For Kimberly and Brad Earnest, getting out of debt—and staying out of debt—has meant freedom. Freedom to travel in the US and internationally, to pursue work they enjoy (and to cut back), to help others, and to know that even if their jobs were to disappear, they’d be fine.
For Brad, though, things looked very different in 2004, when he found himself newly divorced with two young children to raise on his own. He realized he hadn’t done a very good job managing money. “I was your typical American consumer with a lot of debt,” he said. An occupational therapist who specializes in hand therapy, he had a great career, but he “felt like I had been working hard for ten years with not much to show (for it).”
A friend told him he needed to check out Dave Ramsey. Brad laughs, recalling that he thought Ramsey was a local financial advisor, and that he should make an appointment to meet with him. Instead, he wound up reading the popular radio host’s best-selling book, The Total Money Makeover, and began applying his principles for getting out of debt.
It wasn’t a perfectly smooth transition at first, “I did go back and forth,” he says. But once he made the decision that he was going to get out of debt and stay out, he said it was “almost like a pressure coming off. It started opening my eyes that having a financial future could be a possibility. I realized I could get the kids through college and even retire at a reasonable age.”
In 2005, he met Kimberly in a running club. Soon after they began dating, Brad shared his copy of The Total Money Makeover with her. “I thought it was seemed pretty basic at first,” she admits. She was already frugal; if she used her credit card, for example, she always paid it off immediately. But she started listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcasts and realized she hadn’t thought much about financial goals she’d like to accomplish.
“She needed fine tuning and I needed an overhaul,” Brad jokes.
The Earnests were halfway through Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program at their church when they married, and they began the habit of creating a budget together for the coming month. They’ve since created a budget every month since they got married in October 2008 without missing a single one. For years their budget was recorded in excel, but now they use the EveryDollar app.
Half of Everything Must Go
Once their kids were grown and out of the house they decided to move to a smaller home, and realized that meant they would have to get rid of many of their possessions. They decided to aggressively downsize and move things out in one of three ways:
- Give it away
- Donate it
- Sell it
“It was hard,” admits Brad, who was at the same time trying to fix up their home to get top dollar before it sold. “Physically and mentally it was hard.” The couple says they easily got rid of more than half of what they owned at the time.
For Kimberly, it was a little more fun. She loved finding new homes for things that they didn’t need anymore. Her friends were eagerly awaiting her next Facebook post to see what she’d give away.
In the end, it was worth it. Since their home was already paid for, they were able to purchase a new, smaller home for cash. Their weimador Molly Daisy, whom they claim really runs the place, made the move to their new house with them. They vowed not to fill their home with things they didn’t need, and now live by the rule that before they bring in anything new (besides consumables), they must both agree it brings value to their lives.
Not long ago, Brad decided he wanted a record player to play vinyls, but when he discussed it with Kimberly, she didn’t think it made sense. They decided against it.
No Credit Score Required
When their daughter moved into her first college apartment, the leasing manager ran a credit check on Brad since he and Kimberly would be paying the rent. She called him, and told him there was a problem. “You don’t have a credit score,” she said, shocked.
“I was so excited,” Brad says with a grin.
Following Ramsey’s advice, the couple uses a debit card and neither has a credit card. And because they don’t have a mortgage or car payments, neither of them has credit scores.
The apartment manager didn’t know what to do with an applicant who clearly had sufficient income but no credit score, he says. Brad told the manager that he could pay for the full year of rent upfront, but the manager said that wouldn’t be necessary and approved the lease.
The success they experienced with Financial Peace University inspired them to start teaching the course themselves. They noticed the program didn’t go deep into budgeting, and since that is their forte, they developed their own budgeting class. It’s been popular—over 50 people took it the last time they offered it-and they have since took it into various businesses and organizations in the community where they live. Brad and Kimberly have also started teaching budgeting to employees at their respective workplaces
Giving to their church and other charities is a priority for the couple and they now have more resources to do that. In addition to their charitable giving, they have a budget category titled “miscellaneous giving,” that allows them to help others when they see a need. “It’s my favorite category,” says Kimberly. “We have just as much fun with that as buying for ourselves,” Brad agrees.
Seeing The World
Without debt, the couple is free to travel more. They were able to travel abroad with their kids, for example, and a few years ago they fell in love with national parks. Their goal is to visit one national park in the US each year and travel abroad once a year.
Physical fitness is an integral part of their lives, and they’ve raced running races in Ireland, Canada, Luxembourg, and London, as well as in the US. They participate in triathlons but try to stick to ones within driving distance since transporting bikes can quickly become expensive.
Even their travel is minimalist, though: on many trips they each just carry a single backpack. Kimberly scouts out great deals, like the weeklong trip they will be taking to Spain and Portugal for just $1,700; total lodging and airfare included. “We’re very flexible,” says Kimberly. “it allows us to travel a little more.”
A few years ago, Brad decided to cut back his work as a hand therapist at the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute to four eight hour days a week. Kimberly, meanwhile, found her dream job as a financial fitness coordinator for Veterans United Home Loans, where she focuses on employee financial and physical health. They both get a lot of satisfaction from their work, but they realize that if their jobs went away tomorrow, their debt-free lifestyle and savings means they wouldn’t suffer. They already know they can get by on far less than they make.
“We have more time for things we enjoy doing when we have less stuff,” says Brad.