Long Story $hort: Season 2, Episode 4

How Credit Counselors Served as a Guiding Light

After leaving an unhealthy relationship, Lauren Lazarus wanted a fresh start and rented a new apartment. As Lauren settled into the next chapter of her life, the temptation of furnishing her home with new items resulted in maxed-out credit cards.

When Lauren didn’t qualify for a much-needed education loan, she knew she needed help. Her mom suggested that she contact Money Management International.

While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, Lauren paid off $25,000 of debt in about 4.5 years. She also increased her credit score by 113 points along the way. Lauren describes the counselors at MMI as her guiding light; she worked hard while they cheered her on and kept her focused on the mission.

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Lauren Lazarus, Long Story $hort podcast.

Show Notes

  • Guest: Lauren Lazarus
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: April 18, 2023


2:26 | Lauren talks about how she tried to cope with depression through shopping and how that debt began to accumulate.

6:12 | Adam and Lauren talk about how easy it is to slip into debt without really noticing.

7:14 | Lauren explains how working with MMI helped give her clarity and allowed her to start moving forward again.

8:39 | Lauren talks about how MMI helped her retake control of her life and her finances.

9:38 | Lauren discusses how minimalism has allowed her to focus on and appreciate the things that matter most to her.

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 peoples 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 Lauren Lazarus. Lauren lives in Saranac Lake, New York. While working with the debt relief counselors at Money Management International, Lauren paid off $25,000 of debt, in about four and a half years. She also increased her credit score by 113 points along the way. Here today to share more about her debt payoff story is Lauren Lazarus. Lauren, welcome to the show!

Lauren Lazarus: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

Adam Walker: I love your story. We're going to get more into it, but let's just start with you. Could you share a little bit about who you are, where you live, and what you do?

Lauren Lazarus: Sure! So for the past 10 years I've worked in early childhood education, both an educator and an administrator. I recently, over the past few months, decided to take a step back and pursue some passion projects that I've had, that I've kind of, put on the back burner. I couldn't really prioritize while I was paying off, you know, so much debt. That's not the time that you say, let's go, you know, take on my dreams. Yeah. So, I'm fortunate to be able to be working on those things right now and taking care of my little kiddos.

Adam Walker: Oh, that's fantastic. And you, I could tell, like you have that very calming, you can deal with chaotic children presence about you. So I can totally see that. I can see that. So, so tell me, let's talk about your debt a little bit.Tell me more about what was going on in your life when you accumulated this debt. Was there, and was there a certain moment that you realized you needed outside help?

Lauren Lazarus: Definitely. So I started accumulating this debt-I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship with my daughter's father and I was really depressed. And one way that I coped with that sadness and kind of feeling like stuck, was to shop. And you know, unfortunately, you know, there's-, people find ways to deal with the things that they're dealing with, that tend not to be the best for them in the long run. And unfortunately, this was that. Before I knew it, I had accumulated about $10,000 in debt buying things that I thought were going to make my life better or, you know, chasing that fleeting happiness.

I finally decided to leave the relationship and I got my own apartment and suddenly, you know, there is a very real and concrete visual of the emptiness. And I started to fill it, and, you know, I needed furniture and this is my place. I needed to look like my aesthetic. So, you know, buying things to hang on the walls, buying, you know, matching room sets for my daughter's room. All thinking that, you know, this is well-intentioned and I deserve these things, but not paying attention to how quickly I was maxing these cards out. I decided to take another job and that had me kind of reevaluate my finances and when I actually wrote things down, I was like, wow, I am just making minimum payments. That's all I'm ever going to be able to do. Like I am literally living paycheck to paycheck and just getting by. There's nothing extra, there's nothing left over.

And I do remember the moment that, I kind of resigned myself to the fact that this was my life and I was like, well I don't really need a house. You know, like, that people raise their kids in apartments all the time. I don't need to buy a house. I don't need, you know, a fancy new car. It's, you know, I'll be okay. But then I was offered an upper level position with the school I was working for, and I needed additional certifications. Those certifications were things that I just had to have. The school wasn't going to afford them for me, so I had to pay for them myself.

So I went home that day and I applied for a loan to get these certifications, and I was immediately denied, and that was like, that was my rock bottom. That's when I realized, you know, this is going to really negatively impact my life. And I, you know, I needed to figure out a way to get out of it. And my mom came over and I wasn't, I never wanted to tell her that I was in 20 some thousand dollars worth of debt. You know, I wanted her to have this picture of me as like this, you know, educated, hardworking, you know, teacher and administrator. I, in no way, shape or form wanted her to think anything less of me. Cause you know, we talk about that debt stigma. And she-, I just kind of blurted it out and I said, I can't save any money. I can't, you know, pay for these certifications. I'm in 20 some thousand dollars worth of debt.

And she kind of looked at me like, where did I go wrong? And she didn't really say too much, but then she called me the next day and she gave me MMI's contact information, and she said, I really think you should reach out to them. And I did, and I'm so grateful I did. It ended up being the best decision that I've ever made for myself financially.

Adam Walker: Wow. I mean, you know, I, your story's so relatable. The like and I, I kind of, I kind of appreciate that because, you know, you move into an apartment and the natural thing is like, we got to buy furniture. You know, you got to, you got to spend this, you got to do this, I deserve this, and-

Lauren Lazarus: Right.

Adam Walker: And it's just, it's so easy for us to make those, those leaps and those jumps into debt and then look up and go, oh man, what have I done? You know? And I think, you know, to your point, like there's a stigma there, but it's a struggle I think that, that so many of us have. And there shouldn't be a stigma, and we can talk about it and we can get help. And that's just so important. And I'm so glad that you did. We're going to, let's keep talking about, about your story here. So-

Lauren Lazarus: Sure.

Adam Walker: So, let's talk about your work with MMI. Since working with MMI you've, I mean, just to reiterate, you paid off $25,000 in debt. You've increased your credit score by 113 points, which is fantastic. How did getting a personalized debt management plan help you to balance your budget and see a path forward?

Lauren Lazarus: So, the biggest thing it gave me was clarity. I knew the, I knew the direction that I needed to be going in. Like, you know, I knew that I needed to pay down this debt to move forward with life, but I, you know, really the information you can get from Google is only going to take you so far, like the snowball method, you know, or the payoff the ones with the smallest balance and then attack the larger ones. Like I really felt like, I was kind of like, you know, bushwhacking the trail on my own, in the right direction, but just painstakingly slow.

And MMI came in and you know, they gave me- you know, by negotiating with the creditors to lower those interest rates and to talk about my budget and like, you know, they really helped me to realize like, you know, you are doing this on your own, but it can be a little bit easier for you. And so they, they held that little guiding light and I kept walking that path, but, you know, and I still put in a lot of my own hard work, but they were always there to kind of redirect me and keep me focused on that mission.

Adam Walker: Wow. That's fantastic. So, so let's talk a little bit more about that experience. So, I wonder if you could talk about what your credit counseling experience was like with MMI, and what you say, would you say your biggest learning lesson was through the whole process?

Lauren Lazarus: I loved how they made me feel like I was in control of what was a very out of control situation. They, they put me right in the driver's seat and I was able to take responsibility for, you know, my actions and for the debt that I had created. But they did so like in a non-judgmental way. You know, the past is in the past and let's just keep moving forward and, they're really great motivators too.

That was my favorite thing. Every time I would call with a question, or you know, needing, need help with something, they would say, they'd end the call with, you know, congratulations on paying off 30% of your debt and, you know, great job you paid off 40%! That's amazing! And so I'd always leave the call feeling like, yeah, that is amazing. That is pretty awesome.

Adam Walker: It is, I mean, it's quite an accomplishment. It's really, it's really profound. And what, did you have any particular big lessons or takeaways from that experience?

Lauren Lazarus: Definitely. I learned to embrace minimalism, because I really had to prioritize the payment to MMI. Like it had to be rent, utilities, you know, food on the table, and this MMI payment. I opted for a 2010 vehicle that was safe and reliable, but no bells and whistles, you know, keep that minimum, keep that payment small. So that I could prioritize this, and to really focus on like, okay, do I really, do I really need this thing? Or is it just kind of, you know, you want it. I realize now, like the value of things is more to do with the time that I have to spend at work away from my family versus, you know, what its monetary value is.

Adam Walker: So I wonder I'm, I'm just curious, like you said, embrace minimalism and, you did mention this whole like want versus need thing. I'm curious if you have any other advice about sort of embracing that idea of minimalism and, balancing that in your life.

Lauren Lazarus: Yeah. I would, you know, just, I would just say like, you're not, things aren't ever going to make you happy, cuz there's always going to be something newer and better. We're, you know, kind of programmed as humans to become dissatisfied, you know, relatively quickly. I mean, I know I was. Like, when I was hitting that, you know, one click, you know, buy it now with one click. That, you know, rush of dopamine I would get was so fleeting. It was, you know, I'd have it for maybe two or three days, and then as soon as the thing came in the mail, I was like, oh, back down here again. So, valuing the relationships that I have with people, the time that I get to spend with people, over spending money.

Adam Walker: Absolutely. That's a, that's a great, a great way to look at it. All right. So, so now you've gone through the debt management process with MMI. We've talked about the numbers. You've had some pretty big wins happen in your life lately.I wonder if you could share a little bit about that.

Lauren Lazarus: Definitely. I, I very much remember the day that I felt I had to give up that dream of owning a home. And last, or not last August, the August before that, I actually went in and applied for a mortgage and was approved!

Adam Walker: That's fantastic!

Lauren Lazarus: Yes! And on December of 2022, I closed on my home.

Adam Walker: Wow. Congratulations. That's fantastic. Okay, okay, anything else?

Lauren Lazarus: Yes. I had always wanted to start a college fund for my daughter. It was something that I never had. And I always wanted to give that to her so that she, you know, she didn't have to start off with loans and things like that. And now I take the payment that I was paying towards my debt that almost $500 a month, and I'm just putting it straight in the bank. You know, I'm used to living without it. So.

Adam Walker: Yeah, that's, I mean, that's a great way to do it. And, you know, I, I love that idea of like, pay off the debt, and then roll that money into something that can provide so much value down the road, right? That's, that's ama- and your daughter will so appreciate that. That's such a great gift to be able to give to her. So, so, all right, so let's talk a little bit, you mentioned the stigma of consumer debt. Let's talk about that a little bit more. How do you think a debt counseling service like MMI, sort of helps to overcome and break that debt stigma?

Lauren Lazarus: I think one of the, the major ways is that, they negotiate to lower your interest rates. They help you with that and then, and then they help you with your budget and, getting your finances together. They don't minimize the amount that you owe. So, you know what I spent on those cards I had to pay back. I got to pay it back at a more reasonable interest rate. But it was still, you know, I'm still repaying, still repaying for those mistakes, you know?

Adam Walker: Yeah.

Lauren Lazarus: And they also, they meet you with, you know, such a non-judgmental attitude. You know, you go, I went, you know, made that first phone call, you know, against every instinct of self-reliance that I had. You know, I'm from a family where my father would rather die before he'd ask anybody for help. My sister, you know, she'll claw and scratch her way out of any mess before she'll ask for help. So, for me to make that phone call was like, you know, I was, you know, kind of like the dog with the tail between its legs. And but they, they don't judge you and they just want to help you move forward. And I think that, that, I think we need that. And like you said, debt is way more common than people want to believe.

Adam Walker: That's great. That's great. All right, so last question. I'd love to ask this question to guests on this show. What does freedom from debt look like for you?

Lauren Lazarus: Oh my gosh. So freedom from debt to me is opportunity. It's, I get to start over again with a fresh, clean slate, but I get to go at it this time with more knowledge and more confidence than I've ever had. I'm more financially savvy than I have ever been, and it's really exciting to be exploring that, part of life with confidence. You know, looking at things like, how can I create a source of passive income?

Adam Walker: Yeah.

Lauren Lazarus: What about investing? Like I would've never, like me? Like I would've never thought that, that's something I would be doing, and I get a chance to do that now.

Adam Walker: That's fantastic. Well, congratulations on the debt that you've paid off, on your increased credit score, and on the big wins of the, the mortgage and saving for college and all the, all the amazing things you're going to do in the future. Congratulations Lauren, and thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Lauren Lazarus: Thank you.

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. Script writing and production by Clara Jennings. Editing by Brandon Ellis and show hosting by me, Adam Walker.

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