Tammy Helfrich

Life begins right where you are.

I don’t want to talk about this

I don’t talk about this subject much on my blog. In fact, I don’t think I’ve done one post about it. I’ve hinted to it a little, but it’s not something I really like to write about. Rick and I are very private about this subject and have not shared details with many people.

What is it?

Photo credit: Creative Commons (vipez)

Photo credit: Creative Commons (vipez)



There’s a reason most of us don’t talk about it. It’s embarrassing!

Who wants to admit they have it?

Who wants to be out in the open about their STUPID financial decisions from the past?

I certainly haven’t wanted to.

Yes, we’ve talked to friends and even took a class to help us more than four years ago. It was called Financial Peace University, by Dave Ramsey. Yes, the same Dave Ramsey that I referenced on Monday.

Which leads me to why I decided it was time to write this post. We had the chance to meet him last week. And I told him what most people probably do when they meet him. I thanked him for what he does, and thanked him for helping us get our finances in order. I also told him I couldn’t wait to come on his show and scream our Debt Free Scream. I got to tell him this in person. And I meant it.

This brief meeting, as well as my Pastor’s talk on Finances this weekend (listen here), nudged me to finally have the courage to write this post. Because, if I’m honest, this is one I want to keep inside. I truly only planned to write about it when we had conquered it. When we could look back on it with satisfaction and know that we had actually done it.


Sometimes, I think we are supposed to write about our experiences before we think we are ready. (Tweet that!)

This is one of the things my Pastor said this weekend.

“If you’re not generous now, you won’t be generous ‘then’ either.” Scott Hodge

I heard him say this in a similar teaching more than four years ago. I remember breaking out in tears when he said it. All of my life, I have wanted to be generous. I have wanted to help others. I have wanted to make a difference. But at that time, we weren’t being generous. We couldn’t. We had mortgaged our life for things that didn’t really matter. We were extremely broken financially. Heck, we were barely surviving!

I will go into more of the details another time, but the quick version is that we had enjoyed making a decent living for most of our married life. I have always been in sales. My income fluctuates. Some years were great.  Others were okay. But, for the most part, we did well. We started our marriage in debt, and somehow it continued to grow at larger proportions along with our income. We “managed” it well. Our credit was excellent. I remember saying so many times that we had a lot of debt, but great credit scores and the income to back it up. We always drove newer cars. We bought things we wanted. We took trips. Usually paid for with credit cards. Life was good. We’d eventually pay it all off. Someday!

Then, one day, out of the blue, the housing industry started shifting. Fast! The mortgage industry that had been so good to me started to crumble. I was caught in quicksand. I was part of the collapse of an entire industry. My income plummeted by more than 2/3. Ouch! And I quickly found myself unemployed.

Again, there is so much more to this story that I will save for another day. The bottom line was that when the regular income that sustains your lifestyle and helps you “manage” your debt is dramatically decreased, life gets hard in a hurry. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough to cover everything. The water was coming in the boat, and it was rising fast. We were holding our breath.  We’d never been underwater before.

How could this happen to us? What would we do?

When I heard my Pastor’s sermon, we were close to drowning. We didn’t know how we would make it, honestly. I had been unemployed for a while and actually had just gotten hired on with a new company, which we were excited about. I wanted DESPERATELY to be generous. I’m a giver. I wanted to give something. Anything! But we were in over our heads.

That sermon was also the first time I also heard about Financial Peace University. We were going to be offering it at our church! We were interested, but could barely scrape together the $100 for the class. Looking back, it seems so crazy, but I am so happy that we made the decision to stop the madness and take a small step towards change.

I was absolutely scared to death! I had heard by then that one of the first things Dave asks you to do is cut up your credit cards. WHAT????? How is that even possible? How do people survive without credit cards? I couldn’t even fathom it at that time.

I also heard that we would then be splitting up into groups to talk about what we learned. Ugh! No way! I was too embarrassed to share anything with anyone else. Thankfully, we clicked with our group quickly. And do you know what? We realized that we were not alone. In fact, some of them were even in a more difficult position than we were. I was stunned!

Taking that class made us do something we had not been willing to do. It made us face the number. The number we had been too afraid to face before then. It was not easy. My chest tightened just thinking about it!

But, we did it. And we worked the plan. And we started getting back on track. We looked at our money differently. We no longer used credit cards. We were making progress!

Fast forward to today. While we have followed Dave’s main principles, we did not stick one hundred percent with the program. Honestly, things changed quickly as my job was back in line with the higher income I was used to, and the opportunity to make even more with my commission structure. Our main objective was to pay off debt. And we have consistently been doing that. While we are not completely there yet, at the end of last year, I started looking at our finances again. I had started to notice some old spending habits creep slowly back into our lifestyle. We have not added to our debt, as we don’t use credit cards, but we were just starting to coast a little again.

After meeting Dave last week, it prompted me to go back and look at some of our original FPU papers and budgets. Because I haven’t consistently been using the debt snowball, I had lost sight of the bigger picture and where we started. I was thrilled to see our progress. We have paid off over 70% of our credit card debt!!! And that doesn’t include a car loan that we also paid off during that time. I was stunned, to be honest. I knew we had made progress, but that got me so excited. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So what else has changed in the last four years?

Our income has continued to climb again, which is always nicer than the alternative. But there is a big difference this time. Our lifestyle has not kept up with the increase. In fact, it’s actually decreased. We have made significant changes in how we spend our money. We are much smarter about where our money is going.

Guess what has been even more encouraging to me? Our giving has dramatically increased over the last four years. Each year, we have given more to our church and other charitable organizations. We’ve been able to contribute to unique projects, and give back to our community. I love that!

So, as you can see, we are certainly not experts. As I talk about FPU again, I wish we had been more disciplined with the original principles and stuck with it better. But, we’re not beating ourselves up about it. That light at the end of the debt tunnel is shining brighter, and beckoning us to draw towards it. We can see the $0 credit card bills. We can hear ourselves screaming our Debt Free scream!

I don’t say any of this to make you feel bad about your financial choices, or to pass any judgment. Believe me, I know we have all made mistakes! I just know that the few people we have shared our story with have been encouraged. I am also convinced that it is extremely hard to chase your dreams and live life differently when you are trapped in the grips of debt. There is nothing worse than wanting to be generous, but not being able to be due to debt. But don’t just take my word for it.

I’d love to introduce you to some people who HAVE successfully paid off their debt and encouraged me. Their stories are amazing. People like Scott, who has paid off over $100K in debt. He is an amazing guy, and his story energizes me.

People like Julie, who help others adopt without debt. How amazing is that? She’s the author of Adopt without Debt. I met her right after she was able to give Dave Ramsey a copy of her book in Nashville. If you know someone who is thinking of adopting, buy them this book!

And then there’s Jen. Iron Jen. She has an incredible story. They paid off over $150K in debt, and she’s a tri-athlete. Her book is incredibly inspiring and will encourage you to change your life. I do admit that her book gave me some chest tightening as well, as I relived some of the angst and feelings that she so eloquently describes that accompany drowning in debt. But she overcomes. And her book is incredibly inspiring.

So, there you have it. A good portion of our story that I did not want to tell. It was not easy for me to write. But, I truly felt that it needed to be told. If I can help one person understand that they are not alone, and that there is hope, then it will be worth it for me.

Also, there are FPU courses held all around the country. We’re even getting ready to start a new session at our church in the next few weeks. You can also find out more about it online.

What about you? Can you relate to any of this? Do you have an inspiring debt free story to share?





  1. way to punch fear in the face, tammy! you are so on your way! keep killing that debt! i am a HUGE dave ramsey fan and always love the stories of the folks freakin’ rockin’ the gazelle intensity!

  2. Yay! You’ve made great strides! I agree with Tim… we are huge DR fans in this house. Five years ago, we faced the mountain of debt… 5 years without credit cards… income has declined and giving has remained steady. I can only say “Thank YOU LORD!” for this because this kind of freedom is worth every effort!

  3. Love your honesty! :) I’ve heard so much good stuff about FPU, even though hubby is a finance pro would to take this class!:)

  4. I am not a fan of Dave Ramsey but you keep kicking debt in the tail!!
    ps. but I am a fan of yours!! :)

  5. Tammy, you are Awesome! Thanks, for sharing. My wife and I have been following the Dave Ramsey plan for sometime now. All we have left is our house, can’t wait to drive down to Nashville and give the Debt Free Scream.

  6. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Tammy, thank you for sharing! We are finding ourselves in your situation right now and are looking to taking the FPU and making some major life changes. Just last month it was a terrifying thought but now we are looking ahead with hope!

  8. Thanks for your honesty Tammy! Dave and I have also been on the FPU plan for the last 4 years (took the same class as you!) and have also made INCREDIBLE changes in our spending. We continue to have our weekly budget meeting and use the envelopes consistently. I cannot imagine where we would be now had we not been introduced to DR!

  9. I am so very, very proud of you Tammy! Humbled and totally honored by your kind words. Prepping for a talk on overcoming adversity and your words brought back what we and many others have felt when it comes to adversities such as financial struggles.
    Cheering you here in MN my friend! Keep up the awesome work!!!
    Live beyond awesome!

  10. Great Post Tammy. Very Inspirational.My wife and I are going through the same thing right now. It is amazing how quick debt disappears when you start snowballing. We were sparked by a study at our church by Joseph Sangl(@joesangl). He is great too. I never liked facing the music on our finances, but when he said that creating financial margin was basically funding your dreams, it made me look at it in a whole new light. It’s amazing how easy it is to pay off debt when you realize it’s robbing your dream.

    Also this is a great time to apply the some is better than none principal. It’s easy to say, “Well I can’t go all in on controlling finances, so I may as well not even try” but every little bit helps.

    Again, great post and this topic can be vital to pursuing our passions.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story! FPU really helped my family too.

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