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Conquering Debt (Part 2 of 2)

Air Date 01/06/2016

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Brian and Cherie Lowe offer encouragement and advice for living with financial freedom in a discussion based on Cherie's book, Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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John Fuller: Every day "Focus on the Family" brings you the very best in marriage and parenting advice and we welcome your feedback. Stop by Take our Listener Survey and let us know how we're helping your family thrive.

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John: One of our guests on the last "Focus on the Family" radio program, Cherie Lowe, shared a "eureka moment" that she experienced in the midst of paying off a large amount of consumer debt.


Cherie Lowe: I was actually shopping Christmas clearance, which is one of the best things of the year in January. And things were 90 percent off, and I looked down and I found these placemats that were 19 cents. And then I began to really kind of think about the placemats I already had at home and I didn't need new placemats. And then it dawned on me that we had paid off $127,482 and 30 cents, 19 cents at a time, because we had learned to say no to 19 cents. And if we could say no to 19 cents, we could say no to a dollar ninety. We could say no to $190. We could say no to $1,900, because learning to say no is really the most effective way to pay off debt.

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John: Well, saying no is hard, but today we want to come alongside and give you hope to do that. With hard work and determination, you can pay off even huge amounts of debt. Our host is Focus on the Family president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, what I love about Brian and Cherie is their honesty and that "relatability." They shared last time that they had accrued over $127,000 in boring debt--credit cards, student loans, medical bills, not fun stuff like vacations and other things. And their journey to pay off that debt began with you, Brian and through that gentle encouragement and I guess, vision casting, you eventually after two years of wrestling internally about this, you were able to get Cherie on board.

And you know what? Here at Focus on the Family, if you're a couple that's struggling in this kind of an area, we want to be there to help you. Don't be embarrassed to call and to get the resources or the tools to help you do better today. Don't wait two years to begin to address it. Let's work together to get you in a better place.

John: And our number here is 800-A-FAMILY. Now we've got all these resources, including Cherie's book called Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After. We also have this conversation on CD. We began last time and that's a pretty crucial framework for you to understand where we're at in today's discussion. That's also available as an instant download or you can listen on our free mobile app. You'll find all of this at .

Now the Lowe's live in Greenwood, Indiana. They've got two girls and Cherie writes quite a bit. She's got a very popular blog called "Queen of Free."


Jim: Brian and Cherie, last time we left off and we were talking about how the two of you began to tackle your debt and I want to hear more about that today. But I'm curious, how did this affect your children? How old are your daughters right now?

Brian Lowe: Right now they're 13 and 7.

Jim: So, you've done this over the last how many years?

Brian: Well, between April 2nd of 2008 until just before that in 2012 was the journey of paying off the $127,000. So, they were much younger then and it's real easy to take a look at that number and think that, that just happened overnight. But we had a child go from birth, because she was born right before that began, into a child that was reading, literally. So, four years is a rather long time of day-to-day, but they were definitely a part of the journey. And I'm confident that you need to make your kids part of the journey in an age-appropriate way.

Jim: How did you do that?

Brian: One of the ways that we did it was explain what we were doing. We would set small short-term goals. You know, here's what's happening. It's sort of the monster under the bed theory. If you don't explain to the kids what is happening with the money, they're going to make something up. They're going to make something up and it's going to be fearful and frightful.

You may think you're having conversations in private, but your kids know. They know if you're stressed out over money. They know if you're fighting about money. They know if money is tight. But it will be the worst-case scenario in a child's mind. So, explaining it in a very practical, pragmatic way to your kid in an age-appropriate way is the best way to go.

Jim: Let me ask you this. You know, for that honesty factor. I mean, some children, they're gonna see something or their friends will have something and there can be, you know, tremendous disappointment that they know, maybe even guilt on their part that they can't ask you about it, 'cause they know you can't afford it. Did you ever have that kind of experience? Or maybe through your blog, Cherie, did you ever have parents express that, that you know, many of us as parents, we overindulge our kids.

Cherie: Uh-hm.

Jim: Right? I mean, that's the bottom line—

Cherie: Oh, yeah.

Jim: --because it brings joy to them to see them have or do the things that they like to do. And so, we spoil them in that way.

Cherie: Definitely.

Jim: When we've gotta say no, some kids can be really disappointed. How do you handle that emotion as a parent when they're so disappointed that they can't do that thing or get that thing?

Cherie: So, to begin with, I always encourage people that, that desire and that longing to give good gifts to your children, that is a mark of the image of God on your heart. And He longs to give us good gifts as His children and so, that we would want to turn around and do that for our children is just a natural way that we have been divinely created and I love that.

Jim: That is good.

Cherie: At the same time, it can turn into a weakness if we're not careful. And I think that idea of sacrificing something for a long-term goal really can translate to kids and I tell a story in particular in the book about our oldest daughter, Anna, who's now 13, but she was 7 at the time.

And we were in a very large retail store with a red target (Laughter), that bulls-eye store. And she had found a toy in particular on the shelf that she wanted really bad. And she looked at it and she said, "Mom, you know, I really want this, but I know we're working to pay off the credit card bill." And we had allowed her to choose what we do to celebrate that and that was to go to a local theme park, water park, indoor water park. And she said, "I want this toy, but I want to go to the water park more." And she put it back on the shelf and I did like looked around, like, did anybody else see that? Like this is—

Jim: That's my girl!

Cherie: --so exciting. And to help them along that journey of realizing to have something else, sometimes we have to say no to smaller things, I think is just a lesson all of us need to learn. I wish I would've learned it earlier in my adulthood even. But I think you can help captivate their heart. We also try not to use the phrase, "We can't afford that," because it creates the sense of scarcity.

Jim: Right.

Cherie: So, it may be more along the lines of, "We're choosing not to do that right now," instead of "We can't afford that," which can become kind of a real negative thing. We're choosing to do this instead.

Jim: Right, I like that, that we're choosing this over that. Talk about and you've mentioned it a couple times here, The Queen of Free, your blog. I love that title. What is that about and what are some of the, I guess, inquiries or dialogue that's taking place on Queen of Free.

Cherie: Yes, so I set up back in 2008 just as we began our journey, mainly because I love free things. And (Laughter) sounds a little shallow, but ever since I was a little girl, I had this book where you could write away and send a self-addressed stamped envelope, which no one does anymore, but they would send you free items in the mail.

And I began to find free things online. I'm very good at it and I would e-mail friends and family and tell them, "Hey, you can get free tea at Chick-fil-A today or there's this great coupon at the mall that gets you something else for free.

And inevitably, I left someone off the e-mail list and they would say, "Oh, I wish I would've known." And I began the website kind of as a clearinghouse for people to go there and over the years, it's developed into a community, where I'm able to share not just free items, but frugal living tips, wisdom when it comes to money, parenting and marriage ideas as it comes to paying off debt and what it looks like to live intentionally with your finances. So, it's been fun and because of that, I've gotten to speak to a lot of people, hear their stories and be just as encouraged by their process of paying off debt as they were by ours.

Jim: Well, and it sounds like you know, an important factor of getting out of debt and living well on a budget is support groups and that leads to the other point. With friendships, that could be a bit of a strain, because your friends may want to do things and you're thinking, okay, that wouldn't be the way I'd spend $100 and so, we're not gonna be able to go with you this weekend. What did you do in that friendship space in order to make sure that your friends were supportive of what you were doing?

Brian: Well, again, like Cherie talked about earlier, that bringing the darkness into the light and the darkness loses its power, we had told our friends what it was that we were doing. And I'm sure they did awesome expensive things, but we weren't asked to be a part of that. They knew what we were doing and they loved us enough not to try to bring us into the mix on that. What I would encourage people to do if they're in that situation is to get better friends.

Jim: Like (Laughter) did it change your relationship—

Brian: It—

Jim: --with them at all?

Brian: --I think it built community. We are made for community. You know, God is community and our relationship with God is part of that community, as well and our outreach to others is important. And we have a great community group that we've led for about eight years now and they are fantastic. And one of the most amazing things that happened and I'm not a weeper, but when we paid off all of our debt, at our small-group meeting that evening, there was a cake and some sparkling cider and the cake just had the word "Freedom" written across it.

And our group knew how important it was to us. It inspired some of them to go through a similar journey, as well and they are now free from the chains of debt also. So, you go through that together and you bring other people along with you. It's important to have a support network and community. It's also important to have people that are going through the same journey, as well.

Jim: So, you can talk together.

Brian: You can talk about some of the similar struggles.

Jim: Problem solve.

Brian: Problem solve together.

Jim: Let me ask you this. The end of this journey now, the end of the road puts you in a better place. Talk about the ability to give in the name of the Lord, the ability, that freedom that you talked about. What's the environment like today compared to 2008 when you saw this mound of debt? What does that freedom look like?

Cherie: So much fun. (Laughter)

Brian: It's a lot of fun.

Cherie: It's so much fun. We sat down. We've been mentoring a couple for the last three years who just got married this summer and we put a rather large amount of cash into an unmarked box and handed it to them at dinner and I thought that they were going to just leave it there in the restaurant. And we just kind of were like, "Yea, this is so much fun and that couldn't have been possible if we hadn't paid off this debt. And not just giving to the local church and to ministries that we call, you know, feel strongly called toward supporting, but those little things like buying somebody's groceries at the grocery store or you know, doubling the amount on the bill at the restaurant to, you know, encourage a young person who is waiting on us. Those things have been for me, some of the biggest blessings and the most fun things that we've done since paying off debt.

Jim: Have your daughters picked up on that? I'm sure they're watching this and seeing this now that they're teenagers and they're going, "Wow!"

Brian: They have and it's just a part of their life. You know, your kids are going to learn about money from you, whether you're good with it or bad with it, whether you're generous or not generous. They learn by watching. More is caught than taught and it's not a surprise to them if we pick up somebody's bill at a restaurant, because they're in fatigues or because there's a single mom or because we just want to. This isn't a big deal for them and occasionally, our eldest will kind of look at me and we don't even communicate with words and she just knows, just go ahead and take care of that.

We have an entire budget that, it's not an envelope. It's an online savings account and we have nicknamed it, 'cause we can do that with our bank, nicknamed it "Generous" and that's awesome.

Jim: Now I think that's wonderful and that is really the upside of the discipline that you've done over these last many years. I mean, this is where it does become fun.

Cherie: Uh-hm and we've done other fun things, too. We've gone on vacation as a family. Some of those things that we gave up while we were paying off debt, we've been able to do for ourselves, but I think again, it's always more blessed to give than it is to receive.

Jim: It's a truism; it's scriptural. You know, we've talked a lot about getting through the process and getting on the right side of expenses and those kinds of things. Some might be thinking, it sounds a bit sugar-coated. I could never get out of the debt that I'm into. But talk about the hard side of that once again. What would be one thing that you would identify as the hardest thing that you had to go through in this process?

Brian: There's no good time to pay off debt. There's only today. When we started to pay off debt, we had just had our second child. We had medical bills that we knew that were going to come and be a part of that big total. They weren't in yet; it was so fresh. And when you have a new baby coming and you haven't planned for a long time, it's daunting and it's difficult and there's not a boatload of money that's going to be coming in so that you can get a head start.

But we began and we took that step. We also kind of forgave each other and asked for forgiveness for not being a good steward of our finances and moved on from there, and one step at a time. There's so many [sic] great ideas in the book and so many things that we've done you find on Cherie's website that are helpful to be able to do that. But we would caution folks that are just beginning, not to try to do all of them at once. It won't end well. You know, if we would've done some of the things that we did in year four, if you told us we were going to do those in year one, we would've thought you were crazy.

Jim: That's a good point. I mean, it really is a good point, because you can get overwhelmed. And I was gonna ask about that and Cherie, with your blog and the people you counsel, the attrition factor here. You know, of course, usually the first of the year people are starting and maybe by February or March, they're done, 'cause they just can't keep the discipline of it. Speak to that couple, maybe a young couple, maybe an older couple and they've started with good intentions, but two to three months into it, they're not staying focused and they're not achieving it. So, rather than fight through that, they're thinking about bailing out. What would you say to them?

Cheri: Well, author John Trent has this great idea of the two-degree difference and that is, that if we make small change over time, it adds up and that's much more sustainable than making a rapid change overnight and we know this.

If you try to change your habits toward exercise or nutrition or even disciplining your kids, if you make too hard of a change, then you'll fall off the wagon. It will not go well. I always use the example of, if you're a diehard Diet Coke drinker and you say, you know, "Tomorrow, never again as long as I live and I'm never gonna drink it again," and then by the end of the week, you're probably going to be sitting in a, you know, mass of cans smashed on the floor (Laughter) in some sort of saccharin, you know, sort of driven experience, but it's just not sustainable. You have to gradually move toward that change and pick one thing, one area to focus on to begin with.

So, we didn't do everything overnight. I didn't get up the next morning and say, "Okay, now I'm gonna make my own laundry detergent. And now we're gonna, you know, call the companies and change our billing and we're gonna do all these things tomorrow." Instead, we took small steps of obedience in the right direction. And you'll find that once you find some success, that motivates you toward making more sacrifices or just looking at your money differently.

Jim: Brian, I so appreciate the openness about not eating out and that was a commitment you made as a family and for 2 ½ years you didn't do it. Certainly, for Jean and I, when we look at our budget, that's an area where for us, we're both always concerned about, 'cause we're on the go so much. We're traveling a lot together and eating out just becomes a way of life. But when you look at it, I mean, I was thinking the other day, a fast-food stop for my boys and I was like $23 and it caught my attention. This was like for a breakfast sandwich for all three of us. And I was thinkin', this is ridiculous, but it adds up, doesn't it?

Brian: It does add up and for me, it wasn't about a morning muffin as much as it was a leadership issue. And leadership comes in a lot of different forms and I think it's real easy to try to use words to lead, as opposed to using what you do day to day to actually lead your family and lead it well.

We had this big journey and I had cast this vision long, so for me, it was all hands on deck. Anything you can do to try to defeat this dragon and if that meant cutting back at restaurants, then that was something that I was going to try to do. It wasn't actually the first time that I had tried, that 2 ½ year stretch. I'd tried to go just 30 days. I think I made it a New York minute. In other words (Laughter), there were some bagels at church. I'm not even a bagel fan, but they were there and I just forgot.

But then the next stretch, it took about 40 days or so, for kind of the desire and the habit of going to restaurants to go way and 90 days when I just didn't care. And it was a pretty easy fix over time and I set these arbitrary rules for doing it. So, there was nothing, even if it was free, so if the folks that I worked with were bringing in pizza, I wasn't gonna have it. If it was water, I wasn't gonna drink it, because you have to set that line somewhere.

You know, if it's an illegal substance and you have a problem with an illegal substance, if it's free, it's still an illegal substance. It doesn't change the nature of it and I had a problem with eating out at restaurants and so, I treated it like an addiction and that helped. And because we were spending that much money less, anything or anywhere where we saved, it went toward the goal of paying off debt.

Jim: So, to make that step doable, you would suggest, I'm hearing you suggest aim for 30 to 40 days and just give that a run. Even if you stumble a bit, restart the clock. Get to 30, 40 days and you'll find out how irrelevant it becomes.

Brian: Well, with any change, it's day to day. You know, start with today and then tomorrow is yet another day. And each day after that, you just keep going and then eventually it just becomes a crazy streak. And then you don't want to break the streak and it keeps going. I found it actually harder to give that up than I thought it was going to be, to actually eat at a restaurant again.

The funny thing was, you know, restaurants are great and they're convenient. I'm not knocking restaurants, but that first meal back was amazing. The second meal was really good. The third meal was great, but after that, everything just tasted the same. So, I think we get induced [sic] by the convenient of it and really, if you think about the time that you spend going somewhere, you could do most of that at home.

Jim: Again, great advice. Talk about the difference or the attributes, I guess, the character, the godly character of contentment and gratitude, 'cause that's a big part of the book, as well. In this environment where you're smothered with debt, it's hard to have those attributes, isn't it? To be grateful and to have gratitude toward the Lord for your environment, for the house you live in, for the car you drive, for whatever it might be, how do you develop a stronger heart of gratitude and contentment?

Cherie: So, one of the things you need to do is control your influences a little bit. And I can remember struggling deeply when we were about two years into the journey and turning on my computer and signing onto social media and beginning to see how everybody else had an awesome life, and I was at home in a stained T-shirt and gym shorts that I'd had since college and you know, it was one of those situations where I thought, everybody else is out for dinner, and everybody else is havin' an awesome vacation, and here we sit and God, do You really care that we're making these sacrifices?

And then I began to reflect on the really good things that had happened that week, that our daughters had played in the sprinkler, and that sprinkler Brian had made out of PVC pipe was worth more to us than a trip to the water park. And that, you know, I love iced tea. That's like one of my favorite things, and I can make that at home and it doesn't cost me hardly anything at all.

Jim: Probably tastes better, too.

Cherie: Yeah, I think so, too. I definitely think so. So, you know, I began to just count those blessings and I will say that gratitude fights off those "give me" feelings, that temptation of greed. It is the opposite and if you can fill your heart up with gratitude and you begin looking around your house and think, "Wow, we have so much stuff that we make a trip to Goodwill to get rid of our stuff," you know. We have so much already, and that's an essential part of the journey, too. It's not as glamorous. Everybody loves when you pay off the debt. Nobody thinks about those days in between, necessarily, but we know that, you know, that ending will be a blessing, because you started and you did the difficult things.

Jim: You know, some of us are motivated by that finish line and you've talked a little bit about what that finish line looked like, but give us the emotion of that day and take us through what happened when you finally paid it off. I mean, I'd probably be burning things. I mean, like you know, the payment due notice or something like that. What did you do to celebrate that day?

Brian: Well, we knew it was coming and because we had it within about 30 days that we knew just based on what we had been doing, it was going to happen, well, turned out money came in early and Cherie actually didn't know. So, based [on that], I just left work. I left work. I went to the bank, made a deposit. Cherie had gone without things for some time.

And I went and I basically just bought her a Hanes five-pack. (Laughter) And you know, nothing weird or extravagant or anything like that, but I had known she had gone without and you know, we had made sacrifices. And I just wanted it to be kind of this moment, this very odd Ebenezer stone, where we could say, you know what? It's over. You know, we don't have to live like that anymore. And it was amazing. You know, and I came home and I handed her the deposit slip and I don't think she believed it at first.

And when you see tears in your wife's eyes, you know, because of the power of the journey, I mean, that's four years of scraping and pointing and wonder if it was going to happen. When we began all of this, we thought it was gonna take 15 years, you know, $127,000 is a lot of money, especially when you still have your day-to-day bills that you've gotta pay. Still gotta pay for health insurance. You still gotta pay for, you know, your house and other living expenses, your utilities. And it was done

Jim: Okay, I'm sitting here. I'm driving down the road. I'm thinking about this. My spouse, this is something I've been wanting to talk to her about for months and we do have some amount of debt. I'm worried about it. We're stretched so thin. What would you say to me?

Cherie: Start with love, and remember why you walked down the aisle. And I always tell people, you are on the same team together and there was a reason why you chose each other and there was a reason why you stood in front of God and your friends and your family and you said, "I will cherish you," and that is the most important thing. Money is not the most important thing. Getting out of debt is not the most important thing at all.

But if you begin there, I think your heart's more prepared to communicate a message and then secondly, that casting that vision. That just really grabbed my heart strings and said to me, you know what? This might be possible, but what if it is?

Jim: Well, that's well-said. That is so well-said. Look to the future. That vision is what I'm hearing from you and you had hope. This is Brian and Cherie Lowe, their book, Slaying the Debt Dragon. This has been a great discussion. Thanks for bein' with us.

Cherie: Oh, thank you so much.

Brian: Thanks for having us.


John: And what a great reminder about the need for good communication in the marriage, to work hard and to seek God's guidance as you pay off debt. And then with His help, achieve a life of financial freedom. To that end, the Lowe's book is a must-read, providing dozens of debt-slaying strategies to help you. You'll find a copy and a CD or instant download of this two-part conversation at .

Now while you're at the site, look for our special offer for you from our partners at Finicity. It's a new custom financial program designed to give you some tools and accountability that is so important to build up an emergency fund and pay off your debt and develop cash savings and prepare for a great retirement. Learn more online or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Now here at Focus, we hear from so many couples who are really struggling in this area of finances. One's a spender and one's a saver or neither are savers. If you're at a point where the relationship is fracture and you need to talk with someone, please know that we have caring Christian counselors on staff. They can have an initial consultation with you and then refer you to someone in your own area to have an ongoing discussion with.

And then here at the close of our program, let me invite you to become a financial supporter of this ministry. Last year alone we were able to help more than 660,000 households build stronger, healthier, more God-honoring families. But we need your help to continue the mission. No donation is too small and today, with your donation of any amount, we'll send a copy of Slaying the Debt Dragon as our way of saying thanks for joining our support team. Contribute when you call 800-A-FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we hear a powerful conversation with Tricia Goyer in which she shares her story of walking through a teen pregnancy.


Tricia Goyer: We just think, I can't do this. I don't have enough strength. I can't handle the people's stares. I can't handle the comments. But just know that God has a good plan for you and He can bring beauty out of something that's really hard.

End of Excerpt

John: That's tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Cherie Lowe

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Through her blog Queen of Free, Cherie Lowe offers practical strategies for saving money and pursuing a debt-free life. She encourages her readers with her inspirational story of how her family managed to pay off a debt of more than $127,000. Cherie's story has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, and she makes a weekly appearance as a savings expert on an NBC Television news affiliate in Indianapolis. Cherie is author of the book Slaying the Debt Dragon. She and her husband, Brian, have two daughters.


Brian Lowe

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Brian Lowe is a public speaker and blogger who offers practical advice for breaking free of debt and staying debt-free. He and his wife, Cherie, offer encouragement with their inspirational story of how they managed to pay off a debt of over $127,000. Brian and Cherie reside in Indiana with their two daughters. Learn more about Brian and find financial wisdom at his blog, King of Free.