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!"
Turner landed himself in a heap of debt. He breaks it down into two piles. The first was around $30,000 of student loans, car payments on the Jeep and credit card bills. The second was $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."
But Turner buckled down, and by 35 he had transformed his finances to become a debt-free, self-made millionaire.
Now 44, he's a multimillionaire and an early retiree.
Reflecting on his journey, Turner says the hardest part wasn't cutting back his spending or downsizing his house, but recognizing his bad habits in the first place.
"[The hardest part of getting out of debt is] recognizing that you've got these debts and you've got these payments and money is really being wasted," he says.
While everything from taking on student loans to buying a house can seem like a good investment at the time, Turner found that it's difficult to discern what's actually going to be worth it later on.
"Recognizing those things, it's hard to make that mindset of, 'OK I'm going to save for a future me that's 20, 30, 40 years down the road' sometimes," he says. "It's a big switch from our consumption-oriented society."
His solution? Pausing before he makes a purchase to consider if it's truly necessary.
"Seamlessly, I can get on Amazon Prime, get this thing shipped to me this afternoon. Compared to, 'No, let's hit the brakes a little bit: Do I really want that? Is it really important to me?' [Even when] compared to these other things I want in my life? That's hard to do when you first get used to it," Turner explains.
While paying off his debt, Sall would leave his wallet behind when he went into the mall.
"I knew I'd see something that I'd want, and I'd probably buy it on the spot," he says. "If I wanted it badly enough, I would have had to walk outside, go to the car, grab my wallet, walk back inside and buy it. And I never did."
Sall found that, more often than not, by taking a step back to evaluate, he would realize he never really needed the thing in the first place.
Bottom line: With money, as with life, it's better to think before you act.