What Would You Do if You Lost One Million Dollars?

Dave Ramsey, Dale and Robin Suslick

What would you do if you lost one million dollars?

Dale Suslick remembers the day well, a cold, winter day in 2008.  He was in the basement of his home, calculating his losses.  The businesses that he created were losing money left and right.  In one short year, he had burned hard through the money, to the tune of one million dollars.  That's right--a one, followed by six zeroes.

Before the hard downfall, Dale started out down the small business path in 1997 by opening a tanning salon, the Madison Tanning Company.  He grew his business into a four-million dollar a year operation, with twelve locations and 146 employees.  By 2006, business was steady, but Dale wanted to diversify and expand his income.  "I went to my children and asked, 'What kind of business should Dad own,'" said Dale.  "They came up with the idea of owning a inflatable bouncers to rent out for parties."  That business lost money in the winter time-- you can't bounce outdoors in frozen Wisconsin-- so Dale once again turned to his kids for ideas.  Paws and Claws (think, Build-A-Bear) was born, to the tune of a $250,000 loan from the bank.  And to keep the inflatibles up and running during the winter, Dale opened an indoor facility and hosted parties.  The banks were quite loose with their regulations back then and Dale was able to borrow 500,000 for that business.

A year later, he was losing 20,000 a month.  "I never thought I would lose money," said Dale.  "I had done everything successfully up to that point-- I was a professional water skier, had won political elections, and I was running a successful business."

Anxiety, stress and fear began to take over.

"Until that time in my life, I didn’t have challenges.  I was a King Midas--everything went well," Dale explained.  "This was the first time in my life that things were beyond my control.   No matter how hard I worked, nothing was working. I was  going further and further into a dark, deep hole-- more money, more time,  more energy-- and I kept losing money    For someone  who had a lot of confidence and thought highly of myself -- this was my world collapsing.   With that failure, my status in the community was destroyed and my marriage felt like it was going to be destroyed."

Dale's heart was hammering when he poured out the news to Robin.  Deep down, he was afraid she would leave him and take the kids with her.  He held his breath waiting for her response.  To his surprise, his wife turned out to be a much stronger woman than he ever anticipated.  "Dale, the way I see it, you've got three options," Robin said. "You can either go sit in that corner, curl up in the fetal position, and cry.  Or you can build yourself a back-to-the-future DeLorean car and go back in time and make some better choices... or you can tighten your belt and clean up the mess."

Faith is what got them through.  That, and divine intervention.  A month later, Dale shared his situation with his brother-in-law.  "You need a dollar behind everything  you spend," he said.  And that's when he introduced him to Dave Ramsey, author of Financial Peace and Total Money Makeover -- a man with a heart for helping people with financial matters.  Dale and Robin signed up for Financial Peace University and began paying off their debt.  "It took you fifteen years to get in this mess, it will take time to clean it up," Dave Ramsey told them. "Be the turtle. Slow and steady always wins."

"I'll be the turtle with my tail on fire," Dale responded.  He was determined to clean up his mess as fast as he could.

There was a watershed moment when Dale found himself outside his lake home at three a.m. trying to work off some of the stress and anxiety with stretches and meditation.   He walked out to the end of the pier and looked across the water.  There were no clouds in the sky and in the distance, the lights from the Wisconsin capital reflected across the glass calm water.   "I prayed.  I asked for guidance on what I could do that day to get through the day and recover from the mess I made," said Dale.

What was the worse that could happen?  They could lose everything and move to an apartment.  Would that be so bad?  That's how they started out when they first got married-- and those were happy times.  Stripped of everything, they would still have the most important things of all:  faith, family and friendships.   Dale left the pier with an overwhelming sense of peace.

"I no longer cared what other people thought, it didn't matter," said Dale.

Looking back, Dale likens the whole experience to a forest fire. "Everything was burning--the forest represented everything I thought was important and what the world thinks is important--it was all burning down.  I was left, figuratively, with third-degree burns.  Out of the blackness comes new growth, but you can't force that growth to happen, it happens at its own pace.  I couldn't have done it without my faith."

Today, Dale has paid off the majority of his debt and has experienced tremendous growth in all areas of his life. Dale now pays it forward and helps other families and businesses to get out of debt and get on the path of growth.  He shares his story and tips at Lost One Million.  Dale and Robin have a passion for children and a heart for Both Hands foundation in Tennessee and proceeds from an upcoming book will be donated.

"Bad things can happen to anyone," said Dale.  "It's what you do and learn from that bad thing--that's what counts."

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  • Wonderful story extremely well told.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to ChicagoNow Staff:

    That's what I thought. That lady can write! AND barefoot backwards.

  • In reply to Dale Suslick:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Dale. You are going to help so many people in the journey ahead!

  • Thank you!

  • In this economy you are not alone. The phoenix will rise again.

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    In reply to Lisa1LinenLady:

    Thank you Lisa. High five! Dale

  • I would worry far less than if I were the federal government that just blew $0.5 billion on loan guaranties or UBS that just blew $2 billion (or probably the equivalent in Swiss Francs) on a rouge trader.

    In that these were bank loans, the article doesn't say if he paid them back, or, as usually is the case, especially after 2007, the bank took the hit.

  • fb_avatar

    Hey Jack. This is Dale Suslick, the guy who lost the $1,000,000. The government is a mess! I say throw both sides out and start over.

    We bank at Associated Bank. The loans are almost ALL paid back. It's a battle yet it's getting done. The bank never lost a cent. The tax payers of America did not bail us out. We feel blessed.

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