This couple did some serious cost cutting and paid off $159,000 of their debt

Owing $225K and on the brink of divorce, this couple turned their finances and lives around

The Huse family of Springdale, Arkansas, is doing everything just right.

High school sweethearts Scott, 49, and Claudia, 48, are fresh off of putting two daughters through college without any debt and they're about to pay off their mortgage by this October.

The couple now has a net worth of about $500,000, counting their home, retirement savings and an emergency fund.

What isn't obvious is the struggle Scott and Claudia went through about five years ago in order to bail themselves out of six-figure credit card debt, a failed small business, and marital turmoil.

"We never talked about money before that, we never budgeted and we didn't do anything smart with our money — we spent everything we had," said Scott.

Here's how the Huses cleaned up their act.

Taking a gamble

Scott was inspired to start his own company in 2008, aiming to offer schools a structured program to encourage students' families to become more involved.

"It was a combination of interaction with students and physical presence on campus," he said. "There was a kit purchased by each school and a uniform to fund the program."

By the time Scott kicked off the business, he entered the venture with about $45,000 in personal debt, which ballooned as he got the program off the ground.

Scott and Claudia cooked more at home to pay down their credit card debts.

The tipping point finally came in 2011, when revenues didn't come through as he had hoped and the Huses overextended themselves on a home equity line of credit and 13 credit cards to survive.

Claudia, a fifth grade teacher, stretched her $55,000 salary to its limits as the family struggled to maintain the business. The stress nearly proved too much for their marriage.

"[She] came to me and just said basically, 'I can't handle this anymore. You can go, and I'll take care of the kids,'" Scott recalled.

Digging out

Thirty days later after Claudia's ultimatum, Scott got a job working for a large hospital operator. There he earned a base salary of $55,000, plus approximately $20,000 annually in bonuses and commissions.

But the family's financial woes were far from over.

The Huses owed $225,000 by the time Scott wound down his company. Further, two of the family's three children were college bound.

Scott and Claudia Huse

Scott contacted Credit Counseling of Arkansas, a non-profit organization that helps families turn their finances around.

"The most embarrassing call you make is the one where you say, 'I suck with money and I need help," he said.

While the credit counselors helped the Huses negotiate their interest rates, the family took some hard cuts toward their lifestyle so that they could devote Scott's income — $55,000 — to debt repayment and live solely on Claudia's earnings.

The idea to make aggressive repayments toward the debt and get the family's budget in order came to Scott after he attended a personal finance course.

We never talked about money before that, we never budgeted and we didn't do anything smart with our money — we spent everything we had.
Scott Huse

Bonuses that Scott earned went toward funding the children's college expenses. Fortunately, both daughters attended school in state and had scholarships and jobs to help cover tuition.

Cost-cutting measures included trimming food spending from $9,000 to $6,000 each year, shopping in secondhand stores and going on a level billing program for their utilities.

By 2014, the family paid off $159,000 of their debt. They also refinanced their home and now owe about $50,000 on it. They expect to be free of the mortgage by this October.

Redefining wealth

Household finances weren't the only thing the Huses revamped. In order to preserve his 26-year marriage to Claudia, Scott needed to rethink his approach to money, entrepreneurship and communication with his wife.

"I figured out as a husband and a father, 'What do I need to fix about me? What do I need to grow and change through this?'" he said.

Preparing yourself — and your household for a small business

Get your household finances in order first: Scott started his business while he was already in debt. "We didn't know how to budget our own personal money," he said. "It wasn't that I didn't set up a budget for that business, it's that I did what every business seems to do out there: budgeted based on debt."

Get your spouse or partner involved in your business plans: Talk to him or her about risk appetite, and know when it's time to cut bait on your venture."I had to get control over my development," Scott said. "You can think and grow, but do it in a more process-oriented way."

Build up your emergency fund: Prior to the Huses' financial cleanup, the family spent every dollar they came across. The first step the couple took toward becoming solvent was building a $1,000 savings account and keeping their hands off of it.

Today, they have the equivalent of six months of expenses saved. They've never touched it.

Video by: Sophie Bearman, Qin Chen, Kyle Walsh

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