“You got to ask yourself do you really want to win, or just look good losin’?”
By 2011, Duron Chandler had already heard those lyrics many times, but this was the first time the words spoke to him.
Chandler was driving along Richmond, Va. roads he knew well but feeling lost. He was two years into his first real job out college. He was enjoying trips with his girlfriend, nights out with his friends and a swanky 2004 Cadillac CTSV GM, +1.06% for weekend excursions.
‘Am I doing the things I need to do to live the life I say I want to live? … I realized I was looking good losing.’
He was also approximately $70,000 in debt, struggling with his weight and buying a car he probably couldn’t afford. So he went for a drive in his comfy 1996 Toyota Tercel TM, +1.45% ride to clear his mind when he listened to Little Brother’s song, “Dreams.” And then he heard it: “You got to ask yourself do you really want to win, or just look good losin’?”
“That line jumped out of the radio into my head when he said it,” Chandler, 37, told MarketWatch. “Am I doing the things I need to do to live the life I say I want to live? … I realized I was looking good losing.”
Chandler’s been on a new financial road ever since. He’s gone from debt to at least $120,000 in savings and investments.
“Part of my goal is to leave a legacy of money, wealth and knowledge for my friends, family and community,” Chandler, a project manager at Cisco CSCO, +1.31%, said. He added, “I don’t want to get to my end of days and not help anybody out.”
Duron Chandler, who took a new financial path after hearing one song.
Chandler’s father was an elementary-school teacher who drove a newspaper truck at night. “The angst that was there in the household was about money,” said Chandler. “In my head, I automatically thought if I fix the money problems I won’t have too many problems in my life.”
Chandler wanted a side job growing up, but his father said he had to focus on school and sports instead.
‘I started to wonder what could I do with that money.’
He graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in 2005, majoring in industrial engineering. Chandler emerged with almost $60,000 of student debt. He secured a job with Northrop Grumman NOC, +0.41% as a project scheduler in 2009; by then, some of his school friends already had well-paying jobs and were living it up with trips and nights out.
He moved out of his parents’ place and bought his Cadillac for $23,000, though he held onto the Toyota Tercel. He spent money going out on weekends, taking trips to the beach with his girlfriend, Anjelica, and basketball tickets to see the Washington D.C. Wizards.
“At that point, I’m enjoying life,” he said.
The feeling didn’t last.
Chandler was earning about $2,500 to $2,800 a month in take-home pay, but student loans and car payments sucked up around $800 of the paycheck.
“I started to wonder what could I do with that money,” he said.
And that was when Chandler took his fateful drive and put on “Dreams.”
Duron Chandler’s trusty 1996 Toyota Tercel.
Rewriting the budget
Two weeks after his fateful drive, Chandler contacted a college buddy with whom he traded business magazines. They talked about his situation and Chandler passed along his budget.
“You got a lot of extra money in your budget, you just don’t recognize it,” the friend told Chandler.
Chandler cut off the cable, decided he’d only go on one yearly trip and scaled down his night-life spending — just Friday nights out, not Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Once 40 pounds overweight, Chandler started exercising and cutting his meal portions.
Around that time, he took a new job in Gaithersburg, Md. “That’s where we really tied down the budget,” he said.
Chandler and Anjelica, who he would later marry, furnished the living room with a computer chair and a papasan chair from Target TGT, +1.79%. That’s it. He used a night stand for his 27-inch flat screen television, and brought along his mattress from college. “We made a conscious decision not to buy anything,” he said.
Chandler spent $100 on groceries a week and earmarked $100 for weekend food. He doubled his car payments to $800, focusing on the Cadillac. He did this to build momentum against his debts and own the vehicle and sell it before too much depreciation.
Chandler sold the Cadillac in 2014 for $17,000.
He then set his sights on the student loans.
Chandler used his Cadillac sale proceeds to pay off his Sallie Mae SLM, +1.73% loans, which had the highest interest rate of over 14%. He took second job selling Bose speakers, home theater systems and headphones at a nearby mall. The second salary went straight to the student loans.
Chandler paid off his loans in 2015 and still has the letter informing him he was free and clear of debt. He’s been thinking about framing the paper, he noted.
Building a legacy
Chandler kept the Bose job for several years, building up savings and investments. He stopped in the fall of 2018 to spend more time at home as he became a new father.
Chandler now earns around $4,500 in monthly take home pay and 43% is wrapped up in contributions to various retirement accounts, life-insurance policies and real-estate investments. Chandler now has $120,000 in savings and investments, but that doesn’t include real-estate projections, he said.
He also started tracking his charitable contributions this year. So far in 2019, Chandler said he has donated $1,000, with most going to the Richmond Minorities in Engineering Partnership. Program services include summer camps exposing minority students to the engineering field. Chandler participated in it as a high-school student and is now a board member.
Chandler now practices ‘selective extravagance’ to buy what makes him ‘happy on the inside.’
Chandler practices what he calls “selective extravagance.” That’s why he spent $3,000 on a road bike and recently traveled to Europe. He said he only splurges on “the thing I know are going to make me happy on the inside.”
He still drives the Tercel, which is approaching 340,000 miles. The color used to be a blue-silver. “It’s like stone washed jeans now,” he said. Once Chandler and Anjelica pay off the remaining $18,000 on her loans, they’ll buy another car, he added.
The couple and their two-month old daughter are now living with Anjelica’s mother, saving money on rent and child care. The couple still runs “a pretty tight ship” when it comes the budget, though expenses have increased with the addition of their daughter. He’s now budgeted $250 for groceries and $250 for weekend and date nights on a biweekly basis. They usually don’t spend all that money though.
“It would be easy now to dial it back,” Chandler said. But with his big time philanthropic goals, he won’t do it.
Chandler still listens to “Dreams” once and a while and remembers where he was in 2011: “It also makes me look at my life at this moment to make sure I’m still pushing my life forward.”