This article originally appeared and was published on AOL.com
It was on the drive down to Denver from Winter Park, Colorado, that David Auten and John Schneider realized they had their heads in the clouds — both literally and figuratively. The couple had just spent a weekend with friends in the ski town when they were slapped with a jarring wake-up call in the form of $50,000 worth of credit card debt.
As John describes it, he and Dave had hoped to purchase property in the idyllic village and build a home, but as they slowly drove down thousands of feet in elevation back home to Denver, they, too, were brought down to reality. Finally, when they reached their basement apartment, the duo came to the realization that they were “physically and financially in a hole.”
It’s a tale as old as time, and the spending habits that got the pair into debt in the first place aren’t unique to them. John, the big spender, was guilty of frequent “big” purchases like weekly $300-$400 binges at clothing retailer Diesel. Dave, on the other hand, was the “nickel-and-dimer” and tallied his way into debt with frequent latte purchases and lunch outings.
Upon hitting rock bottom, John and Dave, who ironically had a combined 15 years of work in the financial services field, were forced to confront their situation.
“We were in our accounts day-in and day-out. We knew the kind of financial situation we were in, but we just weren’t talking about it. And because we weren’t talking about it that neglect exacerbated our problems,” John told AOL Finance.
It’s that kind of neglect that John and Dave, also known as the Debt Free Guys, is helping others avoid. In addition to their book, “The Four Principles of a Debt-Free Life” and their “Queer Money” podcast, the pair recently teamed up with Capital One for the Banking Reimagined Tour to support its new Capital One Cafes and Money Coaching sessions.
“Even though we had a good life and we were enjoying it,” Dave said. “We knew if we didn’t make some changes and start making some better decisions and have a better relationship with money then we wouldn’t be anywhere else than that exact same place in five or 10 years.”
Similar to how Dave and John had to sit down and spark an open dialogue about their finances, Capital One is encouraging others to do the same with their cafes and money coaches. Capital One Money Coaching sessions are free, one-on-one discussions with money coaches, who aren’t brokers trying to get commission but rather, life coaches helping people pinpoint their life values, craft their visions and offer strategies on how to get there. Patrons who’d rather confront their finances individually can sit in the cafe and use the bank’s kiosks and iPad technologies for a similar experience.
Despite digital tools like mobile banking, Lia Dean, Capital One SVP, says that money is still the No. 1 source of stress for Americans, yet there’s no good place to relieve that stress. Over-saturated online resources can be overwhelming, and there’s a taboo in American culture when it comes to discussing money topics with family and friends. Heading to a bank might come to mind, but many people find that to be too high-pressure of an environment.
“We designed the cafes including money coaching as a piece of that really from top to bottom to be a really relaxing environment where we can help solve our visitors’ financial problems and meet their money goals in an environment that is more relaxed — on a sofa with an iPad, a cup of coffee, a Capital One ambassador coaching you through an experience, as opposed to behind a desk filling out paperwork and someone typing in information that you can’t see,” Dean said.
In addition to their poor spending habits, John and Dave admitted that more macro-money viewpoints impacted their relationship with money, too.
There are a lot of limiting beliefs that we have about money in America, like money is the root of all evil or rich people are bad, that you could never make that money. That’s why I like that the cafes focus on creating a better relationship with money, understanding the value of money and the importance of money and what it can do for you when you make the right decisions,” Dave said.
Before tackling their debt and achieving their money goals, John and Dave, boiled their values down to three key motivators: saving for retirement, traveling and giving back to the LGBT community.
“John and I we’ve been together for 13 years and we still love each other deeply and we want to spend our lives together. The financial distractions should not be taking us away from our time together. It should not be driving a wedge between us,” Dave explained. “We also see so many people struggling financially, and we want to alleviate that stress. We want to help people free themselves financially to make the better choices, so they can smile at the end of the day and say my life is good!”
Ultimately, it took Dave and John two and a half years to get out of their initial debt, but five years total to get out of debt for good following a few “relapses.” Using some of their own, original strategies detailed in their book, including “money chunking,” which involves setting aside cash for specific purposes like social, groceries, etc., and NFE, or Not-So-Expenses, which entails finding lower-cost alternatives for the things you enjoy most in life (like choosing boxed wine for a better value, for instance).
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