We’re celebrating one of our co-op participants, Joy, as she shares her life changing successes after one year of participation. She entered the co-op program in April 2018 with $40,000 in debt, “in the red” expenses each month, and seeking stability. During this past year, she has accomplished the following with the encouragement of her mentor Linda.
- Decreased her monthly expenses $350 in the first month and each month thereafter
- Used her grocery savings to pay off first credit card with a balance of $1,500
- Paid off second credit card with a balance of $3,000
- Paid off personal loan with a balance of $2,500
- Built savings up to $1,000
- Reduced monthly expenses by another $190 a month by getting rid of the other two credit card payments.
In her words “I’m Not Done Yet”. This year, her current goals are:
- Save $300 a month to rebuild her savings back to $2,000
- Get a part time job and put what she earns towards her last credit card
- Increase payment to $400 a month on this last credit card, which she hopes to pay off in a year
Her long term goals are to be able to afford her own mortgage, save $10,000 and have an emergency fund built up to cover 3-6 months of living expenses. We are so proud of Joy, her dependency on the Lord, and her faithfulness to make hard, but necessary changes! She has seen and experienced the importance of cutting back current expenses, managing her income, and being part of a loving community. The knowledge and resources provided by mentors, HOGM staff and other co-op participants have encouraged her to be prudent, thoughtful, and to seek counsel before making financial decisions.
Here’s her updated testimony, capturing her journey in her own words:
“I found myself at a point financially and spiritually where something had to give. My husband had left me and my son, with what seemed like insurmountable debt and expenses that I flat out could not afford on my own. For three years of our marriage, before he left, we were already spending in excess of $400 a month beyond our household budget, which left me covering what we couldn’t afford with credit cards in my name, because my credit was good, and his was not. He took responsibility for the mortgage, and left all other expenses for me to take care of. He would help with groceries or gas from time to time, but any unexpected expenses, such as vet bills, car damage, etc., I had to cover with these credit cards. I operated from the old understanding that as long as I could afford the monthly payments, we were good.
Then life happened. My husband had an affair, left me with our son and all our expenses, and dangling our home in the air, as control. I lived and continue to live in a state of fear that at any moment he will just quit paying the mortgage and I won’t be able to afford our home, and lose everything.
It was March of last year when I felt like giving up, praying “Lord, something has to give!” I was seeing my debt continue to increase because just paying the minimum of an already large debt was only going towards interest. I felt like I was drowning and I couldn’t wrap my head around why all of this was happening to me. What had I done wrong? Did I deserve this? Did my baby deserve this? I pleaded with God to intervene.
Around this same time, our annual church conference was coming up and God placed a burden on my heart to go. At a time when it didn’t make sense to go, financially or realistically, I felt strongly that I was supposed to go and provide a way for others to go. So, against my better judgement, I followed what I now know was the Holy Spirit’s guidance to go to the Annual Women’s Conference and provide a way for other women to come along with me. I charged an Airbnb to my already high credit card and invited other women who needed an inexpensive way to attend the conference to come stay at the house with me, at no cost to them.
That’s where it all changed.
I met other women who prayed with and for me, and in our sharing of testimonies and life experiences, I was told about Hope of Glory Ministries and the Community Co-op Program, and was encouraged to apply. I was scared. I was forewarned about the required total disclosure, that you had to be 100% transparent regarding your situation and finances, and I was mortified. I already carried a great deal of shame, not just due to the debt I found myself in, but because being transparent meant owning that my husband left me.
With that, I would be revealing scars of abandonment, insecurities that come when you feel like you’re unworthy or don’t understand why you weren’t enough for the person you loved. I was trying to hide and mask the hurt on a daily basis as I was having to walk through parenting and marriage alone. I never planned that for my life. BUT, GOD!
How God changed my Perspective:
Following His Will Requires Obedience.
The most important step that changed my life was submitting to God’s will for my life. First, I had to follow through and apply for the program, even though I was scared, and even though it meant that in spite of my reservations, I would have to totally disclose what I was going through to other people. Second, I had to acknowledge that I had been taught or had been operating under some false teaching.
This world teaches us that debt is normal. Debt is not normal, and the LORD doesn’t want his people in debt. He calls us out of bondage and promises that if we submit ourselves to His will and His plan for our lives, that we will be lenders and not borrowers. I was operating under the lie that debt is expected, or that as long as I could afford the minimum monthly payment, I would have great credit and be able to afford a life with what every person desires. We’re taught that it is normal, and even expected in society, to have a home, a nice car, and furnishings, travel, and accessories.
The “Initial Interview” with Mandi and Cat was the start of a new beginning for me. Initially, they sat down and talked to me to get to know me. They cared about what I was walking through and told me that I would be paired with a mentor after the initial meeting, not just for accountability, but for support.
They looked at my monthly expenses and gave me a few goals to get my monthly expenses down so that I was not so far in the red every month. That meant cutting extra spending: eating fast food, impulsive shopping to fill voids, etc. The team also equipped me with a strategy. They looked at my expenses with fresh eyes and gave me specific things to ask for from various sources that I was not even aware of as resources for myself.
Ignorance is a real thing, and affects more people than are willing to acknowledge it. I just didn’t know the questions to ask or know what things to ask for. Even something as simple as what a reasonable cell phone bill looks like. I had been on a family plan with my parents before I got married. I’d never paid a cell phone bill before that, so I was ignorant to what was too high, or what was a good deal. I was overpaying several monthly bills and didn’t even know the questions to pose or things to do to reduce the amount. They equipped me with the tools to reduce my monthly expenses, but it was up to me to put in the work.
Following His Will requires Discipline.
Now that I had my goals, I had to do the hard work. I had a checklist to follow for my initial goals. Together, we were able to cut $350 from my monthly expenses! For the first time in 4 years, I was no longer in the RED!
I also had to meet with my mentor and maintain monthly meetings with her to remain accountable to the program. That meant total disclosure with my mentor monthly, in regards to my spending habits. We set personal goals for things I wanted to accomplish and see done over the next few years, and discussed strategies for the next year. But it was my part to be faithful to my end of the commitment. I had to have self-discipline with impulsive shopping or eating based on emotions, or covering the hurt with material things. I had to allow God the opportunity to heal what had been broken, instead of trying to self-medicate with temporary things that made me feel better. (Example: I was lonely and hated being home because it didn’t feel like home anymore. Instead of dealing with those feelings and allowing God to heal the hurt, I tried to heal it by filling my home with things that made it feel like more of a home in my husband’s absence… things I couldn’t afford.)
It wasn’t until talking with my friends and mentors and being vulnerable with the right people, that I was able to get to the bottom of why I was spending, and my habits regarding that. Monthly Classes at Hope of Glory were also instrumental in discovering where the misteachings were in regards to my finances and were essential in giving me the tools to begin paying down my debt and start saving again.
This was HUGE! I didn’t have a savings account before. I tried and tried to save previously, but because of the debt and unforeseen things with buying a home, having a baby, and things in my immediate family, I felt as soon as I saved something it was gone for something else. I learned through these classes the principles of having $1,000 money in savings, the principles of creating an emergency fund with 3-6 months living expenses, should anything drastically happen to you and you were out of work, and the most important (in my opinion) saving for big things you want.
I lived my life thinking it was expected of me to have credit card debt for cars, homes, and living in general, as “the American Way of Life”. God changed my perspective on finances and gave me the tools to get myself out of debt. I am not there yet, but I know I am well on my way because of God’s grace leading me to this life changing program.
I know with God all things are possible. I knew this scripture before, but I didn’t have a full understanding of what it really meant until it got real. I thank Him for this season because it has brought about necessary changes in my life. I am stronger, better equipped, and have a better understanding of finances.
Most importantly, I found myself. God showed me who he created me to be, He gave me a new name and a fresh understanding of his purpose for my life. He helped me to see how much He loves me, and negated every lie the enemy whispered that I wasn’t good enough, that I was a failure, and that I should settle because there was no more hope for me. Glory! Hallelujah! But there WAS!!! And there is! There is Hope for us all.
Mandi Stewart is in her sixth year as Executive Director at Hope of Glory Ministries which empowers families towards spiritual and financial freedom in Christ. She loves living life with her all so patient husband Jeremy, first born Josiah, and daughter Faith. One day she hopes to be a professional golfer, but is surrendered to the call of wife, mother and leader in this world as she awaits that glorious day when Christ returns.