Hey savvy savages! We have an absolutely incredible story to share with you today!
We have been blessed to have some incredible debt payoff stories on our blog but this one takes the cake. John and Maddi pore out their hearts in sharing their trials and tribulations with their struggle with personal finance. It’s SO inspiring what this couple what able to accomplish together! Enjoy!
Tell our readers a little about the two of you. Give us some insight into your life.
Hello, we’re John and Maddi from San Antonio Texas. 🙂 We have 6 children and 7 grandchildren!
John (nicknamed ‘Sculley’, think X files) and I are both from the north. Sculley is from Utah, and I am from the Chicago area.
We both moved to Texas in our early childhood years.
Sculley had a pretty normal childhood A ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or ‘Brady Bunch’ type of household.
My home life was much different. My dad was a retired military officer was very strict and ran our house in the same way. Children were to be seen and not heard. We always had to look perfect, act perfect and not embarrass him.
My mom was the epitome of an officers wife; beautiful, friendly, and a wonderful homemaker. What people didn’t see was that she was a control freak, alcoholic. Like all of my siblings, I suffered emotional and verbal abuse. My mom was good dishing out guilt and shame. At a very early age, I learned to stuff all of my feelings down inside and put on a mask of happiness.
What was the largest amount of debt you had at one time?
The largest amount of debt we had was approximately $320,000.00
What caused the two of you to get in such a large amount of debt? Where did the debt come from?
Sculley grew up, as most of us did, thinking it was normal to have car loans and credit cards. So, he lived it up a bit getting himself some’ toys’. such as huge Dodge trucks and a couple of custom motorcycles.
Most of my life was filled with emotional, verbal, mental and physical abuse. I lost both of my parents while in my early twenties, and like always, I shoved the hurt and pain deep down inside. I didn’t deal with the grief, I acted as if everything was fine.
I had no sense of how to handle money. I worked minimum wage jobs; as soon as I got paid I sent all of my money on stuff. I got married at the age of 18 and had two children. When that marriage ended, I was left supporting two children on my own. When something would go wrong or I would feel anxious or worried my ‘feel good’ was to spend money I didn’t have.
When Sculley and I got married, we brought together a blended family. He had three children from a prior marriage, I had two, and then we had one of our own.
The only debt he brought to the marriage was auto loans, and then we bought a house.
I bought a massive amount of debt (credit cards, personal loans, 401K loans, consolidation loans, etc..) with me to the marriage. As a couple, we didn’t really talk about money. Sculley had no idea about my debt. I was in the mindset, that it was my debt and I could handle it. I was wrong.
We’d been married about seven years, and I was totally out of control with my spending. I still hadn’t dealt with my past issues and I was stressed out from married life. I was spiraling out of control and I didn’t realize it. Sculley would ask me about my debt/finances and I would avoid the conversation or lie to him saying I had everything under control. I started to resent him and began avoiding him. I worked long hours, I slept on the couch; I did anything to avoid talking to him about money. He would ask me to imagine life with no payments, what we could do with our money and ourselves if we didn’t have any payments. I thought he was crazy!
I kept telling myself I could handle this huge mountain of debt I had created. One way I thought it would work was if I opened more credit cards to pay off the cards I had maxed out. The problem was that I couldn’t take out any more credit. No one would lend me any more money. So what did I do? I opened credit cards in my husband’s name without his knowledge. Yes, I committed fraud. My plan was to pay off all of my other debt with these three new cards, and then pay them off and close them without Sculley finding out. That didn’t work. For some reason, one day, Sculley decided to check his credit and he discovered what I had done. He confronted me in a very loving and forgiving way. So forgiving, that he took out a 401K loan to pay off the three cards I took out in his name. He said he understood I was stressed and asked me to not rack up any more debt. I agreed, but I continued to do anything I continued to acquire debt. It was my drug, I feel good, I thought I couldn’t live it. Even if it meant ruining my marriage.
I had no idea how much of an awful person I had become. I was angry and mean all the time. I took it out of my family and I was totally blind to how much I was stressing them out.
One night Sculley sat down with me and explained he couldn’t do this anymore. He asked me for a divorce. I agreed, we separated, and both paid for attorneys.
What led you to Dave Ramsey?
A few months later a friend of mine asked me to go to a 4 hour, Dave Ramsey, Total Money Makeover event with her. I didn’t know who Dave Ramsey was, I had never heard of him, and to tell you the truth I didn’t want to go. But I didn’t want to sit at home and feel sorry for myself either. So, begrudgingly, I tagged along.
What was the “turning point” in your life when you knew things needed to change financially?
The turning point was when God spoke to me through Dave Ramsey, I heard Dave say ‘If you have a problem with money, money isn’t the problem. The problem is with the person in the mirror”. Instantly, I knew I was the problem. A veil was removed from my eyes, a light bulb went off in my brain; I knew I had to change. I had to do whatever it took to be a better person, get out of debt and save my marriage. Dave didn’t take credit cards, so with the last $50 from my saving account, I purchased the Total Money Makeover starter kit, and vowed to turn things around.
After that live event, I went to Sculley and begged him to give me another chance.
What were the first couple of steps you took to take your debt head on? How did you cut your living expenses so drastically to pay off the mountain of debt? Do you budget? What do you use to budget monthly?
The first step was to read the Total Money Makeover. Then enrolled attend Financial Peace University at our local church. We budgeted for the first time and realized we were throwing a lot of money away on ‘stuff’. Our paychecks were going to pay everyone else. We completely revamped our budget. Among other things, we stopped going out to eat, cut back on groceries (don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry) and cut off the cable. Sculley and I sat down and listed our debts smallest to largest. Then we sold stuff. A lot of stuff. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, furniture, a buggy and a motorcycle…anything and everything. I also started working overtime. Whatever extra money we made, went toward the debt. The money we got from selling the motorcycle paid off one credit card all by itself!
Most people think a budget is a bad thing, but it’s really very freeing. Doing a budget helped us see exactly where we were spending and wasting our money. We got control of it. We gave ourselves a raise by controlling the way we spent our money. We have every dollar a name.
We still do a budget every month. We use the EveryDollar budgeting tool (everydollar.com and the app for iPhone and Android) It’s free and easy to use.
Financial Peace University not only got us on the same page with finances, it got us on the same page with almost everything. If you can talk to your spouse about money, you can talk to them about anything.
We paid off the first $108K of non-mortgage debt in 18 months.
What was the biggest struggle throughout your debt free journey?
The biggest struggle was when we were chipping away at the mortgage. It was such a large amount, it seemed like we were never going to pay it off. We were throwing everything we had at it, but it didn’t seem to be getting any smaller.
Looking back what was something you would have changed?
If we could have changed anything, it may have been to cut out a couple of vacations and throw more money at the house. Dave suggests that once you’ve paid off all of the non-mortgage debt, you enjoy life. Live a little. Paying off the mortgage is a marathon not a sprint. Slow and steady wins the race. We paid off all of our debt, in 5 years and 6 days. (Those 6 days are important!) Which is pretty good.
Did you ever experience a breaking point during your debt free journey? Was there a moment in time you felt like giving up?
We cut back our spending so much, at times it felt like we were broke. We ate bean and cheese nachos A LOT!!! We lost friends because we were weird.
There were several moments when I wanted to quit.
It was difficult, at times it felt very lonely and I didn’t always like it. I have to admit I’m the impatient one; I wanted to throw one of those spoiled brat fits. To kick and scream and stomp my feet….I just wanted it to be paid off!!
How did you overcome those feelings?
Sculley would talk me off of the ledge, He reminds me that we weren’t broke, that all of our money was going to pay off the mortgage and he’d talk about all the things we could do once we were debt free. He also reminds me that if our friends didn’t support us on this journey, they weren’t really our friends, to begin with.
If you could give ONE piece of advice for someone in a similar situation to yours what would it be?
Don’t take advice from your broke friends or family members. Don’t give up!!!! Dream about what you will do once you don’t have any debt.
Are you on track to retire “on time”? Did you invest while paying off your debt? What does your investment portfolio look like today?
We are on track to retire early! We started investing once we paid off all of our non-mortgage debt. We put 15% of the household budget into retirement. Our net worth has increased to over a million dollars.
We have a bunch of Millennials that read our blog. What are your thoughts on student loans? Did you have student loans that were part of your debt?
Don’t do it!!! Student loans are the cigarette of the financial world. They slowly kill your finances. Student loan payments can be larger than the average car payment. They aren’t bankruptable.
Plan early for college. Apply for grants and scholarships. Work for a company that pays tuition reimbursement. Go to a community college for your basic courses.
We did not have any student loan debt. We either paid cash for our education or our employers paid for it.
Alright, finally an EASY question! What is something interesting about the two of you that no one would have guessed?
-We honeymooned at the ROT Rally in Austin, Texas.
-We’re related by marriage to KAAZE! (He married my niece.)