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Stories of Hope: How We Started From Square One

An encouraging story from Carolynn of My Little Bit of Life:

My parents were terrible at finances (they will be the first to admit it). They provided no insight and I really had no idea what real life was like! I do remember being told to not answer the phone at certain times, and now I’m pretty certain it was because creditors were calling.

Growing up, if we wanted something, my mom would usually get it for us. I saw her use credit cards and I just thought that was the way it was!

Our Story

When I got married, I was in for a shock! I came into the marriage with a lot of debt and my husband had a couple of thousands in debt. Together I think we totaled over twenty thousand dollars in debt!

I kept spending the way my mother always did and when we found out we were pregnant, I cried myself to sleep for nights over the fear of not being able to afford this next season of life.

We found a way to get a house back when they were giving money away (okay, not quite, but it seemed like it). We were approved for a $150,000 loan but my husband put his foot down (God’s grace!) and said that we could not afford more than a $100,000 loan. While looking for houses, I quickly realized that I would have to compromise (yikes!) and it took us over three months for me to mature enough to accept this fact.


When our second child was only four months old, my in-laws provided us with an opportunity to attend Financial Peace University. This changed our lives and it’s been almost four years and we now only have one car payment and a mortgage!

We now have four children and I no longer work, but my husband has received raises which have doubled his income and he now makes about five thousand dollars more than when we had two income!. I know this was God’s grace, but had we not taken Financial Peace University, we would have just dug ourselves a bigger hole to climb out of.

How to Start the Climb (especially if you were not blessed with wonderful role models)

  • Pray and ask for God’s grace everyday!
  • If at all possible, find a way to take Financial Peace University.
  • Create a support system: family members, spouse or even blogs!
  • Read, read, read! (I highly recommend Total Money Makeover and More Than Enough by Dave Ramsey).
  • Don’t give up. Surround yourself with sticky notes that have inspirational quotes on them.
  • Create a budget, live the budget and make giving a priority in the budget. Make it a habit.
  • Expect to make mistakes!

Carolynn has been married for six years. She is a stay at home mother of four children (ages 5, 4, 2 and 9 months). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with minors in Early Childhood and Spanish. She taught for five years before staying home. She’s new to blogging; visit her at My Little Bit of Life.

Do you have a story to share about your financial journey which would encourage other readers and give them hope? Email it to me and I’ll consider posting it.

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  • Awesome and inspiring story. Very similar to our own! Thank you for sharing.

  • Tara says:

    I really needed this post tonight. Thank you so much. I lost my job as a teacher two years ago and my husband has been sick. We have lost everything of monetary value (house and all cars) and regret ever getting into such a situation. I want to be a better financial role model for our children. We are starting over and at times it seems so difficult. Tonight, it seemed almost unbearable and almost lost hope. Thank you for the inspiration and hope right when I needed it.

    • You’re very welcome! I hope your situation gets better soon! I really understand your desire to be a better role model for our children. I also plan on (when they are older) to sit them down and tell them how much we make and have them make a budget, etc. Still to this day, my dad will not tell me how much he made! We have already purchased FPU Jr., but I’m waiting until the kids are a little bit older before we start! Praying for you!

  • Lenita says:

    Wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your testimony!

  • Michele says:

    My husband and I are now in a similar situation that you were. Our church is offering FPU on Wednesday nights starting next week. Just today I was reading up on the class wondering if we should take it. I take this post as a sign that WE SHOULD! Thank you!!! I know that God is working in everything and WE WILL get through this with His help.

  • Heather Finnegan says:

    Ah-the debt cycle….been there done that, still struggling with the contentment issues! We thankfully bought less house than we could afford, and only have one car payment (my van-needed by me to haul the kids I babysit around with mine). I am a stay at home mom, who does a little work on the side, and my husband lost his full time employment last June (the joys of school budget cuts). Here’s the awesome thing….by God’s grace we are making it. It isn’t pretty, but you learn to live without non-essentials, like cable TV, cable internet (we still have a high speed service provider, as my hubby needs it for his budding business). Another GREAT resource, who quotes from Dave Ramsey, is Jill Savage’s Book “Living with Less so: your family can have more”. It’s on amazon and the website for Hearts at Home hearts-at-home (dot) org

  • Heather Finnegan says:

    Thanks-God’s gotta plan, He will provide! It’s a faith-walk, not one I really like, but it’s all about growing too 😉 I also have an early Childhood Degree, and taught for 5 years before staying home when my oldest was 1. Everyone assumed that I would be looking for a full-time job when my hubby lost his. Um, no….my family works better when I am at the helm of management duties. My husband is an awesome helper, but not so great with the coordinating of everything, and the homework, and the ferrying 😉

  • Risha says:

    This story is very similar to mine and my husband’s. My parents were not great role models in financial matters, and while my husband’s are actually pretty good financial managers, they didn’t necessarily teach my husband the importance of avoiding debt, particularly credit card debt. We both had credit card debt when we married, and I had several student loans and a car payment.

    The best thing we ever did was go through Financial Peace University. We learned such a better perspective on finances. By that time though, we had a mortgage, a second mortgage, 3 credit cards with a total balance over 10,000 and 3 student loans totaling about 25,000. We had a tough road ahead of us, particularly since I was a Christian school teacher and my husband had an entry-level banking position.

    Since taking FPU (and despite going down to one income when we decided to start our family), we have no more credit card debt (and no open credit cards!), we’ve paid off 2 of the student loans and have managed to avoid any additional debt from the medical expenses of having children. It is ALL by God’s wonderful grace and provision. Our prayer now is that my husband can get a better-paying job (after finally finishing school last year) that can put us on track to pay off the remaining debt that we have. More importantly, I am thrilled that we have learned the importance of teaching our children how to manage money and stressing to them the importance of avoiding debt. We’re hoping to change our family tree!

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story! It was an encouragement to me.

  • Suzie says:

    I really wish praying to God got rid of debt, but unfortunately it doesn’t. If we stopped eating out all the time and buying stuff and not spending money frivolously we wouldn’t be in the problem we are in. we had no debt moving into this house except car and house but then my husband was laid off for 10 months in 2009 but has been working since…maybe some day we will be debt free. we haven’t put anything on credit cards since he has been back to work .

    • Kimberly says:

      That seems nice, doesn’t it, prayer magically fixing all of our problems? :o) But I’ve found that prayer can truly give me the wisdom to solve my problems, or the courage and grace to deal with my challenges.

  • Shawna says:

    Your story is amazing Carolynn! Thank you for sharing. I just started reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. and I an already sense a change in the way I think of money.

  • Crystal L. says:

    Thank you for this story! No offense to Crystal or any of the others, but the majority of what is posted here feels like it’s by people who have never made any mistakes, at least not big ones – that everyone has behaved well enough that the only monetary issues they have are because of outside influences like job loss or illness. It makes me feel like such a failure sometimes because I know I did this to myself.

    I beat myself up over our debt all of the time. Like you, I came from a family who lived wildly out of their means and put EVERYTHING on credit cards. My parents’ attitude is that they are probably going to die before they have to pay it back anyway, so why worry about it? When I fell into a deep depression my second year of college, I tried to cure myself with credit card shopping sprees. In a year, I racked up $30,000 on clothes, travel, eating out, furniture. My reasoning was, “Oh I’m going to school to make big bucks, I’ll pay it back then!” Well, I ended up withdrawing after my depression worsened and I now work a minimum wage part-time job. This is not where I thought I would be six years after high school. Thankfully, when I became pregnant with my son two years ago we wised up and got help from a financial advisor and I owned up to the fact that I had a serious shopping problem. We have not accrued anymore debt and should be debt free within the next year and a half! I also hope to go back to school when the timing is right with the little one.

    Again, this story seriously helped me in knowing that even though I dug this hole, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. I’m going to bookmark your blog and take a gander at some point when I have more time.

    • Great! Thanks so much! I felt the same way and that was one of the reasons I started my own blog! I will admit, it’s still a daily struggle, but I am taking baby steps and with each step, it gets easier and I become more confident! I do still slip, and think that this might always be the case, but I catch myself much faster now and have learned to stay away from temptations as best I can! I also try to remind myself that I have four sets of eyes on me and I want to be a better person for them, talk about awesome motivation! Keep up the good work!

    • Patrice says:

      That is exactly what I was feeling, Crystal. It’s great to read this from someone else who has “messed up”. I love reading the posts from those who have done so well, but at times it feld kind of like getting diet advice from someone who has always been thin. Somehow, it just doesn’t inspire quite as much as when one of my chunky friends loses 20 lbs.

      I am another one glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Jessica says:

      Crystal L…you practically wrote my story for me. I have nearly 60,000 in student and credit card debt. It’s tough knowing that I did it to myself and some times I wonder if I can ever dig myself out of this. Like you I suffer from depression and withdrew from school. I fight feeling like a failure everyday. I remind myself that I am dealing with this problem and am determined to get myself out of debt for the sake of my kids…I want to be a role model for them and not pass this pattern on to them. Thanks for sharing!

      Thanks Carolynn for sharing your story!

    • Stephanie says:

      I messed up my finances as well. My parents had never been great financial examples. So when I graduated from college and started my career, I thought I was hot stuff. I had moved 5 hours away from anyone I had ever know for a job. I was feeling very alone and depressed. So, I went shopping. And boy did I shop! I charged so much “junk” to credit cards. I just figured I’d worry about it later. I ‘d have more money later. But soon I stopped looking at my bills because I knew I didn’t have enough to cover them. I stopped answering my phone because it was always a bill collector. And finally it clicked with me. I had maxed out 3 credit cards and in the red on my bank account and I was only halfway through the month (I get paid once a month). So I got a second job. I was hoping to only do that for 6 months, a year at the most. But it has been 4 years. But I have come a long way. I have 2 credit cards completely paid off. I was able to pay cash for a modest wedding. My husband and I bought a house. My student loans will be paid off within 2 months (which is about 2 years earlier than anticipated). I do not have any credit cards now. We pay for everything in cash. I view money very differently now.
      I only discovered couponing a year ago. I hate that I didn’t know about this system years ago when I was in a pit of financial despair. But I am thankful that I have it to use now. My husband’s new motto is “Never pay retail! Only suckers pay full price.” So we continue to dig ourselves out of our financial hole but we see the light again.

  • God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.

    • I meant this as a reply to Suzie and Kimberly!

    • Susan says:

      With all due respect, I’ve never really liked this quotation. It’s easy to just sit back and “accept what you cannot change.” It’s so much more empowering to change something that you never thought you could. Yes, things happen that we do not cause, such as a layoff or illness, but we have more power to change our situation for the better than we think we do.

      That said, I appreciate your story. Many people here have shared where they are financially. I’ve been there. I made mistakes, and I got myself into a pretty deep debt. I’d like to say that it was emergencies, like car repair bills or medical bills that were going on the credit card, and yes I did have those bills and no cash readily available to pay them. But the real reason I had no money for such things is because I was in debt over small things — clothes, furnitur e, eating out, travel, etc etc. It became a vicious cycle. I had a good job (still do), but I lived beyond my means and didn’t worry about money until I had a wake-up call, which is a long story that I won’t get into here.

      So, a number of years ago, I sat down with all my financial information on the table in front of me, and I made a plan. It was painful. It has not always been smooth sailing, and I’ve made more mistakes along the way. But I have made progress, chipping away at it a little at a time, and now, years later, I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. By the end of 2011 I’ll be debt-free with the exception of my mortgage, and the thought of being unsaddled with debit is very freeing.

      The time is going to go by, whether we are working towards a goal or not. A year from now, or five or ten, we can be the same place we are now (or worse off), or we can be better off, having made progress towards our goals, regardless of what those goals might be: debt reduction, weight loss, a clutter-free home, a college education.

      Anyway, I’ll stop rambling now. I appreciate your story, and I understand where many commenters here are coming from.

  • Bekah says:

    My story is similar, also. My parents lived from paycheck to paycheck, and had a lot of credit card debt. When I got married, my husband & I had no debt, but by the time I had my first son, we owed over $30,000 (including our mortgage). We had a good plan to have our house paid off before we had kids, but we never thought anything about the car payment, or credit cards. I was so worried, and one day he came home talking about Dave Ramsey. He had me listen to a podcast of Dave’s show, and we both knew we had to do the Total Money Makeover. We don’t have an FPU class nearby, so we just used the website and books. It’s been 3 years, we had a second child, and my husband was laid off a couple times, but we only owe on our house. I don’t know if our marriage would have made it if we hadn’t found Dave. Now that we’re on track, I’m teaching my parents how to budget, and their financial situation is greatly improved.

  • Tammy L says:

    Carolyn, thank you for this inspiring post! It was a blessing to me tonight. 🙂

  • Lucy says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I was fortunately to know about Dave Ramsey about a year ago and since have taken his class. This changed my life! I’m now working to get out of debt as soon as possible. I just wish I knew Dave about 10 years earlier!!

  • lori says:

    Thank you Carolyn. I know there are so many people who feel like the financial success stories are for people who aren’t like them (I really use to believe that myself!). I think your story breaks through that barrier and I’m so glad you shared it with us =)

  • Patrice says:

    Wow! Looks like I’m not the first to report that this story is ME… almost every single detail of it! Finally, a story about financial freedom that leaves me with a feeling of “If they can do it, so can we!” Thank you so very much for sharing.

  • I’m curious as to whether Carolyn’s parents have learned anything from her experience? I grew up in a working poor household with a cheap mom and a spendthrift dad. My mom was constantly worried about money and whenever my dad would get an extra buck, he’d “invest” it in sports cards or toys- collectibles that he swore would pay for my college (and 10 years since I graduated, all that stuff is still in their attic). My parents have gone through multiple layoffs. My dad lost his job after 32 years there, a non-union, no-pension place. When he was terminated, he was only earning $10.25 per hour. After 32 years!

    My parents keep their money separated, and my dad got into some trouble for taking out a personal loan after he lost his job, which he used to “invest” in scarab jewelry (what on earth was he thinking???). He had to work out a payment plan and the company wrote off a large portion of his debt.

    But he continues to lie: my mom told me that he “cut up his credit cards”. But then my dad was telling my husband that he has a great interest rate, great credit, etc.

    Thankfully, my husband and I are very frugal and currently have no debt. We paid off our mortgage 23 1/2 years early- having also paid cash for a “new” to us car, paid off our student loans and have two kids in daycare.

    I would like my parents to learn more from us, but I get tired of giving them advice and ideas they don’t listen to 🙁

  • We gave my parents copies of the FPU audio CDs and I talk about it ALL the time! I guess I am trying to teach my parents by being an example and interjecting comments when appropriate! I think my dad may be coming around a little, but my mom and stepdad’s situation is very difficult right now! She’s disabled and unable to work and he has been laid off for over a year! I am trying to help my mom learn about coupons and such. So, I am trying to lead by example and not shove it down their throat because usually that is only met with hesitation! You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink!

  • Kara says:

    I have heard great things about FPU, but I would also recommend researching free resources as well. If a couple is dealing with serious money concerns, it may not be easy to shell out $100 or more for a class on how to be more financially responsible. Not to say that the benefits probably do outweigh the costs from what I read by everyone who has gone through the program. There are a lot of free resources out there as well that can help. Crown Financial Ministries has a “free downloads” page that has a ton of different downloads that I have found useful. They also list several great books on the subject that you could easily pick up at the library for free. Getting out of debt doesn’t have to cost you more money!

  • Janet says:

    Carolynn, Thanks for sharing your story. It is nice to hear that someone who started out wrong has the hope to begin anew and get things in order. It’s also nice to see examples of how God worked in your decision making, even before you were commited to being debt free (ie getting the 100,000 house instead of the 150,000).

    Crystal, I do enjoy these type of stories as your story how ever amazing, sometimes seems out of reach for those who weren’t blessed with parents that have been a great financial example. Also, since you and Jesse weren’t saddled with debt as many of us have been it’s hard to know how discouraging that can be to face. Your blog is a blessing to all.

  • Debi says:

    Thank you for sharing this story!!! Finally, a story I could relate to!! My hubby and I started our marriage with debt also(not as much $$)…, although our parents weren’t spenders, they never shared anything with us about finances…it wasn’t our business. So we floundered around for too long!! We actually purchased the $150,000 house when we could only afford the $100,000 one, but we qualified for it??? And every realtor we talked to encouraged us to buy at the top of our price range, with the theory being that eventually we could afford it. 4 kids later,we read “Total Money Makeover”, and that changed our lives and we decided to find a house within our means…..5 years of looking, we finally both found a house we could live with…although it needs quite a bit of elbow grease! We now have 6 kids and a much smaller mortgage!! I wish I could say we are debt free but we are working toward that goal, we will attend FPU in March…can’t wait!!! God Bless you!!!

  • Kalla says:

    Thank you so much for your story. I’m not saying that I don’t like to hear the great stories but sometimes its nice to know that we aren’t the only ones who have struggled. And the whole parents thing I think plays a lot into our lives when we grow up. But you don’t realize it really. Thanks!

  • Leighann says:

    My story is a bit different. I have never had a credit card, and my husband cut his credit card up before we even got married (but unfortunately, it was after his ex-wife maxed the card out). My parents never had credit cards, either, but they also had extremely low paying jobs. No one in my family had a high paying job, and most of them didn’t have any education. The most I could aspire to was working as an assistant manager in a gas station, or as a floor worker in the chicken factory. College? Ha! Most of my family didn’t even graduate high school!

    Managing money was never something that my family thought was important, because there just WAS no money. Before 2009, when I bought my first ever new car, a new car was a 10 yr old clunker my parents managed to scrape up enough cash for. Car breaks down? Go without a car. We were living in a 2 bedroom trailer that was about 20 years old when we bought it (and lived in it for another 15 years). My parents never sat us down and said “OK, here’s how you pay bills.” They never showed us how to save – when you have nothing to save, how can you put anything back?

    My husband, when we got married, was very bad with money. He never kept track of anything. I didn’t know HOW to keep track of anything. When we got sick and went to the doctor, I just ignored the doctor bills. When it came time for the monthly power bill, not only didn’t I know how to pay it, I didn’t realize that my husband wasn’t paying it. We had our power shut off about every 3 months, and had to pay that reconnection fee every time.

    In 2009 I had our 2nd child (he had 1 from his previous marriage, but she is my kid) and it just suddenly hit me….I could be doing better. I had to quit my job to stay at home with the little one, so we lost about $15k a year in income. I knew something had to change, and I started googling ways to save money and use coupons.

    I found dozens of resources. I started using coupons and saving money. Suddenly, instead of $250 weekly in groceries (what were we GETTING for that amount of money?!) we were spending $150 a week in groceries, formula, diapers, etc. Our bills were not only getting paid on time, we were getting AHEAD on them. We changed health insurance so that we wouldn’t have a deductible, which is what had been getting us into trouble before. We paid a little bit more each week, but considering we had all those doctor bills showing up as unpaid on our credit, it was worth it (and wound up being better insurance, anyway!).

    We’re still not all the way there. There are still some bills that we are paying on (we went from having over 10 bills at about $500 per month to having 3 bills at $100 per month!!!) but those are getting paid off THIS YEAR. We were able to buy a brand new car (too bad we didn’t get a mini van, we’re going to need the extra space come April!!). We’ve been able to contribute to a savings account ($10 weekly isn’t much, but it’s adding up). I have huge stockpiles of paper goods and food, and there are weeks when we only have to spend a little bit at the grocery store (bread, milk, fruit).

    We did all of that by ourselves without any help, except for the websites I consulted. We are not religious. We did not pray. We did not ask others to pray for us. We did not get community support. We did not get government support. I just…decided one day that I wanted things to be different, and 2 years later, they are extremely different. We’re not living paycheck to paycheck (although it is a very close thing some weeks). If I, who came from such a poor financial background, who is so bad at math and money, can do it, ANYONE can do it. It just takes the desire to want to change how things are.

  • I do enjoy the article, and enjoyed that I saw the first “climbing” step to pray to God and give Him grace everyday. I also think its important to add that while we should pray to Him and give grace, it is also just important to tithe, and give back to Him what He has given to us. I have struggled with this topic and have wanted to write about it so bad so that people can understand the importance of giving back 10% of what is His. I didn’t understand being out of bondage from debt until I learned to give back. I think that should be included with one of the first steps. By giving to those in need and giving unselfishly, I think we start to see what we really do have and take into consideration what others dont have, which may help us to live more below our means.

    I read a Dave Ramsey Book once. In it, he discussed tithing. He said that God doesn’t want our pocket change. Until we learn to trust God and give Him what He rightfully owns, He won’t trust us and pour out His blessings upon us! I really hope we, as frugal bloggers, help spread the word soon about tithing. I think its an important step that we leave out when teaching about saving.

    Malachi 3:10 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

  • Sharika says:

    Thanks for the story! My last FPU class is this coming Monday & let me tell you guys as a young single parent…THIS WAS THE BEST $100 I SPENT IN MY LIFE!! (but for those of you who may not be able to afford the $100, I found after I purchased the kit that mostly all the items could be purchased from ebay/amazon for cheaper) but if the class is offered in your city, ATTEND! It’s a life changing course, if you’re ready!

  • Tricia says:

    I am also having many of the same issues. I returned to school to get a new degree to help us get out of debt- Things were improving then i lost my job. I am now back into a deep hole. i am employed but at a lower pay scale and only part time. It is helpful to see others have pulled themselves up and out.

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