Shay Edwards was broke and at the end of his rope.
When he and his family joined the Stuttgart military community in July 2009, they were immediately “overcome” with bills, such as paying up-front for a hotel stay and renting a car while house hunting.
Edwards put all of the tabs on his credit cards. Soon, debt became unmanageable.
“By December, we were at our wits’ end,” he said. “Years and years of bad habits had caught up with us. We were missing payments … some for several months. We were just out there struggling.”
“It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had, and I never want to be there again,” he added.
That’s when a friend told Edwards about Financial Peace University, a worldwide money management program available in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart.
The next class begins Sept. 7 and meets every Tuesday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Patch Religious Education Center (Building 2332) on Patch Barracks. The class is open to all community members.
FPU is a 13-week video course taught by best-selling author and financial guru Dave Ramsey, followed by mediated discussions. Ramsey teaches students to better manage their money by getting out of debt, saving and giving to others in need.
The Stuttgart military version, sponsored by the garrison Religious Support Office, was brought to Stuttgart in early 2009 by two family members — Army spouse Gina Starrett and Air Force spouse Kristiann Saunders, a financial coach. Since then, 74 FPU students have paid back a combined total of $390,000 of debt and saved a total of $90,000.
Edwards and his wife paid off $13,500 worth of debt. “Now, we’re keeping [within] our budget,” he added. The program focuses on changing a person’s spending behaviors through budgeting and goal-setting.
For Sgt. 1st Class Chrysti Lassiter-Jones, a USAG Stuttgart Soldier, this meant giving up morning cappuccinos and eating in more often.
“I became more disciplined,” she said. “This made me realize where I was throwing money away.”
In the classes, Ramsey also discusses how to avoid credit sharks, buy and sell a home and invest.
Stuttgart program team leaders, including Starrett, Saunders and co-facilitators Jackie Nasca and Gary Kaczmarek, say learning to put your finances in order is key to living a peaceful, debt-free life.
“The physical feeling of freedom and independence — it’s a phenomenal high,” Starrett said. “It’s like nothing you can experience if you’ve gone through your whole life owing people money.”
To help others reach this goal, the course gives participants a forum for discussing their spending habits.
“Some of what makes this type of program so distinctive is [Ramsey’s] understanding and his presentation on the behavioral and emotional side of spending money,” Starrett said. “Men and women look at money and security differently.”
This is one reason why program facilitators encourage families and couples to attend together, even if one member is deployed (they can take FPU online).
“We talk about it with each other; it’s not just a checkbook system,” Starrett added.
Edwards, too, appreciated the class’ effect on his marriage. “Really, what it did more than anything, was it brought [my wife and I] onto the same sheet of music,” he said.
“Before starting this class, you think you’re going to be in debt until you die,” he said. “Now, I’ve changed my whole mind-set. I’m going to pay off my debts. I have a date: August 2012. All the money I make is going to go where I want it to go, not to [lenders].”
For more information or to sign up, call 430-5193/civ. 0711-680-5193, or e-mail FPUstuttgart@yahoo.com. A donation of $50 per family for E-5 and above is suggested. Child care is available.