I met my husband in 2008 when I was 22, fresh out of college with big dreams and limited job prospects. We married quickly with plans to buy a home, raise a family and see the world.

Unfortunately, we didn’t enter marriage with just idiosyncrasies and an inability to correctly load a dishwasher, but also with credit card debt, deferred student loans, and a complete and total lack of knowledge when it came to budgeting.

We hadn’t inherited sound financial management from either of our families and finances were quickly becoming a major stressor in our marriage.

When the Indebted Meet Dave Ramsey

Our church offered Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University.” The testimonials seemed too good to be true:

  • Couples paid off tens of thousands of dollars in debt a few shorts months
  • Families bought homes with cash
  • Parents saved enough to pay for their children’s entire college tuition without using a single loan

091917_0000_Layer-2As a young couple with substantial debt and no clue about how to ever pay it off, let alone buy a home or see the world, we signed up.

I vividly remember the classes and listening to the lectures. My husband and I felt overwhelmed. Together, our combined income was lower than that of a majority of the singles taking the classes with us.

How would we ever pay off my student loans or his credit cards? How would we ever have money in savings or an emergency fund?

I couldn’t imagine a life that wasn’t paycheck-to-paycheck.

We wanted that life.

We decided to tighten our belts and dutifully follow Dave’s plan. To this day, my husband isn’t comfortable carrying large amounts of cash, so we opted out of the envelope system. But we told all of our dollars where to go, transferred money into savings each month, and cut back significantly on eating out. We even shared a vehicle for a time.

We grew accustomed to living on a small income, so after I got my teaching certification we used a large portion of my paycheck to reduce our debt and build our savings.

After two short years, we were debt-free.

We followed Dave’s plan and became evangelists for Financial Peace University. We tried to recruit anyone we knew to at least give it a try.

The feeling we got when we made those final payments on cars, credit cards, and student loans was absolutely exhilarating.

When It’s Time to Thank Dave and Move On

We were debt free. What next?

Dave’s plan advocates saving enough cash to pay for everything outright so you never accumulate debt again, but that seemed terribly unrealistic to us. My husband is a project manager for a construction company and I was a high school science teacher. We didn’t see how we could ever amass enough cash to buy a home while renting in the meantime.

My husband met with a mortgage broker to find out the next steps for becoming homeowners.

Much to our surprise, despite having paid off significant debt and being two full-time employees, we were not eligible for any sort of loans.

Mostly because… we had no credit.

Dave’s plan had helped us white knuckle our way to financial peace, but the reality was that without credit, we would never be homeowners.

Despite Dave Ramsey’s dire warnings to steer clear from credit cards, we needed to explore ways to quickly build our credit. We then found Credit Sesame and used it to find out exactly what our credit scores were, as well as what marks were affecting our credit history.

We were surprised to find errors affecting my husband’s credit. Without Credit Sesame, I don’t know how we would have ever known to correct the discrepancies.

Credit Sesame recommended that my husband get started with a secured credit card, so he did.

Over the next few months, we monitored our credit scores and were shocked to see them climbing quickly. In no time they reached the mid-600s. In Oklahoma, it’s possible to get a mortgage and also qualify for first-time homebuyer’s assistance with that type of credit score, but we wanted a better interest rate and decided to delay buying a home until our scores were a little higher.

We purchased a vehicle on a loan and continued to use our credit cards, paying off the entire balance each month. The next time we checked our credit scores we found them in the upper 700s.

We could officially start shopping for homes.

Making Our Credit Cards Work for Us

Kara and husband in front of home

My husband and I purchased our home in May of 2015 after raising our credit scores. We”ve been remodeling it ever since. Just call us Chip and Joanna!

We became homeowners. At this point, I had quit my job to stay at home with my children and we were living entirely on my husband’s modest income. We still used the budgeting principles we had learned from Dave Ramsey, but we tracked our spending using the Mint app on our phones. We used credit cards for everything, and continued to pay off the entire balance monthly.

We wanted to travel, and although our savings account was very healthy, it didn’t feel wise to deplete it for a family vacation.

Instead, we decided to make our credit cards work for us and use them to improve our lives… not just our credit scores.

We checked our credit scores on Credit Sesame found several credit card recommendations. We researched the benefits and rewards systems affiliated with each card, and selected a card that had a significant and easy-to-obtain bonus for new cardholders and miles in return for spending.

Since then, we have flown for free on two different trips, using our credit card points entirely.

All we had to do was spend money as we typically do. We continued to budget and stay within our means and pay off our cards each month. This is something I never dreamed I would actually do. I am from a family where financial stresses were felt on the regular. We were no stranger to bankruptcy.

A great credit score, money in savings, and the ability to travel with my family for little-to-no cost feels like a dream come true.

Getting out of debt was just the beginning of what has become a complete change in lifestyle. We are extremely grateful for the lessons in budgeting and saving that we picked up from our season in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. But it was our foray into building our credit and learning to wisely make credit cards work for us that has enabled us to give our children the life we thought we would never have.

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Published September 25, 2017
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