Mary Hunt was facedown on the kitchen floor of her in-law’s house sobbing uncontrollably. Her compulsive shopping, coupled with her drive for wealth, left her facing $100,000 in unsecured debt. Panic-stricken, the Orange County mother feared her husband would leave her and their home would be lost to foreclosure.
In the midst of the meltdown, she made a deal with God that she would do anything in the world to get out of debt, if he promised not to take her two young sons and husband away. She kept her promise. Some 13 years later, with her family still intact, the seemingly insurmountable debt was paid.
That pledge Hunt made on Sept. 17, 1982 is indelible. But God, in his mercy and grace, took Hunt’s mistakes and turned them into a life lesson for others to learn from. Hunt’s simple dollars-and-sense advice, based on biblical principles and her Christian faith, has landed her guest spots on dozens of national and regional television talk and news shows, including Oprah.
“Bible verses about stewardship came to mind that day,” said Hunt, a Baptist preacher’s kid from Spokane, Wash. “I knew then that to honor God and get on the right track we had to give God a portion of our income—even while we were in debt—and that we had to start saving, too. If he ever blessed me with another dollar, I'd do things his way.”
Hunt, founder of DebtProofLiving.com and author of 17 books, retold her story to a packed audience at the National Association of Church Business Administration 52nd National Conference in Nashville, Tenn.
“I didn't trust God to take care of my needs,” she said. “I trusted Visa and MasterCard.”
Debt is typical in the church, Hunt said. But, few church leaders know about it because worshipers are either too embarrassed or feel guilty about their lack of giving to discuss it. In fact, less than 5 percent of people in Evangelical churches today tithe consistently, Hunt said.
In addition, 65 people out of 100 in church are swimming in non-mortgage debt, including student loans, credit cards and signatures loans. Those same 65 people are paying an average of $2,365 annually in interest per household.
Hunt and her husband, Harold, managed to free themselves from their financial bondage through giving and saving. Hunt said it’s just that simple.
“Faithful giving and saving gave me the kind of high I used to get when I would shop,” said Hunt, who has been affectionately nicknamed the Ann Landers of personal fiance “We would give away 10 percent of our income and save 10 percent…By living on 80 percent of your income, you will never be broke.”
Tithing is a command from God. But few obey God, especially in an economic downturn, she said.
“The truth is God is not going to trust you with more money until you can prove you can handle what you already got,” said Hunt. “You need to step out on faith and obey God…And when we are the neediest, we need to give even more.”
Hunt revealed the financial folly and false notions that nearly destroyed her, motivates her to help others live within their means. In fact, she refers to herself as a cheapskate, which she defines as a quest to live frugally. Cheapskates are those who give generously, save consistently and don't spend money they don't have. They are kind, ethical and honest with others, above all.
Hunt created the newsletter, Debt-Proof Living (formerly Cheapskate Monthly) in January 1992. The publication became popular for its money-saving tips and resources as well as its message of empowerment and hope. Six years later, Hunt started the Web site www.debtproofliving.com, which has attracted more 2.5 million viewers. And, in 1999 she launched her Debt-Proof Living seminars, which emphasize that financial success is not about income, but about attitude and dedication.
Hunt advises that everyone should have one credit card, have a minimum of three-months living expenses tucked away, commit to no more new debt, develop a budget, and then stick to it.
“Your money is not to be spent,” said Hunt. “It is to be managed. It’s a concept that we find so hard to believe, but it’s critical.”
Churches aren’t exempted from following some of the rules financially strapped individuals.
“Always put money away,” said urged church leaders. “Always have a reserve. Never spend all you have. And never bring on a large staff if you can’t meet those obligations.”