting the loan paperwork and finding out exactly how much my loans were at the end of college, mind you, not at the beginning, and seeing this is how much I had, here's what the payments are going to be like, here's the interest. I can picture myself in that room getting that paperwork, signing for that, that was a heavy moment, you know, it kind of took me back to that kitchen table with my mom and the credit card debt that she had. [0:08:59.3] I was determined I'm going to get out of this debt as fast as I can and I'm going to do this. And of course we get married, you have your student debt and I'm looking to say like not only we're not starting at zero, we're actually starting way below zero. I was determined to make that happen. I was really glad my dad taught me a lot about living frugally and that sort of thing, but over the years, even though we were trying to do the best that we could it never seemed like anything changed. I kept meticulous track in Excel sheets what our debt was over time, and even every quarter every year as we were going, it never seemed like it was ever getting to be less than what it was. We were kind of staying even pace, even though we're putting more above and beyond what we are required to toward that debt and all those kinds of things. It was super frustrating. So I was, you know, I was just, "Well, I guess this is how it's going to be." I almost was like resigned to just to we're just going to be in debt for the rest of our lives, or at least for 30 years, never going to be able to buy a home, like all those kinds of things are kind of where I got to at that point. [0:10:08.6]

Brandon: If you know both of us, I went to a technical school and my college debt was a lot more than Amanda's, and Amanda, so I got an Associates, and how Amanda's a lot more financially or at the time was a lot more financially savvy than I was, she went to an Ivy League school.

Amanda: It wasn't an Ivy League school. They call it the Ivy League of the Midwest, but it's not technically an Ivy League school.

Brandon: It's a better school than mine, and her debt for Bachelor's was a lot less.

Amanda: I do have to say I read books when I was in high school about how to pay for college and learned a ton about financial aid and that sort of thing so that I could potentially go to whatever school I wanted to and not have to worry about that. I will tell you, tuition at the school I went to was greater than my parents' combined income when I went there. [0:11:05.7] I got a lot of financial aid that was need based because of that.

Brandon: I didn't even know what financial aid meant.
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Brandon: So then we're paying off this debt, trying to overcome this, and you still, along with me got the idea to open a business, which would take us further into that. [0:11:59.1] How did becoming an entrepreneur impact your story with money on that level?

Amanda: Yeah, so I remember, we had tried to like bootstrap and get the money together. I delivered coffee door to door to people, we did all kinds of things to try to get the money to open without having to go into debt. We had signed a lease, construction on the space was almost done and it was go time. We needed to buy the equipment, get the inventory, get open, and I wanted to hold back. I'd say let's do a big fundraising drive, let's like do something, but we can't just plow ahead forward without the money that we need. And that was me, you know, as a kind of conservative, not wanting to go into debt, that sort of thing. Brandon was like, "No, no, no. We need the money now and I'm going to figure out how to get it." So Brandon found this group that would call or would apply for like ten different credit cards all at once and try to get you approved for a whole bunch of credit cards. [0:13:04.4]

Brandon: We wouldn't recommend that way.

Amanda: But that's what you wanted to do.

Brandon: It's what we did.

Amanda: And that's what we did.

Brandon: It was awesome because we had zero percent for six months that sounded great.

Amanda: Right, and so that's how we bought our, you know, we got over that final threshold, got the equipment, got the inventory, all of that, and I felt not very comfortable with that from the beginning. I wasn't sure that was the best thing to do, but that was kind of our only choice at that point, because we couldn't really wait. As much as I wanted to wait, we couldn't. So that became then along with our personal debt, because we still had that, the student loans, and then with the business now being in debt I was determined we're going to figure out how to get out of this. And we did over the next five years, we were able to consolidate those credit cards into a low interest loan, then we were able to chip away at that loan. [0:13:59.6] We found some financial strategies that worked for us personally too, and at our five year anniversary, around that time we were actually able to be free and clear of all debt to ourselves, or like the student loans as well as in the business. Even like some of what we had loaned to the business to get started from our personal finances was paid back to us which we actually then just took and paid back to the student loans, but whatever.

Brandon: And that was in big part because of what we learned from our financial advisor and how it really changed our life, changed our business and why we're now in this industry.

Amanda: Yeah, and so I guess the thing I learned the most, it was having that clear plan putting in, knowing what you're going to do and then being tenacious, sticking to that, making it happen and working your butt off, like you can make it happen. And now looking back on kind of those five plus years of work and lots of hours, doing whatever it took to make it happen, I'm glad we did that because they're in such a better place now, and I talk to people all the time and I'm always like, "Do you really want to do that kind of thing where you live like you've never lived before for a few years so that you can live differently later, or do you want to try to live differently now?" and each person has to make their own choice with how you do that. [0:15:24.0] But for us that, really worked well.

Brandon: So what would you tell an entrepreneur as they're going in to this, your wise and sage wisdom, what would you pass on to that entrepreneur? Not everybody's an entrepreneur here, we're going to get to you others that aren't, but the entrepreneur that has these ideas, what would you tell them?

Amanda: Yeah, I would definitely say, and I talk to entrepreneurs about this all the time. I would definitely say before you get started, determine which like of those two options I was just talking about you want to do. Do you want to do the hustle, or do you want to not have to do the hustle? [0:15:59.7] Do you want to be working in 120 hours a week if you have to, or do you want to, you know, are you becoming entrepreneur so that you can have that freedom? And once you've made that decision, then build your business plan, your financial plan around that. So if working like crazy is what you want to do and what gives you life, you're always on the go, you can't rest, then go for it, do that and really build your plan around that. Whereas if you have maybe have a family or you like hanging out with your friends or you want time to read or study, you know like whatever it is, then build a business to give you that freedom and just make sure your business works for you, not the other way around.

Brandon: That's really good advice. What about lessons you learned about money as an entrepreneur that you'd pass on to non-entrepreneurs? Let's say your grandkids if you have those in the future.

Amanda: Yeah, so what I was talking about with getting out of debt and how important that was to me and something I learned as a teenager and then tried to implement as an adult, I think is really good, but most people will just go after that debt and then they don't have anything saved, or maybe they're following other financial guru's advice and they maybe have three to six months of income saved and then they go after their debt. [0:17:20.4] There are other ways to go after debt, we've actually talked about that in the previous episode, but building your net worth is different than paying off debt. If you're building your net worth even if you still have a little bit of debt, that's good debt not bad debt, you know, like we could talk about that, but if you're paying attention to your net worth over time, then that could for some people from my experience that has led me to think a lot differently about money than just being focused on is my debt going down.

Brandon: That is really good there. So as we wrap up, what are some of the main lessons you learned about money from your grandma? [0:17:59.8]

Amanda: Yeah, that's a hard question for me because I only met one of my grandmothers and she passed away when I was five, but I did learn kind of vicariously through my mom and dad, I heard stories about my grandmother sewing. Apparently she sewed enough dresses for my mom to not have to wear the same dress twice in a whole month. She really enjoyed doing that. On my dad's side, my grandma, my grandparents were on a farm and that kind of work ethic that they had to grow food and sell food and work hard labor kind of thing.

Brandon: And if you didn't know this, Amanda's dad was about the age of my grandmother.

Amanda: Right, my dad was old enough to be my grandfather, so I learned a lot from him about just how much you can do with how little. We bought a home when I was four, turning five, some around in there, and he redid the home and finished the basement, turned the carport into a garage, redid a bunch of stuff on the outside of the home, and on the inside and basically doubled the value of that home over the 17 years, 18 years that they lived there or so. [0:19:14.5] Maybe they lived there less time, but doubled the value of the home and he didn't put that much money into it, and that's just one example of how much he did so much with so little.

Brandon: So as you think about your future with money, what ways do you want to build more wealth that grandma would be proud of?

Amanda: Yeah, I want to keep that focused on my net worth and see that go up over time, as well as keeping that focus on multiple generations, teaching what I've learned about money to our kid or multiple children if we have them, and helping them learn how to also teach their kids and setting up some of those a ways that we can pass on the values that we have about not being in debt, about making an impact on the world, being generous with our money, those kind of things that I think grandma would want us to be teaching to our kids and grandkids. [0:20:09.6]

Brandon: I would say that Amanda's already tried to buy our son who's seven months old a bank for Christmas.

Amanda: Like a piggy bank.

Brandon: Piggy bank, yes, and I was like, "Well maybe we should wait until he's a year and seven months, so then he at least knows what a bank is.", but she's already ready to teach him some of these things.

Amanda: Absolutely.

Brandon: Yeah, I want to recap. What I really liked about what Amanda shared is learning the difference between net worth and
just being debt free. Like building your net worth is a big thing. Anything else you want to jump in on?

Amanda: No, I think I shared things, I'm sure there's other things that I could have shared that will come up in future episodes. [0:20:58.5] I'm excited for 2019 and all of the different topics that we're going to be covering this year. We're going to go back through some of the big things that we talked about in the first 12 episodes and start breaking them down and getting even more detailed on those. So make sure you hit that subscribe button, you're not going to want to miss what we're talking about this year in the podcast.

Brandon: So until next time, keep building your wealth simply and sustainably for your own future and the future of our grandchildren's generation.

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