WASHINGTON -- What's more inspiring than the testimony of someone who faced adversity and triumphed?
Every week, during my live online chat, I invite people to talk about their financial successes. I call it "Testimony Thursday." And what better time of year -- when we express gratitude for what we have and enjoy the holiday gift-giving spirit -- to share the stories of people who weathered some financial storms and worked hard to pay off their debts?
Often the road isn't easy. The following reader found out that when it rains, it pours. She got sick and, soon after, her husband lost his job. She was able to continue working thanks to an accommodating employer.
"I have never been more grateful for my emergency savings and frugal lifestyle," she wrote. "We made minor adjustments to live on my salary alone, mostly ceasing our savings for a home down payment. It has been a very hard time, but I feel extraordinarily lucky that the financial concerns are painful, but not devastating."
Another reader confronted a genuine storm: "I have been following your chats for years. Always been comfortable but never saved much. Finally started a 'life happens' emergency fund while trying to pay down all the credit cards."
And what do you know? Life happened. A big downpour left a puddle in the living room. "Needed a new roof," the reader wrote. "Didn't have it all, but had half saved in the emergency fund. Hurt a little, but not as much as it could have. Got very low-interest financing for the half I didn't have and now I'm starting again from zero. If I had listened to you earlier, I could've saved it all."
When you know better, you do better. And having half of what you need is better than having none of what you need.
Here's a testament that it pays to be your own advocate: "I'm dealing with a house fire caused by a plumber, and my homeowner's insurance sent me a nonrenewal notice because I had two claims in three years. I immediately called up my insurance agent and had them contact the underwriting department of the insurance company to ask them to reconsider, owing to the fact that the fire claim will be reimbursed by the plumber's insurance, that I've been a good customer with them for 13 years, and that I have excellent credit. I sweated it out, but they reconsidered. So, folks, it pays to push back when big business tries this stuff!"
Lots of people shout a hallelujah for the day when they get rid of their mortgage.
"I've been waiting years to tell you this testimony," one woman wrote. "We've got an appointment at the bank to pay off the mortgage! We have a lot to be grateful for, but my spouse has developed some serious health issues (grateful for our health insurance). Not having a mortgage means we have more flexibility in how we tackle our situation. And don't worry, we still have savings to cover medical expenses."
Take a moment to rejoice if you too are getting close to being rid of your mortgage like this couple. "We moved into our house in 2015. Took out a 10-year mortgage of $100,000 since we are close to retirement, want to get it paid off before we retire. We have been paying extra when we can. We are finally below $50,0000. I will come back and let you know when it is paid off in full."
I can never get enough of stories about people paying off debt. "My wife and I paid off all our loans (student, cars and credit cards)," another reader wrote. Now they plan on aggressively going after the mortgage. How did they do it all? They mostly lived off one income.
Speaking of burdens, Americans are carrying a combined $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans. I'm thrilled when people drop that weight off their back. One person shared what that's like.
"It feels great! I wanted to thank you for your words of wisdom and also let people know that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. We took a more balanced approach. I was able to get married and we paid for the modest wedding ourselves. We are a one-car family even though it can be inconvenient at times. We also manage to go on small vacations every year and bought a house within our means. I wanted people to know that their life doesn't have to be totally on hold while paying off student loans."
If you've got a testimony, I want to hear from you. Send your comments to email@example.com. You never know. Your story might inspire someone else to do better.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.
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