contrarianStudy, get a diploma, get a job, save, buy a house, settle down. And then retire as early as possible. This may often be the case, but it can also be different. In this series: people who make their financial lives less predictable. This time Johan Stevens (45), who sold his house to get out of financial troubles and is now a happy tenant.
Why did you buy a house?
,,I had a steady job as an actor in training sessions and I could afford it. For 150,000 euros, because in 2006 you could still buy a house for that price, even in Amsterdam, in Bos en Lommer. Before that I lived in Amersfoort. I had studied art therapy and actually wanted to be a comedian. People said that if I wanted to make that dream come true, I had to go to Amsterdam.”
Then why did you sell again?
In 2009 I started freelancing. I followed my heart in it, because I wanted to do what I could to the bitter end to fulfill my dream of becoming a comedian. If only enough comes in, I thought. That did not go well from 2011 onwards. I started borrowing from people. First 400 euros from my sister, fully convinced that I would pay it back in four months. That went from bad to worse. In the end I had to pay back an average of 400 euros in debts per month. I don’t have a hole in my hand, but you have to spend to stay alive – a man can’t scold for four months.”
Why didn’t you look for a permanent job again?
“I wanted to follow my heart. Then I had another plan to bring in 2500 euros in turnover per month and then it didn’t work out. And in the meantime I had to collect 1850 euros per month, without being able to go on holiday or eat sushi. With great difficulty I said ‘yes’ to a side job in 2012: calling for a telemarketing agency. I didn’t know what else to do. I thought it was a humiliation. My financial situation did not improve either.”
Could you still pay your fixed costs?
“I was one of those people who wouldn’t ignore too hard that something was wrong. My debts piled up, but I did call ING with the message: ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay my mortgage in a minute.’ The first three or four times they were sweet: it could happen, they thought along with me. But then that 560 euros in mortgage was spread out over a few months and how was I going to pay it back? The last time I called, she was a lovely ING lady again, but she said: ‘You pay within ten days, otherwise we’ll have a problem’.”
I had to collect 1850 euros per month, without being able to go on holiday or eat sushi
What was the moment when you thought: then I should sell my house?
“Because of the money stress, I ended up doing terrible work: freelancing for an employment agency in the hospitality industry. For 12 euros per hour. With that hourly rate it was not possible to work against my costs. And I can’t: I was already nervous to order two wine and two coffees. I had to start up a beach bar in Zandvoort at 7 am, I stood in the rinsing kitchen all day long. Then I went through my back and knew: I’m going to stop this. Someone said to me: then you just sell your house, right? That’s when I started putting it into operation. That was in May 2017.”
Don’t you think that’s a shame?
“These were tough times. I got sick of not having enough money. A friend thought it was unwise, who said that I would never be able to buy anything again. But I don’t have that need either. Twelve days after he went on the market, my house was sold. And suddenly I had a ton on the couch. My father said, ‘That’ll be over in a minute. But that was okay.”
Those were rough times. I got sick of not having enough money
Could you just rent something?
“I was very lucky with that. A friend of mine left Amsterdam and I was able to rent her house. It is free rent, 950 euros per month. Because I had so much money in the bank, I was able to pay the landlord a year in advance. I now have 72 square meters, seven minutes from the Vondelpark, with a huge south-facing balcony.”
We are now four years later. Do you ever regret your decision?
“Not a second. Toiling for 12 euros an hour at the age of 42 damaged my sense of honour. And I’ve never had the urge to build wealth. There was really no other option.”
How are you now with your money?
,,I was able to put everything together, nice new plans and a buffer of 7000 euros. I don’t need a lot of money, but I do think it’s important to look good, to be able to treat someone to dinner. I value some comfort, I want to be able to live well.”
Do you still want to be a comedian?
,,I have let go of that specific dream, but telling stories with humor, in columns and pieces, I still do and I will do more. Discussing the things we never talk about on Facebook. I like that. And hey, maybe I’ll clamber onto a stage again. Who knows.”
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