About 4 years ago (as of this writing), I came to Thailand with $1500 in my checking account and a dream to “make it” as an online entrepreneur.
Actually, let me rewrite that first sentence to more accurately reflect the truth:
About 4 years ago (as of this writing), I came to Thailand with $1500 in my checking account and $22,000 in credit card debt.
Ah, there we go.
I came to Thailand after being laid off from my cushy, work-from-home job.
I was living in South Beach, Miami, which is notoriously expensive.
But let’s be real: I didn’t even attempt to save any money.
I just lived paycheck to paycheck and blew it all each month.
So when I got shit canned (for reasons that I won’t go into in this post), I did the only logical thing to do: book a one-way ticket to a country I’ve never been to, halfway around the world, and take it from there.
A few weeks later I found myself at 3am in what seemed to have been the set of the 80s classic movie, Bladerunner.
But not quite; it was Bangkok, Thailand.
After an hour of peering down strangely lit alleys, steam climbing from the drains around me, and a buzz of tangled electric wires humming in the distance, I somehow finally managed to find my hostel.
I cupped my hands around my eyes and looked inside the hostel window with bloodshot eyes.
Everyone was asleep and there was no buzzer.
Yet I’d booked online so I assumed the staff was expecting me.
The only thing I’d left to do was to knock loudly on the front door for what must have been about 15 minutes.
Finally, an exquisitely beautiful young lady, with disheveled hair and ambling in a sleepy daze, opened the door and ushered me in without a word.
As she checked me in I stood in awe of this youthful specimen of femininity.
Maybe I was in love, I don’t know. I was pretty beat.
10 minutes later I smushed my face into a mattress and drifted off into a restless sleep.
Now, as I mentioned in the beginning, I was broke as a joke.
Not only was I dangerously low on cash, I actually owed my bank over twenty grand.
I had no idea how I would be able to continue paying the minimum monthly payments of several hundred dollars I owed each month.
Once BofA tacked my monthly interest onto the balance, I felt like my payments did little more than put another month between this payment and the next.
I certainly wasn’t making much headway towards paying off the debt at this rate.
I felt like I was treading water with this damned credit card debt, but tried not to sweat it.
I had bigger fish to fry.
Namely: how the hell to survive in a strange country where I don’t speak the language, don’t know a soul, and now found myself in with little more than a high-toned notion of starting an online biz.
I lived in this shitty hostel for months.
At night I slept in a muggy, mosquito-ridden dorm room bed with no AC.
I ate fried chicken and rice for dinner from the hawker stalls most every night.
Sometimes I allowed myself a big Singha beer.
I woke up each day and connected to the easy-come, easy-go WiFi and anxiously tried to hustle up enough cash to pay for another few nights of lodging.
On two separate occasions, I didn’t have the money for a hostel bed so I wandered the streets of Bangkok at night and returned to the hostel lobby to work again in the morning.
To top it all off, A few weeks into my journey my trusty old Macbook Pro croaked.
I took it to Panthip plaza in Ratchathewi and found out that unfortunately, my laptop was banjaxed.
Kaput. Ruined. Game over man, game over.
So I went on Craigslist and found a student who was selling his late 2010 Macbook Pro for about $700 USD – which was almost all of the money I had left by then.
I took a taxi out to Assumption university in Chaengwattana where the young fella lived and studied.
The taxi driver, who confidently proclaimed he knew exactly where he was going, got lost on the way, and I almost didn’t get to my destination.
Luckily, I had my 500 baht shitty phone that I bought at Tesco Lotus.
This beautiful piece of crap, unlike an iPhone, would take 2 days to run out of batteries. I absolutely cherished it.
I sat down in the soccer field at Assumption university and waited for almost an hour to get a text from the guy who was selling me his laptop.
While I sat on the bleachers of the neatly trimmed and delightfully green soccer field waiting for the seller to materialize, I noticed fresh-faced students sneaking curious looks at me and giggling, clearly not used to too many foreigners dropping by this out-of-the-way locale.
Just as I was about to call it quits, a young man came up to me and asked me if my name is Vic.
Indeed it is.
Drew was his name.
Drew spoke good English and was in fact half-foreigner himself, which instantly set me at ease.
It’s one thing to spend almost all of the money you have left on a computer which represents your only means of survival.
It’s another to spend your money on a computer that you bought from somebody who doesn’t speak English, find out that it’s actually broken, and then have no recourse to recover your money because:
A) you’re a foreigner, so F you.
B) take it to small claims court (is there even such a thing here?)
C) cross-cultural misunderstanding, misteeer.
In other words, make a bad deal and you’re screwed; that’s all there is to it.
I came up to Drew’s dorm room and, with niceties out of the way, I proceeded to scrutinize the computer in the severe manner I’d learned from my dad, who had, among other occasions, first impressed me with it when he purchased me a used car in high school from a stranger.
I finished my inspection, decided all was well, paid him the cash, and spent the next 30 minutes wandering around the campus with a paper cup of burnt black coffee in hand, and memories of my university days nostalgically flicking through my mind.
I flagged down a taxi and back to the hostel through treacherous traffic I went.
The next morning I resumed my nervous routine of eat, sleep, work; eat sleep, work.
This routine ruled me for months.
I’m not going to lie, it sucked big time.
I was stressed out, broke, out of shape, and eating poorly.
Were it not for the veneer of a laptop and hostel bed, I’d have been little more than a bum.
Eventually I scrounged up enough cash to move out of that hostel and into a better hostel.
A few months later, my first Thai girlfriend (who I met on ThaiFriendly), helped me get an apartment in her neighborhood in Ladprao.
It was an old, dilapidated stone building that was once a school.
It looked straight up haunted, with large echoey halls, cagey neighbors who averted their eyes, rusty pipes that spit out lead-poisoned water, and iffy elevators that seemed as though they’d tear off their cables and drop the carriage with you inside it to the ground floor at any moment.
Over the next 3 years I had many interesting adventures in this exotic land.
But through it all, I busted my ass every single day to gradually pay off that $22k debt in its entirety.
I don’t think I took a single day completely off from work since I arrived.
And by golly, I paid off every last red cent.
I eventually moved down to Phuket (Bangkok is lovely to visit, terrible to live in) and majorly upgraded my lifestyle.
I got a nice condo to live in, I wrestled my health back from the clutches of overwork and bad diet through lifting and jiu jitsu, and I was finally making forward progress in my business.
And then I did something stupid.
Shortly after becoming debt-free I got an opportunity to go a Frank Kern seminar in San Diego for literally a fraction of the cost that the principal attendees had to pay.
My good friend Josh Denning, who runs a successful Digital Agency / SEO company in Bangkok, and with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work on a number of occasions, invited me to come with him.
He was paying over $10k for the privilege of hobnobbing with Kern and co,. but I was only required to pay $1000 (plus travel expenses).
I didn’t have the cash to pay for this trip outright, which should have been the giant red, neon sign telling me to say “NO” to the trip to begin with.
But alas, like an idiot, I put it all on my credit card.
Yes, the very same credit card that I’d nearly killed myself trying to pay off over the excruciating span of the last few years.
I have to say, this is a prime example of stupidity.
If you make a mistake once it’s OK; you learn from it and you endeavor to avoid it in the future.
But this was a cut-and-dry case of me not learning my lesson.
Once I paid for the seminar and the travel, I started to invent other “important” things that I “needed” to “invest” in.
The next thing I know, I’m almost $10k in debt again. Just like that.
It literally feels like a lead weight has been surgically inserted into my chest cavity, and I carry it around everywhere I go.
Every time I get an email from Bank of America it feels like a car is speeding by with a giant magnet attached to it, tugging at my body, shifting my insides around.
My parents get humiliating letters from Bank of America and AT&T demanding I make good on my payments.
I’m a 31 year old man and I still haven’t squared myself away, what the fuck!
But…as uncomfortable as this feeling is, I can’t sit around feeling sorry for myself.
I’ve sat in this ditch before, and I clawed my way out.
So will I again.
Thankfully, this time around my income is quite a bit higher, so paying off my debt ought to be easier, and have less impact on my lifestyle.
So today, I hereby declare that not only shall I pay off my debt in 24 months or less, I will remain debt-free hereforward, forever more!
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, you may as well sign me up for a lobotomy because I’m too stupid to go on.
So now that I’ve dispatched with the yarn spinning, it’s time to move on to the “how to” of honoring this debt.
I have two businesses (MemberFix and SpeedKills.io).
While both businesses operate at a profit, our scale is still too small to take home any meaningful profits.
And I’ve got to keep as much cash as possible on hand as a buffer for churn, and other unexpected events that could cause our business to implode without some padding.
I won’t bore you with detailed revenue and expense figures for my businesses.
It’s not relevant.
What’s relevant is how much I think I can comfortably afford to pay every month.
The number I chose is $300.
$300 x 24 months = $7200.
That doesn’t cover the entire debt, but I’ll put in some extra cash as it comes in so that I meet my 24 month goal.
I reckon if I maintain my strong routine and keep scaling our businesses, I might even pay it off in a year.
Additionally, I’ll be setting aside $100 in CASH every month so that I can actually start saving.
Now, I should mention one option that’s available in the United States for folks with substantial debt is to call their bank and inform that they they’re unable to pay the entire amount and that they wish to settle for a lesser amount that they can pay.
I’ve considered this option but then came to the conclusion that I undertook my debt in full knowledge of what I was doing.
I’ve nobody to blame for getting into debt but myself.
And when I needed the cash the cash that I thought I needed, my bank was there for me.
The right thing to do, then, is to pay the debt in full, and then stay the hell out of it.
So, that’s my plan for paying off my debt over the next 24 months or sooner.
And it’s really just that simple.