A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


How We Finally Achieved a Positive Net Worth

Okay, real talk? That title is just an SEO gimmick. We all know I suck at how-to posts.

What I'm really here to say is simply that

according to Personal Capital

we have finally crossed the red/green line into positive net worth territory!

It has been... a road.

Our Net Worth Story In Graphs

This first graph spans November 2017 to now. The starting number on the left is something like -$65,000. That doesn't really capture the whole picture, though, because we started overhauling our budget in April of 2017, when our net worth was more like -$80,000:

Okey dokey. Moving on to the next graph, which covers the last year. In January of 2019, our net worth was -$23,000ish:

Finally, here's our net worth over the past three months:

The jump you see on the right doesn't reflect some magic injection of cash. It reflects the fact that until a few weeks ago, Personal Capital was unable to deal with our multiple eTrade accounts. Now it can, and so it's finally registering an IRA that contains some fairly high-performing stocks.

(Did you see what I did there? I sound like I know what I'm talking about! I'm practically an investment expert now.)

So we're in the green! Just in time to consider dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into buying a house!

Fine, Here's How We Did It

For the sake of truth in advertising, here's how we went from negative net worth to positive net worth:

1. Got rid of some, but not all, debt (see: this blog).

2. Saved some money in our emergency fund.

3. Put more money into investments once we paid off our highest-interest debt.

Again, steps 1-3 took us almost three years, more than 2.5 years of which I tracked every single expense and obsessively policed my family's spending. It was sometimes fun, sometimes not. Often not, TBH.

So how's that for a jazzy how-to?

Things To Remember If You're Fixing Your Finances (From A Non-Expert Who Is Still Way Behind)

I keep making comparisons between long distance running and personal finance because they have one key thing in common: for us middle- to back-of-the-packers, progress essentially boils down to putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over again, even when it's tiring, boring, and painful. Even when it feels like everyone and their pet newt is flying past us. Even when we're so far behind that all of the gummy worms and lemonade powder are gone when we finally reach the next aid station.

(Sorry. I might be taking this analogy too far.)

Here's what I'd tell other people in similar situations:

1. It takes time. For most people, everything money-related takes time. Don't get discouraged by the clickbaity "I paid off $1 million dollars in three weeks!" articles. Trust me, there's always a secret inheritance or surprise property sale involved.

2. Your net worth is in no way tied to your worth as a person. There's literally (I love that word, even when I use it improperly) no correlation. You can be the most amazing, giving, wonderful person in the world without money. You can be Scrooge McDuck rich and also be a total life-sucking shithead.

3. Seriously, the secret sauce to personal finance is to keep taking small steps. It's going to feel like you're going absolutely nowhere sometimes, but if you're moving forward - even just a little - you're progressing.

That is all. That's all I've got in the way of advice.

I'm the next Suze Orman, I know.

Anyway, this "crossing into the green!" thing is kind of arbitrary, but it still feels good, and I wanted to share it.



  1. Woot! That's an awesome milestone, friend. I'm so happy for you guys.

    May all the other milestones come quickly for you, and best of luck with the house.

  2. I love the jazzy how-to! People think there's some magic secret to paying off debt quickly, but it's a slow boring process of continually making small advances towards 0. And building wealth often follows the same path. It's like the saying "overnight success, years in the making"
    Good luck with the house!

  3. This is awesome, well done. And I just love your Scrooge McDuck reference. So true.

  4. YAY! That's a great milestone to celebrate! :)

  5. It's so nice when all your accounts finally get counted :D Yay positive!

  6. I'm so proud of you (and jealous!)

  7. Hooray! That little blip on the far right above the line is exciting to see. I hope you're still basking in the glow it!

  8. Great job and interesting read. I love the title and the first sentence of your post. It made me LoL, I know the struggle. I just found your site so I'll be checking out some more posts!