Long Story $hort Episode 11

Celebrating the Act of Showing Up for Yourself

Johnika Dreher lives in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, which is about 45 minutes east of Washington DC. While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, she paid off $70,000 in debt. Johnika was recently awarded the Brighter Financial Future Award from the NFCC, or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

On this episode, Johnika shares her story of finding guidance, getting on the right track, and celebrating success.

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Show Notes

  • Guest: Johnika Dreher
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: October 11, 2022

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Johnika Dreher: You go from being financially well to not being well, and when things happen and you don't see that shift, you don't realize the other tolls that are happening in your life.

[00:00:19] Adam Walker: Debt. We've all heard of it, most of us have it. Debt is an almost unavoidable reality of life. But what happens when it starts consuming life? The experts at Money Management International believe that financial challenges aren't meant to be faced alone. On this podcast, we hear stories of people's whose lives have been changed by MMI's role as their toughest coach and loudest cheerleader. Their stories are unique, personal, and inspiring. So stay tuned because we're sharing each guest's Long Story Short.

Today on the show I'm talking with Johnika Dreher. Johnika lives in upper Marlborough, Maryland, which is about 45 minutes east of Washington D.C. While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, she paid off $70,000 in debt. Johnika was recently awarded the Brighter Financial Future Award from the NFCC or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Here today to share her story of finding guidance, getting on the right track, and celebrating success is Johnika Dreher. Johnika, welcome to the show.

[00:01:35] Johnika Dreher: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:01:38] Adam Walker: I'm so excited to talk to you. Really appreciate you being here. So let's start with you. Tell us just the flyover, who are you, where do you live, what do you do? Give us, give us the details.

[00:01:51] Johnika Dreher: Awesome. So my name is Johnika Dreher, as mentioned, and I consider myself a wellbeing advocate and a architect and consultant. So through the incorporation of organizational design, human resources and yoga, I facilitate the deconstruction of dysfunctional work and personal systems that individuals and organizations have. I currently live between two places, so you mentioned Maryland but I also, reside part-time in Ohio.

[00:02:23] Adam Walker: Oh, fantastic. Okay. And let's dive into what we're here to talk about. Let's talk about your debt story. What was happening in your life when you became a client of MMI and was there any particular breaking point where you knew you needed additional outside help?

[00:02:39] Johnika Dreher: This is so hard to talk about. It's still very new to me, that I paid off $70,000 in four years. So if I could go back just a teeny bit before my MMI story.

We had our first house, my partner and I, and we moved out because we knew we needed something bigger. We had just, had a son, I think he was about six months old when we moved out. We, sold our house and the closing costs literally wiped us out. I remember, Christmas one year having nothing because closing costs and everything and helping the new buyer, literally cleared our bank account, and we knew then, wait, it's something that needs to happen. We saved staying with, his parents, about $70,000.

[00:03:35] Adam Walker: Wow.

[00:03:35] Johnika Dreher: So that went there, right? Not having, you know, putting our incomes together, putting everything towards savings, having the help from our in-laws, that was really beneficial. Everything went out the door the minute we walked into our newer house. So it's this cycle of knowing the right things to do and then doing something a little bit different that really throws you off. And it really put a strain on both of us because, we had gone for almost two years, building back up this nest egg that we really kind of lost. And then we started leaning on our credit cards and, having a young son, I think he was a little bit, not yet two. So just really working through what that looked like. It was terribly, wrong. And it, really took me into a space of not being happy and really not even knowing.

You, you go from being financially well to not being well. And when things happen and you don't see that shift, you don't realize the other tolls that are happening in your life. So the breaking point was probably a year into having a house and we were looking at our credit cards thinking, Well, gosh, I know we used this money for a reason, right? It was to put, it was it took us $17,000 to put up blinds in our home. These are the expenses that you incur, and who pays that $17,000? Where do you get that money? And part of it came from savings, but a part of it was like, Okay, well yeah, we'll put it on the credit card.

So it wasn't like we were doing anything that didn't pertain to us, you know building our, our dream home, right? But it added up. So I started researching, a number of different sites and I kept coming across things like debt consolidation and, no bankruptcy and we'll do this. And I just was like, Well this doesn't seem right. Will this costs a lot of money? Will this, it isn't there someone who should like want to help me? Like I want to get out of this, but I don't want to pay an arm and a leg to do it and I want to make sure that I'm being educated at the same time.

[00:05:53] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:05:53] Johnika Dreher: So I remember just picking up the phone after getting very frustrated because, you're thinking, you see so much on the internet sponsored post, What really is good? Cause if it's a sponsored post, someone's paying for that. So like is it in my best interest? So I called Navy Federal. And I was having a conversation and it was also about, Hey, I have a credit card with you. How do I pay this off? And she was saying, well you know, we have a couple of different program websites that you can look at. And that referred me to this, conglomerate, site, but it was all reputable companies. And then I kind of went down the list. Checked out a few, and I remember calling MMI and having a conversation and the, representative was ready to sign me up right then and I'm like, Hold up, hold up, wait. You said, I gotta let go of my credit cards and you said I gotta do this. Wait a minute. I was just calling to get information like, I'll call you back...... And she's, I could, I see now the reason she was just like, If you don't sign up now, this may never happen. I don't know if she's going to call me back.

And, I got off the phone, I talked it over my husband. They sent, an initial contract. They said, You can review it. Think about it. It outlined everything again.. It was scary. It was like, Wait, I can't use not one credit card? We won't have credit cards. What would we do? And, it was the best decision ever... And I remember the first year, just, gosh, we gotta pay this really huge, monthly payment. But then it became, well wait, we're paying off so much more than we... We're paying off so much more than we would have if we'd just done minimum payments. So it was actually working in our favor, but it took me a year before I started really looking at the MMI website and I started seeing balances go down and I started saying, Oh my gosh, Okay, let me put this in my calendar. I'm going to be paid off in three years. And then it was, I'm going to be paid off in two years. And then it was. 70,000 to 45,000 and then 45,000 to 20,000. And when we got to 4,000, I was like, Oh my gosh, we're almost there. And then I was going back in my mind thinking, Wow, wow. And then I started looking in the mirror and not only was I dropping tons of thousands of dollars in debt, but I also was losing weight at the same time.

[00:08:22] Adam Walker: Wow!

[00:08:23] Johnika Dreher: So it ended up being just a beautiful experience of self.

[00:08:29] Adam Walker: Wow, that's, Wow, that's such a great story. I mean, I love that and I, and I kind of appreciate you really going through the whole progression of it, because it helps us to see kind of that full picture of, you were up and then you were down, and then you had just, random expenses. Like you're moving into a house, and of course that costs money, and then that takes you down this path, and then you have to work your way out of it, which you have done. So since working with MMI, just to reiterate to our audience, you've paid off $70,000, which is amazing. What are some of the challenges that you've faced along the way and what are some of the lessons that you learned about yourself?

[00:09:11] Johnika Dreher: Absolutely. Such a good question. I realized that there was a lot of attachment to debt. There was a lot of societal things too that I didn't realize psychologically that I was being, open to. I would say, right? In regards to wellbeing. So a new mom, right? The cutest things on Instagram and social media. And you go down this path of, Wow, okay, I want that. And that doesn't seem too expensive. And it's a buy one, get one free. And he would be so cute in this. And those things add up too.. Then you have, family members who are buying things and then this, this issue of clutter and does my child have everything and I want them to be better off than I was. And those things add up.

So definitely attachment, and the influence of marketing. And being on the internet as a new mom, late at night, breastfeeding and up at all types of hours, and you're tired and you're not fully thinking, and you may be a little malnourished and thirsty and you're open to the world, your wellbeing often is challenged. So that part, moving into the house was, you want to have the best space, you want it to be comfortable. We want to do so much, from the beginning and not really think about, there's opportunity to grow in this space. There's opportunity to evolve in this space. We don't even give the space an opportunity to get to know us or figure out what goes. So we bring in so many different things. So definitely the preplanning that I felt I had to do. Yes so, I would say attachment. Trauma, probably some trauma in there, right? Trying to keep up with the Joneses, and I'm still trying to figure out who are the Joneses, like, who are they? But we have that right? Where we're like, let's, let's have it this way and let's have it that way. And it adds up. Every little thing adds up. It can either add up to your savings account or it can add up to your debt.

[00:11:26] Adam Walker: Yeah, I mean, I love how you describe that. Its, its just all of these tiny moments along the way, where you see the thing on Instagram and you see the, in Etsy and, all of these things like, Oh yeah, it's only $40, but it's $40. You know what I mean? And, and it does, it does add up over time. And it can be, it can be a dangerous trap that we sort of fall into, right?

[00:11:52] Johnika Dreher: And the pay, pay later options. I mean, they've even gotten so much more clever these days.

[00:11:59] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:12:00] Johnika Dreher: And not to call any particular company out, because there are people who definitely would benefit from those options, but I think going back to questions of why. Why am I looking at this? What exactly do I need it for? How long is it going to benefit me? And I have changed to assess what is contributing to my moment, what is contributing to my integration with people, and what is, what's contributing to my overall joy. Not contentment, not happiness, right? But my overall inner peace, inner joy about this thing that I am getting. And is it worth it?

Sometimes I put things in my shopping car and I sit there for a couple of days, but this instant gratification season, right, where we have to have it. No, did you? Like I, I use the AI feature where it's saying, see how it'll look in your room. I do that a couple of days to see, did I like it on that wall? Is that really the color that I want? Is that what I really want? And then by the time I, psychologically psyched myself out of getting the item, but I got a chance to play with it in the way that I needed to, Right? To fulfill whatever that need what was at the time. But in all honesty, you'll realize, eh, I really don't need that.

[00:13:20] Adam Walker: I love, I mean, I love what you said, like you, you made a distinction in there about the difference between an item bringing momentary joy in something that brings long term joy. And I think like that's such an essential distinction because, I think we, I think we, we think that an item's going to bring long term joy, but they almost, they don't, like, they never, they never do. Right? I mean, like, even like the super expensive phones that we all have, like you're, you're very excited the day you get it. But six months later it's just some old thing. And then a year after that it's like, oh, it's old and, and junky. You know? And so it, it doesn't, these things don't contribute to our long term joy. And I love, like the other thing you mentioned about, like put something in the cart and then let it sit for a week. Like that's such a great practical piece of advice because it overcomes that inertia, overcomes that marketing, it overcomes that, like that instant desire to do something and you can think more clearly about it and then you can make a decision, which is just so smart. So, so smart.

So as I mentioned in the intro, You won an award from the NFCC. Tell me more about what that award meant to you and what that experience was like, and, and what did the celebration mean to you?

[00:14:39] Johnika Dreher: So I remember internally, paying this money off and seeing the bank accounts, and I would share screenshots with my husband, but I didn't tell a soul, that I was in a debt relief program at all. I don't think anyone knew. I think a part of me was ashamed that I had accumulated so much debt. And while I was also happy that I got through it, there was still something that was saying don't share. So when I got the award, honestly, it was my first time really, really seeing the video that was shot for me. And being in the space of all of the individuals that were there, for NFCC at their, annual conference. I literally said to myself, that's you. I was like, who's that? I like her. Girl, you better get it. You better do it. That's me. You know? And it was so, inspirational to be in that space to be able to receive the award, but to really have the universe say, I need you to look at yourself. You did it not once, but twice, and here, you're able to be a peer advocate and share this information with other people because you've been keeping your mouth closed for too long. But you have some stuff here to say.

So when I think back to my role and my future and my path, my trajectory of being this wellbeing advocate and architect, this is it. This is accomplishment. This is discipline. This is you showing up for you. This is you building a legacy for you. And this is you also saying to other individuals who look like you, who may be black or brown, who may be moms, who may be wives, who may be, just a number of different identity characteristics. Like you can always show up for yourself. And when you put one foot in front of the other, things will happen.

My favorite quote, and I shared this during my speech, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And I think that was the biggest thing. This experience has been my teacher, but then now I feel like my voice will now be the teacher. So it's helped me rise to be on the shoulders of giants and to keep passing the baton to other individuals. To say when y'all are ready to really change from materialism, to start thinking about more cost savings and not cost savings as in cheap, but let's think about sustainable wages for individuals. Let's think about sustainable products. Let's think about waste management. When we buy all of this stuff. Stuff is what I brought. I didn't really buy too many experiences. I didn't really do that for my son. Now, when I do something, it is an experience. It is contributing to integrating with people. It is contributing to my whole wellbeing from every facet of that. If it's not contributing to my wellbeing, I don't need stuff. I can't take that with me. I want to take something that's going to nourish my soul. So what? Sitting in that room. Really made me reflect on the shoulders that I stand on, the earth that I'm contributing to. I paid homage to the indigenous people, of that Northern Virginia area for whom the conference was held, because this is land when we buy stuff and we fill, different, trash land places. We're filling that with stuff, toys and trinkets and plastic and this, that, and the third. And we really have to reconsider how we engage with, with nature and how we also engage with materialism, and buying stuff.

[00:18:57] Adam Walker: I love, I mean, I love that you brought that up. I'd never really thought about the environmental impact necessarily, of stuff. Now I mean, obviously we think about like plastic cups and all these other things, but you don't think about, and, and sometimes we think about e-waste even, but we don't think about the other stuff. Right? And we really should. That's, that's a really profound point. Thank you for, for sharing that.

So you mentioned, that while you were going through the program, you really didn't talk about it. I think you, I think you used the word embarrassed, if I remember. There's definitely a stigma around debt, and people are reluctant to talk about it. Talk to me about why you think that is and how you think we can help overcome that stigma.

[00:19:42] Johnika Dreher: I think there's, first of all, this is a great topic in and of itself, and I don't paint myself to be an expert, but I think that financial literacy for all intents and purposes is not, taught to us. Right? Valuing, setting goals, seeing things, and I think the prevalence of being able to buy things is so easy. So if we can start to have more conversations about budgeting, if we can have more internal conversations about, why.

Why do I want to purchase this? What is this bringing me? What are my own values? From an organizational perspective? From a personal perspective, I think we could get to some amends. And then the stigma, again, goes back to shame. I don't want to share that I am not keeping up with the Joneses. I don't want you to know that it costs me an arm and a leg to do this, and I'm working paycheck to paycheck to make this happen. I think when you look at Instagram, other social medias, and I don't mean to pick on Instagram, but it's these sweet 16 parties and it's this wedding over here and this situation and we are all just trying to keep up with that. But for what? That's who and who's to even say that's making someone happy, right?

So when you look at Joy, it's about you have so much joy in your own wheelhouse. In your own company. In your own home, that you can find if you just clean out some stuff, you can see the gym. So one of the things I do with my son, and he hates this. I was telling my friend this the other day, whenever he wants to buy something like a toy, he has to buy it out of his own money. I do not purchase toys, I just do not. So we talk about ways and sustainability.. I have purchased toys before, but now he's at a point where he has money. He has gift cards. He has cash like you, you're good.

[00:21:45] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:21:45] Johnika Dreher: If you want to purchase it, I also want to teach you math. I want to teach you tax. So when we go into Target and he picks up a toy, I allow him to go over there and window shop. So he goes by himself, he's eight, he goes by himself. He loves to window shop, so he'll pick up, I come over there, he has two or three toys. Okay, baby, which one you going to buy? Well, I want this. Okay, so how much is it? And he'll tell me, Okay, so how much money do you have? And he knows how much money he has... All right, so you got $60. Are you going to buy all three? Are you buying two? Are you buying one? Okay, now we're going to pull out my phone. Let's calculate how much this is going to be. So this is what you want to pay for this. And you're going to go from $60 to say $12. You okay with that? Is this you going to use it? Is it like, is there a reason? So I'm sitting there asking him questions that he looks at me, and he gets so frustrated, but it's so funny at the same time because, you need those questions.

[00:22:40] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:22:40] Johnika Dreher: I want you to think about whatever you do, whether it's to buy something or to not buy it, to watch something, or to not watch it. Why are you doing it? And I think we don't have some of those boundaries that help us understand why we engage in some of the behaviors that we do. So that's kind of my long and my short of how I try to mitigate. Cause I think those questions are helpful. And he's smart, so asking him this question lets him walk away.

Sometimes he's been like, I want to buy it. And then the funny thing, he'll bring it home. He won't open it, he'll leave it there for a day, and then if it's there and it's open, I'm like, oh, he wants it. And then he'll be like, my mind ain't really wanted. I'm like, you didn't really want to pay for it. You want to be paid for.

[00:23:26] Adam Walker: Yep.

[00:23:26] Johnika Dreher: But it's different when you buy with your money and not a credit card. You can't pay that back later. This is money out of your pocket right now. Was it worth it?

[00:23:34] Adam Walker: Yeah, that's right. That's right. Wow. I love that. I love that mentality. Love that, that lesson, that continual lesson with your son. So, last question. What does freedom from debt look like for you?

[00:23:49] Johnika Dreher: Free from the debt cloud to work where I want to work, work how I want to work, invest in the things that bring me true joy. So traveling, budgeting. I do budget a lot better these days. I utilize a lot of different points and, through my different loyalty cards that I have, and you don't always need a credit card for them, but if you, travel enough with Hilton, you can get your Hilton points. So, using those to, go on trips. My partner and I went last year to the Maldives and we saved $8,000 in accommodation costs, because we used points that we had accumulated over three years.

[00:24:47] Adam Walker: Wow.

[00:24:48] Johnika Dreher: So that was huge because the Maldives can get pretty expensive... So we only paid for airfare, which actually he had a buy one get one with Delta. So I think our total, and we did a layover to Dubai. I think that total trip cost us $4,000. For,

[00:25:08] Adam Walker: No!

[00:25:08] Johnika Dreher: about 11 days in Dubai and the Maldives.

[00:25:13] Adam Walker: Oh, my God. That's amazing. Wow.

[00:25:16] Johnika Dreher: So it is about when you, when you get down to budgeting and when you put your priorities in line, you can make amazing things happen.

[00:25:27] Adam Walker: Wow. I love that. That sounds, your version of freedom from debt sounds pretty amazing to me.

[00:25:32] Johnika Dreher: Yes!

[00:25:33] Adam Walker: Congratulations, on just all that you're doing. And, and really thank you for sharing your life with us. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. And I just, I love your perspective on so many of these things and thank you for joining us on the show today.

[00:25:48] Johnika Dreher: Thank you so much, Adam, for having me. And it's an honor and a privilege to be an MMI peer advocate. And I encourage everyone to just ask one question every time you want to do anything, not just buying something, cause it's not always monetary right? Our time is money, right? So if it's to watch tv, what am I watching and why? If it's to buy something, what am I buying and why? If it's to go somewhere, where am I going and why? How in that, why is really, how is it contributing to my overall joy? So it's been a pleasure to share this with you, and I hope that it helps someone.

[00:26:29] Adam Walker: I think it's helped me and I think it will absolutely help other people. Again, just thank you so much.

[00:26:35] Johnika Dreher: Awesome. Have a great day.

[00:26:39] Adam Walker: This guest is a real MMI client whose success is the result of hard work and dedication. While MMI cannot guarantee results, taking early action can increase the available options and improve long-term outcomes. Thanks for listening to this episode of Long Story Short, brought to you by Money Management International.

To learn more about how MMI helps people from all walks of life get unstuck and out of the vicious cycle of debt through personalized solutions that inspire hope, visit moneymanagement.org. This episode was produced by Edgewise Media. Scriptwriting and production by Clara Jennings, editing by Brandon Ellis, and show hosting by me, Adam Walker.

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