FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – With Christmas fast-approaching, many people are going into debt. Brandon and Alicia Kiesling, on the other hand, are celebrating being out of it. Over the last three years, the couple paid off $32,000 of debt.
“There’s a freedom,” says Brandon, a doctoral student at Southwestern Seminary. “It’s not just about being debt-free. It really is nice to know that every penny that you make from here on out is yours. It’s not the bank's, it's not the lending company's, it's yours.”
The Kieslings came to Southwestern in fall 2010 so that Brandon could pursue a Master of Divinity degree. With Brandon a full-time student and Alicia a substitute teacher, the couple made only $12,000 their first year. Already in debt from undergraduate student loans, the couple, having read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, called Ramsey’s radio show for advice.
“We had some savings that we had brought down with us,” Brandon recalls, “but we didn't know for sure if we should keep a hold of that savings or put it towards debt. So I had that question for [Ramsey], and I told him how much we were making, and he told me to get a job—a weekend job or something—because I needed to provide for my family even while I was going to school.”
Brandon first got a weekend pizza delivery job, and then he and Alicia both attained administrative assistant positions, Brandon at the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern and Alicia at a local church.
“We just decided we're going to knock this debt out,” Brandon says, “and regardless of how hard it is, we're just going to make this a priority because we don't want to be a slave to debt. The Bible says, as Dave Ramsey quotes all the time, ‘The borrower is a slave to the lender’ (Proverbs 22:7).”
Their solution for getting out of debt was “working hard and saving money and living below [their] means.”
“The biggest thing is the budget,” Brandon says. “One thing Dave Ramsey teaches is that you have to tell your money where it's going before it goes, and that's what a budget does every month. That way, you're in control of your money. Your money just doesn't do whatever it wants to do.”
The couple made their last student loan payment on Sept. 19, 2013.
“[That day] was a celebration,” Brandon says. “My wife and I both sat there in front of the computer, and we pushed the button together and just instantly felt like we accomplished something great.
“One of the greatest things that we have now is we've changed our family tree. We now can say that our son will be debt-free for his entire life, as long as we teach him the same principles and he follows them. He has the ability to live life without any debt. And that's a pretty cool concept: to be able to not only change your life but change the next generation.”
Brandon encourages other students to strive to pay off debt as well.
“If you can get control of your debt and take care of it before you get out of seminary,” Brandon says, “you can go wherever God wants you to go. You don't have to worry about a salary amount. If a church calls you in the middle of nowhere and God calls you to that, you don't have to worry about it because you've got [your debt] taken care of.”