Living the Debt-Free Dream – Part 1 

Catherine Pegram

For some Mainers, living with debt is simply a part of life – especially in these economic times. But there are people who don’t owe anyone money – not even the bank – and say others can, too. Take, for example, Rick and Teri Schultz. We first introduced you to them in 2006 and today they’re proof you can live the debt-free dream. Four years ago, they’d already paid off more than $20,000 in credit card debt. They were able to stick to a budget that allowed Teri to stay home with their 13-month old daughter, Mari.And they’d tossed out all of their credit cards. At the time, Teri said, “We added up like what we spend now on regular bills, electricity and such and gas and groceries which, again, we just put on a credit card. We literally spent half of what we used to on credit card.”Fast forward to today. Mari is now 5 years old and has a 2-year-old brother, Ryan. Teri is still able to stay home with them and as for their finances.”Now, as of the end of January, we are completely debt free,” Teri says. “House, everything is paid off – which is amazing. It’s an amazing feeling.”And Teri can say that, even though Rick lost his job in March, thanks to 9 months of living expenses saved up to get them through.Rick says “It was nice to be able to just let it roll off the back, buy a bouquet of flowers and say guess what – no more income.”Teri adds, “We’ve been on a plan, a written plan, for over six years. If we didn’t have a plan, you know it would have been devastating.”That plan, by financial advisor Dave Ramsey, focuses on a cash-based budget. And when that cash is gone, the spending stops. “It’s back to the old days. Our grandparents would not have gone to the bank to ask for money to go buy the farm.” Peter Witt helps teach Ramsey’s Financial Peace University classes in Bangor. The plan is rooted in Christian principals, but Witt says at least one-third of his students have no church affiliation at all. The classes focus on changing spending habits and taking charge of money. Witt says, “People often say oh, I have a budget. I can tell exactly what happened to my money last month. Well budget means you are proactive – you control where your money goes.” The Schultz’s followed Ramsay’s advice to first start a $1,000 emergency fund. Next they created a debt snowball. Paying off one credit card first, then applying that payment to a second credit card, then a third. After that, they set aside three to six months of living expenses, started saving for retirement and college and eventually tackled their mortgage. “We did it in 6 years,” Teri says, “cutting our income in half and staying at home with the kids. It can be done.” Rick says “It’s a short period of sacrifice and pain for what’s going to be years and years of content.” “We’re happy,” Teri says. “We don’t have to worry about the money aspects of things because we get what we want and what we need. But what we want isn’t as much anymore and what we need, we know we can afford.”Even though Rick is out of work, the family still took a two week vacation last month – because that’s what they’d budgeted for. Thursday, meet a woman who’s starting out the journey to be debt free, even after going into bankruptcy after a car accident that nearly killed her.