Wastefulness Re-Wired: Credit Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Rodney Miller could tell you a little something about excessive spending. After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, he landed a decent job and became "that guy" -- the one who seemed to have it all.

"I was traveling, hitting various hot spots (i.e. Martha's Vineyard, Black Ski weekend, Cancun etc.) having fun and doing it up," says Miller, 40, director of business solutions for a law firm in Atlanta where he also resides. A nice apartment in the suburbs and two BMWs completed the picture.

Miller laughs now about his once-cavalier ways with cash. At the time, he didn't really "have it all," but cultural wiring convinced him he needed certain accessories to look the part of success. "As a kid I always wanted to be something," says Miller, a former track-and-field athlete who made it to the Olympic trials in Atlanta. "There were influences at Morehouse, where I found myself competing with the Joneses. Rightfully, they were influences based in wanting to be successful, even though I didn't know how to be at the time."

As a consequence, his debt climbed to unreasonable heights, between school and car loans and credit cards. Yet Miller did one thing right by paying bills on time, even if it was just the minimum. Savvy with a dollar, he was not.

That is, until a savior who would become a mentor and business partner crossed his path and schooled him in the ways of money management.

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"This guy was my igniter. He showed me how I could save and pay off my debt," says Miller whose credit score tops 800. Though reluctant to listen at first, Miller learned how to better manage his checkbooks, create budget spread sheets, handle depreciating assets and disposable income and stay away from credit card debt. He eventually paid off his school and car loan and today drives a newer, paid-off BMW. "It was the education of fundamental financing that was really the key."

For 10 years, Miller and his mentor partnered in a real estate venture, refurbishing and selling condos, then warehouses in Atlanta. The side income allowed him to invest and increase his nest egg, which he continues to do strategically. He's maxed out his 401K and stashes away 25-30 percent of his salary for savings. Recently, he hired a financial planner to help diversify his portfolio.

Sure, he still spends, but he does it more thoughtfully than before.

"My weaknesses are travel and eating out. But I've curbed that a lot." He also prides himself in buying quality when he does spend. Thus, he chooses a BMW, a quality vehicle, which holds its value. He does the same when buys a suit, furniture, etc. His advice? Know the difference between quantity and quality.

He offers financial advice to others in his spare time, and based on his past experience, encourages people to prepare for sacrifice if they want success. "We live so much on the edge, doing things we can't afford. I was living recklessly. Live for today, but do things that are sensible."

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