At 26, life was looking pretty good for Kendall Berry. She had a growing career in social work, and was earning a good living to boot. Along with her husband, she had done something few people her age have been able to accomplish: she had bought a house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But, that was only half of the picture. The couple was carrying $53,962 of debt total: $34,181 in student loans, $18,781 of car loans, and $1,000 in credit card debt.
My husband and I all of a sudden just looked up one day and realized ‘Wow, we have a lot of debt.’
“My husband and I all of a sudden just looked up one day and realized ‘Wow, we have a lot of debt,'” Berry told The Money Manual. It was particularly troubling when she weighed her future family life. “I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to stay home with our children if we continued to have this debt because we definitely needed two incomes in order to make our bills work.”
It was an a-ha moment that set Berry into motion.
The Beginnings Of A Debt Free Journey
“One Saturday I just decided, you know what? I need to do some research to figure out how you pay off debt. I had never thought of it before and I’m not sure how I’d never thought of it before.”
Dave Ramsey’s name came up during her research. She began looking into his “baby steps” and she thought it sounded like a good idea. However, her husband wasn’t completely on board at first.
“He felt like we already knew everything we needed to know and at least we were making enough money that we could out make any spending habits that we had,” she said.
However, when the couple’s church announced that they were holding a financial peace class she signed them both up.
“I think sometimes it can be hard for both of us to receive teaching on something that we feel we should already be good at,” Berry shared. “But once we got into the class it was very helpful for both of us. We were all in after that.”
After Berry and her husband finished the course, they got their debt paid off in under seven months, something they were able to do because they were both working and bringing in good salaries. “We really just hit the debt with every extra penny that we had,” Berry shared.
After they paid off their debts, they cash flowed a car for her husband (around $10,000) and a number of home repairs ($4,750). Over the next nine months, they built up their emergency funds and were able to save about $25,000.
Becoming debt free had unexpected positive consequences for Berry, too. For instance, she was able to quit her job last summer when she fell ill, partially related to work burnout.
“I could never have known… that when we decided to pay off our debt why I would need to stop working, but it was just such a blessing to be able to [stop] when I needed to,” she shared.
It was during that time off from working that Berry began to realize how passionate she was about financial freedom and helping others discover the same financial freedom her and her husband had found.
Berry took Ramsey’s Financial Coach Master Training course and then started her own financial coaching business.
“Debt freedom is available to you,” Berry says. “If you’re waiting for a sign, take this as your sign. Start getting control of your finances. Nothing worth having is easy, but you’re going to thank yourself later for trying. I think so many people just feel hopeless and I really want people to know that there is hope and there is a way out of debt.”
PSA: Home Ownership Is Expensive
Along Berry’s debt free journey she’s had some key money realizations. One has been around home ownership. Berry currently owns her home with her husband. They bought the house before they got on their debt free journey. She doesn’t necessarily regret buying a home, but she does admit that she would have gone about it differently knowing what she knows now. She encourages everyone to fully understand what they are getting into before they buy a home first and foremost.
I don’t think people understand how expensive it is to own a house.
“I don’t think people understand how expensive it is to own a house,” she says.
In the last three years, the couple has had $35,500 worth of unexpected repairs. From the dishwasher flooding the entire kitchen to the basement flooding, they’ve had to replace every single appliance.
“I just tell people it’s worth it to wait until you’re ready,” she says. “I know that it’s exciting to buy a house, but it’s not exciting to own a house and have things go wrong and not have money to pay for it.”
Think Long And Hard About College Debt
Another key money learning for Berry has been around college debt. “I would probably go back in time and shake myself really hard,” Berry shared of her decision to go into student loan debt.
As as a senior in high school she had turned down a full ride scholarship to an in-state school to attend a private college out of state and ended up in $34,181 of student loan debt.
“I don’t regret it in the sense that I met my husband while I was there and it was a great four years, but oh my gosh, I didn’t apply for scholarships, I didn’t do any of the things that I would suggest that people do now because I just didn’t think it was a big deal,” she says. “It’s hard for me to even go back and think ‘How did I not think it was a big deal to take [out] student loans?’ Total mindset change.”
Berry encourages everyone to apply for scholarships, to retake the SAT or ACT to make sure they are getting the most out of grants, and to work while they’re in college to try their best to do it without debt. For those who do end up in debt at the end of the day, remember, it’s not hopeless.
It can be so easy to just want to push [the debt] off and not think about it but I think there’s just so much freedom that comes from knowing the numbers, knowing what you are going to do about it and working the process.
“It can be so easy to just want to push [the debt] off and not think about it but I think there’s just so much freedom that comes from knowing the numbers, knowing what you are going to do about it and working the process.
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All Images: Sandy Berry For The Money Manual