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When Joe and Rachel signed up for Financial Peace University, they were both employed, but in spite of being a double-income household—with plenty of cash coming in—they had little, they say, to show for it.
Kelly and Karl, small-business owners who took the course last fall, found themselves living beyond their means when their business took a downturn not long after their education and housing expenses took an upswing.
Matt and Rachelle were newlyweds with student loans and other debt each had brought into their marriage when they signed up for the class in 2012.
From the start, it has been clear that those who have participated in Financial Peace University—held several times each year at Wheaton Bible Church—represent many different life circumstances and have faced a variety of financial challenges. Some have adequate income but want to manage it better and smarter. Even more have significant debt—in some cases totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars. Others are just wanting to do the best they can with the limited resources available.
Most FPU students initially attend with financial goals in mind—intending to “major” in what might be called financial improvement, or even personal economic recovery. But somewhere during their nine weeks of study, most come to realize that they are really majoring in faith transformation as they see God work in their lives in the area of money and finances.
Fun and Practical
Whatever brings people to the class, hosts Dave and Hazel Pack want to make the class both enjoyable, even fun, and practical for those who participate—providing a comfortable place where people can find financial guidance that will enable them to experience the kind of financial peace the course’s name promises.
While the Packs welcome participants each week and facilitate the course, the hardcore instruction comes via video recordings by money guru Dave Ramsey, a man who speaks from personal experience and shares time-tested financial principles in a way that people with even the most basic understanding of money matters can grasp and apply.
Joe and Rachel came to Financial Peace wanting to figure out if it would be possible to live on one income so Rachel could stay home with their two children. With the help of a workable budget they have been able to reach the point where they can live on one income, even as they accumulated the emergency fund that is a key Ramsey recommendation.
Along with eliminating debt, another ambitious goal for some FPU graduates is to pay off mortgages and fully own their homes. For some—including Dave and Hazel Pack—that goal has been accomplished. For most, like Joe and Rachel, it is a target still on the horizon but not forgotten.
“Before we took the class, I just assumed that debt was something everyone had—you’re going to have debt your whole life, so don’t hurry to pay it off anytime soon,” Rachelle said. “But when we did pay off the debt, it was just incredibly liberating not to owe anyone.”
“I feel really burdened for people my age or younger who have so much student loan debt,” she adds. “I would recommend the class to them. Paying off debt is really hard—a long, challenging road—but it is so worth it.”
Kelly and Karl say that the idea of debt-free living was a key take-away for them as well. “We’re not there yet,” Kelly admits. “We still have a lot to do to get there, but debt-free living is our goal.”
“They teach you different methods for paying down debt— the right ways and the wrong ways,” Karl said.
“Which is a great thing,” Kelly adds, “because you can feel stuck, and then a little bit of paralysis starts to set in. So the objectives you learn at FPU help you take steps in the right direction as quickly as you can. When Dave Ramsey spoke of watching our finances with ‘gazelle-like intensity,’ he was talking about focusing while you’re moving—even running—because you don’t want to get stagnated and discouraged.”
Kelly and Karl have been able to get rid of nearly all debt, with the exception of their mortgages. And even without the improvement in the economy that has helped their situation, they believe that what they learned at FPU would have eventually enabled them to turn their situation around.
“There’s good practical application every week and real-life examples that would help anyone,” Karl says. “It is really a class for everyone.”
Cash, not Credit
Spending cash instead of paying on credit is one of the biggest changes the families say they have adopted. “That way,” Karl says, “you are using money that you actually have instead of money that you think you’re going to have in thirty days or sixty days.”
All agree that instruction on how to create and live by a budget is central to discovering financial peace.
“Sometimes we made choices to pass up good things as we were laser-focused on getting out of debt,” Kelly says. “But the Lord also provided some cool blessings . . . like the flowers for our flowerpots that were so expensive. For three weeks I looked at flowers and said, Nope. And then one day I was leaving the store, putting groceries in my car, and I hear something about free flowers. Sure enough, they were all spread out, and I could have as many flowers as I wanted.
“Those are the kinds of things God does and just blesses you when you wait,” she adds. “We wouldn’t have experienced that in the past, because back then, if we wanted something, we just got it.”
Couples who have taken the FPU classes frequently mentioned the unity they found in financial decision-making through their shared understanding and commitment.
“You have to be a team, and I wasn’t involved.” says Rachel, whose husband, Joe, had taken the class alone a couple of years earlier and had tried to implement a budget for their family. “But once I went to Financial Peace with him, it all clicked.”
Kelly and Karl found that the class provided them a common vocabulary and a unified action plan. “We were never fighting over money, like sometimes happens,” Karl says, “but neither were we looking at our finances together. Either I was paying the bills or Kelly was. Financial Peace brought us together and helped us communicate more. It was great for both of us to take the course, because we learned together.”
Former FPU students also mention how the course provided greater understanding in many areas relating to finances. They point to lessons on the value of an emergency fund, how to get rid of credit cards and learn to live on a cash basis, becoming smart purchasers, and all the issues surrounding insurance—what kinds you need and what you don’t.
But FPU ultimately allows each student the opportunity to go deeper in faith. Joe had become a follower of Jesus just a few years before he took the Financial Peace course. “We were changing our perspective on money even before I took the class the first time, and we had started tithing,” he said. “But while I want to build some wealth to support my family, I recognize that the resources we have are a blessing from God, and I wanted to learn more about how to use them wisely.”
The changes Matt and Rachelle have made as a result of what they learned have freed them to invest in God’s work. “We started the class around the time ALL IN kicked in, and we figured out that we could give a certain amount, but once we cleared out our budget, we saw that we could do more. We have missionary friends we want to support, and because we had gotten control of things and knew where all of our money was going, suddenly we found that we had more money to use for ministry purposes.”
“Money is one more thing,” Karl says, “that the Lord uses to change us. It’s obviously His provision. It’s His tool. He uses money to make us into what He wants us to be—and this class helps everyone to see that a little better—and not only to see it but also to experience it.”
“The class,” Kelly says, “usually begins with a little game, just for fun. There might be food arranged on a table and you try to guess the total cost of the purchase at one store compared to another. Really practical tidbits that are kind of cool to learn.”
Next comes the Dave Ramsey teaching, which offers instruction and motivation, as well as real-life stories that illustrate the principles Dave teaches. Conversations around a table review lesson content and set goals for the coming week. A take-home workbook reinforces Dave’s teaching and lays out clear objectives as the course progresses.
You can find information about upcoming classes—including one starting in October—at wheatonbible.org/FPU.