Our Debt Independence Day Story!

July 4th always holds a special significance for my wife and me.  On July 4th, 2008, we paid off our last debt...our home.  (Well actually, the bank was closed so I paid our mortgage down to $.01 online and our family went a branch with one penny a couple of days later.  LOL)  I wrote the following shortly thereafter.  I pray it encourages someone to never quit!

A shout out to Dave Ramsey for all his help.  Bless you brother.  


Well my friends, we've done it. My wife and I have paid off EVERYTHING. House and all. We're DONE! DONE! DONE! DONE! Hold on...gotta go do the Snoopy Dance...

Ok I'm back. The bottom line is that we have paid off $200,000 in debt in 5 years. Here is our story. I hope it encourages someone.

Our Total Money Makeover journey began in earnest during the Summer of 2003. But before that, there is a story to tell. In the mid-nineties, my wife and I were both Naval Officers with no kids. We lived in the same house we live in now and I didn't really care about how we spent money. We made over $80k per year at least back then and had nothing at all to show for it. My wife gave me a copy of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace in the 1997 time frame. I "skimmed" it to appease her, but the info didn't stick. I continued to buy cars, motorcycles, motorcycle accessories, computer games, and just about anything else I wanted (on credit of course) at a rapid pace. Although you wouldn't think someone this immature would be in ministry, I was (and am) a minister and began a church in 1997. So I continued to preach, work in the Navy, and spend money like water like everything was all good: no savings, no retirement, no plan, and no clue.

Then it happened. She cried. 

In the late nineties, my wife and I were on one of those timeshare tour things. I think they must have promised us free stuff to lure us in. Anyway, I declined the timeshare because I thought we couldn't afford it. My wife wanted it.  But I, the one "in charge," declined (which of course suggested her vote didn't count...and back then...I'm sad to say it didn't). So not much later and after spending lots of time thinking about our lack of financial discipline and stewardship, my wife just broke down and cried. She looked at me and said, "Not only can we not afford to vacation...we make all this money and we don't have anything to give to those in need." (She no longer wants a timeshare, but you get the idea.)


Like most men who are totally in love with their wives, her tears were simply torture for me. And like most men, I never really "heard" how important this money stuff was to her heart. Her tears were enough to begin the process of shaking me out of my little boy mindset and the beginning of my learning how to MAN-UP for my family.

To give some of you wives a bit of hope, it still took me another 3-4 years of making slow progress before the Gazelle Intensity light clicked on, but the light DID come on. LOL! I was now at least cognizant of personal finance and its impact, and the guidance the Bible offered on the subject was no longer "theory." I was beginning to pay attention, but I was still a slave to my big-ticket item impulses. During the next 3-4 years, I still made HUGE HUGE HUGE little boy mistakes...like buying an Acura MDX for $40k in 2001 KNOWING I was to soon leave the military to be a full-time pastor and take a big pay cut. The payment was over $800!!! DUMB! I did wise up though and sold that beautiful 2001 black on black mint condition wonderfully leathery smelling truck with a sweeeeet navigation system after about a year and shortly before leaving the Navy. But I'm over it. Really. I also bought at least three motorcycles during this same timeframe. Yes I said THREE: trading up all the time to have the newest and fastest. They loved me at the motorcycle dealership!

The light came all the way on in 2003. What happened? The Total Money Makeover book came out. Although my eyes were beginning to come open, my painfully slow progress was still frustrating my wife. We saw the book and I remembered: "Hey, the Financial Peace guy!" So I bought it (probably on a credit card) and read it. That was it. Something changed in me. I finally saw debt as an enemy, not a friend. I saw my wife as someone I was called by God to actually provide for. You'd think a pastor would know this right? LOL. And I did in fact "know" it. But "knowing" and "doing" are two different things. I went from a goober to a gazelle in the time it takes to read one book. I WAS DONE WITH DEBT!!!!!

My wife was soon convinced that I had really changed. During the summer of 2003, we had about $200,000 in debt: credit cards, two motorcycles, a $25k car (I didn't learn my lesson), and a $150,000 mortgage. I sold both bikes (it about killed me), rolled the car and the remaining cards into a mortgage refinance (I know, dumb. But hey, I was still a TMMO newbie!) on a 10-yr note at 4.75%, declared war on debt, and haven't looked back.

By January 2004, all we had left was a $180k mortgage (on a house now worth about $350k). It has taken us from then until now to kill that bad boy. From Jan 2004, WE JUST DID THE PLAN. No credit cards or borrowing of any sort, doing a budget each and every month on paper on purpose, using the envelope system, getting the right kinds of insurance, fully funding an emergency fund (done by end of 2004), investing in retirement, cash flowing home repairs (about $20k worth! Take that Murphy!), cash flowing an adoption, working TOGETHER, and staying intense.

It's amazing how following what Dave teaches can add up to huge savings and increased income. As some quick examples:

  •  Extra jobs, focus and sacrifice: Our income has increased by at least 30% since we started TMMO.
  • Budgeting: Another 5% "increase" at least in terms of doing smarter things with money.
  • Insurance: The HSA alone saved us $400 per month! (We now use a Christian health sharing ministry: Samaritan Ministries.)
  • Getting rid of car and bike payments: easily another $1000 per month. 

Oh well, on with the story. Our precious little girl was born in Jan 2005. Her birth had a huge impact on me. Now I had two girls to provide for; two to ensure had a good life and a bright financial future. It's on now!!!! In Jan 2006, we kicked it up a notch on the mortgage and started going all out. No vacations. Extra work. Yelling at a red "NO MORTGAGE" circle with a line through it on the fridge. I'm talking about total attack mode. And it worked. Today, on Independence Day...we are proud and blessed to say, we are done. We are at Baby Step 7. Praise the Lord!

Over the last few years, we brought FPU to my church several times and most recently, took it up a notch with Dave's Momentum program. We put 80% of the church through FPU at one time. It was awesome. The whole culture of the church changed. So many families are following our lead and getting in position to bless others and change their family trees forever.

My unsolicited advice? Get on a plan and follow it with as much Intensity as you can muster. Seriously. Try not to play around with it. Try not to rationalize why you are different. We just read The Total Money Makeover and did what it said. It worked.


Ok...time for more Snoopy Dancing!