More Than Just Getting By

Tom McCarter
MDI Contributor

I don’t know much about money. It’s nice to have. If you read my story in the Legacy a few years ago, you know I had no solid plan for my future until I did the Sterling Men’s Weekend and took on several leadership positions in the Men’s Divisions and later MDI. I had a negative outlook on life and then I had a major shift.

Prior to the Men’s Weekend, I had a series of jobs and just got by. I had a college degree but didn’t pursue a career after college.

I was on a team early on that challenged me to find a job that paid $30,000 a year in 30 days or shave my head as a consequence. Men’s teams in the 90s were serious business! I got a job selling signs with a base salary plus commission and I had to hustle to make the $30,000 by the end of the year. At one point, I got a call from a man who said he was the Event Planner for Intel and he needed a sign. WOW! Event Planner. I didn’t even know that was a job. I’d been organizing events all my life, as a volunteer – dances in high school and college, reunions, benefits, parties. And I loved the work!

My wife Alice always wanted boulders in the yard so I saved up my money over several months and then took her to the rock yard on our anniversary and had her pick one out. It turned out I had saved enough for two. I told Alice the boulders represented how strong our marriage is. On a side note, Alice installed the steps by herself.

The big shift came when I landed a job as a meeting planner for a large family foundation. I started at $40,000 a year, which to me at the time was amazing.

Now I was more than getting by – I was living!

At work, we could tap into a service that would give us financial advice. I was told if I wanted to build up my credit to purchase a new car and make payments and be on time and pay it off. So I did that. The foundation encouraged me to save money in a retirement plan, so I figured out how much I could spare and put that in. It was pretax, so I put in $6,000 a year. I also had a health savings account to pay for medical. I was still doing well, from my perspective. Every time I got a raise, I put the extra money into my retirement account. In 2004, the men on my men’s team were all buying houses and then getting them refinanced. And they convinced me I should too.

That wasn’t on my radar. One man’s wife was a mortgage banker, and she estimated I could get a loan for $250,000 based on my income, so I got a realtor and went around to see what a quarter of a million would buy. The best thing I saw was a studio condo next to the freeway. And I still had to go down the hall and put money in the washer and dryer. Plus HOA fees. It wasn’t worth it to me. Then I found a manufactured home for $98,000 and was able to put a down payment down and buy it. I got a roommate to defray the costs.

I wasn’t planning to get married. In fact, I had given up dating two years prior. When I met Alice, everything clicked. She showed up as the girlfriend I had always dreamed of, but didn’t think existed. After we got married, she took over our finances. She created a budget that spelled out how much I could spend on different categories every month, and she gave me an allowance of $30/week to do whatever I wanted. If I wanted to take her out or go to a concert or buy her something special, I had to save up my allowance to do it. And I often did. As a result, we had more money to put into our retirement fund every month. And we were still having a good time. Eventually, we hired a financial planner to put together a game plan for when we retired and to show us when we could, so we were ready when it happened. 

We wouldn’t be wealthy, but we wouldn’t have to work again, and I am proud of having achieved that. I had worked for the foundation for 20 years, and now I was making $75,000 a year. We would have purchased another manufactured home. My father had already passed away. My mother passed away while we were in the process of selling our house. Alice didn’t want to live in Silicon Valley anymore, and she wanted to live close to family. Vista, California fit the bill. As a result of an inheritance from my parents, we were able to make a down payment on the house we live in today. And we got in at 2.65%! A man who used to be in our division represented us for the sale. 

We are still not wealthy, but we are happy. And retired. I’m fully engaged in my community and MDI, and Alice is happy finding new creative ways to make our house a home. We enjoy gardening together and I occasionally supply the labor on her projects. Alice still handles all our finances. I still have to save up to buy her special things or take her out.

This will be our final stop.

Thank you, Justin Sterling and the Men’s Weekend.

2 thoughts on “More Than Just Getting By”

  1. Michael Burns

    Glad to watch, up close and at a distance, your elder training Tom. We are good testimonials to the Sterling Weekends and the teams that came from there.

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