Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?

Dining room remodel

A couple weeks ago I mentioned HGTV’s show Fixer Upper. One thing I love about the show is how it’s a great metaphor for becoming financially free.

First off, they start with a mess. The messier the better. The show tries to capture as startling a transformation as possible. Some houses look like they’ve been condemned. Financially, some of us start worse off than others. But we all start in a place that is less than ideal. We all have work to do. One of my favorite lines from John Maxwell’s book, Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn, is “Everyone who got where they are, started where they were.” It’s easy to be overwhelmed when looking at multimillionaires. They seem so accomplished. They appear to have abilities, talents, patience and timing that we just don’t have. The truth is that most millionaires, multimillionaires, even billionaires started at the bottom. They started with little and worked hard, made mistakes and became successful through experience.

Chip and Joanna Gaines come into an absolute wreck of a house and see the potential of what it WILL be, not what it is now. Seeing our potential financial freedom and not the wreck we find ourselves in is the outlook we must adopt. Having a vision of what’s possible is key to transformation. If you can’t envision a better version of your finances, you won’t have the energy to push through demo day, let alone the construction that has to happen before the big reveal.

And sometimes it must get worse before it gets better. They have to strip away old siding, popcorn ceilings and shag carpet before painting and laying hardwood floors. In fact, some places are so bad the foundation needs repaired and new support installed before anything else can be done. For financial freedom, some of us need to replace bad spending habits, dig out of massive debt, and change our thinking about what’s possible before we can begin to build a financial freedom house.

No matter the house, there is inevitably some unseen problem that gets discovered and has to be dealt with. Unforeseen issues always pop up. Electricity needs rewired, siding needs replaced, there are rotten beams under the floor! The same will be true for your own journey to financial freedom. How many unforeseen issues pop up in our financial lives? Medical needs, emergency trips to attend funerals, automobile breakdowns, job loss–just to name a few. You will encounter unforeseen financial setbacks and this is why I recommend building and keeping an emergency fund on hand.

It takes a team. Chip and Joanna rely on general contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, plus babysitters. Just be sure you ask the right people for the right help. Asking your debt-ridden sister what to do about your financial stress is like asking the plumber what to do about a roofing issue. In his book, The Millionaire Map, Jim Stovall says, “Never accept a map from someone who hasn’t been where you want to go.” Build a team of advisors based on what your goals are. Maybe you need a real estate mentor, a business mastermind, a savvy banker and a seasoned CPA. You can find them all, just be picky.

Each episode wraps up with the big reveal. The Gaines get to show off the property remodel to the homeowner. Emotions are visible as the new homeowner is overjoyed seeing the transformation. You should take pride in your financial milestones as well. Enjoy the moment. Reflect. Celebrate.

Then go tackle another big project. Always be growing. Work on projects that challenge you. Help others with their finances. Use your financial freedom to invest time and money into mission-oriented projects that are meaningful to you. Reduce hunger, reduce diseases, reduce abuse–there are thousands of worthy projects to focus on!

No matter what condition your financial house is in, the good news is that it can be turned around and made into a dream house. A place of rest, safety and joy. What does a financial freedom dream house look like to you? The tagline of the show is “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?” So I’m asking you, do you have the guts to fix up your finances so you can be free to live the life you choose?


  1. Jeff Sprowls says:

    Thanks for the recent articles – I like the analogy in this one. I was thinking this was be good to share with my kids – but in truth it applies very well to me as well.

  2. Chris Martin says:

    This one resonated with me as we just bought a fixer upper of a house…its a good point. Its not easy undoing bad financial habits and rebuilding with correct ones but it is certainly worthwhile. Thanks Nate!

  3. Seth Martin says:

    I like the Jim Stovall quote about getting with someone who’s been where you want to go. There’s where mentoring comes in again!

    I’d like to hear your thoughts about being generous, taking on “mission-oriented projects,” etc even BEFORE you have achieved your financial freedom. Is it possible? It seems like an important habit to build into your lifestyle, even while you’re still in the early stages of your financial fixer-upper. Do you have any suggestions for how to think and plan about that? I’d be interested to see a post about it.

    Anyways, thanks for being generous with your time and thoughts and experience via this blog!

    • Thanks Seth! Good idea to do a blogpost about mission-oriented projects. I’ll flesh that out a bit more. There are a number of paths and you kind of have to choose what makes sense to you depending on your passions. I’ll give you a couple quick examples: 1. Warren Buffett’s passion and talents is in picking excellent companies, buying them, maximizing their value. Money is simply a scorecard for him. At the end of the game he’ll donate all the money to charities. 2. Andrew Carnegie was similar. He spent the first half of his life becoming the richest person in the world; the second half he spent building libraries, etc. as his mission. Both these guys (and many others) will effect big projects and improvements because they waited till they had huge sums of money.

      Other people work at or start non-profits. They spend time and money in the details. A guy named Ray Hall started Prison Book Project and runs it full-time now that he’s retired. He started by donating his Louis Lamour books to a local prison and has now grown to shipping cases of books to thousands of prisons all over the country.

      You can do both. Tom’s Shoes is a good example of mission built right into the business. Life Is Good is another. A portion of every revenue dollar that comes in from sales of product goes immediately to a mission. Or you can contribute individually and be in the habit of giving. John D Rockefeller was a church-going man and contributed to his church all his life. He didn’t start the foundation until he was extremely wealthy, but he tithed since he was a kid.

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