Everything is negotiable

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 Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you.  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 Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. 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 Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. . 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 RefinedbyFIRE.co

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 Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you.  comes in second to Audible Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. . He values bettering himself every single day.

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22 thoughts on “119 | Everything Is Negotiable”

  1. Hey guys. Thanks for everything you do.

    One question about the Internet service. What company did/does Mr. Refined by FIRE use, and what packages do they offer.

    One of the things that I have run into is, Comcast is telling me they ONLY offer this or that. I went from the “Blast” speed to what they say is the slowest, most minimum internet service they offer, 100Gb for $74 a month, down from something like $280 a month. It includes something like 12 channels of TV, which I rarely use (yesterday i watched an hour of the Players Championship because I could watch the leaders compete). Other than that, I watch and listen to shows on my Apple TV.

  2. That was a frustrating episode because there were so many unanswered questions.
    1. Why does Mr. Refined conceal his true identity?
    2. What industry does he work in?
    3. Why is he a single parent?
    4. Why is he adopting?
    5. Why was he assaulted?
    There are legitimate reasons for being secretive but they should be addressed. It’s difficult for me to take someone seriously who is so mysterious.

    • Great questions. Also, for what major is Colorado School of Mines number 2 in the country? Why did he have so much student debt if he had such a great scholarship at Wisconsin AND was running a landscaping/ home repair business in college? Why was all that debt just written off?

      I have some others but haven’t finished listening yet so maybe they are answered. But I’ll say my bs detector is fully engaged as I listen to this point.

      • last one…. 6x’s they mentioned that he “tripled his net worth”, but never said what he tripled it from or to! (Was it from $1 to $3?) That sort of omission screams out of resume padding.

        • Paul, I used to share my net wealth openly on my site because I think the numbers help people make well-informed decisions about what they chose to pursue. I say “wealth” not “worth” because no one’s wealth determines their worth 😉

          I was dating a very beautiful girl at the time. As a blogger, she always saw me typing away on my computer. Eventually, she asked what I was working on and I didn’t want to hide it so I told her I was a blogger. As you can imagine she had a bunch of questions and asked what I write about and what my site was called. I told her but I was uncomfortable because she had 65k of consumer and student debt. I kind of got the gold digger vibe from her and was not sure if she was into me for who I am or because she thought I could provide her the lifestyle she wanted so I was uncomfortable showing her my net wealth that soon. I don’t want anyone to marry me to delete their debt or for money. I took down my net wealth immediately.

          I am not dating anyone now. I wonder if I should share my net wealth again 🤔

      • Paul, I can see that you are a critical thinker. I would be willing to bet that you are very successful in your FIRE walk.
        what major is CSM #2 in the country? – I graduated high school in 2002 so around ~2000 when I was researching schools. CSM was ranked second behind MIT for Engineering then (specifically for me I double majored in Physics and Engineering @ CSM)
        Why did he have so much student debt – I went to college for 6 years, I was only at U of W for 3 years of it. I did the landscaping and home remodeling in the summer when I was off school. I earned enough to cover living expenses and got loans to cover tuition.
        Why was all that debt just written off? Well not all, I had 5-7 lenders by the time I graduated. One of those lenders claimed bankruptcy.

    • I hear that Christopher. We could have done a better job unpacking my back story. I guess in an hour episode it is hard to unpack my whole story and dive deep into actionable tips. The good news is I am a blogger. Come check out my about page where I have already answered most of these questions. http://refinedbyfire.co/about.html The rest I am happy to answer below.

      1. Why does Mr. Refined conceal his true identity? – Unfortunately, I still rely on my W-2 job for my total income package. I write openly about how to become independent from the W-2 paycheck and lifestyle and slam the corporate life hamster wheel a little too often to name drop and maintain job security. I’ll make a deal, when I hit lean FI, I will have a name revile. Maybe ChooseFI will have me back on for that?

      2. What industry does he work in? – Day job: Engineer, Weekends: I started a hunting guide company and love it!, in between: I side hustle and blog about it. I keep a list of the ones I have tried over on my site.

      There are legitimate reasons for being secretive but they should be addressed. – good feedback for ChooseFI.
      It’s difficult for me to take someone seriously who is so mysterious. – Dude! comment on my blog, or social media, or email me. I like friends. I am just a FI seeking guy.

  3. Hey Brad and Jonathan, great episode!

    Can you please expand or share some resources on the “financial hacks stacking” Mr. Refined mentioned?


  4. Good episode.. but I had a question about something Mr. Refined mentioned in passing… that he house hacked by giving a room to a nanny. Would like to know more details of what he did here

  5. Powerful episode/awesome guy. Because I know Mr. Refined and his story I’m not left with any questions but I can see why some others (posted here) are left wanting to know more. He has a powerful story and everyone should check out his blog and about me section as he goes into many details.

    Two things struck me hard today:
    1. His why – children are always the best reason 🙂
    2. The advice he’d give his younger self – relationships over messaging. Wow! My father was given the advice that while he was winning a lot of battles, he was going to lose the war. This was especially true with his family. Fortunately, things turned around and family relationships have been salvaged but sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’ve caught myself wanting to be right over preserving a relationship in some instances. I was really convicted listening today to remember always what is most important in life – relationships.

  6. I attended CSM at roughly the same time. I was an out of state student and total cost, including room and board, was approaching $30,000 per year. Pricy, yes but a far cry from $60,000.

    • Jarrod, I would like to thank you for your comment. You are correct, tuition was 60k for two years not one year. (30k per year out of state) I apologies I misspoke. As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen the countenance of another.

      I hope you have concurred your CSM debt by now. No joke, great school but expensive.

  7. My comment appears to have been deleted. This guest had an incredible story. So incredible, that I found myself wondering if they were true. Did Brad and Jonathan verify any of these claims? Reducing a hospital bill to virtually nothing? Dropping taxes from 41->9% and triggering an audit.

    • Have you read his blog? He goes through most of the math there. You could comment there if you find an error. He has a picture of his audit letter.

  8. Jetsey, I agree. After listening to the show I spent a good deal of time on Mr. Refined’s blog and again came away with more questions.

  9. I am having a very difficult time continuing with this podcast, after hearing the phrase, “the far Midwest.” As a 7 year resident in Wisconsin, I can assure you that there are real people and we do have real things here, and we are not just always noshing on Wheels of cheese and drinking beer, though we do drink plenty of beer… love the website and love the ideas, just really can’t stand Coastal elitism

  10. How randomly excited to have the guest say that school work was easier at U Wisconsin than at my alma mater! It’s not often the Colorado School of Mines gets a shout out. It was cheap for me since it is a state school if you are from CO. Best choice of my life, huge return on my in-state tuition 20 years ago!

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