Editor’s Note: This is another installment in our “Single and…” series where we interview singles from all walks of life. It is our hope that you are encouraged by the stories of people who have a similar journey as you, who share the same dreams you have, who face the same hurdles you do, and who can remind you that you are not alone.
When you’re on one income, it can seem like you just never have enough money. For many, there’s just enough to cover the bills, but there’s little extra. But for others, credit card balances, medical bills, student loans, car notes, mortgages—it can all add up to be terribly overwhelming. And when you don’t have enough money to pay all of your bills, some feel bankruptcy is their only option.
Sundi Jo has walked a similar financial road and can identify. Now the founder of Esther’s House, a residential discipleship program in rural Missouri that offers hope to broken women, part of Sundi’s personal story includes how God redeemed her poor financial decisions.
We caught up with her recently to learn more:
Tell us about your financial journey? What events led to you declaring bankruptcy?
Sundi Jo: I lost my job in December 2006 because of poor decisions I had made. I’d just bought a house two months prior. I went from having a well-paying job to working two and three jobs just to pay the mortgage. I’d also just taken in my little cousin and was raising him full-time. I had no idea how I was going to survive financially.
Right before I lost my job, I’d started a side business in retail with another partner. Several months later the business started to flourish. I was able to get ahead on my bills and have extra. For a moment I was invincible—actually, make that “completely irresponsible.”
I was so busy charging inventory on credit cards, buying things I didn’t need, not balancing the books or keeping the budget that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I was spending it as fast as it came in. It made no sense, really, since I was previously an Office Manager for a very large company and balancing money was a part of my job. I think I had a sense of entitlement that I deserved to live this way.
Then it all came crashing down. My business partner was making shady decisions and the manager I’d hired to run our locations had stolen a large sum of cash. Because I wasn’t paying attention, it was literally all gone and I didn’t have a back up plan. Overnight, I went from flourishing to completely broke.
The credit card bills poured in. The collectors called. I wasn’t invincible anymore.
Then I got hit with some medical issues that landed me in the hospital for several days, without insurance. All of a sudden, I had a huge pile of medical bills on top of everything else.
I was 24 years old and over $70,000 in debt, raising a child, and trying to keep my head above water. Bankruptcy seemed like my only option.
How did you feel as you were going through the bankruptcy process?
Sundi Jo: Completely full of shame. I felt like a total failure. Most people my age were getting out of college and starting careers. I was about to lose my house and file bankruptcy. It definitely wasn’t something I enjoyed discussing around the dinner table.
Do you think your singleness complicated matters for you?
Sundi Jo: When my business started to flourish, I had just gotten out of a very long, unhealthy relationship. We were both financially irresponsible. I actually think singleness may have made it a little less complicated because I was in a relationship I should’ve never been in.
I’m nervous about the financial change marriage may bring in the future. What if he doesn’t want to work on the budget together? What if he doesn’t like the envelope system? What if he’s a horrible manager of money?
I don’t want to get married until we walk through Financial Peace University together. Consider it a type of pre-marital counseling. I believe if we can learn to communicate about money, we can communicate about anything.
How did declaring bankruptcy change the way you handle your finances now?
Sundi Jo: It changed everything. In the middle of the bankruptcy process I started taking a financial course with a mentor and his wife. It opened my eyes to a completely new way to live. I haven’t owned a credit card since and I don’t plan to again. If I can’t pay cash for it, I’m not buying it.
I eventually started teaching that financial class. I knew I didn’t want to get away from it and I wanted to show others there was a different way out than what I chose to do.
Two years ago I found Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey and wanted to explore it more. It was even more life changing for me. I learned about the envelope system, which has just rocked my world! I set a budget every month and know where all my money is going.
I believe today I’m the best I’ve ever been at being a good steward of what God has given me. I still don’t have a lot, but my bills are paid, food is on the table, and I don’t have credit card companies calling me everyday.
I had to get a surgery two years ago, again without insurance, and medical bills came in. I’m tackling them one by one, each month, and I feel good knowing I’m able to pay them. It may be a long process, but there’s something about knowing you’re doing the right thing that just feels good. There’s a sense of accomplishment in doing the right thing.
Right now I drive a Nissan Sentra with 195,000 miles on it. The paint is chipping off, but I love that car. Why? Because it’s paid for. It gets me everywhere I need to go, and I can actually call it mine—not the bank’s.
What was the biggest lesson God taught you during this season in your life?
Sundi Jo: That He will always provide my needs, but not always my wants. I’ve also learned when you manage the small things He gives you, He will trust you with the bigger things.
I’m not proud of filing bankruptcy and looking back, knowing what I know now, I may have made a different choice, but I can’t change it. That was one of the worst seasons of my life, but God’s grace is new every morning.
If you know someone who is drowning in debt, will you email them this post to encourage them?