From debt stress to carefree living

Story and photo by Sarah Phillips
ACS Marketing

It was a warm morning when I sat down to interview a client who had received multiple sessions of training and counseling through the Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program. She wished to remain anonymous so for the purpose of the interview I will refer to her as Jane.

Jane wanted her story to be told because her life had changed significantly over the past year. I began the interview, wondering what life changes could prompt a young woman of 29 to be so passionate about the ACS Financial Readiness Program that she requested the interview.

ACS: So, Jane, you came in today to talk about your life and the changes you have made. Let’s start at the beginning. What was happening that made you realize you needed help?

JANE: My life was OK. It wasn’t really one thing; it was more gradual. I have a good job, making OK money and live in Germany. I don’t have to worry about housing really, but I started to notice a pretty bad trend that just kept getting worse and worse.

I came to Germany with debt. I had over $6,000 on one credit card alone. I picked up another credit card to buy some furniture and help with initial moving expenses. I had a new car that cost me a lot of money every month and insurance on it was so high. I had an emergency surgery, so I accrued some heavy medical bills on top of my credit card debt. And at the end of the day, I have a huge student loan.

I got into this cycle where I would literally just stare at the calendar willing pay day to come faster. I would live off of $20 a week and when I ran out, I would take out mini loans. The second I would get paid, I had to put almost the entire paycheck toward paying back my loans and bills. I guess, actually, the deciding factor came with my utility reconciliation. It turned out I had been underpaying my utilities and got hit with a several thousand euro bill. I remember just holding that bill in my hand and wanting to cry. I guess that is when I decided I needed help.

ACS: It sounds like you were in a really rough spot, Jane. I know there are a lot of other people in our community who are probably in pretty similar situations. When you had that bill in your hand and were feeling at an all time low, what prompted you to come to ACS?

JANE: Well, I’m not a Soldier, so at first I didn’t know if ACS could even help me. But I heard about some of their financial classes they offer so I thought even if I had to pay, I needed to do something to get my life back on track. I never had any money.

I called and spoke with Denise Fesel, the financial readiness adviser. I was really surprised when she said not only could I attend the classes for free, but she could offer me one-on-one counseling. I guess you only have to have an ID card, which I didn’t know, so to find that out was the first big stress that came off.

I took a friend and went to one of the credit and debt classes. There was a lot of wake up moments for me during that class where I realized I had been doing everything wrong and, literally, nothing right.

When the first thing I heard was that I had to start saving before I could pay off debt I thought that was impossible.

ACS: Let’s talk about that. What do you mean you have to save before you can pay off debt?

JANE: According to this class, a person needs to have at least $1,000 in a savings account. I thought that was crazy because if I couldn’t pay off a bill, how could I save and then pay off a bill? But I was given a budget sheet to take home and write down all my expenses and income on.

When I brought it back, the financial adviser really did sit down with me and go over everything. I found some hidden money I didn’t even realize I had that I had been spending wrong.

I was able each paycheck to siphon a little off to the side to build the savings.
You see, if you have $1,000 hidden away in a savings account, when you run into a problem, instead of taking out loans like I had, I was able to pay for those problems up front.

ACS: So, the Financial Readiness Program helped you develop a budget and learn to track your spending. How long did it take to get over some of the debts you were describing earlier?

JANE: It was really hard at first. Really hard. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

I sold my brand new car and that was one debt that made a big difference. I was able to put that $550 toward bills. I had so much stress that I would just get these horrible muscle aches in my shoulders.

My friends probably thought there was something wrong with me because I stopped going out shopping with them like I had in the past, but I had to. I had to get my life under control before I hit bankrupt. It took me about eight months of gradual progression and struggle, but it has been worth it.

ACS: And where are you today Jane?

JANE: I still sometimes struggle with spending, but it has felt so good to knock out one debt after another.

I completely paid off and cut the one credit card I had with such a high interest rate and paid off most of my medical bills.

The day I was able to go into the utility company and hand over my debit card and pay cash for my outstanding bill, I felt like I lost 10 pounds.

I am mostly debt free and have learned how to track my money, so I actually have fun now and still manage to spend less and save more. I never traveled before because I couldn’t afford it.
Now, in the past month I have been all over, to Austria, France, hiking in the Alps and next week I am going to Hungary. I feel like I can really enjoy living in Germany now. I am just so thankful for the help that ACS gave me.


Jane was able to overcome some incredibly difficult financial burdens. For anyone out there who is interested in getting the same kind of help that Jane received,
Army Community Service offers many classes and counseling that can help you get your life back on track.

For more information on the services offered, give ACS a call today at 0631-3406-4203 or 493-4203. ACS can also be found on Facebook at