Sometimes I wonder in the 'Age of Information,' when there are so many sources available to check the validity of an argument, "How are we still so easily influenced by propaganda?" Anyone that has spent any amount of time on Facebook can see how vastly different opinions range, the sources of people's information and opinions, and how some people will believe ANYTHING they see on the Internet. A perfect example is the "Facebook is going to start charging for accounts on ___day unless you share this post." Once one person shares it, it spreads like wildfire. No subject seems to be immune; sports, religion, and especially politics. I don't believe that I have in my adult life more dreaded a Presidential election, or have ever been so anxious to have it come to an end. Hey, I thought Bush/Gore was ugly. It doesn't even compare to this one. From my perspective, I feel like someone who lives in Maine watching the Alabama/Auburn University rivalry. (In case you have lived under a rock, the Alabama/Auburn rivalry is one of the nastiest the sports world has ever known. It is the Hatfields and McCoys of Division I College Football. See the ESPN documentary "Roll Tide War Eagle." It only scratches the surface.) The vitriol, lies, and pure hate is perpetrated equally by each side, while both remain affixed in their irrational belief that the other is the root of all evil.
Look, I'll be honest and transparent here. I used to call myself a "Constitutional Conservative." I proudly (then) voted for George W. Bush...twice. Slowly, over time, that began to change. Now it needs to be noted here that for those of you on the Left that I did not 'see the light' and come over to your side. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to examine how that happened.
Enter Dave Ramsey.
As an over-the-road truck driver, the radio is the gateway to the world and the escape route from sheer boredom. I had heard of Dave Ramsey around 2002, and began to listen to his radio show around 2003. Dave's simple, common sense approach to seemingly overwhelming problems enlightened and encouraged me. When you listen to his show, you can literally hear the exasperation leave a caller's voice as he walks them simply, step by 'baby' step, through whatever problem they face. To this day, I still get teary-eyed on Fridays when callers call in to scream "We're debt free!" These are real people with real stories, from every walk of life and every socio-economic background. No matter if it is a single mom making $30,000 per year paying off $60,000 in student loans and credit cards, or the high income business owner making $1,000,000 per year paying off $5,000,000 in business debt and home equity lines. The celebration is just the same. It is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. No bailout. No program. WE did this. WE made this happen. WE overcame our own foolish decisions. Lives changed, marriages restored, family trees changed forever. The bottom line in every story is personal responsibility. Dave often says, "Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge." Our own personal story is different. We ended up bankrupt and living in my parents' attic because we waited too long to get our house in order and it came crashing down around us. The problems we faced were no one else's fault but our own.
There was a point in 2007 and 2008 that I was listening to 12 to 15 hours of talk radio a day. I started at 6:00 am with Bill Bennett. 9:00 am was Mike Church or Glenn Beck. At noon came Dave Ramsey. 3:00 pm was Sean Hannity, and from 6:00 to 9:00 pm was Mark Levin. I ate it up. Everyone was pretty much on the same page except for Mike Church. He was the first one to start calling into question the tactics and decisions of the Bush Administration. I know a lot of people will lump Dave Ramsey in politically with all of the right-wing talkers, but he didn't toe the line. He was the only person on the radio to call out the Republicans for being 'bought and paid-for' by the banks over the bankruptcy law reforms. That is detailed in the documentary "Maxed Out," a must-see for anyone living today. I think it is fair to say that the wheels began to come off the 'Conservative' movement around 2006. Republicans and 'Conservatives' in Washington started making decisions that were counter to their supposed platforms and convictions. It was in early 2008 that I was moving away from all the talkers except for Ramsey and Church. By the middle of 2008, Mike Church was losing his mind daily over the decisions of the Bush Administration. Dave Ramsey was not silent either. As the financial crisis neared in 2008, Dave was calling out what was going to happen before it even happened. You must realize, he was on the forefront of the mortgage crisis. He was dealing with homeowners daily that were calling him and saying, "This is going bad. What do we do now?" I dare say that no one saw it coming clearer than he did because of his relationship to the people it was happening to. Then came the crash. Dave was the voice of reason throughout. He was saying, "Calm down. Calm down. The media is making this worse than it needs to be. Calm down. Take a breath." Homeowners who fell for the subprime mortgage scheme were in big trouble. Dave never wavered. His advice never changed. "Do all you can do until you can't do anymore. If you get foreclosed on, it is not the end of the world. You will rent, you will put your life back together, and then next time you will know not be so foolish about choosing a home and a loan." The bailout happened. The "seven hundred thousand million dollar" bailout, as Dave referred to it. He wanted to make sure we understood that $700 billion is the same as "seven hundred thousand million." He logically walked through how we got here; how there were three legs to the stool of stupidity - government interventions into the housing market in the late 90's and early 2000's (that was under two administrations by the way. One democrat and one republican); financial institutions that jumped on the opportunity to take advantage of the new rules put forth by Congress; and irresponsible borrowers who dove into the deep end with absolutely no hope of being able to float. He made the clear point that with out any ONE of those legs, the crisis couldn't have happened. If borrowers simply said, "No. This is too risky. We can't borrow 6 times our household income and be able to carry it." There would have been no crisis. If the financial sector would have said, "No. We can't do this. It is too risky. We can't lend large amounts of money to people that do not have the income to support the loan." There would have been no crisis. If Congress would have said, "No. We can't change the rules for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and force financial institutions to loan money to borrowers they normally would not lend to because of their income or ability to pay." But there was no "No." It was, "Yes. Yes. Yes." and "Can I have some more please?" Click, click, BOOM.
By the end of 2008, I was DONE with political talk radio. I couldn't even listen to Mike Church anymore, and he was at least trying to oppose what was happening. 2009 was when everything came apart for us. Our marriage was hanging by a thread, my job situation was bad, and we were literally hopeless. We made a reckless decision to move back to West Virginia, both thinking that maybe we could salvage our marriage. We did save our marriage, but in April 2010, that was all we had left. We sold everything that wasn't bolted down, moved out of our rental house before we were evicted, and moved in with my parents in their small two bedroom house. Slowly, step by step, we started rebuilding our lives. We made the decision for me to go back on the road driving. In June 2010, I left my wife and kids in West Virginia and went back to Ohio to go to work. By October 2010, we were reunited in Ohio in a rental house but were still left with another important decision. How will we move forward. We were committed to the decision that my wife would not work outside our home. She would be at home with our children full time. We were also tossing around the idea of homeshcooling. There was still one major obstacle - I had a 'good' job, but a $750 weekly take home pay was not going to keep us above water for long. I needed to increase my income. There was no opportunity for advancement at the company I was with. My boss made less money than I did, and worked more hours. After much consideration and prayer, we decided that the only way we could increase our income was for me to go self-employed. With that came a lot more work, and a lot less time at home. We found a carrier we wanted to go with, made the arrangements, gave a notice, and on January 1, 2011 I boarded a Greyhound bus headed for St. Cloud, MN.
It was scary. Terrifying is a more appropriate word. If this didn't work, we were beyond screwed. No savings. No back up plan. I got my last paycheck from my previous job while I was in orientation for the new one. I spent a week there and got my truck on Thursday. It had no fuel in it and I had to go straight to the truck stop and fill it up. $529.26, almost as much as my last paycheck. My first load paid $1,693.87. It was a total of 1216 miles and took me 3 days to complete. Now the pressure was off a little. I could at least see that I was going to make some money, I just didn't know how much and for how long. Each week there would be $539.28 deducted from my settlement for fixed expenses whether I ran or not. I would come to find that I would spend an additional $1,000-$1,200 in fuel weekly. I found my groove and things began to improve. We were making money, and it was better than I could have imagined. And then I screwed up, big time. We were moving into a townhouse, and I was scheduled to be home for the move. I was working my best week to date, and was picking up a load in New Hampshire that, with the other loads I'd run that week, was going to leave me a net pay of over $3,000! As I was backing into the dock, I pulled up and let my bumper touch the snow bank in front of me because I just needed that last inch. That last inch cost me 8 days in the shop and over $1,000 in repairs. The bank wasn't snow. It was ice, and it was hard as granite. My bumper was pushed back about 2 inches, and it ruptured the bottom of my radiator. Ouch. By the time all was said and done, I had lost the revenue for the load, the downtime, the repairs, a rental car and gas to drive home and back to pick up the truck, and three nights in a motel. It was a VERY expensive mistake. I soon learned another hard lesson - time at home = less money. We made the decision just after Easter 2011 that I wasn't coming home for a while. There was a lot of money to be made, and the only way I was going to earn it was to be on the road and running. I had to try to explain that to a two year old boy and five year old girl. It isn't easy. All they understand is that daddy isn't home. Fortunately, we have Skype and I've been able to keep in contact with them. In the months since, we have been able to spend a week at Walt Disney World and I can take time off in a way that doesn't jeopardize my revenue. Has the risk been worth the reward? I think so, but ask me in another year and I may give a better answer.
Hopefully you can see how my personal experience has changed how I view the world. I'm no where close to being the same person I was 2 years ago. I've also found a new and fervent disdain for government in my time as a business operator. The ridiculous, pointless, and burdensome regulations that I encounter are almost too much to handle. And please understand that I don't only dislike regulations put in place by Democrats. I hate them all. Just this year, I have spent over $1,500 in fines and legal fees - $800 for a seat belt ticket and $750 for an overlength violation. Last year, I paid over $5,000 in fuel taxes and almost $4,000 in highway tolls. I spent a total of $68,000 in diesel fuel. Did you know that almost all the 50 states have passed anti-idling laws that dictate that I am forbidden from running my engine? My engine is what runs my heat and A/C. Some states have placed exemptions for "driver comfort," but most have not. A second offense in Philadelphia is $20,000. TWENTY. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. Their regulation states that I can idle for "20 minutes if it is lower than 20°." Right, that will keep me from freezing. As I sit and write this in Connecticut (the State that fined me $750 for my trailer axle being 1 foot 7 inches too far back), it is illegal for my engine to be running. My engine is running. Since the weather turned warm, my engine has basically been running non-stop. If you think I'm going to cut off my air conditioning when it is 90° outside, you are a moron. I will willingly and proudly disobey that law. It is not going to happen. If it is less than 20° out side my engine will run. Diesel fuel turns into gel below 20°. But bureaucrats don't care about anyone but themselves. As long as they can pat themselves on the back for caving into whatever lobby is buying them off in the name of whatever ridiculous cause of they day, they are happy. It doesn't matter how much a private citizen is injured. They're saving the planet you know. What a joke.
We are already planning what we are going to do with our business for 2013 and 2014. Where will we go? What will we do? A different carrier? A different commodity? But I can assure you that no where in the discussion have we said, "What will we do if ________ is elected in November?" It is not even a consideration. If Obama wins reelection, we will grow our business. If Romney wins, we will grow our business. I'm not naive enough to believe that one or the other will not have some effect on my business in some way. In fact, I'm sure that either one of them will hurt my ability to grow in some way. I'm also sure that neither one of them will make me, and neither one of them will break me.
We increased our income for 2010 over 2009. We increased 2011 over 2010. We have already exceeded revenue levels for 2012 over 2011. We also expect that by the end of 2014, depending on which direction we decide to go, that our income will likely be triple (or maybe more) what it was in 2010. WE did this. WE made this happen. I spent 327 days on the road last year in 2011. I'm on track to exceed that in 2012. It depends on whether I take two weeks off at Christmas or not. It has been our willingness to sacrifice that has brought us here. I'd like you to notice that there are a lot of "we" and "us" mentioned in this piece. It is true that "I" have been out here on the road, but my wife is at home full time with two little kids by herself with no family close by to take up the slack. She has worked just as hard or harder than I have throughout this time. We have made these decisions together. There is no other way it will work.
We have been to the bottom. We know what desperation and hopelessness looks and feels like. But nowhere along the way did we turn to welfare or food stamps. Our kids did have a medical card through West Virginia for a couple months in early 2010. That was a degrading nightmare that I never wish to live through again. I've never been treated with such disrespect as I did through that process. I do not recommend it nor do I wish it on my worst enemy. We did not ask for or receive a government bailout. We worked. We worked our butts off. We still have old used cars with almost 400,000 miles between them. We have stumbled along the way, but the major difference now is that when we look at our options, one of them isn't "total disaster." Our choices are "good, better, and best." Hopefully early next year, momma is gonna get a 'brand new' 2008 or 2009 minivan. We may even give our old one away.
This is what I wish to leave you with. Our income is going to continue to grow. At some point, a majority of you, on the left and the right, are going to say, "Those people are rich." That is fine. You can call me whatever you like. But please keep this in mind, when you start pointing out how 'rich' people seem to be, remember that for the majority of us, we got here by hard work, sacrifice, and determination. The fruits of our labor are not yours to be plucked away and given to whomever you deem worthy. We are not privileged. We have no inheritance. We do not even hold college degrees. The closest I've been to a university is when I delivered some laboratory furniture to Yale this morning. I work hard. I do good work. I am trustworthy and reliable. THAT is what leads to my financial success. I do honest work for honest compensation. The mere fact that I have managed those resources well does not entitle you or anyone else to steal from me in the name of government or cause. What I have earned I have earned honestly.
So what do you believe? Is it based on your own experience or is it just another talking point from MSNBC or FOX news? Is it based on truth and reason or is it just because that's what Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity told you?
You may not live what you profess, but you will UNCONTROLLABLY live what you believe. - Rick Burgess