- August 10, 2021
Between law school and a newly purchased house in Independence, David Nickelson was $252,000 in debt.
Occasionally, he would turn on the show of Dave Ramsey, a radio personality who counsels people under financial stress and encourages them to become debt free.
“I finally started hearing what he was saying a little bit better, when he always talks about when you have all this debt, you have lots of risk,” Nickelson said.
He looked at his debt — about $70,000 in student loans and $180,000 on the house — and decided to try to get rid of it.
Nickelson followed Ramsey’s advice to write everything down and begin budgeting. He realized he could pay off up to $40,000 a year. But he moved more quickly than that, and within 54 months, he was debt free. He was 37.
“It’s just a huge relief,” he said. “Something bad could happen — God forbid, I lose my job — I could probably make minimum wage and still be OK. … You sleep better, it’s just amazing.”
Recently, he was featured on the Dave Ramsey show to do the debt-free scream, declaring “I’m debt free!”
More than 14 years ago, Nickelson was a senior at the University of Michigan when he fell off of a second-story porch, crushing his back.
“It was a mistake I made,” he said. “I was a young college kid who thought that drinking on the weekends was kind of the thing to do.”
He spent five weeks in the hospital, where he shared a room with a positive person, and they mutually helped each other move forward from their injuries. After the hospital, he spent six months in a wheelchair. At first, he couldn’t drive, so he relied on his family to help get him around. He was humbled by how much he had to rely on others for tasks that he had done independently for most of his life.
Fourteen years later, Nickelson has regained much of his independence. He still uses a walker but is able to drive. To stay active, he is able to handcycle throughout the Horizon West trail system.
At the University of Michigan, Nickelson graduated with a degree in chemical engineering but realized his injury wouldn’t allow him to be as hands-on in the field as he had hoped. A few years later, he was admitted into law school, where he specialized in patent research, which allows him to combine law with his engineering background — and enables him to work from home.
When he moved to Horizon West and purchased his home, through listening to Dave Ramsey, he realized his debt was a huge risk — particularly with his disability.
Nickelson said budgeting by planning what he was going to spend his money on ahead of time helped him to pay off the debt.
“Before I got on his plan, I was kind of trying to do everything — in the sense of saving a 401K and saving an IRA,” he said. “I had just bought a vehicle, and I paid cash for the vehicle, but I still had student loans. It was realizing how much risk that debt really carries and if something happens and all the sudden you couldn’t start paying your debt payments, you could lose the truck, you could lose the house. If you get that stuff cleared, it’s just amazing.”
He found that focusing on getting rid of the debt, rather than doing all the other investment-related things helped him greatly.
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected]