Chris: From 1998 through 2010, you became a saver, you started to save up a bunch of money, you also tapped into a community block grant, so that was your down payment, right? And you were building your credit, so you had a good credit score, and were able to get a mortgage. And house prices were really cheap in that 2008, 2010 time frame ’cause there was a financial crisis going on. So you were able to take advantage of that too.
Chris: So 2010, you bought your house, you had your mortgage, and by 2017, you had paid it off. Is that all right?
Michael: That is correct.
Chris: How does that feel?
Michael: Whew! I can’t tell you, Chris, how relieved we are.
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Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time.
Liz: I’m Liz Botner.
Chris: And I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: We are blind people, learning what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Chris: Many of us wonder if we will ever be able to own our own home. Especially if we aren’t working, and collecting social security benefits. We invited Michael Morris to come on the show to talk about how he was able to achieve that goal after losing his job in 1996. Michael not only was able to buy his own home in 2010, but he was able to pay off his entire mortgage by 2017. That is amazing and we wanted to learn why he did it, and how he did it. Before we start, I want to tell you about Taylor’s Accessibility Services. Taylor Arndt can provide you with web hosting, but she can also provide you with so much more. She can help you to build a website from the ground up that is completely accessible to people with disabilities, or, she can help you to modify your existing website so that it’s accessible. To find out more about what Taylor might be able to do for you, visit her website at
Now, let’s get started.
Chris: Mike, thanks for being here.
Michael: Hey, Chris. Good to be here with you, Man, this morning.
Chris: So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Michael: I personally, I am a single father, married, 54 years old, six children, six grand-sons that keep me busy.
Chris: Have you been blind or visually impaired all your life?
Michael: Yes and no. I discovered my visual impairment at about the seventh or eighth grade. That’s an interesting story because I just happened to go for a vision test, and never knew that I couldn’t really see that well. Just recognized that school was what it was, and was able to adapt and navigate through. Well, when they came and told me that I had an eye disease, a degenerative eye disease that actually my mother had had, but I didn’t know, from that point forward, started into a long process of going through different eye situations, Man, it’s a lot to it, but yeah. Since about the eighth, seventh or eighth grade, I’ve known I’ve always had a visual impairment. It’s just gotten progressively worse over time, through time and circumstance, and so here we are. And so at this point, you know, I have partial vision, no vision in one eye, and partial vision in the other, and it’s been something that I’ve been working through for a lot of years now.
Chris: You said you were a single father. What was it like raising kids with a visual impairment? Did that effect you at all?
Michael: Absolutely, Chris. If I could say one thing, it probably was my biggest challenge, and my biggest reward. My being a single father of two girls, for a number of years, man, probably almost twenty years, really challenged me because as a single father wanting to keep his family together, and dealing with a visual impairment, a lot of times, people may not fully comprehend that just because you don’t know my visual impairment doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. And so there were things like how to take care of a home. How to cook dinner. You know, I’m the one that’s cooking dinner. I’m the one that’s cleaning home, and preparing and making a home for them, as well as providing resources, yeah. It was a major challenge. Particularly when it comes to the job market. Because not all the time can you work and do all the things you need to do, as well as taking care of parenting. I know anybody out there who may have children, they understand the challenge of raising two girls. I had two girls. (Chuckle.) And raising them as a single, visually impaired parent. It left a great impression on me, and on them. They really are sensitive to people with impairments now. As a matter of fact, they’re ones that go out and do a lot to help others just because they see what their father has gone through, and what we’ve gone through together as a family.
Chris: Tell me, what was it like for you and your family financially when your kids were growing up?
Michael: Well, that’s another part of it. You know, I started out, even with a visual impairment, I was able to obtain employment with the IRS. I actually worked there for nine years. And I had come upon a situation where my vision had taken a drastic turn, and so I had to retire. After nine years of service. And so that really had an adverse effect on our financial solvency. Because at the end of the day, you know, like anybody else, you know, you have bills, and you’re billed off what you make. So, so many times we lean on what we make for jobs. Well, that’s the way we lived. And so, when that income left, it really left me in limbo. So I went from making probably a thousand, almost 1500 dollars less per month to be able to live from for me and my children. So we had to really go through some financial hardship. We’ve lived in assisted living housing, as a family, we’ve had our own places in more low income communities, and we worked through that process. So we had to adapt to what we had. And as a result, we had to be creative financially to be able to really go through this process of losing an income, but still having to live every day.
Chris: Did you know that vision rehab services were available at the time that should have been helping you?
Michael: Actually, I did not. And I’ll say that, because a lot of times, when you’re dealing with an impairment, a lot of times, we don’t … I don’t believe in embracing my lack, I believe in embracing my ability, but at that particular time, sometimes we’ve got to know how to get help. And at that particular time, I wasn’t in a position, I was much younger, I was in my twenties, mid twenties, when it came to fruition, and so I didn’t realize the resources that were out there. And I didn’t realize some of the technology that was out there that could help me be a more effective employee, and I think, even when I think about working for the government, there was never a thought, or at least a suggestion in their mind, that “Hey. Maybe we can work through this, through these particular resources.” So, with employers that may not necessarily be as inviting to someone with the challenges, people say a lot, but you know, the resources were not necessarily openly available to me until I did connect with some of the local resources, that helped me to start to see that, “Man. I can live a full life with an impairment.”
Chris: How did you find your way to those resources and get connected to them?
Michael: I’ll say, for lack of a better word, it was by accident.
Chris: Wow. And how long did that take?
Michael: Probably every bit of a year. Because when you first lose it, you have a little bit of savings, and you have a little bit of money, and I was really reeling from that loss. You know, like, “What am I gonna do? How am I gonna keep my family together? What am I gonna do with the girls?” You know, “Are they gonna have what they need?” Or “Are we gonna eat?” Or “Are we gonna have a place to stay?” Or “Are we gonna be able to have the resources we need?” So, it took me about a year to kind of buckle down and get my feet up under me, and get back a little stability, and say, “You know what? This is not the end of the world.”
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Chris: So, during this time, though, you ended up accumulating some debt, and then, eventually you were able to pay it off and get out of it, right? Tell me about that.
Michael: Whew! That’s a good point. Chris, I can’t say how much just really understanding and learning about fiscal responsibility, financial wellness, wealth building, those things really helped me. Now, understand, at that point in time, I never thought I had the ability to have more. So I started to look at things like my credit report. Never had looked at it before then. And as I began to look at those things, I began to realize, “Man. I have a lot on here.” And a lot of this was as a result of losing a job. So you go from having car payments or whatever it is that you have that you put in a credit place in your life, you live from that place, never thinking that you would ever lose it, or not pay it off, or whatever it was, and so, it caused me to go in and begin to look at how to work out debt owning. And I began to educate myself on credit. On credit reports. On how to deal with credit reports. How to deal with bad credit or difficult credit situations. I began to ask inquiries such as things in the law which says that after seven years, they have to take it off. Different things that helped me to navigate through the credit process, and without having a lot of money, that was one of the ways that it was gonna open the door for me to be a home owner.
Chris: So you learned about credit, self taught, but you did say that there were people that helped you along the way. Tell me about some of those people.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, as a part of my process, I came in contact with some resources, and I don’t know if they’re still … but it was the NEE Casey Foundation, it was Easter Seals Crossroad, I had a lawyer. As I moved into public housing, ’cause I had to live in public housing for about four years. And moving into public housing, I began to connect with people who were more educated on financial things. They had more financial responsibility. Particularly a lawyer. Her name, she was such a blessing. Sheila Jenkins. She took a liking to me and my family, and she said, “You have more in you.” She saw more in me than what I saw in myself at that particular time. I began to meet people with greater financial understanding, greater fiscal resources, and they began to show me ways to be able to go in and help yourself be in a better place. And it was a process. I can tell you, Chris, it took … It took a number of years. You know, I’ve always thought about having a home. And I thought that, particularly after I retired from the IRS, of course the great American dream was to have a home. Well, in my mind, it was never gonna happen. So I had watered myself down to say, “These are the type of situations that I’m going to be subject to,” but through everything that happened to me, and through those years of learning not just credit, but debt consolidation, through learning how to save. Man! Never thought about saving. It wasn’t a part of my thinking. I was living from paycheck to paycheck. But knowing how to put money in the bank, just simple things like that started me on a path of exploration that brought me to a place of becoming a home owner.
Chris: I want to talk to you about home ownership, but first I want to talk to you about saving. cause I’m starting to build up a picture of your life here. You’re living in low income housing, you’re starting to learn about credit, and saving and financial stuff, but are you working at this time, or are you receiving government benefits, or where is your income coming from? And …
Chris: And how do you … I assume that your income is fairly small at this point, so how does saving get to be a part of that? Where does that money come from?
Michael: That’s an awesome question, Man. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but it just blew my mind ’cause you’re right. My ends didn’t justify my means. And so, when I retired, I was given an annuity of about four hundred dollars a month. And then, I was able to get, because of the sudden turn in my vision, I was able to get disability from the government. So I had government disability, and an annuity. And it came up to about eleven hundred dollars a month. That’s for everything. So that was supposed to be my rent, my food, my utilities, there were other resources, but sometimes I didn’t qualify for them, and sometimes I wasn’t aware of them. So what I ended up doing was taking what I had, and making lemonade. (Chuckle.) So, I had decided that regardless of what I would do, I would access to save a little bit every single month.
Chris: How much was a little bit?
Michael: Man, it could have been as little as fifty to a hundred. And to get a hundred would be squeezing it to the max. But literally, it created in me a sense of self esteem. It made me more independent because I had a little bit of money. I’ll tell you a funny story. So, saving a hundred, fifty dollars a month, about a year it took me to get my first thousand dollars. Now, you’ve got to understand, this thousand dollars isn’t saved for bills, this isn’t saved for rent, this is savings outside of me being able to pay that month. And I remember sitting down with the girls and say “Guess what. We have a thousand dollars.” And to us, that was the greatest thing ever. And we celebrated it. We literally celebrated that first thousand dollars. It was the fifties. It was the ten. It was birthday gifts. It was somebody gave me money or something like that. Or I was able to cut a little grass. Whatever it took, I had a drive to be out of the system, not just that, but to also be an independent liver. I did not like, and I go back to my faith, which says, “Owe no man anything but love.” From that point forward, I had determined in my heart, that whatever I got, I was gonna save. And that’s still true to this day.
Chris: So fifty dollars a month, …
Chris: Plus gifts, plus odd jobs, I guess, from time to time, how long did it take to get that first thousand dollars together?
Michael: It was about twelve to fifteen months. I don’t remember the exact time, but I do remember starting, I think it was right after Christmas, when I just felt like … I felt a little unhappy with our Christmas experience, not because I didn’t have anything, but because I felt like, I was driven by, I think my faith, that I could do so much more with this than to buy a couple of barbies and this and that. And right after that, I had done it that year, and was stressed out, and as a matter of fact, I remember clearly. I had owed people money back for borrowing money. I didn’t … I borrowed money for Christmas, paid them back, and then that effected me all the way up to like March to get everything settled up, and I said “I don’t want to do that again.”
Chris: Twelve to fifteen months. That’s not very long. That’s pretty impressive for pulling together and saving a thousand dollars on eleven hundred dollars a month. While raising two kids. What did you do with that thousand dollars?
Michael: I had a bank account, and so I just left it in the bank account. Because at that point, I wasn’t versed enough on investing, or wasn’t thinking about that, wasn’t thinking about retirement, wasn’t thinking about all that, I was just living for the moment. And to me, that was the world. That was the biggest amount of money that I had had, at that point in my life, had ever saved. And it was so … It was like “Man! This is great!” And so I get it in the bank, it got in the bank, turn around, they sent me an interest statement, it’s like three pennies. I said “Wow. I got my money. It’s three pennies.” And I just thought about it, so that’s what started me into thinking about other ways to save money. But that first thousand just stayed in the bank. It was just one of those things where, and actually, what I did was I created a separate savings on my checking. My philosophy on savings is, “Out of sight out of mine.” I can live off, because of my experience, I can live off any amount that you put in my hand. I just adjust my lifestyle.
Chris: So talk to me then about how you took that, from saving up a thousand dollars in a little over a year, to home ownership.
Michael: Let’s just say, from that point forward, I had a heart to save, and so every money that I got, I was able to get tax returns because my annuity was still taxable income. So, through all the things I learned at the IRS, I understood I was still eligible for certain things, so I might get two thousand there, continue to save a thousand, and working on the credit at the same time. So I’m saving, working on credit. I was able to step, tap into a couple of resources such as an individual development account, it’s called an IDA, it’s a dollar … You save one, they save three, for lower income. You can use it for housing, you can use it for education, you can use it to start small businesses, most cities have them, so if people want to look for them, they’re called individual development accounts. They’re very, very useful. I was able to tap into those and when I put all that together, I came to a time in 2010 when I said “I want to own a home.” I had came to the end of the time of living in apartments, and I had never lived in an apartment prior to me living in an apartment. I said “We want a home. Me and my kids have talked about that our whole life. Having our own back yard. Having our own front yard.” And as a result, we were able to step into the market. Now, it was very interesting because the only income I had at the time was, again, the annuity, and the social security. At this point, it had raised up a little bit because of the monthly increases, but also, they had recalculated, and so I was right at around fourteen hundred dollars a month. In addition to that, with my disability, they eventually gave me something for my children, which was more like five hundred. So I had about nineteen hundred dollars a month at that particular time in 2010. This started in about 98. I went and I applied. Well, when they looked at my credit, because I had built my credit, I had enough, at that time, there was a housing market issue right around 2008 2010, and they had some extra money, called a community block grant, of fifteen thousand. I put all those together, applied, and they didn’t deny me, it was very difficult. And I was able to secure a mortgage on a four bedroom, one and a half bath tri-level. And … Don’t know how it happened, just the numbers worked out right, and we were able to do it. 2011 I got married, I picked up a part-time job, and in 2017, we paid the house off in full. We’re debt free.
Chris: Wow. So, let me recap all that just to make sure that I got it right. So, from 1998 through 2010, you became a saver, you started to save up a bunch of money, you also tapped into a community block grant, so that was your down payment, right? And you were building your credit, so you had a good credit score, and were able to get a mortgage. And house prices were really cheap in that 2008, 2010 time frame ’cause uh, … because there was a financial crisis going on. So you were able to take advantage of that too.
Chris: So 2010, you bought your house, you had your mortgage, and by 2017, you had paid it off. Is that all right?
Michael: That is correct.
Chris: Wow. And congratulations on getting married, by the way. That’s awesome too.
Michael: That was awesome, Man. Yes. You know, I think my time had come, and it was such an awesome thing, and I’ll tell you what, we had such a party in 2017. And I’ll tell you. It took us working together, me and my wife, to pay it off. And just a side bar, Chris, and I want you to hear this, because I want people to know out there that listen. That nothing can stop you if you have a heart to want to do something. To tell you how I know that there was a plan in this. In 2012, the bank reached back out to me after I got my mortgage. I’ve never been late on a payment, never missed a payment. Never late, never missed. In all the time that I paid. On time, every time. They contact me, and they sent a person, they said, “We want to talk to you about your loan for your home.” I said “Okay. What’s the problem?” They said, “We don’t know how you got it.” I said “I don’t either. You gave it to me.” Now mind you, to this day, they’ve never had a problem with me with the law. And there was a law suit that actually came out because they were overscrutinizing people with disabilities. And because of that, they actually paid me twenty-five hundred dollars because my process to get a home was harder than everybody else’s. Because of my income. Although all my income is verifiable for years. My credit is my credit. My savings is my savings. The grant is the grant. But it was so interesting to me, and it made me go back and really appreciate even getting a home on a fixed income. It’s possible. It is possible.
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Chris: We’re almost out of time, and I want to know a couple of things before we go. First, you had kids during this time, and you touched on this a little bit, but I want to know more about, what do you teach your kids, and what did you teach your kids as they were growing up, about financial responsibility?
Michael: I really spent, every child that I touch, every young person that I touch, I teach them the value of a dollar. Every dollar has to have a value in your life. And so I taught them how to save. Right now, each one of my children, all of them. All of them. Now I had two biological, I have three through marriage, and I’m telling you now, I teach them how to save. I teach them, even right now, down to my grandchildren. “If you get a dollar, we know that part of it goes to our offering, our tithes, blet’s think about what we’re gonna do with the rest. We’re just not gonna go buy a bag of chips. So, we’re gonna put 30 cents away, we’re gonna put ten cents away for this, thirty cents away for this, sixty percent is for you to live on. What are you gonna do with it?” “Well that’s 60 cents. I’ve got a dollar.” “No, you’ve got to always have a savings. You never have too little to save.
Chris: Do you talk to them about why?
Michael: Absolutely. Because one of the things that you want to do as a person is to change the trajectory of your generations. We want to be lenders and not borrowers. Because I have a distaste for interest. That’s what made us pay our house off. And so they saw us go through this process. They made the sacrifices with us when we didn’t go out, as a family of now six. And we didn’t go out to eat. We stayed home and ate, but we took that money and we showed them what we’re doing with it. And when we came to 2017, they were excited. Since then, my children have been savers. They are absolute savers. Each one of them have their own savings, I’ll just share this with you, Chris, none of them have less than a thousand dollars. And my children are … the youngest being 18, and the oldest being 28.
Chris: That’s fantastic. So, for a lot of people, especially if you’re low income and you maybe feel like you’re struggling yourself, that’s kind of embarrassing, and a lot of people don’t want to talk to their kids about money. Even people that are well off don’t like to talk to their kids about their finances often. cause I think this is so important, how did you make sure to get that lesson into their heads so well?
Michael: I think what I did more than anything, because of our previous experience, and my wife also comes from modest means, never let money define your worth. Money is just a tool, Man. And if people can get that, they won’t be so embraced, or so caught up in the idea that having money, or not having money, defines you. It doesn’t define you. Not in the realm of real life. It’s just a tool. And we’ve placed so much value on money, that we’ve made it be our identity. But I gave my children identity outside of that. They saw me go through it, but it wasn’t the struggle that they saw. They saw how I handled it. So, to eat at home, and I laugh because sometimes my children talk about, today, we’re able to be more financially free with no financial debt, but we talk about, “What were those meals like?” You know, we had more chicken, Man, we used to eat chicken all the time. It’s funny. Because chicken was reasonable, and, you know, I didn’t really like a lot of beef and things like that, so that’s what we did. Now, guess what my children do? They eat a lot of chicken.
Chris: Turns out chicken’s really good for you too.
Michael: Absolutely. And it’s not as heavy on you. But more to the point, we never knew that we were lacking. We just knew it was a part of the process. And when you think about talking about it to your children, we have to understand that money does not define you, your happiness, or your wealth. Wealth is just well-being. How do you feel about yourself? Am I okay with that? And understanding that we put so much emphasis as a nation on just cash, cash flow and money, that we lose track of the fact that there’s people who have had a lot of money and they’re still not happy. They … (Chuckle.) It’s just really that simple.
Chris: So before we go, what advice do you have for other people with visual impairments that maybe want to follow in your footsteps
Michael: The first thing I would say, again, what I said before, you never have too little to save. To start saving. Start somewhere. It’s the pennies. It’s the nickels. It’s the dimes. It’s the quarters. It’s the dollars. It’s the sacrifices that we make that help us. And I think that’s highly important to building self worth. And the second part would be, if I could say anything, don’t be closed minded to the resources that you have. Don’t automatically x yourself out of something that could possibly help you move into a greater financial stability. Financial freedom is awesome. We have no debt. My wife and I, we don’t owe car payments, we don’t owe mortgages, we don’t owe anything. We pay our monthly bills, and you’ve got to understand how that frees us up on the back side to be generous. To be generous people. To be a resource for more than just ourselves. It’s not about a lot of money. It’s about enjoyment of life.
Chris: And talk about your stress level without having to worry about any of those debts. How does that feel?
Michael: Whew! I can’t tell you, Chris, how relieved we are.
Chris: That’s awesome. Mike, thanks for being here and telling your story.
Michael: Hey, thank you for having me, Chris, I appreciate what you’re doing, Man, you’re gonna be blessed.
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Liz: The Penny forward Podcast is produced by Liz Botner and Chris Peterson. Audio editing and postproduction is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. Music was composed and performed by Andre Loui, and web hosting is provided by Taylor’s Accessibility Services.
Chris: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time. Visit
to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: And I’m Liz Botner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.