Debt-Proof Your Kids, Part 1
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Mary Hunt, creator and editor of “Debt-Proof Living", a monthly newsletter formerly called the “Cheapskate Monthly", talks to Dennis Rainey about her former life as a spendaholic. Hear how Mary’s spending led to her being $100,000 in debt, and what she did to crawl out of her money pit into the light of sweet financial freedom.
Today on the broadcast, Mary Hunt, creator and editor of “Debt-Proof Living”, a monthly newsletter formerly called the “Cheapskate Monthly”, talks to Dennis Rainey about her former life as a spendaholic.
Debt-Proof Your Kids, Part 1
Mary: The first 12 years of my marriage I did horrible things with credit. I bought into the whole scheme and the plan and the marketing of all these credit card companies that I deserved anything that I could qualify for, and by the time my whole world crashed in 1982, when we found ourselves nearly ready to lose everything, including my relationship with my husband, I had run up more than $100,000 unsecured debt.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 10th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear what Mary Hunt learned from her experience with debt and credit and how her experience can help you make your children money smart.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. You know, when couples get married today, Dennis, not only do the two become one flesh, but too many times, the two bring credit card debt …
Bob: … and it merges into one giant accumulation of debt that puts a lot of stress on a young marriage and, in many cases, is torpedoing those new marriage relationships.
Dennis: One of the thing that I have warned all of our children, as they've gone away to college, because I am so afraid of debt. I mean, I treat this a lot like I would a rattlesnake.
Dennis: It really feels dangerous to me for young people, as they get away to college – well, let me just tell you a story that I read in Mary Hunt's book. In fact, I'll just go ahead and welcome her to the broadcast here. Mary, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Mary: Oh, what a pleasure to be here, thank you.
Dennis: Mary has written a book called "Debt-Proof Your Kids," and a story that you told in here, Mary, is of a young man who had seven credit cards in college, and by the time he graduated, he had racked up $20,000 in consumer debt. And so, Bob, by the time this young man got married, wanted to start a family, his whole paycheck was just going to cover the stereo, the couch, the furniture, all the stuff that advertisers told him that he needed, and he was enslaved to credit.
And Mary is an expert on this. In fact, she is an expert on saving money. She has a newsletter called "Cheapskate Monthly."
Mary: You love that name?
Dennis: I do. I keep want to call it the "Chesapeake Monthly."
Mary: You're from the East, I can tell.
Dennis: No, I'm not. I just looked down, and I want it to be the "Chesapeake Monthly," but it's not. It's the "Cheapskate Monthly."
Mary: You've got it. It's the "Cheapskate," you're right.
Dennis: Tell our listeners about that newsletter.
Mary: Well, you can see the smile on my face because the word does get me an awful lot of attention, and I have to tell you that I came from a place where I was anything but a cheapskate. The first 12 years of my marriage …
Dennis: You have a nice ring, you have a nice dress, your hair is frosted, huh, looks nice. You don't look like a cheapskate.
Mary: Well, I'm not a dumpster diver, let me tell you that. Let me tell you where this word came from. I got into horrible trouble with credit myself.
Mary: The first 12 years of my marriage I did horrible things with credit. I bought into the whole scheme and the plan and the marketing of all these credit card companies that I deserved anything that I could qualify for.
Dennis: How many credit cards did you have?
Mary: Oh, you know, I wasn't keeping track. I never dreamed I would be here someday, but I know that it was in excess of 30, possibly as many as 35 at one point in my life.
Bob: And your debt added up to what?
Mary: Oh, absolutely. By the time my whole world crashed in 1982, when we found ourselves nearly ready to lose everything, including my relationship with my husband, I had run up more than $100,000 in unsecured debt.
Mary: I know, I know.
Mary: Yes. I should be able to do CPR on people like you when I say this.
Dennis: I didn't think that – how is that possible?
Mary: Oh, listen, let me tell you. You want me to teach you? I won't do that, but I can tell you that if you just live beyond your means consistently – all you have to do is spend $50 a week more than you earn, put it on credit, let it start building with interest and fees and all of that, you, too, can do that after 12 years.
Debt consolidation loans? You know how we decide, well, we'll take all of these and roll them into one, and then we'll get out of debt, and then a home equity loan to pay off all the credit cards and then the credit cards all come back with balances, I'm telling you, it sounds like a very scary thing, and it is. Anyone should be terrified if they're on the road to that.
Dennis: What was the most foolish thing you bought in that 12-year period?
Mary: You know, I can't say that it was one particular big, gigantic item. I didn't spend thousands of dollars, but it was restaurant meals, it was family vacations, it was Christmas – all of those things. I'm telling you, you can $5 and $10 yourself to death if you're constantly putting it on credit, paying only the minimum payments, being late with your payments, allowing late fees to be added on, adding that to then your principal balance, so that the interest is being charged on all of that, I'm telling you, it is a very, very scary thing. And it was at that point in my life, 1982, when I thought it was all over. I was sure I was going to lose my marriage, my home, my kids and everything.
Bob: Yeah, what was going on in your marriage?
Dennis: Well, I want to ask you, where was your husband in all this?
Mary: Oh, he was right there, he was right there, aware of some of it.
Dennis: Helping you charge?
Mary: Oh, no, not at all, but what does he do with a woman – what does he do, break my arm? He can pray, he can beg, he can cut up the cards, but I tell you what, when you've got a strong woman who is bent on having a certain lifestyle and sure someday our ship is going to come in and all this is going to be okay – he loved me.
Dennis: Were you just out of control?
Mary: Absolutely out of control, absolutely out of control, and then let me tell you something else very scary – we were leaders in the church. We were the people everyone wanted to be like. We were the wealthy Hunts. We drove new leased cars, I mean, we looked real good, we looked really good, but our lives were completely out of control.
Dennis: What would you say to a husband who is driving down the road right now and said, "I'm married to you."
Mary: Yeah, I have people tell me that a lot.
Dennis: What would you say to him? What does he need to do to …
Mary: He needs to stop nagging, he needs to stop wailing and screaming and carrying on. He needs to sit down with black and white numbers. I never saw anything written down. I did not understand about compounding interest. I did not understand how that was what was killing us, how this was going to destroy our future, how we were presuming on future in come that we had no idea that we would ever be able to earn, and how, in reverse, how savings and investments can grow to your benefit. What would happen if we did this, how it would benefit that.
Our communication had so broken down that we were not even talking about it.
Dennis: So you're saying remove it from the emotional arena of yelling and screaming and accusing and all the mud puddles that are represented over there and move it to a sheet of paper, a black and white ledger …
Mary: A plan.
Dennis: … so that your wife can begin to understand cause and effect.
Mary: Absolutely, absolutely.
Dennis: When that happened in your marriage, what happened to you?
Mary: Well, it didn't happen, that didn't happen. Let me tell you what did happen. It was in 1982, my husband and I both found ourselves out of work. He had been a banker; had a wonderful career going, can you believe it, I married a banker? I was the one who told him he was never going to make enough money in banking to keep us in the lifestyle we needed to make and that the solution to all of our problems would be found in self-employment. And I kept on this and on this, and I wanted him to quit the bank and us to go into self-employment. What a foolish thing because I had no idea what I was talking about. I just assumed if you're self-employed, you get to set your salary, and you set it at whatever you want it to be.
And we got drawn – let me tell you, when you're looking for a solution in the form of more money, there are always solutions out there. We got drawn into a multi-level marketing scheme. It was a company that is no longer in business, and it was truly, truly, a pyramid scheme. But when your heart is filled with greed, and you're constantly looking and thinking that more money is the answer to your problems, we were just sucked into this thing.
And my husband, of course, he loved me, and he wanted me to be happy, and he wanted this to be over, and so he went along with me, and that's where we finally plunged ourselves into the pit of despair. We lost that business in the space of four months. We lost everything except our home, which was ready to go into foreclosure any moment. And it was at that point that I think things had to get so bad, I was so far to the end of myself and any kind of solution, that I was willing to say, "God, you've got to take this over."
It was at that point I fell on my face before God and begged for forgiveness and made two promises – I will do anything necessary to pay back this debt, which, by the way, I had no idea what it was. Because you're not keeping track of that kind of thing when you're in that kind of life; and, two, that, with God's help, I would change. Because I realized at that point I had a problem.
That was in 1982. Some amazing things happened and, of course, at the time I didn't fully understand. I didn't understand that I should have to go back to work, and my husband would stay at home with the kids for the next two years. But he was a broken man. He was completely out of ideas.
Mary: I think so. He had given up his career willingly, walked away from it, and now he had lost a business. I mean, he was 35 years old, and it was really, really a tough time in our lives.
Dennis: I want to just stop you for a second there because I don't think women understand what it means to a man to lose his job and to be out of work. When a man doesn't work, and there's two ways that can happen. One is either be fired or lose his job, or the other way is simply not go to work, and some men are in situations where they can be paid and not go to work, okay? If he doesn't work, though, for any one of those reasons, that man at that point begins to lose self-respect, his whole value system begins to crumble, and I've watched men as men go, they begin to implode. God gave man the responsibility to rule. He gave them the responsibility to provide for their families, and when a man doesn't do that, that can be so detrimental not only to that man but also to that marriage. Your marriage had to be close to divorce at that point.
Mary: Well, I can say were it not for a very godly man who was very committed to our marriage and to me, I'm sure that that is exactly what would have happened.
Bob: In 1982, you're $100,000 down, you're at the end of yourself, your home is about to be in foreclosure. How long did it take you to get back to where you were even again, and in that process, you know, you had – you'd indulged for so long that to wean yourself from indulgence, that's a hard fast to go through, isn't it?
Mary: It was, it was very difficult. But let me tell you that God can redeem anything. And for the next two years, God really used this time in our lives. Let me tell you what happened. He provided a job for me. This was never my plan, that I should have to go back to work, but God had something else in mind. And I went back to work into an industry I knew nothing about. I mean, just – this thing just landed. I went into the field of industrial commercial real estate. I had never sold anything in my life.
I started making some good money. My husband was home with the children, which released all of the problems of childcare and so on, and we really did reverse roles for two years, and God used that powerfully in my life. Let me tell you how.
I learned how difficult it is to earn a living. I had been so busy spending my brains out that it gave me a new appreciation for that whole process of earning a living. My husband was home with the children, the little boys needed their dad there, and it gave him some time to be able to evaluate the situation. As I was bringing money home, he was then able to start bringing our home out of foreclosure. I was able to close some escrows early on, things that I had never been able to do before, and as we sat down and started – this is how our communication came back. So we started talking about the ways we could reduce our expenses – how can we get rid of leased cars? How can we start living within our means?
And, all of a sudden, we began working on that debt, and discoveries started coming at me. I mean, God is so faithful. I learned two things – that giving, which we had never done before – and now we had a commitment to God that we would always give first – anything we received, and that we would save something for ourselves and what was left we would do the best we could to pay our bills, to bring our house out of foreclosure, to do all of those things.
Absolutely amazing that those two activities of giving and saving brought the same kind of excitement and rush to me that spending had. And I started – and that is what quieted down those insatiable desires. When I was giving to God first and I was saving something for us, even if it was just a very, very small amount, it seemed like then that I was far more satisfied and far more anxious to keep doing better, to reduce the expenses, and over the next 10-year period of time an amazing change took place in my life. So much so that my husband used to, in jest, just teasing, would call me a cheapskate, which was just so opposite from the place that I had been. And it was an endearing kind of thing. It was almost, "Honey, look at the change in your life."
And it was through all this – it didn't happen overnight, but our relationship was restored, and we came back together, and after 10 years we had paid back all but $12,000 of this huge debt, which is a pretty amazing thing knowing that we didn't seek counseling. I had no idea that anyone else had ever, ever, ever been in this kind of position.
Bob: Oh, there's a lot of people …
Mary: I didn't know it. I didn't know there was any help, we didn't share it with anybody, we didn't seek any counseling, we didn't share with our friends even. They knew that we had struggled with jobs, you know, just like everybody does, but it was pretty much of a secret.
But the book that I wrote about "Debt-Proof Your Kids," is born out of what happened during those years, those 10 years.
Dennis: Let me ask you a question – if there's a couple listening right now, whether they're newly married or whether they've been married for 10, 15, 20 years, but they've got the same disease you and your husband had – what should they do? I mean, we can't build this up like we have here o the broadcast and not provide some solutions to say there really are ministries – I can think one, Crown Ministries, which is a great ministry to get on a budget and to get into a support group that talks about accountability, around finances, but undoubtedly, Mary, because of where you've been, you've uncovered a lot of resources. Where can people go?
Mary: You know, I think there's always in a marriage you've got a spender, and you have a saver. I was a spender and, of course, my husband was the saver. You've always got this opposite polarity kind of thing. The person who is the saver, of course, is the one that feels so frustrated with the spender. As we talked before, they've got to stop the nagging, you've got to start talking about it, you've got to be able to sit down – but I think that people should know that there is so much help.
If your church has any kind of a program like this, don't be embarrassed. You're not going to be embarrassed in front of everybody. I don't know of any ministry that would allow that to happen. That's what we're so afraid of – that people are going to find out the truth.
The next is that there are credit counseling services available. I know that many ministries offer this. I can give you a list of resources of places that people can call, they can talk on the phone, so it's very, very anonymous. But there is so much help available, it just breaks my heart for people to continue on the way they are because there is – there are ways that you can get into a rapid debt repayment plan. I have it in all of my books and in my newsletter. I really try to help people do this, but if you can just start talking about it, I think that is the absolutely first place to get started.
Dennis: You talk about debt-proofing. Explain what you mean by debt-proofing. I've got to ask you the question now – you finally paid it all off?
Mary: We did. It took 13 years, and I can tell you it should not have taken that long. If I would have known then what I know now, we could have been out in probably five or six years. That is so powerful of a plan. If you stop incurring new debt, stop adding to it, and you get yourself involved in a rapid debt repayment plan, which I teach all the time, it is very – it's so exciting I can hardly stand it.
Dennis: Right. I can see – you once were blind but now you see.
Mary: Oh, yes, yes, and the way debt can just rob your life and turn you into a slave. I was the slave of Mastercard and Visa. They owned me. They had me by the neck, and that is a horrible way to live.
Dennis: Let me ask you – what's the ugly truth about Mastercard and Visa?
Mary: Oh, boy, the ugly truth is that they want our children, they want us, they want us for the rest of our lives, they want us in perma debt.
Dennis: What do you mean, they want us?
Mary: Oh, we are their bread and butter. Anybody who has a balance carrying from month to month is supporting them. The minimum monthly payment is their profit, and they want their profit every month. They don't want any more than that, but they want you to support them for the rest of your life, and they've got a good portion of this nation in their jaws. Seventy-two percent of all credit card balances roll over from month to month to month, and those people are the slave of those credit card companies.
Bob: Now, you travel. You have to rent cars when you go places.
Mary: Yes, I do.
Bob: You have to check into hotels. You've got to have credit cards, right?
Mary: I have one good all-purpose credit card. I think every family needs one, good, all-purpose credit card defined as no annual fee, it's a card that is accepted in most places, it has a 25-day grace period. Those are the keys to a good all-purpose credit card. You never allow a balance to roll from month to month. Never, never, never.
Dennis: I agree. You know, I've told this story, and I've got to tell it again. As each of my kids have gone off to college, the last thing before we leave the house, I will get in their face with one of my sternest dad lectures they ever hear, and I'll give them a credit card, but I will say, "If I ever, if I ever see you or hear of you allowing the payments of your credit card to roll over where you are paying interest and a service fee to this company, you don't want to see me. You do not want to see Dad. I will be very unhappy."
It's the rattlesnake again, Mary. I want my children to have a healthy fear and respect for what debt can do to them. I've seen it in too many young couples – certainly not to your extreme. I've never met anybody who had $100,000, but I have seen far too many who had $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 credit card or consumer debt and, I'll tell you, they were, they were slaves to those credit card companies, and it controlled their lives, it really did.
Mary: That's right, and it destroys your options. It keeps you bound to a job you might hate. Debt absolutely binds you up, and the financial freedom that is available to people by getting rid of debt is just absolutely amazing. It will restore your marriage, it will restore your relationship, it will improve your family life, and debt, conversely, when you're bringing it on, destroys all of those things. It puts such a heavy bondage, and I really, truly believe the statistics that say 80 percent of all divorces find their roots in financial disharmony. That's where it started.
Bob: When we got married, I said to Mary Ann, "We've got a credit card" and I said, "Here is the promise. If we ever don't pay off the entire balance in one month, we cut this up. That's just how we're going to live. If we ever get to a point where we say we can't pay this month, then we cut up the credit cards, that's the end of having them." And we've been able, by the grace of God, to do that. But Mary's right, there is such a peace, such a freedom, you can live in such a relaxed way. We've just not had the financial pressures that a lot of couples have. Of course, we haven't had the new cars.
Dennis: You've had financial pressures.
Bob: Sure, everybody has those financial pressures.
Dennis: That's right, but you don't have the added financial pressure of having a creditor looking over your shoulder going, "Where's my share?"
Bob: You don't have some guy calling your wife while you're at work and saying, "When are you going to pay off the balance?" You don't wake up in the middle of the night going, "How am I going to get out of this thing?" You don't have those kinds of anxieties to deal with.
Dennis: No, you don't. In fact, Mary Hunt has written this book, "Debt-Proof Your Kids," and the main point we want to share on today's broadcast is it begins with you.
Dennis: The principal is you can't impart to your children what you don't possess as a couple. And if you're not in charge of your own charging, if you're not controlling your own debt, if you're not, as a couple, one, around your approach to credit cards and debt, then you can't begin to instruct your children. So the first place you begin is you have to be one as a couple, and that comes as a result of prayer, as a result of study of the Scripture, probably getting in some accountability groups of some kind.
We have a Homebuilders Bible study that Ron Blue wrote for us here at FamilyLife around the whole area of finances that's been a great help to a lot of couples. These tools all provide the accountability, the communication, and the oneness that every couple needs.
Bob: Well, and Mary has written a book called "Debt-Proof Your Marriage, How to Achieve Financial Harmony," and we have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, if listeners are interested in getting a copy of her book, they can go to our website at FamilyLife.com, and on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's broadcast," you click a box that says "Learn more," and that will take you to an area of the site where you can find out not only about the Homebuilders study but about Mary's book, "Debt-Proof Your Marriage" and her book "Debt-Proof Your Kids."
You can order any of those three resources from us here at FamilyLife. Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and you can order online, if you'd like, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have the resources you need sent out to you.
You know, one of the great joys that comes with having your financial house in order is that you are able to be more generous and to do more giving, and we appreciate those listeners who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today by making donations from time to time to help keep this radio program on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country. And during the month of July, we'd like to make available to you, upon request, a CD that features a conversation we had not long ago with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, the host of the daily radio program, "Revive Our Hearts."
She's written a book called "Choosing Forgiveness," and because forgiveness is often an issue in marriages and families, we sat down to talk with her about what the Bible has to say on the subject of forgiveness. We'd like to make this CD available to you this month when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. You can donate online at FamilyLife.com, and if you'd like the CD just type the word "forgive" in the keycode box you see there on the donation form. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can make a donation over the phone and, again, just request the CD from Nancy Leigh DeMoss or the CD on forgiveness, and we're happy to send it out to you. It's our way of saying thanks for your partnership with us. We appreciate your financial support of this ministry.
Tomorrow we're going to talk more about what we can do as parents to help make sure our children are ready to handle their finances as they grow into adulthood. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts for you. However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website. If you've benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.