Welcome to Debt Free Journey. This interview series has been developed in collaboration with my friend Cristian Ferrier from The Financial Alien.
We are excited to bring you a series in which we explore real-life stories on people working towards or who have already become debt-free.
Interviews will be conducted on an ongoing basis, with new interviews being published bi-weekly on Wednesdays. You can find past and future interviews in the series Main Page.
For this interview, we have JD Rostagno from Pembroke Pines, FL. JD talks to us today about his journey from having to move away from Venezuela and starting all over in FL. He racked up about $56,000 in debt and is on track to knock it out in 27 months. This is an inspirational story that you just have to read.
And without further ado, let’s get to the interview. Enjoy!
- Name: JD Rostagno
- Age: 45
- Gender: Male
- Location: Pembroke Pines, FL
- Twitter: @jdrostagno in most of them but Twitter is the one I use the most.
- Debt paid amount: $56,000 – $1,990 left
- Debt source: 3 car loans, credit cards.
- Time to eliminate debt: 27 months
About JD Rostagno
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born in Lima, Peru 45 years ago. Although I was born there, I spent most of my life in Venezuela.
I'm married, and we have a 10-year-old son. I have pretty much always been an entrepreneur. I owned two successful businesses in Venezuela before moving to the US. We moved because of the communist regime in Venezuela, and unfortunately, I and my family lost everything. We were what you could call “settled”. We had our house paid, and cars paid, no debt, and my wife (a chemical engineer) was the Sales GM in an industrial coating company.
Here I own Rostagno Group, which does cabinetry and renovations. I'm switching careers as I fell in love due to this process with personal finances, so I'm getting licensed to start a financial advisor career.
If people want to connect with you, where can they find you?
You can look for me on Twitter or Instagram by @jdrostagno and DM me. I also have a Spanish language personal finance Instagram account named @pateatudeuda (kick out your debt). I'm about to launch my website jdmoneycoach.com.
Introduce us to your debt. Where did it come from? How much was it? How old were you when you first acquired the debt?
After we moved to the US, because of the immigration process, we couldn't work for a while, I was launching the company, so between legal fees, expenses, permits, etc. we were running out of money FAST.
After a while, our only resource was to start paying regular expenses with credit cards. I bought a used 2014 Nissan Versa, which I still drive, but needed a reliable car for my wife, so after a while, we bought a brand new 2017 Jeep Renegade.
A couple of months later, I needed a work van for the business, so I purchased a 2017 RAM Promaster at an insane APR of 19% (Our credit was too new, and with the recent car purchase and the credit card debt, that's what I could qualify for).
In April 2019, I was overwhelmed with our financial situation, and that's when I ran a spreadsheet and realized we were over $55K in debt. After a while, my wife had a dental emergency, which added $3K more.
Was the total debt always the same amount, or did it grow over time? What was the interest rate?
It ended up being over $58,000. The worst part is that most of it was high-interest debt, around 21% of the credit cards, one car at 19%, the other at 7%, and the other at 4%.
Why did you choose to get into debt? Were you fully aware of everything you were getting yourself into?
To some extent, I was very good at finances, so I knew about it, but at the same time we were struggling to make ends meet, and if you add the change of economies and it is easy and normal to get credit here; it was just a catalyst of bad decisions.
Paying off the debt
Did you already eliminate the debt, or are you still working on it?
I'm still working on it, but we have less than $2K to go, so we'll be debt-free by August.
If ahead of schedule, what made you want to eliminate it sooner?
It has taken 25 months so far. To accelerate the process, I decided to get rid of the RAM, so I sold it to a private buyer and paid cash for the $3K difference of the loan.
If ahead of schedule, what made you want to eliminate it sooner?
I can't wait to be debt-free. The feeling of working your butt off and still can't see any result because everything you make drains into payments, it's frustrating.
Did you have a strategy to pay off the debt? If so, what was it?
I started this whole process after finding Dave Ramsey on YouTube. I followed his Baby Steps and used the Debt Snowball to get rid of debt.
Did you take on any side hustles, overtime, etc. to eliminate the debt sooner?
Oh man, don't get me started on that. I have done everything you can imagine, from Uber eats, to flipping things from the “Free” section of OfferUp, movings, cargo delivery, you name it, and I have done it LOL.
What have your learned from all this?
Not fall into being “normal” and the most important thing, especially for what happened to us, is to not take anything for granted. Life changes in a snap.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
For sure. It is not that I was financially irresponsible, but I wouldn't make the same mistakes, especially with the cars.
Was the debt worth it? Did you get a return on your investment (ROI)?
The cars we needed 100%, but we could have made better deals for them. Credit card debt is never a good idea unless you are leveraging something and you are certain that you would be able to pay it off ASAP.
What would you say to someone thinking of getting the same debt as you?
Think well about what you need vs. what you want. Don't make excuses to go into debt because you will always find one. Getting into debt is easy, fast, and fun, but getting it is painful, slow, and sometimes even traumatic.
What would you say to someone struggling to pay the same debt as you?
It can be done. You have to believe you can do it and stick to your plan. I've had friends desperate asking me how to do it and when I let them know the sacrifices that you need to make to accomplish it, they just quit and keep spending.
Are you still paying any other debts, or did paying this one off made you become debt-free?
This is the last one!
What are your plans for the money that was going towards the debt all this time?
The first thing is to grow our emergency fund to 3-4 months of expenses, then invest most of it and save for a house down payment.
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Where do you go from here? What are your personal and financial plans for the future?
My main goal is to help as many people as I can to gain control over their finances. I'm studying hard to get as many licenses as possible and completely shift into the financial services field. I also opened a UTMA account for my son and I want to keep teaching him how to be financially savvy so he can be successful as an adult.
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Any final words?
I want to encourage everybody to get out of debt and to start planning for the future. We take so many things for granted, and we don't realize how fragile our lives are.
One of the things that were my motive to do this was thinking: If I die tomorrow, what would I leave to my son? Bills?. Unfortunately, I have lost a few friends with Covid, and I have seen how their families' lives have changed in a blink and how they were so unprepared for such a loss.
If we can do it, coming from a foreign country, losing everything, not knowing too many people, with a different language, on less than $50K a year. What's your excuse?
Some Last Thoughts
JD really has an inspirational story. If you think about moving to another country due to politics and the change that his family must endure can be hard. It can be hard starting over.
Debt is something that people are not proud of, but the thing that really speaks to me is JD's drive to get rid of it. Each day he strives to make life better for his family.
I follow him on Twitter, and every day I am inspired by his motivating words and his encouragement.
Now he is leaving his old job, and creating a new career to help others with finances. This is something that is truly special. Making a difference in so many people's lives through their finances.
Like JD said if he can do it, “what's your excuse?”
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” Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and invest the rest”
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.