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119 | Everything Is Negotiable

Mr. Refined from Refined by Fire has overcome a staggering amount of debt that accumulated from student loans and medical bills. After finding the FI community, he was able to triple his net worth! Mr. Refined talks openly about his debt, how he negotiated his way out of debt, and why he is pursuing FI.

We All Face Challenges

Every single one of us has faced obstacles on the journey to FI. You may have started with debt, lost a job, or faced a personal crisis, the journey is different for each and every person. The hard part is overcoming those challenges and working towards your FI goals anyways.

Even if you aren’t pursuing FI, debts have to be repaid and lifestyles have to be funded. Financial challenges are bound to present themselves but some of us are able to overcome them and build a better life.

Although all of us have challenges, Mr. Refined had a series of financial and physical obstacles that would stop anyone in their tracks. In fact, he even has a challenge on his website: If anyone has had it worse than he has, then he’ll buy them a stiff glass of bourbon. So far, he’s only paid for one glass.

However, he was able to overcome these challenges. No matter where you are in the journey, you can overcome your own challenges. Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Refined’s story and the concrete ways he was able to pay down debt and build his net worth.

Mr. Refined’s Beginnings

Like many high school students, Mr. Refined had worked hard to get into the “right” college to pursue his chosen career path. Many students are drawn into the idea that pursuing a high-income career is the only way to build a financially successful life, Mr. Refined was no different. He chose to attend a prestigious out of state school to pursue a career in engineering that cost around $60,000 a year.

However, after working extremely hard to attend this school, he decided that he didn’t like it because it was not offering him the total education experience. Instead of a well-rounded experience that involved schoolwork and social activities, the school did not offer the social experience and networking opportunities that Mr. Refined desired. Plus, the student debt he was racking up was starting to feel overwhelming.

After making this realization, he chose to enact some “geoscholastic arbitrage” by transferring to the University of Wisconsin with a scholarship offer. Although he thought this would be a stepping stone to another college, he liked the school and experience it offered. At the end of his six years in college, he was able to graduate with three majors and two degrees.

By transferring schools on a scholarship, he was able to save himself thousands of dollars. The scholarship was awarded based on merit but he did use the FASFA to apply for financial aid. He did not have to apply to the scholarship specifically but the award allowed him to drastically cut his college expenses from the original $30,000 per semester.

Although he was able to significantly cut down the amount he was spending on his education by transferring schools, he still had six figures of student loan debt at graduation.

After Graduation

Immediately after graduation, Mr. Refined experienced a series of unfortunate events.

At graduation in 2008, the job market was tough. Instead of taking a job he wasn’t excited about, he decided to continue working as an intern until he found a good job. He did eventually find the job he was looking for.

A short time later, he was the victim of an assault that required thousands of dollars worth of medical attention. Even after he left the hospital, he was required to recuperate in bed for weeks.

Unfortunately, this assault happened exactly two weeks before Mr. Refined’s health insurance at his new job kicked in. This left him with no insurance company to pick up the tab for the series of medical treatments that he needed.

As icing on the cake, while he was lying in bed recovering, he received a letter in the mail from one of his student loan providers that demanded full repayment of the debt immediately. The loan provider was going bankrupt, so every borrower was expected to find a way to repay their loans quickly.

Related Podcast: Student Loan Repayment With Travis Hornsby

How Did You Deal With The Legal Issues?

Luckily, he had purchased a LegalShield subscription several years ago for assistance with writing contracts for his small landscaping company. Legal Shield works similarly to car insurance for legal issues, so with his monthly fee, he had access to a lawyer with additional fees.

Mr. Refined’s lawyer from LegalShield sent a letter to the lender that explained his life circumstances. It outlined his physical and financial situation which made it clear that it was impossible to pay back this money immediately.

The letter worked! He received a response that his loan had been absolved without ever needing to show up in court. Instead, the loan was wiped away because the lender is no longer in business. With that letter of proof, around $60,000 to $70,000 of student loan debt was simply erased.

Currently, the LegalShield plan is $24.95 a month. It may be worth the investment for any future legal issues you might encounter. Legal fees are known for getting expense quickly, so this could be a way to protect yourself from exorbitant fees.

How Did Mr. Refined Pay Off The Debt?

As some of his student loan debt was absolved, the medical bills started pouring in. It started with one bill for $10,000 then another for $5,000, and slowly the bills grew to an amount close to $100,000. At first, he thought that he had been double billed but after several calls, he learned that each department was billing him separately for his medical care.

Before the assault, he had around $100,000 in student loan debt. The total medical debt led to almost a quarter of a million dollars of debt for Mr. Refined. After a moment of considering the idea of running away from his debts, he decided to find a way out of this.

The first step was to understand the costs behind his hospital bills. After relentless pressing, he was able to secure an itemized bill of expenses for his hospital stay. The costs for basic essentials were astounding. For example, he was charged $17 for a roll of toilet paper!

Once he had this itemized breakdown of costs, he started negotiating with the hospital. He had learned from his student loan legal battle that debts were negotiable, so he just started asking for a reduction in the total amounts. It took countless hours on the phone with hospital representatives and continuous explanations of his current financial situation to six different providers. Each of the providers worked with Mr. Refined on both the term of payment and the total amount owed, so he was able to work down the debt from around $100,000 to $12,000.

With this reduced debt burden, Mr. Refined was able to tackle both his student loans and medical debt with sheer hard work and determination. While his peers bought homes and cars, he continued to live as if he was in college and put the extra money towards his debts. Amazingly, he was still able to pay off his loans within five years graduating college.

Related Podcast: How To Get Out Of Debt 

Actionable Advice To Tackle Your Own Medical Debt

If you are in a similar situation, then the mountain of debt in front of you may seem hopeless. However, it is completely possible to tackle your debt with a positive mindset and Mr. Refined’s methods. The first thing you need to remember is that everything is negotiable. Although it may not be easy, you should at least attempt to negotiate your debt down.

If you can put a dollar sign in front of anything, it’s negotiable.

To get started, you need to make your calls with a friendly attitude. Treat the person at the other end of the line with respect or it will be difficult to get anywhere in a negotiation. Before you even pick up the phone, Mr. Refined recommends making an effort to smile. Once you are on the call, attempt to make a personal connection. Even if it something as small as asking how their day is, you will be surprised how helpful that can be.

While on the call, treat the other person like a human being. Remember that they likely have other people yelling at them all day, try to be the exception. When possible, repeat back information to let them know you are listening carefully and are taking the conversation seriously.

When they are ready, relay your personal story. After this, the human element may take over and the person may actually be willing to work with you.

As you are making these calls, take careful notes. It is likely that you will have to call back several times before you get your answers. Every time you call back, make sure to frame your conservation with the specifics from your previous calls. Make sure to keep as much specific information as possible handy while you are on a call.

If you were the victim of a violent crime, then look into programs that will help you pay the medical bills. Many states have victims of violent crimes program, plus there are several private organizations that are willing to help. If you have less than average income and no health insurance, then many hospitals are willing to offer financial aid.

Just keep calling and searching for the person that is willing to negotiate with you. Be the nice squeaky wheel that keeps calling until some kind of resolution is reached.

Taking Negotiations Beyond Medical Bills

Treat everything as negotiable. Whether that is your internet bill or your medical bills, continue to negotiate until you reach an agreement that you can live with. After you overcome debt, you still have financial goals to work towards.

Debt free is not the end of the journey, frankly, it’s the beginning.

Mr. Refined continued to hustle and approach finances with the mindset that everything is negotiable.

For example, he started focusing on reducing his tax liabilities and was able to reduce these from 41% to 9% in just one year. Some of this was through a child care hack via a dependent care FSA offered through his employer. Through this DCFSA, he is able to receive a tax advantage if he uses the money on childcare. He plans to continue optimizing his life in pursuit of FI.

Challenge yourself to reduce costs through negotiations. The worst that can happen is that you are denied a discount of some kind. With each negotiation, remember that no one will help you if you are rude. As you continue on your own journey, approach everything with the mindset that it is negotiable. You might be surprised how much you are able to save!

Listen to Brad and Jonathan’s thoughts about this episode here.

How to Connect with Mr. Refined

Reach out via his website at

The Hot Seat

Favorite blog: Joel from FI180 and 5 AM Joel

Favorite article: Mr. Money Mustache’s Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement

Favorite life hack: One massive action hour every week. The goal is to get through as many tasks as possible even if they are imperfect and incomplete. He takes each task to around 80% completion or as far as he can in 10 minutes before moving on to the next task.

Biggest financial mistake: Not taking action. He had around $10,000 in an HSA account. If he had invested it, then it would be worth $54,000 today.

Advice you would give your younger self: Be more relationship focused because the relationship matters more than the message. You can relay any message through relationships. Do not concern yourself with being right, then you will not get your message out.

Bonus: What purchase have you made over the past 12 months that has brought the most value to your life? Instacart comes in second to Audible. He values bettering himself every single day.

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