KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --
Relying on credit to pay for the modern lifestyle is all-to-common—credit card offers show up every day in the mailbox, and “no hassle” financing offers everything from vehicles to vacations—the lure of paying for something later while enjoying it now has never been stronger.
It is also common that families function under a burden of debt that would leave them bankrupt if they were to miss just a few paychecks. As long as there is enough money to cover the minimum payments on cars, student loans, credit cards, home mortgages, home equity lines of credit, etc., then they are safe from creditors harassing phone calls, the lights stay on and the spending continues.
Another way to look at this is the fact that we don’t own our homes, cars, appliances or the garage full of toys. What we do own is the obligation to make payments on schedules that stretch years into the future: 30 years for most homes, nine years for many new car loans; student loans that may stretch to 50 years, and credit cards whose repayment schedules would easily outlive us were we to make only minimum payments.
Falling behind on this payment treadmill poses a bigger threat to military families, because financial problems are one of the top reasons Airmen lose their security clearance, and that may cost them their career, said Maj. Nikki Jackson, the 173rd Fighter Wing Security Manager.
Four years ago one Kingsley Field military family decided to stop living under this constant threat of financial ruin.
“We had to admit that we needed help and that we didn’t know what we were doing with our finances and that we were out of control,” said Katie Kessler, wife of Tech. Sgt. Cory Kessler, an aircraft armament systems technician in the 173rd Fighter Wing Weapons shop. When she and Cory sat down together and added up all of their debts, they ended up at a figure of $68,043.
“We couldn’t believe how much it was once we actually totaled it together,” said Cory
Although $68,043 sounds significant, it’s important to note that this is only the outstanding principal and doesn’t include the interest charged on the payments. Should they pay that sum off according to the terms it is likely they would shell out at least double that or $136,086.
Stories like this have spurred the 173rd Fighter Wing Chaplain’s Office to offer different kinds of financial support to wing Airmen.
“Part of my core mission is the morale and welfare of our Airmen,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Kraig Kroeker, the wing chaplain. “We have lost good Airmen simply because of some bad financial practices or choices that led to them losing their security clearances.”
He goes on to say that fights over money are consistently in the top three reasons couples divorce and that bankruptcies are a common problem.
After paying off all of their outstanding debt the Kessler’s called in to the nationally syndicated Dave Ramsey radio show and gave their “Debt Free Scream”, a tradition among those who have used the Financial Peace University curriculum to get out of debt.
Katie related what may have been the beginning of the slide into debt spending when on a whim they went shopping at the local RV dealer and brought home a brand new travel trailer without really thinking about the $22,000 price tag.
“We knew it was a mistake, but we did it anyway because we wanted to be like everybody else,” said Katie. “We bought that trailer but it was a curse to us.”
Other spending habits were problematic as well. Katie said she thought their monthly coffee expenses were around $25-$30—only to find out the total one month was $185 dollars. Then the sequestration government shut down hit and Cory was furloughed for a time. They were forced to take loans to cover their expenses. They knew something had to change and that was when they began to change their behavior.
They began to make sacrifices, Katie took a part-time job and then went full-time and sent every paycheck to creditors.
“We were slaves to the lender, we paid all of that money to them and we never got to keep any of it,” she said.
Every morning she left her children with other people, “I would look in the rearview mirror and it just broke my heart.”
Today, those sacrifices have paid off; Katie stays home with the kids and the bills are paid every month. The emergency fund is growing, ready to cover those life expenses that happen from time to time, but no longer cause panic for them.
The final piece of this chapter takes us back to where it all started—that travel trailer—they recently put it up for sale and a day later it was gone moving their debt balance to zero.
If you would like personal financial support from the chaplain’s office contact them at 541-885-6239 or firstname.lastname@example.org