Our Debt Story

Why Are We the Jared’s (Subway) of Personal Finance?

In short, we are an ordinary everyday family who accomplished extraordinary things in life. We have been incredibly successful in paying off a ton of debt. Along the way, we have learned an enormous amount not only about personal finance, but also about ourselves.


We dedicate this website to those that are in financial distress and to those striving to become debt free. For those who find they may be walking in similar shoes as we were, we hope that you use our blog, upcoming book, and website as a tool of hope and encouragement.

Here’s our Story…..

In 2009, we found ourselves in a mess and right in the middle of a Field of Debt!

What Was Life Like When We Were “Normal” (and very broke!)?

Life was trucking along and we were your average family. We didn t feel like we lived extravagantly. We took no yearly family vacation trips, owned no second homes, and didn’t drive “expensive” cars. We spent our money on eating out, buying fun gifts for people, going out to dinner and lunch whenever we could, driving “reliable” newer cars, etc. As far as family entertainment (movies, sporting events, etc.), we pretty much did what we want when we wanted.

Why Were We broke?

We bought a house in 2001 with 100% financing, almost nothing down, and with payments that were nearly 50% of our income. Throughout the years, we didn t save and had no emergency fund. In short, we lived like 70% of Americans by living pay check to pay check. We were experts at moving money around by trying to borrow our way out of debt.

What Do You Mean We Didn’t Know We Were Broke? 

We felt we managed our money well and didn’t see a need to change how we did things – our plan was working okay except when ‘life happened’ (emergencies). As time went on, we seemed to be having more “life happening events” coming our way (i.e. the water pump going out in the car, the furnace acting up, tires for the car, Christmas, etc.). How unfair was that we thought! While it didn’t “dawn” on us, our monthly cashflow was being whittled away due to all the debt we had built up over the years and buying a house that was well out of our budget. Did this cause us to change? Nope, it sure didn’t! Our field of debt just kept growing until we couldn’t see our way out and over time it became the “normal” way of living.

First Day Of Diagnosis (Jan. 12, 2009) | Rob and Mom

In January 2009 our son Robbie, who was 7 at the time, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease where the body basically kills off the insulin producing pancreas cells and requires insulin in his body at all times for the rest of his life) we found ourselves severely in debt, overwhelmed with medical related expenses, and emotionally devastated about his diagnosis.

Why Didn’t We Just “Accept” Where We Were At?

We didn’t accept the fact that there was no cure for this disease. Within 4 weeks of his diagnosis, we had went through 300+ medical research studies on our own. Unfortunately, there were no studies that he qualified for where we lived in Minnesota, So, we did the next best thing and found a wonderful study in Denver at the Barbara Davis Medical Center. It was a commitment that required 8 visits a year (~24 days each year) for 2 years. The study itself was free, however, we were responsible for all but $1,000 of all our travel expenses for all 16 trips which equaled ~48 days being spent away from home. At the time, we couldn’t even afford the plane tickets for the trips that would start on his 8th birthday.

How Did We Feel?

DEVASTATED, embarrassed, angry, heartbroken, sad, panicked, shocked, frustrated, and trapped. There was no playing around, we knew we had to make a change in how we handled our personal finances.

What Were Our Next Steps?

Little Brother Helping Rob Out In Hospital (2009)

Our church, Eagle Brook Church (Eagle Brook Church), was offering an online finance class (Financial Peace University through New York Times Bestselling Author Dave Ramsey) at the time.  Knowing that we wouldn’t learn anything and frankly irritated that the cost was $99 just to learn something you already were an expert at, we signed up (with agrudge I might add).

What Did We Learn?

What we found is that we definitely were not experts and our plan had not been working. We learned to become intentionally focused on sticking to a plan, keeping a budget, taking on extra jobs (we had 10 W-2?s between Bob and I in 2010), and really learning to define what our true needs were versus our wants. We realized that our debt was only the symptom and not the actual problem. Life still happens as we are no different than anyone else, however, having a plan and an emergency fund has lessened the panic and stress it use to cause. As Dave Ramsey likes to say, we are now living like no one else so we can LIVE like no one else!

How Much Debt Did We THINK We Had?

Before we started our program, we would have guessed our debt to be around $18,000 as we “only” considered our credit card and line of credit as being debt. We didn’t take into account our boat, our van and other misc debts.

How Much Debt Did We Really Start Off With?

When we started on 4/1/09, we were scheduled to pay off $48,000 worth of debt in four years. It felt like we were at the bottom of a huge mountain looking up and not being able to see the top! We were driven and determined to start taking steps towards conquering that mountain of debt as it meant possibly find a cure for our son. And that my friend wasn’t even the total amount of debt we had if we took in our 401k loans and 2nd mortgage…

Rob's 2nd Day of Diagnosis | Big Sister Maggie and Nurse

With God’s blessings, having a plan, and a lot of hard work, we are proud to say that in just 3 years we have paid off $148,000+ worth of debt and cash flowed $30,000+ worth of medical related expenses!

What Were Some of the ‘Challenges’ & Sacrifices?

Our biggest sacrifice was time with our family. SOME of the challenges we encountered along with way included:

  • 4th Bambino – Probably our biggest change was having our fourth child (a surprise blessing – God indeed has a sense of humor) during this time.
  • Living With a Lifelong Disease – For any person or parent going through this…it is hard learning to accept it. The whole thing with finding about Robbie, finding the right study, getting him qualified for it (that is a whole other story), and just learning to deal with it overall was very stressful at times.
  • Stressful Job Loss – I went through a very stressful and emotional job change.
  • Denver Trips – We traveled to Denver for Rob’s trips 16 times and spent approximately 48 days in Denver. This was time away from work and family. Surprise Family Addition (2010)

There were definitely other things along the way that came up…these are just a few of the highlights. It isn’t always an easy road to travel on, however, the end result is worth it.

What Have We Gotten Out of This Process?

All our debt, except our mortgage, is GONE. Our faith has been deepened by this process, our marriage has grown stronger, and God has shown us so many blessings along the way.
While we wouldn’t want to go through this painful experience again, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss it as it has changed our family’s destiny for the better.

Where Are We At Today?

We are continuing on our debt free journey by continue to pay off our 2nd mortgage and hope to be done by sometime next year (11 years early). We have learned to GIVE more than we EVER HAVE BEFORE. Our view of money has changed. We are now stewards for God’s money versus seeing it as “our” money. That has been so rewarding as we LOVE to give. There are some months it would have been easy to not give. I tell you this in all honestly, I truly believe God has SHOWERED us with abundant amounts of blessings throughout this whole journey. It is almost as if He is looking down at us and saying “You’re doing good kids, you quit being so dumb with MY money…I am going to give you more blessings than you could have ever have imagined”.

Are There Days We Still Struggle?

Yes, indeed there are days just like anyone else, however we have such a great sense of peace about our personal finances that we refuse to live any differently. Instead, we enjoy spending our energies on more important things such as our family versus worrying about money. Are we still gung ho for getting out of debt? YES, we are still VERY driven and motivated to be DONE with debt forever.

How Do We Stay Motivated?

We read books, listed to podcasts, visit personal finance forums, surround ourselves with positive people and never lose sight of becoming debt free very soon. We also enjoy volunteering as Financial Peace University Facilitators – it not only motivates us, but inspires us by watching people literally change their family tree. Lastly, writing our weekly blog on personal finances and sharing our story to encourage others keeps us going.

What Have Our Kids Learned?

As parents, we have been awed by our kids as they have learned right along with us. The three older ones have not only learned to earn, save, spend, and give, but they have gained an incredible amount of empathy towards other people going through tough times. What more could a parent ask for? We are VERY proud of all of them!

How is our Robbie doing?

The McDonough Family (2010)

Robbie is doing great and will have finished his 2-year study in Denver in July 2011. He is inspirational to us and we are proud that he is definitely a piece in helping to find a cure. We still do not accept the fact that there is no cure yet for type 1 diabetes and have faith that there will be one in his lifetime.

What is Our Hope?

By sharing our story, our wish is to give hope and encouragement to those that need it and to let them know they can take control of their finances too. We hope that you are able to follow along with us in this journey as well and look forward to any suggestions or comments you may have.

Thank You!!!
Thank you for taking the time to read our story. If you are interested in learning more about the program we did, please visit our Useful Resource page.

Where You Can Find Us?
If you are interested in having us as a guest speaker, contacting us for a media story, and/or if you have questions, please contact us here. For daily doses of hope and encouragement, please subscribe and follow our blog.

The McDonough Family (2011)

God Bless and good luck wherever you are at on your journey. Thanks again for taking the time to read our story.

Live Beyond Awesome!

Jen McDonough

Motivational Storyteller, Live Beyond Awesome


Attention Event Planners: Looking for a motivational storyteller? Please contact me as I would LOVE to serve your needs.

Jen McDonough (aka The Iron Jen) helps organizations cultivate courageous leaders as leaders and team members will learn how to:
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