Finance expert Mary Hunt discusses the importance of developing a positive attitude and a strong sense of determination when it comes to taking control of your finances, and offers practical suggestions for eliminating debt and maintaining a debt-free lifestyle.
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Jim: Mary, what role does attitude play in our efforts to get out of debt?
Mary Hunt: Oh, my goodness.
Mary: If I had to quantify that I would say, attitude is 90 percent.
Mary: Money is 10 percent.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, if you found that to be a little bit of a grabber, if you're thinking, wait a minute. Attitude — Mary Attitude.
John: --is 90 percent, then stay tuned to "Focus on the Family." We have a great guest with us. Your host is Jim Daly; I'm John Fuller and we're gonna be talking about not just your attitude, but some practical things that you can do after correcting it, to get ahold of your money and to reduce your debt.
Jim: Well, it's always a good thing. You know, John, here at Focus on the Family, we talk about what contributes to the breakdown of marriage and finances are usually right up at the top of the list, No. 1 or 2 and that's why we come back to this topic frequently to help people and equip people who are struggling in this area. And it's easy to struggle in this economy and you know, all the expenses that we face. At the end of the month, there just isn't enough paycheck to cover some of those expenses and we're gonna talk about that today.
Mary's been here before. She knows what it's like to crawl out of incredible financial debt. Mary, at one time when she was younger, had accumulated over $100,000 in consumer debt before she realized what was happening and kinda confessed that to her husband and we've heard that story. Certainly, you can go back to the archive and download or get the CD if you want to hear that part of it.
Jim: It took a lot of work for her and her husband to come out on the other side and Mary is talking from that experience, which I think speaks louder than any degree you could have.
Jim: And Mary, let me welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."
Mary: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
John: And one of the books that Mary has written, a number of them, of course, have been helpful, but we're going back to Debt-Proof Living: How to Get Out of Debt and Stay That Way. There are a couple of chapters in here that we'll be plumbing on today's conversation.
Jim: Mary, let's get with it. When did you realize your attitude towards debt had to change before your bank account would change?
Mary: Well, do you want the exact day?
Jim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Mary: September the 17th, 1982.
Jim: There you go; you've got it.
Mary: How about 10 o'clock in the morning? (Chuckling)
Jim: And what happened?
Mary: Oh, wow, well, we had come through, my husband and I, we'd been married for 12 years and I came into my marriage planning to be rich, grateful that I was marrying a banker and I would never have to worry about money again.
Jim: Oh, my goodness, that makes the story even better. You married a banker.
Mary: (Laughing ) I married my--
Mary: --banker and of course, he had no idea that I was (Sigh) troublesome when it comes to money. I would write hot checks. I had this thing that I wanted to have everything. I wanted it now and of course, I couldn't when I was on my own. So, marrying a rich man really, really helped, so I thought.
But when I realized that his salary wasn't that fabulous, I mean, it was ordinary, but my expectations were extraordinary and I got mixed up with credit cards. You know, I got one, then I got two, and then I got four and then I got eight and I was never, ever going to use them.
Jim: You mention credit card almost like you would talk about the Mafia. That's—
Jim: --interesting. (Laughing)
Mary: --for me.
Jim: I got mixed up with credit cards.
Mary: Well, I did.
Jim: I got mixed up with the mob.
Mary: You know, you make a good point and truly believe, I'm gonna be really honest here, the consumer credit industry that is fairly new in our society, 40-, 50-years-old, that's about what it is, maybe a little older than that. I've been talking about it for a while, but I mean, my grandfather would have never in a million years, ever, ever spent money he didn't have.
Mary: A credit card? But that industry has changed the mind-set of society—
Mary: --that, that is ordinary. Everyone needs it. And they spend a[n] awful lot of money in marketing to do that and I was their dream customer.
Jim: Why? What attributes did you possess?
Mary: I easily believed the fact that I was a good person if I could qualify for a credit card and it—
Jim: So, it affirmed you.
Mary: --it gave me significance. That's it. It gave me significance and it said that I had this money in the form of a credit limit.
Jim: In the form of a bill.
Mary: It's my money. Yeah, well, I never saw it that way.
Mary: I gotta tell you, I'm not happy to say this, I saw it as a gift from God. I saw it as His provision.
Mary: My husband made this much money. We had this much credit limit. If that was 30 or $40,000 added up, that was like a boost to our income.
Jim: Did you and your husband ever sit down at a table, him being the banker and you talk about how you would view credit, how you viewed money? And did you—
Jim: --have that little discussion over dinner and—
Jim: --the banker say, "You know, honey, it doesn't quite work that way."
Mary: No, never did we have that conversation.
Mary: I'll tell you the conversations we had, it happened once a month right on the docket, because he was paid once a month. Bankers get paid once a month and they get a credit into their bank account. They didn't actually get a paycheck.
And once a month, as he would go to pay the bills and look to see that by the time he allotted for all of the hot checks I'd written, all the overdrafts that I had done and realized that there was only $100 left in his current paycheck and it would start out like this; honey, forgive me; I'm telling the whole world. He'd come in with this look on his face and it'd be, "Do me a favor," you know, kind of a sarcastic and my blood would run cold. "Do me a favor. If you're gonna spend it, at least tell me; record it. Look what you've done to us." And so, it wasn't much of a discussion; it was fear.
Jim: How long did that go? How many months or years?
Mary: Twelve years.
Jim: Twelve years.
Mary: Twelve years, two children.
Mary: A lot of cars, buying a home. My husband was not unaware, but I think he felt powerless. I mean, what was he gonna do?
Jim: Mary, talk about at that 40,000-foot level, you're a believer. You believe in Jesus. You love the Lord.
Jim: You love your husband. You love your two kids; why was that integration not occurring? Why weren't you thinking this doesn't really honor the Lord when I'm writing hot checks?
Mary: Yeah. This is hard. Jim, this is really hard for me. I grew up in a pastor's family. I could've preached every sermon there was. I knew God's Word. I could quote it backwards and forwards, passages to go to camp. I went to church all my life. I participated. I went to a Christian college. I was on service teams. I did all of that. But until that day on September the 17th, 1982, I think it was all head knowledge.
Mary: It didn't become real to me. It didn't engage my heart and my life in a way that is changing, as God's word can do and the Holy Spirit. And I think it really was at that point that I truly became a child of God—
Mary: --a believer in Jesus Christ.
Jim: Mary, people are hearing this. They're in that spot, maybe not 100,000 in debt, maybe 10, maybe 15, 20. I don't know what each person's debt scenario is and there are probably many that aren't in debt and that's great. Congratulations. What if you're hearing this and you're saying, "Uh-oh, it's me. And what if my husband is sitting next to me and putting elbows into me right now." Do you hear what this woman's saying? What's the first step a person can take to wake up?
Mary: Well, the first step is a lot of attitudinal thing here, but it's some common sense, as well. There's two kinds of debt. To me, the kind of debt that is detrimental and really harmful to your life is unsecured debt.
Secured debt like a mortgage, like a car loan, those things are balanced by the value of the secured item, the house itself. You can sell it. You can get out of that thing. So what I think is just so problematic are unsecured debt. You can think--
Jim: Credit card.
Mary: --right, credit cards and I'm gonna say it, hard, this is gonna be hard, but I think even student loans that are not secured by something that can be sold, given back to the lender in order to forgive the debt, but these are troublesome things.
You know, you have to come to the point and (Sigh) I don't mean to lecture, but I mean, who do you trust? I'll be honest, I trusted MasterCard and Visa to get us out of scrapes and emergencies. It never, honestly, it never dawned on me to trust God.
Mary: I knew the truth that He says, "I will supply your needs. I will take care of you," but I didn't believe it. It was not a deep-felt belief of my heart that steered my attitudes. And so, that's what this attitude thing is all about. As long as you believe in your heart that MasterCard and Visa will always be there for you and that's how you're gonna meet your emergencies, that's the attitude you're gonna have.
Jim: Mary, let's unpack that a little bit. Talk about what's truly an emergency. You know, we talk about the wants and the needs and so much of our society is based on wants. I mean, if we spent our discretionary income on housing and food and utility, many, many people will be able to do that. What we're talkin' about is X-Box and videos and computers and other things, the toys, the gadgets that are marketed to us incessantly.
How do we curb that appetite? We're in a consumer, materialistic environment. How do we in the Christian community particularly, when dollars are tight and we want to give—we need to tithe to the church, we need to support organizations hopefully—but money's tight at the end of the month. We've spent more than we've got. How do we begin to ratchet that down attitudinally to understand that we can't live like that?
Mary: You know, in the book, you know, that we're talking about today, is a chapter, it's called to "Debt Proof Your Attitude." You have to come to the point that you realize that I have to control my thoughts. And as humans, that's where we've got it over the animals. We chose what to think about. As far as what can I afford, what can I not I afford, I mean, that's what debt-proof living is all about.
And the big one is giving. You know, I think anybody who has any income at all or any money over which they have control, which people who don't even have a job have an [un]employment check. I mean, all of us have something.
We have to come to the point, do we believe God's Word or not? Does He say, "It's mine; you are simply a steward of it. I want you to give back to me first." Do you really believe that or not? I had to come to grips with that. I didn't believe it. I didn't. I said it, but when push came to shove, I didn't live it.
And so, it's about debt-proofing our attitudes, so we have to decide these things. You know, am I going to lean on MasterCard and Visa and I'm sure that everybody has a very extreme idea of emergencies, you know, like if my child is dying, you know, and I have no money, but I have credit on my MasterCard, you know, what do I do?
I mean, we've gotta be wise in all of these things, but generally speaking, you have to come to a point where you say, it is not right. It is not right for me to spend money that I do not have.
Jim: Let me ask it; let me ask it this way. When you had the realization after accumulating $100,000 of unsecured debt, what did you stop doing? What were some of the first steps that you said, okay, I'm not gonna get that every month anymore?
Mary: I'll tell you exactly what I stopped doing and it's almost laughable, but in my heart I'm crying, because it is such a turning point. Somehow that day I got home, that my turning point happened while I was at my mother-in-law's house. I had this real experience.
I got home and I made a decision that I was not gonna go to the grocery store every single day. I would go once a week. Now if that sounds like, oh, yeah, right. Like that's gonna do anything. Well, it did. It was a first step.
And I started to have a mind change, that I needed to plan ahead. So, I mean, that was so small, but where that led, the next step was, that I am only going to take cash. I will never take a checkbook again as long as I live to the grocery store. I will—
Jim: Or a credit card.
Mary: --choose plastic, right. Well, back then, they wouldn't even accept it at a grocery store. So then the next step was, well, I'm gonna go two weeks. Well, then that led to cooking at home. Oh, my goodness, we stopped going out to eat. I started writing down how much we spent. So, I mean, it was all of a sudden I started getting these new attitudes and beliefs and it was the catalyst.
John: Well, we're talking today on "Focus on the Family" with Mary Hunt about her book, Debt-Proof Living, specifically how to change your attitude and how your attitude affects your finances in such a significant way. And you can get a CD, a download or the mobile app, so you can listen on the go, as well as a copy of this book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we'll tell you more, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
John: And Mary, one of the next steps and this really caught me in this chapter from the book, was that mail order catalogues were a problem for you.
Mary: A big problem.
John: And I didn't identify with the catalogues, but the mind-set behind it, I can totally understand.
Mary: Oh, my goodness.
John: Explain that.
Mary: Oh, well, they were a real problem for me. Ooh! It was almost like Christmas and Disneyland. I could create that for myself anytime I wanted. So, as I was coming out of this part of my life and realizing that was so wrong and it was just, oh, wasting so much money. See the thing is, you have a new attitude. You have a new thought, a new belief and you truly, truly believe it.
Now you have to realize, what are you going to do to crash through your quitting points? Because every time a mail order catalogue would show up, you know, I'd be tempted not to live by my new beliefs and my new attitude. So, I had some great crazy things. One of them was, is that I would, oh, this is so funny, but I would quickly grab them, one or whatever and I'd take it out to the garbage, the stinky awful garbage can and push it way down below, so--
Jim: To keep you from diggin' it out?
Mary: --because I knew my weaknesses.
Jim: Oh, man.
Mary: I needed to set this up. Then there came another point in my life that as I was gaining strength and we were paying back and I was working now, earning a living to help do away with this debt, I came up with a way that I would allow myself to go shopping in the catalogue and I would fill it all out, the order form. I would do everything but write the check and make myself wait for seven full days.
Then if I could remember anything on that, that I was going, you know, I'd close the envelope up. I would allow myself to go ahead and splurge in whatever it was. Well, that was the greatest thing ever, because as you might imagine, I could never remember what it was. It was all impulsive.
John: Seriously, you'd have an order ready to go and that would be, I guess, the equivalent of Internet shopping and having your cart—
John: --but not making a purchase.
Mary: Absolutely and I knew how much I needed to write the check. I'd write that on the envelope up at the corner, where I was gonna put the stamp. I had it all planned out, but I would make myself, see I was parenting myself a little bit here. I would, living out my debt-proofed attitude, that if I could recall even one thing that was on that order, then I must need it. Otherwise it would head out to the garbage right with the catalogues and it worked and it made me laugh so many times that finally, I just gave up on it, because I knew what was gonna happen.
Jim: That's amazing. I mean, you put it under the last night's fish dinner so you (Laughter) wouldn't take it out. (Laughter) I'm still stuck back there, thinking oh, man. Imagine digging through the garbage looking for that—
John: That would be a—
Jim: --order form?
John: --sign of desperation.
Jim: Yeah. I think I'd say, okay, that's done. (Laughing) But no, I appreciate the honesty of that though, Mary, because it's saying this is a real struggle.
Mary: It is.
Jim: This was a tremendous struggle. In fact, you say in the book, Debt-Proof Living, to start every day with Scripture and positive thoughts. I like that idea. How is that affecting your attitude if you do that?
Mary: Well, as you choose your thoughts, you're able to "unchoose" bad thoughts, okay? You replace them with things that you know to be true. And I won't say that I don't worry anymore, I don't struggle with those kinds of feelings and thoughts, but I've learned to manage them and you know, I think that's in keeping with God's Word.
I mean, Paul says, "Whatsoever things are lovely and of good report" and he goes down the list. "Think on these things."
Mary: And so, I think that each one of us has this most amazing weapon or tool or resource in our hearts and minds. We can choose our thoughts and that's just another way of saying, debt-proofing your attitude—
Mary: --that as it refers to credit and money and how we manage our money, we really can do this.
Jim: Let me ask you this. You mention also in the book about having alternative activities, because so often shopping is filling a need. There's a big of a rush, a dopamine effect that occurs in your brain. People have mapped this, brain researchers. I mean, it's fulfilling a need. It's satisfying you, like a piece of chocolate might.
Jim: So, you talk about creating substitute activity. Mention what that is and is it as gratifying (Laughing). You know, what activity for some people would be equally gratifying as shopping.
Mary: Yeah, the answer is absolutely yes and let me tell you how (Sigh), boy, we're gettin' down to my own personal little secrets here. Of course, I did write about them, but--
Jim: Hey, it's your book. (Laughter)
Mary: --but let's say shopping. Shopping was my antidepressant. That's what I would treat myself [with]. Well, that involved making sure the children are cared for, like my husband's home or someone to keep the kids. I gotta get in the car. I've got to drive to the mall and a lot of steps in order to get this good feeling going on.
So, I realized that there are other things in my life that bring me as much pleasure, but are much quicker, a nap, for instance. I love to take a nap, a bubble bath, now this one is at the top of my list and you're gonna laugh—ironing. (Laughter) I absolutely—
Jim: You're right; I'm laughing.
Mary: --love to iron. I don't know what it is. I have now analyzed myself and so, what I did was, I made a list of these little things that I love to do—
Mary: --that are kind of treats, especially when you're a busy mom. I mean, how many times do you get a chance to take a nap or you would put as much thought into that as you do getting off to the mall or whatever. And so, what I would do would be to change my mind-set by allowing myself to do something else--
Jim: Something you enjoy.
Mary: --more quickly, is that brought me a lot of pleasure. That really would take care of that momentary [urge]. Instead of lingering on all the things I wanted to buy at the mall or things I needed, I would just kill that thought with a much better thought. But I just want to encourage people, No. 1, we're not perfect. You're always gonna have setbacks in anything you endeavor.
An education, you know, getting whatever it is that you're doing with your life, you gotta pick yourself up and keep going. And I have a pastor who said something once that I will never forget. He said, "You know, even when you fall flat on your face, you're still ahead by at least five feet." (Laughter)
You know, and that is so true. I suppose if you were driving in a neighborhood and you hit one car on the lot of cars parked on the side, you wouldn't go, "Oh, well, I hit one, I might as well go hit all of them." No, you would stop and take care of it and then you would regroup.
Mary: And so, that's how it has to be. But I can tell you that in the years that Harold and I mean, our marriage lasted, which is just an absolute miracle. And I'm just so grateful for that and we paid back all of that debt and God has just been so wonderful. We've been able to pay off our mortgage completely. We will be able to go into retirement without debt at all.
Jim: Mary, you talk about not succumbing to the victim mentality. I think our culture has a lot of that goin' on in all different kinds of directions. How do you not become a victim of your credit card? You know, and you blame it on them rather than taking responsibility for your own behavior.
Mary: Well, I think for believers, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, we need to look to His Word. I mean, that's our guidebook. He says, "I will supply your need."
Mary: I need managers. I trust you. I depend on you to be My hands in the world. I mean, I think that God really is looking for good stewards and if we allow our culture, which has become pretty corrupt when it comes to debt and this whole thing of spending way more than you have and then wondering where in the world you're gonna be able to get the money to pay it back and all of that.
So (Sigh), you know, I don't know how I would do this if I didn't have the Lord. I mean, but we have to decide. Who am I going to let set the rules in my life?
Jim: Mary, let's wrap up. You know, people have heard what you've talked about today. They're feeling, perhaps some conviction, because they have some level of debt that they're uncomfortable with. It's not an emergency. These are things that were in the "want" category and their hearts are awakening to that. What can they do practically speaking, a change in attitude. I get that. What can they do to begin to, you know, pay down that mountain that they see?
Jim: Or maybe it's just a hill, but what can they do?
Mary: Well, my experience is that most people in this situation don't know where the money's going. That's the first thing. So, anybody—
Jim: Track it.
Mary: --anybody can start this right now. You don't need money to do it. You need something to write with and a piece of paper, you know. That'll do. Just start writing down where your money goes. Do that for 30 days and you are going to have a wake-up call like you could never imagine.
Mary: Money is leaking out of your life. You're spending it in very, very foolish ways. You're making very, very poor decisions and I can tell you that in the following 30 days or when you get your next paycheck, you "prespend" it, okay? Sit down with that same paper and pencil and say, "This is where that paycheck's gonna go. You give every single dollar a job to do and that's tough, because many people will say there aren't enough dollars. I have way too many jobs and not enough (Chuckling) dollars—
Mary: --to fulfill them. But I talk about this and then we look at which bills do you pay first? What are your priorities? And it's just step by step and I can tell you, I have led thousands and thousands of people out of debt and all of them, well don't say exactly the same thing, but the feedback is so similar. "Why didn't I ever think of this before? Why didn't anyone ever tell me this before?" And I think it's pretty clear, you know, unless you're 100-years-old and you could probably say, somewhere along the line you allowed the consumer credit industry, which I call a big bold, big industry that says you can have it now and pay for it later, okay? They started to make the agenda for your life and telling you what you believe and how you're going to operate, which is wrong. That's just wrong.
Mary: We need to not do that.
Jim: May, one thing we do here at Focus is something called Mvelopes. Talk about that strategy and if you have an interest, go to the website and John, you can give those details.
John: Yeah, we'll link over there.
Jim: Something Jean and I, we did years ago, we haven't done it lately, but I think we'll get back to it here, but it's assigning an envelope to all your expenses—
Mary: Right and that's—
Jim: --so you're …
Mary: --you're speaking of Mvelopes, begins with an M, is actually software that allows people to do this electronically and digitally. My experience is that most people who are in real deep financial trouble, that's way beyond [them]. What they need to do is even more simple than that, but the principle is the same.
And what it is, is that you get your paycheck and then you get envelopes and you put on each one a category—groceries, gasoline, you know, whatever your needs are gonna be for the week.
Jim: Right, rent, house payment.
Mary: Yeah and--
Jim: And you actually put the cash in there.
Mary: --the cash, I mean, we're getting' way down to the grassroots here, the actual cash into that envelope. And then when you go to the grocery store, you take your envelope and if there's 400 bucks in there and next week there's only 200 and the next week there's only 23 cents, that's all. You're gonna have to just somehow find food to eat until the next time you fill up your envelope. And I'm telling you, that this is a great way to teach children. It's a great way to teach adults who have really gotten themselves messed up really badly.
Mary: There are some bills that you can put off for a while if you're really, really close to the edge here. And I help people to figure out the priorities of the parent, but that envelope method is just fantastic.
Jim: It's a good way to do it.
Mary: I used it, absolutely.
Jim: Yeah. Mary Hunt, author of the book, Debt-Proof Living, these are great thoughts. How do we change our attitude in order to honor the Lord first and foremost and then be able to take care of those expenses in a way that does that, that honors God with our finances? Thanks for bein' with us.
Mary: Oh, thank you so much. I've sure enjoyed it.
John: And once again, Mary's book is called Debt-Proof Living. I hope as you've heard her today, you can see that she's got a great heart and passion and expertise in this and the book is certainly well worth picking up to help build a plan that could change your financial future and your life really. And there's some great tools in there. Find out more about Mary, her book, the Mvlopes program that Jim mentioned and a download of this program, so you can listen again and be inspired to carry on step by step to be debt proof when you're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us for details. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And we'll send that book, Debt-Proof Living to you as our thank you when you make a generous contribution of any amount to Focus on the Family today.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller and be sure to join us next time. You'll hear tomorrow what one mom did after her 6-year-old son spit in her face. She really set about to transforming her family and did so. You'll hear how tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Mary HuntView Bio
Mary Hunt is nationally-regarded author, speaker and expert on spending habits and consumer debt. Having climbed from the depths of six-figure debt herself, Mary uses the lessons she learned the hard way to help others gain control of their financial lives. She and her husband, Harold, have two sons and reside in California. Find out more about Mary at her website, www.debtproofliving.com.