As the debate intensifies in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, some Americans admit that they too have trouble balancing their budgets.
"John, you weren’t here but there was a huge tree we took down. Huge," said landscaper Kraig Leatherman. He says many Americans have no idea how close they are to financial collapse. He didn’t. But this former insurance salesman learned from hard experience. When the recession hit, his sales commissions dried up, and his money ran out. “I have actually been through bankruptcy once and I have lost a house. Very, very painful events. Very stressful events. And as I looked back, I could have pointed the finger but as I look back I really looked at my lack of personal financial prudence as a reason for that really," he said.
Now, having traded an office job for work boots, he prunes pear trees, weeds flower beds and clears poison ivy with the help of a small crew he has hired for his fledgling business.
On a hot summer day in Glyndon, Maryland, the debt ceiling debate in Washington seems far away. But it’s very much on Leatherman’s mind. “The federal government serves as a horrible role model for the average family," he said.
That, says Leatherman, is because the government finances itself through debt and spends money it does not have, kind of like he did.
Rainfall brings Leatherman's work to a pause, so he sits down with us to describe how he brought his financial house back to order. “Each week I write down all my business expenditures and all my income coming in, and I do a cumulative total so I know where I am, because a business that does not know where it’s been isn’t going to really know how to get where it wants to go," he said.
Economists call that basic budgeting. It has saved Leatherman from financial insolvency - that and other tactics like bartering for new equipment. For these tools, he traded his hard labor. Little by little, he says he has pulled himself out of debt. And he is helping others, too, by employing them.
It has been a baptism he says, a new life. And when the day closes he feels calm, for the first time in years.
“When I put my head down on the pillow and I don’t [have any] debt, it gives me a little ounce of strength for the next day. I can see my way toward prosperity and abundance," he said.
And Leatherman tells anyone who will listen, and even those who won’t, you can get there, too.