Family Life | Living Debt Free

Living Debt Free

Many of us agree that being in debt is not a good thing. We would also agree it is not biblical. The Bible says in Romans 13:8 (ESV): “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” It also says in Proverbs 22:7 (ESV): “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.”

As a married couple, we always agreed to not go into debt. We knew the statistics on how money and debt affected marriage and were not interested in being one of the statistics. In fact, I had always been taught growing up to stay out of debt. My husband’s grandfather had instilled this principle in him as well. However, we never considered that house debt as bad debt. We figured, like most of you, that there is no way to get around being in debt with a house, at least in the first twenty to thirty years of marriage. Thus, we justified that it was not really debt. We worked hard, saved as much as we could, and tried paying a little more on our mortgage every month, but that’s about all.

Around 2002, my husband gave his brother a Dave Ramsey book for a birthday present and in 2003 his brother came down with kidney cancer. Having six children, he read the book and followed it completely, fearing he was going to die from the cancer and leave his family in debt. He gave one hundred percent to being debt free. He went from nothing paid for and one property to multiple properties paid for and being completely out of debt.

Around 2008, all the people around him that had gone into debt to expand their business before the housing crash, either lost everything and/or went out of business. He was able to take a vacation and wait for the work to pick back up. My husband and I were in awe. Following his example, we started actively paying off our home.

Hard Work and Sacrifice

Around 2010, we were mortgage free. It wasn’t without sacrifice. I remember having no money in the bank and no work lined up for the following week. Even before we married, my husband had always been in business for himself. He owned a painting/handyman business and worked hard. However, when you are self-employed, you are basically unemployed after each job. One time, sitting at a Waffle House eating dinner, I asked him,“How much money do we have in our bank account?” "About $11," he replied.

“First of all, why are we eating out with having only that amount of money?" I asked. "And second, what are we going to do about it?” That night we decided to start knocking on doors. In the afternoons, I loaded up our little one in a stroller and canvassed our neighborhood for any handyman jobs. I told them my husband could do just about anything, not knowing if he had ever done it before! They didn’t know that!

One time I excitedly came home exclaiming I had a tile job for him.

"I don't even do tile," he stated. "Well, you do now," I answered. Of course, he did a great job. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, so he can figure out anything.

Often we would go out as a family late at night, when everyone else in the world was in bed, and stuff flyers in newspaper slots in mailboxes. Many times we would be out from midnight until 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning, our little ones sleeping in the car.

We did whatever it took to get our business up and running. We were never the type of people to sit home and wait for work to come to us. We eventually transitioned from our handyman business into a fulltime photography business and continued to market like crazy to get our name out.

We Paid Off Our House

We paid our house off within eleven years. We were now able to start looking for property to move to and build. Because we wanted God to bless us with more children, I desperately wanted to move to a bigger place. But we agreed to pay cash for it.

Our business was going well, especially our beach photography business. However, in July of 2010 the BP oil spill hit and our beach business completely dried up. We decided to advertise to schools in our area and quickly started getting contracts for school yearbook portraits.

In the meantime, we wrote down on a piece of paper specific details of the property we wanted and put it on the fridge. We wanted a cheap piece of property that had a dumpy, fixer-upper house to rent out, with about three to five acres to build on. We started to pray for that piece of property, (me with little faith and my husband with complete faith we would someday find it.)

After the BP oil spill, they gave a settlement to all businesses that incurred a loss from the spill. Shortly after that, we found our property. It was exactly what we prayed for. We found it on a foreclosure list we received every midnight by email and paid cash. It was in bad shape. No HVAC, holes in the walls and ceiling, nasty carpet, and rat invested. But with the BP money and our savings, we were able to get this 3.3 acre property with the dumpy house and a 40 x 40 shop for a very good deal. In fact, at closing, a realtor offered us about $40,000 more than the property was worth.

Keeping to the Plan

On Christmas Eve of 2010, we moved into the 860 sq. ft. little house on the property with our six children and one on the way. Little did I know it was going to be two long years in this dumpy house.

We didn’t want to spend money or take time to re-do the plumbing in the original little house so we could not flush the toilet or take a shower at the same time. Extremely challenging with a large family. Since there was only one bathroom, it meant that someone usually had to use the outhouse.

One day, when I was about eight months pregnant and using the outhouse, our momma and baby lamb (which we used for Easter pictures), all the chickens, and our two shelties suddenly pushed the door in and stared at me! At that moment, I nearly lost it and told Daniel we needed to get a loan to finish the house. It was as close to third world conditions I ever wanted to get. But, my husband faithfully kept to the plan to stay out of debt.

We finally sold our other house and used that money to build. My husband did the foundation and plumbing himself. We paid students from a Vo-tech school to do the HVAC and electricity. We did all the painting, roof, flooring, countertops, lighting and many other things ourselves. We poured concrete countertops and stained the foundation to save money. During the whole process, we kept running our business, had our seventh baby, and kept up with everything that needed to be done. Daniel determined to spend as little as we could, or do without, so we could put all our money into the home.

We finally passed our final inspection and moved into the “big house." We were now living in an ICF (insulated concrete foam) house, with Geothermal HVAC. We even had a pool for which Daniel did most of the labor . . . all debt free. We moved in the new house right before Christmas 2012. One month later God gave us our first housewarming gift--the news that baby #8 would join us in October.

We Never Gave Up

Just as having children is a blessing from God, being out of debt is also a blessing, though difficult and not without sacrifice. People would say to us, “Why would you choose to live in a 860 sq. ft. house with one bathroom and seven children, especially when you could afford to live in a nicer rental while building?” They didn’t see our vision. If we had spent money on a rental, we wouldn’t have been able to build debt free.

As I look back on this experience, I feel bad I wasn’t a more supportive wife for my husband’s vision. He truly had a dream and goal while all I was worried about was being inconvenienced. I am thankful he didn’t succumb to my whining, but persevered in his goal. We made some of the most precious memories in that little house and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We are also teaching our children these principles, not only in action, but encouraging them to save money by owning their own businesses. My 16- year-old daughter buys and sells furniture she gets at garage sales or Craigslist. She also started a business making and selling chocolate bars (THM plan) with her two younger sisters at a local Farmer's Market. She has already saved over $5,000 to go towards a car.
I encourage you to work more, spend less, and make a plan to get out of debt as soon as you can. It's not an easy road, but the blessings far outweigh the sacrifices.

ALLISON HARTMAN
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Pensacola, Florida, USA

P.S. Daniel's brother had his kidney removed and is totally free from cancer.

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