How one man dug himself out of $70,000 worth of debt to become a millionaire at 35

This guy dug himself out of debt to become a millionaire at 35

Back in 2000, a 25-year-old Scott Alan Turner realized that he was, in his words, a "money moron."

After graduating from college in 1994, Turner made a series of financial missteps: He got his first credit card and started charging. He bought a brand new Jeep — and later a Porsche. And when the bank offered him a loan to buy his first house, he followed the well-meaning but ill-advised suggestion of a boss who told him, "Buy as much house as you can!"

As expected, Turner landed himself in a heap of debt. He breaks it down into two rounds: The first, around $30,000 of student loans, car payments on the Jeep and credit card bills. The second: $40,000 for his second car and more credit card bills. Plus a $200,000 mortgage on the house.

"I came out of college with not much financial knowledge, as most people do," Turner tells CNBC. "Growing up, my parents taught me to save and that was pretty much the only lesson I learned."

Scott Alan Turner
Scott Alan Turner

But it hit him all at once: "I'm in a terrible place, being single, no savings, no emergency fund. Something could go wrong here," he says.

In a split second, he decided to sell his car. He took an $11,000 loss on it, but the act catalyzed a change in Turner.

"I had a really expensive car, a really big mortgage and it completely drained my bank account to get into that house, and that was my little 'a-ha' moment, where I said 'No! This is not how you should live your life, to the bone, paycheck to paycheck,'" he remembers.

Once Turner shifted his mindset around money, he made a few crucial tweaks that helped him pay off his debt, including tracking his spending, downsizing his house, investing and giving up his corporate job to become an entrepreneur.

By 35, he was not only out of debt, he was able to call himself a millionaire. Today, at 44, he's a multi-millionaire.

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Turner still runs a few businesses. He writes a personal finance website and hosts a podcast. Still, Turner considers himself retired. "I work because I want to, not because I have to," he says.

He believes anyone can turn their financial situation around if they're willing to just start. "You start at negative net worth and then you get to zero and then you move up from there," he says.

"People think, 'You've accumulated so much and you've done so well!' Well I started at zero," he says. "In my case, starting at negative net worth. That's where most people start."

If you want to follow in Turner's footsteps, here are three key steps he took to get out of debt and become a millionaire.

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He pared down

Tracking his spending became a crucial component for Turner to pay off his debt. Before he could start to change how he utilized his money, he needed to figure out where it was going each month.

"When you start recognizing where it's going, then you can divert it to where you really want it to go," he says. "In my case of being in debt, I said, 'Okay, I want this money to go to paying off this high-interest debt over here, which is costing me money.'"

One way Turner saved big was by downsizing his living arrangements. The house he originally purchased for himself was well over 2,000 square feet — far more space than he needed as a single man. So when he got married in 2005, he and his wife sold his house and moved into her 1,000-square-foot condo. They then sold the condo and moved into an even smaller rental.

In 2008, the couple decided to move to Texas, where Turner's wife Katie is from. They planned to rent a room at her parents' house for a month or two while Katie looked for a job. But thanks to the financial crisis, jobs in commercial real estate, Katie's specialty, were hard to come by, so they ended up staying in the 300-square-foot room for an entire year.

Swapping the big house for a much smaller condo, and even a single room, allowed Turner to put the money he previously lost to his mortgage each month away for the future.

Scott Alan Turner and his family
Scott Alan Turner

He started investing

Turner didn't just put money away, he put it to work. He started off in the stock market with actively managed funds, but quickly realized he had to tweak his strategy. "I started off with a bunch of money in the stock market, took a lot of bad advice from people, invested in all the wrong stuff," he says.

Now Turner is what he calls a "boring investor." He automates his savings and invests in low cost index funds. Unexciting, perhaps, but a surefire way to build wealth, according to legendary investor Warren Buffett.

"I think it's the thing that makes the most sense practically all of the time," Buffett recently told CNBC's On The Money.

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He changed his career

If there's one thing you can control, says Turner, it's "your career, your trajectory, whether you're going to work the corporate life." When friends approached Turner about giving up his job as a computer programmer to start a business together in 2003, he decided to go for it.

Now, 15 years later, Turner has eight businesses, both past and current, including a consulting firm that teaches architects and general contractors about energy efficiency. "Some terrible failures, some have done well," he says.

While becoming an entrepreneur isn't the right choice for everyone, it was the final piece of the puzzle that allowed Turner to "accumulate wealth quickly and get out of the rat race."

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