'With Enough Money Saved, You Can Tell Them All to Piss Off,' Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That quote is from a previous reader contributor, Lori, but it’s echoed in this monologue from the inimitable John Goodman:

The movie clip was flagged by another John, from the inbox, telling his story of “rags to riches, living the American dream”:

I have been broke and don’t ever plan on going back there again. I grew up “middle class” because my father was a carpenter and made good money and spent it on “toys”—motorcycles, boats, cars, etc. I had four brothers. I worked for my dad carrying shingles but couldn’t swing a hammer. I got a job at a steakhouse washing dishes and that sucked. I worked in a grocery store bagging food and eventually night-stocking shelves.  

My high school had a training program with a community college a few miles away and I certified in welding. After graduating high school I worked welding for a year with great pay. My only experience with a union is that after being hired I was “bullied” into joining the union; the union steward told me to be prepared to strike. Not encouraging for just starting. The strike never came but the business shut down.  

I got married, had a kid, started going back to the original community college, got divorced, went to the local state college, got an Electrical Engineering degree, moved out of state, worked three years then got laid off, moved back home, got a job with an electric utility, bought a house, got a live-in girlfriend who loved to gamble and gamble and gamble—but she left with her debt, thank God.

I was deep in credit card debt and had a house payment and a rental house a state away. I took a deep look and decided that debt was the anchor holding me back.  

I worked a side wiring job for extra income. I started living within my income instead of overspending for once in my life. I fixed up the rental house and sold it. Paid off the truck loan. Attacked the credit cards and paid them off smallest to largest using the snowball effect. I added 50% to my remaining mortgage for a while then doubled the payment until I had enough in savings to pay it off in full.  

I have been maxing out my 401(k) and Roth and saving cash ever since. My work has a pension plan that has been building for the past 25 years. I have sat down and added up all my assets (no debts at all so nothing to delete — woo wooooo!) and they are approaching $1 million at 57 years of age.

I did that on my own but have discovered that Dave Ramsey [profiled in the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic] has written all this out and you can google him and listen to him on his webpage or iHeartRadio.

What was the one event that made me change my ways?  Becoming single the 2nd time and realizing that I was responsible for my own retirement and happiness.  I’m not here to “make” anyone else happy as I’ve strived to before in life.  

What financial event moved me out of paycheck-to-paycheck living? The realization that things happen and when you need savings to fall back on. The furnace goes out? Buy a new one. The vehicle breaks down?  Tell the mechanic to “fix it.” The market tanks? Who cares, buy more dollar cost averaging. Want to go on a trip? Just buy a ticket or hop in the car and go. Want to eat out?  Don't look at the prices, eat what you want and leave a big tip without fanfare. Attached is a link to John Goodman explaining why you should have a pile of money.

I’m debt free. I’ve been broke and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.