Long Story $hort: Season 3, Episode 6

The Importance of Educating the Next Generation About Debt

Sami Johnson is a realtor and hairstylist from Athens, Georgia. After starting a retail job in her early 20’s, Sami, a self-proclaimed “Shopaholic,” started accruing credit card debt from in-store credit cards.

When she reached out to MMI, Sami had roughly 15 credit cards and $25,000 of debt. Now, five years later and with the help of MMI, Sami has paid off the debt and raised her credit score by 70.

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Long Story $hort Sami Johnson.

Show Notes

  • Guest: Sami Johnson
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: January 16, 2024


2:23 | Sami talks about her first experiences with credit cards and the beginning of her issues with shopping.

5:25 | Sami explains how advice from personal finance expert Clark Howard brought her to MMI.

6:43 | Sami talks about her experience first working with MMI and finally starting to address her growing debts.

9:21 | Sami talks about how easy it was for her to simply follow the plan she had created with MMI.

10:37 | Sami shares more about her struggles with shopping and the shift she's experienced.

Episode Transcript

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 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.

Sami Johnson from Athens, Georgia first heard about MMI from Atlanta based personal finance expert Clark Howard. Due to the seasonality of her work and a mortgage increase, Sammy found herself in overwhelming debt. With the help of MMI, Sammy paid off $25,000 of debt in just five years and increased her credit score by 70 points throughout the process. She says she appreciates MMI more than they will ever know.

Sammy, welcome to the show. So good to talk to you. So, let's start with who you are and what you're about. So, where are you? What do you do? What's your life look like?

Sami Johnson: Okay, so the list of what I don't do is shorter. I am 29 years old. I live in on the outskirts of Athens, Georgia. I am a full time realtor, part time hairstylist of 10 years, and I own and operate a full online custom apparel boutique out of the spare bedroom of my home. I stay busy and I will say a big attribute to that is just being raised by a single mom. And just having that, if you want it, you can do it, go after it and make it happen. So that's the type of person I am.

Adam Walker: Oh, you're a go-getter. You're living the dream. I love that. Okay, let's talk about your debt story. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your debt story? What caused you to get into debt? And then what was that moment like when you realized you needed extra help and what did you do?

Sami Johnson: Okay, so my first job was retail. Started at Claire's and then I went to Children's Place and then Old Navy. And then Old Navy is when I was, that retail company I was probably like 20 at that point. Had went to Bank of America, got a certified credit card, did that for a year. They sent me my money back and I was like, "Okay, let me see if I can get a store card because I'm a girl. I like to shop. If I'm working there, I'm getting an extra discount. Why not?"

So that's where it started is a credit card from a store. They just hook you in. I was selling them. I hooked myself into it. I was the top person who got credit card apps when I worked there. And I still did it. So that was my early 20s. Over, I would say about three years, I racked up that much debt. And it was contributing to the fact I was undiagnosed bipolar. And, the mania Is what kept me just, it fulfilled me in some odd type of way, whether it's just the swiping of the card. It wasn't necessarily what it was. It was just the fact of me purchasing something. I don't know what it was, the gratification.

Of course, then you have the buyer's remorse and then it's just a cycle. So you take that one card, you times the opportunities by 15 when they are laid out in front of you, because obviously when you get a credit card, they start sending you stuff left and right. I grew up with a family who were spenders. Everything you have seen on TV things bet that we had five of them. Okay, just spenders with credit cards never learned how to manage to save money in any way. So was I destined to fail because I failed to plan? Yes, but I was young. I didn't know, but it was probably around when I was 24, when I realized, "Oh, okay."

The diagnosis helps realize, okay, that was my, that was what my spending was. It not, wasn't necessarily me just wanting material things. And wanting those items, it was more of an internal fulfillment type situation that got me to that point. And it took a lot of internal digging for me to realize what got me to where I was at in that hole.

Adam Walker: Wow. It's amazing that you're able to recognize that and then take the necessary steps to do something about it. so you realize that you need help, you heard about MMI, I think from Clark Howard, you said. So what was that Like, what was the process like from there?

Sami Johnson: Okay, you grow up in Northeast Georgia. You watch Channel 2 or you watch Fox 5. Okay. I grew up in a channel two family. I watched Monica Kloffman. I watched Clark Howard. Glen Burns. I was that generation. Okay, so if anything you needed economically, whatever it was instilled in your brain from a toddler being able to understand anything that you call Clark Coward. Clark, I'm, you need financial debt stuff. Any consumer financial, whatever, it's trained in us around these parts to just go to Clark Howard.

So that's what I did. It was the top rated one on his site. So I was like, just gonna call him. We're gonna go for it. I grew up without having a father, so the idea of him being that of male figure giving me guidance and letting me trust him in that process. That was part of it, too. Also, in a weird again, digging back into my brain type of thing. Sure. I was drawn to go to him first.

Adam Walker: So you went, so you called MMI, and then what happened?

Sami Johnson: So it was about a two hour phone conversation, but it was pain free. I will say it was a lot of just gathering information, but the lady I talked to, she was so nice. I told her what my situation was, how much stuff I had going on. It was, it had to have been at least, at least 15 cards. I swear it was something ridiculous. So I told her I am drowning and I feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I need help because I've really dug myself into a hole here.

So what they did is they gathered all my information, they told me "Look, this is what we can do. We can call these people. We can try to settle on a number. We can try to get the interest rates down, or we can try to get them to turn off the interest rates and us just pay on what, they did." So after I gave them all my information again, with how much stuff I had, that's probably why it took so long on the phone. If you don't have as many, people you're having to deal with, it's probably a shorter process. But what they did, they got all that information and they took care of it from there. They called the companies. They asked me what I was comfortable paying a month when I wanted my payments due. They told me I did have the flexibility that if I ever was in a situation where I couldn't fully make my payment every month, that just call them. Everything will be fine. Don't worry, we'll figure it out.

And that was the theme of how they ran their business throughout the five years that I worked with them. I only needed help in certain things two or three times. Very easy to communicate with, they got me the help. It was what it was. I'm a person who likes to be talked to in bullet points. I have so much going on in my head. I have so much I'm doing. And they're like that. They're like, "What's your problem? Okay. Boom, boom, We got you. Have a good day. You got this."

Adam Walker: That's great. That's great. I love that. I love that. all right. So since working with MMI again, just to reiterate, you paid off 25,000 in debt, you've increased your credit score by 70 points, did all that in five years. Talk about how getting a personalized debt management plan helped make that possible and what following that plan was like.

Sami Johnson: Following the plan was really easy because again, you, well, the saying is, what is it? You plan to fail to plan if you plan to fail or whatever.

Adam Walker: Yeah. Fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Sami Johnson: Yeah. There you go. They gave me the plan. I knew I wasn't going to fail as long as I did my end of the decision. They're going to uphold their end of what they're going to do as long as I uphold what I'm supposed to do. The plan is in place. It's out of your head. You don't have to worry about, "Okay, I have to pay out a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars here." and it feels like you're paying a hundred dollars out three or four times a week to all these different companies versus getting it down to one bill, one day a month. So in that aspect, that reduces the chaos itself. And then knowing that they have given me a game plan and I just have to listen to what they say and do it.

Adam Walker: Yeah, that's great. That's great. I love that. Ok, that's fantastic. And in what during that period, five years is a long time, what was what like what kind of, talk about what kind of sacrifices you had to make. Were you still able to go on vacation? Were you still able to go to the movies or go out to eat? Talk, about that a little bit.

Sami Johnson: Yeah. shopaholics are, it's a disease. I'm sorry. Like it is, what it is. I just learned how to be a little craftier and not use credit cards and manage my money a little bit better. Did I have to cut back on my shopping? Sure. Did I quit going out to eat as much and going on vacations? No, I didn't. But again, I wanted to do things. I figured out how to make the money up. As long as my bills are paid, I can't take the money to the grave with me. I might as well just go do something and go have fun, live my life. I'm always going to owe somebody something at the end of the day.

Debt free to me is something that is so like, it's like you can own a house, but you're going to have to pay taxes on the land. You own a car, you're still going to have to pay registration tax. You're always going to owe somebody something. So just as long as you just get it out of your head and mentally free yourself from that perspective, I feel as long as you're doing what you know you can do, circle of control, go with it, and then live your life. Try not to stress out about it, because money, yeah, that will send you down a Alice in Wonderland rabbit spiraling hole of "I'm drowning, I can't reach the top, I can see it."

And yeah, people with mental health issues, that could be a giant trigger. For something even bigger. So I feel like just changing the verbiage of debt free and people's eyes and just using debt management more I think it would, open people's eyes more to that. There are options. Don't give up. Like just, there are people out there who are willing to help you, who will work with what you can do. And that's just what it is.

Adam Walker: There are options there and MMI provides some great ones. So, I'm curious, you went through this five year journey. What would you say some of the biggest lessons you learned on that journey are?

Sami Johnson: That I never wanted to rack up that much credit card debt ever again. I learned that Kevin O'Leary, really, I wish I would have read more of his books sooner because the fact of how much money that I have spent on credit card and paying all that back, to know how much I could have put in an IRA or something that was going to give me money back, instead of me giving my money and extra to somebody else. I could have been renting my money out to an institution and making money off of it. When I had that perspective put in my head, that was like, a stab to the heart. It was a stab to the heart. I was like, I could have had a million dollars by the time I was 45 at that rate, but whatever, everything's fine.

Adam Walker: It's a great point though. We get lost in that cycle of buying stuff and paying other people instead of investing in our own future. And and you're right, our money can make, can help make money if we're smart about it. Yeah, I'll have to check out some Kevin O'Leary books. I haven't read any of his stuff.

Sami Johnson: So what is it? It's one of his books, Money, Family, Love. I don't know, but it talks about money when you are, just in general, and then when you are in a relationship with somebody like dating, when you are engaged, and then when, after you're married and then how to teach your children about money.

Adam Walker: Oh, I love that. Okay.

Sami Johnson: I'm the Person again, who didn't grow up knowing anything. You tell me what a Roth IRA is at 22, like titles? What are you talking about? Don't know. And I also feel like, I just feel like there's so much debt, like with individuals, the economy, our country, like if we can just hone back down on education of the next generation of like how to handle this, how to go about it in a right way. Like our system runs on credit. If you think about it, like credit is a good thing. It does not need to be scary. I think just more education at a younger age, it would make so much of a difference. It would make so much of a difference because I know what would with me personally.

Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. Sami, this has been great. I love your story. Last question for you. Same question I ask all of our guests. What does freedom from debt look like for you?

Sami Johnson: That's such a loaded question, because I've known financial freedom and I've known the depth, dark holes. I guess, and I hate to say this but like Money isn't everything but money is everything at the same time. Because it's such a big stress factor whether it is personal relationship, family, business, it doesn't matter. It's just something that is so stressful in so many ways so I don't know if I can give you a straight answer on that just because like it's less overwhelming- Yeah, you still deal with day to day stuff, but if you want to go get a Starbucks, you can go get a pumpkin spice latte. You don't have to worry about it.

Adam Walker: I think that's a pretty good description. It's less overwhelming and you can go buy your pumpkin spice latte. That's not a bad way to, that's not a bad way to live.

Sami Johnson: I guess that's it.

Adam Walker: All right. Sami, so appreciate you sharing your story with us. I know it's never easy to talk about stories like this, but, such a blessing to us. And thank you for joining us on the show today.

Sami Johnson: Thank you so much for having me. And if they would ever like me back, I'd be more than happy to come and talk about anything else.

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 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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