For some, an emotional decision might be buying takeout after a bad day or slamming on the horn when someone cuts you off in traffic. But for James of Seattle, an emotional decision means dropping more than $35,000 on a Dodge Charger less than a year out of bankruptcy.
James, 28, was a recent guest on an episode of Caleb Hammer’s YouTube Show, “Financial Audit.” He copped to a number of bad money moves, blaming “lifestyle creep, a couple of emotional decisions, a poor understanding of how finance works overall and how to use credit cards” for landing him in the hot seat.
Hammer — who’s known for savaging guests for their waste and insanity, even as he shows them how to do better — was shocked by James’s choice and he didn’t hold back on expressing his disdain: “To drive around in a Dodge Charger and no one thinks you’re cool when you pull up to them at a stop light… you’re paying $850 a month for that — to be judged.”
From Beemer to bankruptcy
Though James makes $80,000 a year, he admits upfront that he struggles with personal finance and using credit cards wisely. Hammer told him he should be in the driver’s seat given that his wife makes another $40,000.
But James crashed his finances on a previous car: a BMW he bought for $20,000 that bit the dust after less than a month. Bouncing back from his poor judgment and money miscues — he had no emergency fund when the car died — has been an uphill struggle at best, even though the bankruptcy was a painful three-month process.
For a while, he got by on an electric scooter. But with his wife expecting, James bought her a 2008 Acura TL, on which he still owes $7,252 at 23.69% interest, or as Hammer put it, “a death stupidity interest rate.” That might not be super terrible if the couple were otherwise debt free. But then there’s the monthly $850 Charger payment: Only $411 goes to paying off the principal.
“Dodge Chargers and this kind of debt? After a bankruptcy that just blows my mind. The fact that you actively chose to do this — crazy,” Hammer told him.
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‘More clarity and accountability’
In the hour-long video, it’s clear James knows he’s been a bonehead. He admits to eating out excessively, and because he and his wife have separate checking accounts, there’s a lack of focus in terms of family finances — especially concerning now that they’ve welcomed their son.
“That’s why I’m here,” he told Hammer, “to get more clarity and accountability.” And while the YouTuber may lack the credentials of a professional, he’s relatable for his utter lack of formality and niceties.
He also brandishes some nifty problem-solving skills. In real time, Hammer created a monthly budget pie graph for James that accounted for as many expenses as they could list. In the process, he discovered that the couple’s phones were financed as well, eating up $270 a month — and that the “stupid car” at 14 miles/gallon was guzzling another $600 in gas.
Hammer urged James to use the $2,500 a month left over for setting up a two-month emergency fund immediately, even before tackling the debt. That it would likely take them six months moved Hammer to hammer away: “This sucks. This sucks. This sucks. This sucks.”
On the brighter side, Caleb projected that in three years and two months, James would be debt free with that emergency fund in a high-yield savings account if he stuck to the plan and held off on wasteful purchases. He and his wife could then take meaningful steps towards retirement savings, provided they got on the same page.
His closing encouragement to James was powerful.
“You guys can live the greatest, most fun life — better than anyone around you — just by sacrificing over the next three years and two months,” he said. “It’s so worth it. Please do it for your future and for your child and potential children’s future.”
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