Only a few years into their marriage, Mark and Jenna were facing what seemed like insurmountable debt. Jenna had finished getting her master’s degree, and her student loans totaled over $60,000. Their credit card debt had climbed to well over $30,000, and they had two car loans and a mortgage.
Not only did the couple feel trapped by their debt, but it seemed like their money went missing every month after their bills were paid. “We were making very good salaries,” Mark said. “It didn’t make sense to me why we didn’t know where our money was going.”
After reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover in early 2010, Mark and Jenna decided together to start a budget and start tackling their debt. Their first step was to drastically reduce how often they went shopping and went out to eat. The couple agreed on a budget for groceries, gas, clothing, entertainment and other items. They started a “debt snowball”, which means paying off the smallest debt first, and then using the money that you were paying on that debt on to the next largest debt, and so on until all your debt is eliminated.
“I was so excited to start the budget,” Jenna said. “But then the very next day we found out after finishing our taxes that we owed $3,000 to the government. We felt very defeated. It is important to know that you will have struggles along the way, but you have to stick to it.”
One year later, Mark and Jenna discovered that simply setting a budget wasn’t making a significant difference in paying off their debt. “When we first read Dave Ramsey’s book, we figured we didn’t really need to make major changes in our spending. We thought we knew better than everyone else. But we were wrong,” Jenna said.
So they started using a cash envelope system which was outlined in the book. They paid for everything in cash, so that every dollar was accounted for. “We realized that using debit cards still caused us to overspend,” Jenna explained. “When you pay for things in cash, you see the physical money leaving your hand and going into someone else’s. It’s much easier to swipe a card than to part with your cash.”
It took discipline for the couple to say no to going out to eat with friends and co-workers. “We knew it was going to take a number of years of sacrifice to eliminate our debt,” Mark said. “What motivated us was seeing each item of debt crossed off our list. Our debt snowball kept growing and we got to the point where we were paying over $2000 a month on a single item of debt, which was way over the minimum payment.”
In 2012, the couple found out they were pregnant. They prayed one night that God would help them find jobs that would allow them to spend more time together, because they both were working long hours and felt very stressed at their current jobs. The very next day, Mark saw a job posting online for The Chapel that fit his qualifications. “I was amazed, as it was the most clearest answer to prayer that I had in my life”, Mark said. “We praised God that we had paid off a huge portion of our debt, and could afford to take jobs with less hours. The timing was perfect, and we knew it was God’s doing.”
I was amazed, as it was the most clearest answer to prayer that I had in my life.
It took 4 1/2 years for the couple to pay off their debt of $132,000 that they started with, not including their mortgage. Throughout the entire process of paying off their debt, they were still able to give to church, other ministries and charities.
The couple was able to share their story at the Financial Peace University class at The Chapel in March, 2015. “People were truly invigorated and challenged by their story and it has a different level of impact when you see real people, standing in front of you, sharing their past and even current experiences,” said Jessica Pappas, Director of Financial Stewardship at The Chapel.
“We have ultimately learned that we are truly blessed, and that we have learned the value of every dollar we spend,” Jenna said.
Mark and Jenna carry a new found understanding of what it means to be good stewards. “We are confident that everyone can accomplish paying off their debt”, Mark said. “We believe it’s important to be good stewards of our resources, because you can point others to Christ by setting an example in the way you spend your money.”
- Photo by Sarah Bridgeman