Written by Steve Down.
Perhaps you can relate to the symptoms conveyed to me by people over the years:
“I’ve started my savings program – for the third time since January. But every time
I do, either the refrigerator stops or the car breaks down. I am really committed to
getting out of debt and starting a savings and investment program, but it seems
impossible – no matter how hard I try.”
“I’m so busy working my business that I never slow down long enough to figure out
where the heck all the money is going. I feel that everyone but me is benefiting from
all my hard work.”
“I went to our family reunion and then my 20th high school reunion in the same
week. It seems like everyone is financially well off except me. I act happy for them
on the outside, but inside it sickens me. I don’t want my wife and kids to think I’m a
loser. I have always worked hard and have a decent job. What’s my problem?”
“We are in debt and cannot pay our bills on time. To make matters worse, today
we received certified mail from the IRS and I got notice that our bank account was
overdrawn and assessed $60 in service fees. I’m starting to believe our money
problems are going to tear our marriage apart. What can we do?”
“My wife and I just turned 60 and we have practically nothing saved for retirement.
We barely make it on our existing income with just a few dollars left over. Upon
reviewing our Social Security benefits today, we were left in a state of shock. How
can we live on one-third of our income when we barely make it now? Is there any
hope for us?”
The previous stories are real life problems that cannot be cured with faddish “get rich quick” programs. In fact, such programs often make one’s financial health even worse. I know firsthand. That is why I founded Financially Fit, LLC and developed Financially Fit for Life—a realistic, effective approach to true financial health and wealth.
I was born in 1957 at the peak of the “Baby Boom.” At the age of 23, I declared to my wife, Colleen, that we would be millionaires by my 30th birthday. The next few years came and went with a new condo, college, our first child and a budding career of financial planning to focus on. My 30th birthday swept by with little memory of my original goal of financial freedom.
One day, my brother Dave reminded me of my goal. “Steve, do you remember telling me you would be a millionaire by thirty?” Laughing, he said, “You funny guy!” I committed to myself that things would change, but more kids came and we moved to a new dream home. I added some luxury cars as well. The need for cash suddenly became enormous to support our lifestyle and pay the taxes. I was on a financial treadmill. The faster I ran, the faster the money would go. I would deposit my big paycheck and helplessly watch it scatter to the four winds. We felt we were only working to support Uncle Sam, the bank and General Motors. Then it hit me. Instead of achieving my dream of financial freedom, I had unknowingly joined the financial treadmill with most of my fellow Americans.
I did not lack financial knowledge as a financial planner, but I did lack financial wisdom. After proper reflection, I made a simple yet profound discovery. Wisdom, I discovered, is the combination of knowledge and experience. Experience can be a tough yet effective teacher. A wise man is one who applies the wisdom or principles gathered from knowledge and experience. A fool, on the other hand, is one who disregards learned wisdom or true principles.
The founder of a very long-time successful bank, said over a hundred years ago,
“If you wish to get rich, save what you get. A fool can earn money, but it takes a
wise man to save and dispose of it to his own advantage.”
It was my wake-up call, and I felt foolish to find myself where my poor financial choices had put my family. I knew better!
Have you ever been so busy working you didn’t have time to make money? That was my dilemma. I also knew if I didn’t do something about it, another 10 or 20 years of hard work would slip by without stepping off the treadmill. I finally realized that staying on an accelerating financial treadmill would be the same as committing financial suicide. As the years passed by, my financial health gradually improved. But then, I faced a financial crisis unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
MY PERSONAL FINANCIAL CRISIS
I want you to know that my story is much more than a message of financial hope. It is a story of financial miracles. My desire is to share it with you so that similar miracles can also occur in your financial life—beginning now! My story is a timeless story of triumph over tragedy, of hope over despair and of faith over fear. You may relate, since we all seem to share similar challenges at some point in life, whether physical, emotional or financial in nature.
HERE IS MY STORY:
In January 1999, I laid in bed for a month with pneumonia. Though I mainly slept, whenever I regained consciousness, I would yearn to go back to sleep since it was only while awake that I re-lived my nightmares of the prior two and a half years of my life.
Seven years earlier, I closed the doors to my successful career as a financial planner. It was ironic that after twelve years struggling to build a successful financial planning practice, First West Financial Group, I decided to shut my doors for good. Over this time period, I had been a constant student of biography, studying the lives of world business and political leaders. This resulted in me becoming discontented with the ordinary and I was ready to move on to more exciting possibilities. I wanted a challenge that would not only provide me with the potential of building a financial legacy but would also give me the opportunity for character growth at the same time. More than anything, I wanted to help others and become a spokesperson for my own successful company. During those years, I had a phobia of public speaking. I desperately wanted to overcome this weakness in order to become the leader I envisioned. With that desire, I brainstormed a brand new business concept that many considered to be revolutionary.
For the following four years, I worked day and night and was able to get nearly a million dollars of capital from friends and family. That company finally went into momentum and, on March 11, 1996, it did 1.7 million dollars in sales in a single day!
I’ll never forget that night when I returned home at one o’clock in the morning with sales contracts for 1.7 million dollars stacked in two cardboard banker’s boxes. My wife, Colleen, startled from her sleep as I entered the room, said, “Congratulations, dear, you’re a millionaire.” My response to her was, “I don’t know why, but something inside tells me that our greatest challenges are still ahead of us.” The next day that premonition was made clear when I learned that the day before we posted our victorious 1.7 million dollars in sales, a federal agency had proceeded with a civil law suit.
“They don’t have to win…all they need to do is outlast you.”
It turned into a two-and-a-half year court battle.
Though it’s good to be a fighter in life, I learned that one should be careful in choosing one’s battles; and, believe me, any government agency is not a fight you ever want to pick. They have unlimited resources and as one of my lawyers told me, “They don’t have to win…all they need to do is outlast you.” Following more than two years of litigation and having won every motion in court, I was finally drained of all our financial resources. I had burned through all of my business and personal assets. The equity in our home became the equity in the homes of the lawyers—if you know what I mean. Suddenly my attorneys, whom I had thought were my friends, were slow to return my phone calls. Although I had won every hard fought battle, in the end I lost the war.
Just as predicted by my lawyers, I eventually ran out of money, the deep pockets of the government prevailed and, by default, I settled out of court. In the end, my company, which one local investment banker had valued at well over 100 million dollars, became insolvent. Worse than that, I had personally signed on dozens of promissory notes in the amount of well over one million dollars. I knew then it was time to remove the customized license plate from my Cadillac that read, “Never Quit.” I reasoned with myself that my motto, Never Quit, didn’t mean that I could never change. This is how I ended the year 1998. That day in January 1999, lying in bed too sick to get out of bed with pneumonia, I reflected on all of this and much more.
My personal financial condition seemed hopeless—my home was in foreclosure, the leases expired on all three of our cars, and my bank accounts were overdrawn. The out-of-court settlement ended with the voluntary surrender of my professional licenses. I had no profession, no assets, no income and no credit; plus, I had over one million dollars of personal debt.
At this point, it seemed as though family and friends had withdrawn. Or, at least I was too proud to go to anyone for any further help. I felt alone and was drained physically, emotionally and financially.
Like Jimmy Stewart, in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I wished my life could suddenly end so that my family could have the immediate benefit of my million-dollar life insurance policy. My wife, Colleen, was at a loss as to what to think or do. She only prayed and left me to rest and recover from the pneumonia that had left me weak and listless.
As I lay pondering my fate, my little girl came into the room and asked me for lunch money for school. I knew I had no money in the house, so I pulled myself out of bed and led her by the hand downstairs. Together we looked under the cushions of the couch for any loose change that we hoped had recently fallen between the cracks. I can’t remember exactly how much money we came up with, but I do remember that after I sent her to school, I returned to my bed wondering how I could have sunk so low and found myself sinking into despair. It was at that dark moment that I became conscious of the reality that I was at a critical crossroad of choice. I knew then that as human beings we have that unique and perhaps divine ability to make choices, even when faced with personal tragedy.
We have the ability to choose despair rooted by fear or we can choose and create a vision of hope rooted in faith. Deep down inside, I knew I had a choice to become bitter or better. I also weighed in my mind the benefits that come from playing the part of a victim of circumstances rather than electing to accept the pain and growth that comes from taking personal responsibility for my past, present and future. I remember asking myself, “But what is there to hope for—foreclosure, bankruptcy and embarrassment?” I knew I had to find hope in something. Then it came to me. What if I could become totally debt free in five years, including paying off my home? That question gave me hope, though I had no idea what the answer would be or the path that could take me there. It occurred to me that if I could achieve such a vision, it could be a source of hope to others as well. I felt that was truly a vision of hope that would be worth any amount of effort. Soon, I had the strength to sit up in bed and put a calculator and pencil to my thoughts. I was amazed to learn that, based on a certain income that I believed I could soon reach, I could be out of debt in five years including paying off our home! What’s more, I calculated that once I was totally out of debt and financially free in five years, at the same rate I could achieve true wealth within five years thereafter!
I got out of bed, put on my bathrobe and sat at the dining room table with Colleen. I shared with her what I considered to be our new vision of hope—how we could overcome our personal debt of over one million dollars in as little as five years, including our home! I was able to show her how we could do this without filing personal or business bankruptcy. Then I illustrated how, at the same pace of becoming financially free in five years, we could have assets in the amount of ten million dollars within the next five years and achieve true wealth! I then shared with her my vision of a new financial education company that would be named Financially Fit. I could help millions of people pay off their debts and become financially free just like I was going to do. And if they wanted to achieve wealth after that, I could help them do that too! Understandably, she didn’t share my enthusiasm about me starting a new company.
“Colleen, if you want me to get a “real job,” then that is exactly what I’ll do.”
Seven years earlier, while building my financial planning business, Colleen was fairly content with our lifestyle. Our lifestyle included new cars and a new home in a nice neighborhood. My income significantly increased every year and she felt secure. Now her home was in foreclosure. There were no cars, no money in the bank, no food in the house, over a million dollars of personal debt and seven kids at home. She had no financial security. I knew I had disappointed my wife and realized the turmoil and sacrifices she had experienced over the past years with my working extremely long hours and postponing family vacations. Added to that were years of dark-filled litigation with a government agency that finally ended in financial disaster. Together, we considered the option of bankruptcy and contrasted that with the possibility of paying all our debts in five years and going on to become wealthy within five years thereafter. We knew bankruptcy was justifiable for many in similar situations; but for us, we needed to do something else. I said, “Colleen, if you want me to get a “real job,” then that is exactly what I’ll do.” Imagine Colleen’s possible thoughts, but she didn’t go there. Even though she was deeply concerned, she didn’t want to get in the way of my vision and dreams. Seeing my determination, she willingly agreed to be supportive of my ideas and starting another new business. Colleen’s answer was that there was only one thing to do, and that was for us to get started in building our new company right away. She told me that I had already demonstrated my ability of taking a vision of a new company and turning it into reality. She knew I could do it again. I am so grateful to have a life partner that continued to have faith in me, especially at a time when my self- confidence was at an all-time low.
“After all”, she said, “It’s the person who had the most critical form of cancer and who overcame that cancer in five years that can offer the greatest hope to other cancer victims.”
Many who watched from the sidelines thought I had lost my mind. To them it was unthinkable, under the circumstances, to attempt another new business venture. I had no cash, credit or credibility. I was armed only with a new vision and over a million dollars of personal debt. To top it off, I would be the founder of a company named Financially Fit when I was the most financially unfit person alive! But Colleen and I believed in that new vision and knew that it could become reality. Hope replaced despair. We could see that by combining our vision with faith and an action plan, it could result in bringing about financial miracles in our lives and offer hope to many others as well. Colleen said that if I could cure our financial ills, as well as others, then I would earn the right to become America’s wealth physician. I could bring hope to millions of others who suffer from chronic and acute financial disease and despair. “After all”, she said, “It’s the person who had the most critical form of cancer and who overcame that cancer in five years that can offer the greatest hope to other cancer victims.” The next five years were the most difficult years of my life. Our daily slogan was the old verse, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, we took it just one day at a time. Each day, we only had to make it until closing time of the banks. We did our best not to dwell on our past mistakes nor worry about how we would make it tomorrow. We only had to make it through the day. With that faith, we faced every new day and handled its challenges. During that time, we witnessed many financial miracles and we continue to see miracles that far exceeded our original vision and goals. We now know—without question or doubt—that whenever you combine a vision of hope with an action plan of faith and then add the element of time, miracles will always happen.
Again, a vision of hope + an action plan of faith + time = a miracle— every time! Did you know that mankind is the only species on earth with the inherent ability to create a vision of faith to accomplish miracles? It’s true! Over the past decade I have discovered, taught and lived the principles that have made miraculous and lasting changes in my personal financial health and wealth. I have tested them first hand and have proven to myself and to others that they do, indeed, work. These principles have also been applied to several entrepreneurial endeavors, which can be learned about HERE.
On behalf of Steve Down and the Financially Fit team, thank-you for reading!
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