U.S. Markets open in 8 hrs 6 mins

I Was an MBA Living on Ramen Noodles

Bob Sullivan

America: What’s your money story? Credit.com contributor Bob Sullivan is hitting the road to ask the people he meets across the U.S. that very question. Whether it’s your struggle with student loans, what you did when you lost your job, how you dealt with a house that was underwater or the ingenious way you paid off a major debt – we want to know about it. Everyone’s story is unique, but the concept of money – and the challenges and triumphs that come with it – is universal.

Bob’s travels are taking him through Chicago, Iowa City, Omaha, Denver and then Seattle. If you’re along that route and want to share your money story, you can reach out to him on social media, using the hashtag #AmericanMoneyStories.

Here is the first dispatch from Bob’s time on the road:

Scott Haag in Columbus, Ohio

Scott Haag’s story represents only one data point, but it’s a good one, suggesting some Americans are getting back on their feet post-Recession. When I met Scott Haag in Columbus, Ohio, last summer, he was nearly at the end of his rope. He’d been downsized in February 2012, had no luck finding a job in recession-ravaged Northeast Ohio, and he was starting to run out of money. But Haag kept at it, and this winter, landed a great job as Chief Audit Officer of Solomon Global Holdings. Still, more than two years of unemployment took its toll; he’s digging out of the credit card debt he amassed while out of work, though he expects to pay it off by this fall. He credits his financial acumen and a series of part-time jobs with keeping him afloat during the lean times. Things could have been much worse.

Scott Haag money story

“I ate a lot more macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, and grilled cheese sandwiches than I had since my college days and this MBA graduate even had to debate whether or not to buy milk certain weeks,” he said. “But I was smart with my money … I do have former colleagues who bought big houses and fancy cars and are struggling as a result and many still can’t find jobs.”

Haag also offers a possible glimpse into why the economic recovery seems to be lurching in fits and starts. Consumer spending is the driving force of the U.S. economy, but perhaps many consumers emerged from the recession a bit scarred.

“Even though I have a full-time job and a steady paycheck, there is …. a psychological hangover that still makes me extremely selective with my spending,” he said.

The positive side of that conservative view on money, Haag said, is he’ll be even better prepared if he’s jobless again in the future. The advice he offers to anyone with a full-time job today: Take that standard personal finance guru advice about saving three to six months of living expenses and double or triple it.

“Always prepare financially as if you could lose your job tomorrow, (and) not be able to rely on state or federal unemployment benefits,” he said. “(And plan that you) could be out of work for more than a year.”

Image courtesy of Bob Sullivan

More from Credit.com