Either life is happening to you or life is happening through you.
Meet Evan and Amanda. Evan impressed me before I ever met him. Actually, he impressed me before we ever had a conversation. I didn’t know who Evan was when he sent me an email in November of 2017. But he had amazingly tracked down my work email (which was no easy feat at the time. That information was no where on our website or on social media. In addition, once he did manage to find an email, he still did not know for sure it was me, as my name is not anywhere). He wrote me, sharing that he and his wife Amanda had heard Cortney’s and my debt free scream on a Dave Ramsey Show podcast.
His email included words of encouragement to Cortney and me; about how our family’s story of God’s grace and healing resinated with his family and inspired them. He wrote a bit about himself; a father of four young kids raising a family north of Seattle.
He shared about he and his wife and their last remaining student loan debt of $18,000. This was great and inspiring for us to hear from him, a stranger. It renewed our spirit at a time when we were feeling discouraged. And if the story ended there, it would be an awesome one. I mean, who does that – tracks someone down they don’t even know and sends an encouraging email? But guess what – the story doesn’t end there. Oh no, there’s more…
Between that email last November and today much has happened. I have visited Evan, Amanda and his four kids in Washington. I have met Evan’s parents and played chess with his kids, listening to his mom tell stories of homeschooling Evan when he was a kid.
I heard Evan’s story of how he and Amanda met and married young.
There are many reasons why Evan impresses me. A big one is this – out of that email began a relationship with Evan that led him to becoming a member of our team at work. He has launched our Seattle region this Fall, teaching Chess and LEGO classes in elementary schools north of Seattle.
He is a true go-getter, busting it each day and working tirelessly to grow that region and have a positive impact on his community and the students. Which is totally awesome. And if the story ended there, it would be great! I mean, who works two other jobs while helping us get Seattle moving as a region when he only knew Adam and I for a few short months? But guess what – the story doesn’t end there…
Recently I talked in depth with Evan and learned how his family got to where they were financially in November of 2017. I learned the circumstances that triggered their final push to finally become a debt free family in October of this year!
Their debt free journey is an amazing story. It is full of successes and setbacks. You know how when you take thee steps forward but you fall two steps back; many times tripping over your own mistakes and bad choices? That was their debt free story. And I think it is one that many us too easily fall into. Their’s is a story that many of us can relate to.
Newlywed, they were excited about doing life together at such young ages. They were married at 20 and 18. For their wedding Amanda’s dad gifted them Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. They tried their best to follow Ramsey’s principals laid out in the book. They listened to the teachings in the book and thought they were great. But life happened. Young and broke they borrowed money for college. After completing an undergraduate degree, they thankfully paid off that loan, knowing the steps of Dave’s Financial Peace University were sound.
But that was short lived as their behavior had not really changed. Evan’s passion is teaching and he felt led to teach English as a second language.
His love and drive to teach turned into a $23,000 student loan to get his masters degree. As one does when they complete a degree they go to put it to use.
In 2009 Evan and Amanda moved to Japan to live and work, figuring they would worry about paying off the student loan once they returned home one day to the states.
While there they made some progress paying what they could on the loan. It was something they figured, like so many of us, would be there for awhile. From time to time they thought about it, but didn’t really think about it – if you know what I mean. It was not yet affecting them in a way that led to change.
When they moved back to the U.S. in 2012 they did what many young married couples do in America; they bought a home.
The purchase was great at first, homeownership is the American Dream, right?! It was a nice place to live and raise kids. Something they could call their own. A home to build a life on. But the dream of homeownership soon turned sour – as one might say – the dream turned into a nightmare. It was too much house. They could never afford to do anything. They were house-broke.
Looking back now, they realize they had gone out of step in their financial journey. They had not paid their debts off before buying that house. It came back to bite them hard. In fact for many years they did nothing with the student loan debt – other than constantly think about it. It was an unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave them alone. They went from thinking about the debt occasionally to constantly thinking about it. Year after year the debt began to grow.
They knew things needed to change. Evan worked really hard but was never able to really keep up. Credit card debt creeped in. Expenses they hadn’t planned for or forgot to plan for came due. Homeowners dues, fixes on the house, etc. went onto the credit card. Things would calm down, they would pay off the credit card to a zero balance and then more life would happen. And the cycle repeated. Back on the card went more expenses.
They got to the point where they were making little to no progress on their debt and the burden of the home was weighing heavy on them. They knew they had to begin making better choices for their family.
After owning their home for a few years they finally sold it and moved into a rental. At first it helped relieve the pressure and they started to pay down the student loan. However in November of 2017 they finally got to a point where they still had almost no money in the bank, their rental was no longer available, and they were fed up – they had had enough. Their progress was too slow. Their focus was not there.
Evan recalls when they were preparing to move out of their rental and move in with family, he was so frustrated at the situation he found himself in. They couldn’t even afford the carpet cleaner when moving out. Money had to be scrounged up. There is a memory for him, that is still so strong to this day, that he felt was the turning point. Their possessions were out of the rental and when he got into his car to drive away he remembers just how mad he was at all of it. He worked too stinking hard! His wife worked too hard! In some ways he was flipping out. But he remembers thinking enough was enough. They cut up their credit cards, vowing never to borrow money again – ever!
And of course their story doesn’t end there. Finally after really focusing on their debt and working hard for 11 months, sacrificing time and energy and resources, they gained the momentum needed.
They are now completely debt free! No more student loans, no more credit cards. They are now free to move on with their lives. Free to move on and begin winning with money.
I asked him how it feels. Surreal he said. It was a daunting task, but they are so glad to be through it. He feels the enormity of the accomplishment and knows this is a big change for his family. He and Amanda loved celebrating with his kids as they had played a huge role and were a huge motivation for them throughout their debt free journey. Evan and Amanda are so grateful knowing their kids are paying attention, witnessing their family become debt free, the next generation forever changed! They are now focusing their energy on Step 3 of Ramey’s Baby Steps – an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses, the next stage in their financial journey.
I asked what helped he and Amanda the most through the process (by this point in the conversation I was feeling a bit like Dave on his radio show). He said, it was God’s grace that got them through. It also helped to constantly remind themselves to not get caught up in the moment. At any point during the journey you can become depressed by the weight of the debt, you can get down when you realize what you are giving up and the opportunities you lose out on in order to win. That is the greatest part about the Baby Steps, stick to them and you will find hope. The steps are well tested and they work! Listening to the stories of others (via the radio show and podcast) who have gone before them and reached debt freedom, helped him realize they could do it too. You can’t get to the top of the mountain in one leap, it takes many steps.
I hope that you enjoyed this story and are inspired by Evan and Amanda and their family. Ramsey’s Baby Steps are designed to provide a path of hope. Yes, they help guide our progress and give us tangible milestones along the way. But above all they help us realize there is a choice; either life is happening to you or life is happening through you.
What do you choose?