Werz, 52, now a public relations and marketing manager at Lansdowne ——Resort, says he racked up $30,000 in loans and credit card debt after leaving his job in 2008 to attend golf school and teach at a golf academy in China.
"When I got back to the states, I shared a house with a fraternity of divorced, white-collar guys trying to save money," he recalled. "We were all doing the same thing, sharing expenses and trying to pay off our lives."
Determined to turn his life around, Werz says he became hermit-like, living in a room "no bigger than a mattress" and denying himself pretty much everything he had enjoyed. He paid off his high-interest credit cards first, then tackled his educational and travel debts. By working extra jobs and allocating all his tax refunds to debt repayment, Werz was debt-free in 30 months.
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"I remember the night I made the last payment. It was the most liberating experience ever," he said. "Outside of my first career hole-in-one, I don't think I have ever had a better feeling than not owing anyone on earth one red cent."
Certified financial planner Christopher Kimball, 54, from University Place, Wash., says paying off the high interest credit cards first, as Werz did, was exactly the right strategy.
"Those high-interest credit cards will eat you alive," Kimball said. "If you pay the minimum payment on a credit card at a 23-percent interest rate, you could literally be paying for the same pair of shoes for the next 20 years."
Still, Kimball understands how tempting credit cards can be.
"I didn't have a lot of money growing up—I always wished I could buy great stuff," he said. "I racked up $20,000 in debt by the time I was 25. People who say, 'Money doesn't buy happiness'—that is a myth. Of course money buys you happiness! It may not buy lasting happiness, but all things being equal, money gives you a better life."
Kimball says he might have ended up bankrupt if a local pastor hadn't intervened. He counseled him to pay off his credit cards and start fresh.
"I just paid and paid and paid," he recalled.