But by 35, Turner had transformed his finances and had become a debt-free self-made millionaire.
Now 44, Turner is a multimillionaire and an early retiree. He and his wife sold their most successful business, an environmentally focused consulting firm, in 2014. Although Turner still works on his website and podcast, he's able to set his own schedule and only work when he wants to.
"I've got a really simple definition [of early retirement]," he says. "It's 'I work because I want to, not because I have to.' For me, I can take the afternoon off. Or I can go take my kids to the park in the middle of the day if I choose to, or I can blow off Thursday and Friday and go out of town with my family."
To make early retirement a reality, Turner made three crucial changes. "It's what I called the three-legged stool," he says. "Between saving, investing and your income, those three are the superpowers that combine together to get you to early retirement."
Although he didn't have much in the way of guidelines at the time, Turner is now able to look back and identify the choices that allowed him to rapidly increase his net worth and move toward early retirement.
Here are the three shifts he made that worked for him.
1. Be frugal and save as much as possible
Tracking his spending became a crucial component of Turner's plan to pay off his debt. Before he could start to change how he managed his money, he needed to bring order to his finances and get a sense of his spending.
"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, 'OK, I want this money to go to paying off this high-interest debt over here, which is costing me money.'"
From there, he began cutting back wherever he could. Before making a purchase, he took the time to think through, "Do I really need that?"
Although he worked in the corporate world for more than 10 years, he only bought his lunch out a handful of times. He stopped shelling out for expensive car payments: He stuck to his older, yet reliable, vehicle, and returned his fancier sports car. He and his wife also downsized their house multiple times, even living in a rented room in his in-laws' house for a year.
Turner didn't just put money into savings, 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, .
"I think it's the thing that makes the most sense practically all of the time," Buffett recently ."
3. Change your 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."