This Couple Made Enough Dough Baking Biscuits to Quit Their Teaching Jobs

Sometimes when an opportunity arises, you just gotta roll with it.

Jesse Thompson and Lee Valenti were school teachers who dreamed of opening a learning center they’d call Hey Giant Robot, but they needed a way to fund it.

They decided to raise money by baking biscuits to sell at a pop-up market within the learning center.

“We were thinking we could sell them and make a couple hundred bucks on the weekend,” says Thompson, 39, who recalls they’d bake 500 biscuits and sell them for $ 3 to $ 4 a pair. “But then every weekend, we were selling out, and people were lining up.”

Within three months, the couple realized they didn’t have a side hustle baking biscuits to support their learning center.

They had a biscuit-baking business.

“We decided to flip our model,” Thompson says.

Instead of selling biscuits out of the learning center, they housed the learning center inside a bakery.

The couple found a location in Tampa, Florida, that could handle both the baking and the learning. They retained a bit of their original idea for the establishment’s name: Hey Giant! Little Biscuits.

A year and a half later, the biscuit shop employs six to seven part-time workers and costs an average of $ 15,000 per month to operate — “right now our profits range somewhere in $ 3,000 to $ 5,000 a month,” Thompson adds.

Valenti, 41, quit her teaching job last year when the couple realized that she could match her $ 45,000 annual salary by running the shop.

“Starting out, it was the goal to make almost the same or, if not, just a little bit less than what I was making teaching,” says Valenti, who attributes much of the business’s growth to catering events. “We did that fairly quickly.”

This year, Thompson quit his job so they could open a second location.

The pair aren’t alone in trying their hands at baking — here’s another baker who turned her passion into a sweet gig. There are 7,757 retail bakeries in the U.S. as of the first quarter in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a 14.6% increase since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the baking business was everything Thompson and Valenti dreamed of.

Our vision of what we thought running a biscuit shop would be like was completely different than what it actually is,” Thompson says. “You think, oh, this is going to be cool — make a couple biscuits, hang out all day and when it’s slow, just sit and read some books.

“No, there’s none of that — we’re constantly making food.”

And although the path was unexpected, Thompson and Valenti say that starting over with new careers isn’t as much of a pie-in-the-sky idea as you might think.

Recognizing an Opportunity

Details of a person preparing biscuits and baked biscuits

From the beginning, the couple set themselves up for the possibility of expansion — just in case.

“When we tested the waters with our pop-up, we said, ‘Let’s rent a space and get the licensing,’” Thompson says. “‘Because if this works out, we can keep going forward. And if it doesn’t, then we’re not out too much — it’s going to be a meager Christmas, but that’s it.’”

Investing time and money turned out to be the incentive the couple needed to make some big decisions early on.

It was too much work to be half in,” Valenti says, and Thompson adds, “If you don’t find some level of commitment, you’re less motivated to keep driving forward.”

Transferable Skills

A man greets a customers at a biscuit shop

Although neither had previous experience in the food-service industry, Thompson and Valenti did bring translatable skills from their previous careers.

We’ve relied on and applied our teaching methods and our classroom management,” Thompson says. “You have to deal with different types of learners, and that flexibility on the management side has helped.”

Serving up biscuits behind the counter during a mid-morning rush, the pair calls out to customers by name — looking a lot like teachers at the head of a classroom.

After spending most of their professional careers in teaching, Thompson admits the couple misses certain elements of their old life — particularly when they attended an open house at their children’s school and realized they wouldn’t be setting up their own classrooms.

“If you do a career for 15 to 20 years, like we have with teaching and education, you’re going to miss it,” Thompson says. “There are certain routines and certain ways of life that you’re just used to.”

But the biscuit business has also offered the creative control that was sometimes missing from teaching, Valenti points out.

“Teaching is creative, but for us, we needed another outlet of something we ran,” Valenti says. “The biscuit shop is cooking, but it’s also a creative outlet for us — where we design the place, we make the menu, we make the recipes.

“It really feeds something that both of us are always looking for.”

Not Losing Sight of the Goal

The couple may have discovered a great way to make some dough, but what about their original idea, the learning center?

Thompson describes their vision for the first location as a junky robot repair shop that kids could explore before entering the learning center hidden in the back.

“None of that was realistic,” he says with a laugh.

The learning center is instead housed in a room off the main bakery, hidden behind a sliding chalkboard door that announces Biscuit Specials like Mississippi Maple and Nutter Butter Fluffer Nutter.

Staffed by volunteers, the center offers free tutoring, writing workshops and art classes after the bakery closes for the evening and on weekends.

Thompson notes that, although they enjoy baking, he and Valenti still consider the shop a way to fund their learning center.

“Being part of the learning community and sparking creativity is kind of our ultimate goal,” Thompson says. “We love making biscuits, but if we could [operate the center] full time, we would.”

Taking a Chance on New Careers

A couple pose for a portrait

The couple agrees that, despite the risks of leaving steady teaching jobs for the uncertainty of the culinary world, they have no regrets.

“You have those conversations of, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if one day,’” Thompson says. “We decided this has to be that ‘one day,’ because if we don’t, three years from now, we’ll get back to ‘what if.’”

Valenti notes that by challenging themselves to learn something new and by being flexible about their options, they’ve had an opportunity they thought they could only dream of.

Thompson’s advice to others fantasizing about a new career? You’ll never know if you don’t try.

“You have to take that plunge,” Thompson says. “Just be open to where it takes you.”

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer with The Penny Hoarder. Data journalist Alex Mahadevan contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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This 30-Day Challenge Will Help Any Married Couple Conquer Their Money Woes

Congratulations! You’ve said your vows. You’ve thrown that bouquet (who knew Grandma could jump like that?). You’re even rocking a nice tan from your honeymoon.

Now married life really begins. Like it or not, your finances are a major factor in your marriage. According to Dave Ramsey, 86% of couples who got married in the last five years started out in debt.

It’s OK. Take a deep breath. We’ve put together a one-month challenge for married couples to get your finances in shape for your happily ever after.

Do you accept the challenge? If so, say, “I do” (again).

Day 1: Check Your Credit Scores

Your credit score is important, now more than ever. The better your score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage, rental deposit, car loan or credit card. If either you or your spouse has a less-than-ideal credit score, it’s time to start working on it.

To keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and a “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how to address it.

Signing up for Credit Sesame will only take you a couple of minutes each, and it’ll even help you tackle any issues you see.

Day 2: Tackle Your Credit Card Debt

Sometimes “for better or for worse” includes taking on your spouse’s credit card or other high-interest debt. Don’t let it get you down. Instead, take those balances down in a smart way.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.

Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $ 100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

Day 3: Get Paid to Get Fit

Your honeymoon was full of buffets, decadent desserts and pina coladas. Totally worth it. Now it’s time to make up for those fun times.

There’s a cool company, HealthyWage, that will literally pay you for losing weight.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Read our full HealthyWage review, and sign up.
  2. Define a goal weight and the amount of time you’ll give yourself to achieve it.
  3. Place a bet on yourself ranging from $ 20 to $ 500 a month.

Depending on how much you have to lose, how long you give yourself to do it and how much money you put on the table, you could win up to $ 10,000!

Wondering if it can really work? We talked to one woman, Teresa Suarez, who lost 68 pounds — and made over $ 2,400.

The couple that gets fit together stays together, right?

Day 4: Budget Your Wedded Bliss

A budget is not fun, but you’ll be surprised at how freeing it can really be, especially for a married couple. You’ll know your limits and take the mystery out of your monthly spending.

The Empower app is a powerful budgeting tool that can help you figure out how you’re spending your money and develop a budgeting plan to keep you on track.

Link the app to your bank accounts, and it will track your spending. It will also categorize your spending so you can see exactly where you are overdoing it.

That’s right: It will show you just how many times you went out for dinner because it was your turn to do the dishes.

Day 5: Start Adulting With a Life Insurance Policy

When you’re married, you have someone else who counts on you. If you have a family, the last thing you want is to leave them without any financial support once you’re gone.

Getting a life insurance policy is a smart move — and it’s not as hard as it used to be.

Ethos, for example, can get you term life insurance in less than 10 minutes — with no medical exam — for coverage up to $ 1 million. Ethos offers a digital application, and customer service is available if you have questions.

It partners with a major life insurance carrier to quickly offer policies as low as $ 6 a month.

You don’t really want to think about “‘til death do us part,” but it’s a conversation you need to have. You’ve got this!

Days 6 and 7: It’s the Weekend! Find Free Stuff in Your City

What? You thought we’d make you work every day? Good marriages need room for quality time to have fun together, too, right? Just don’t spend a lot of money doing it.

From museums to community movie nights, there’s most likely a rich menu of 100% free things to do wherever you are!

Check your local newspaper or city website, and see what you can get into — without paying a dime.

Day 8: Find out If You’re a Power Couple

How do you compare to your peers? Are you the neighborhood’s power couple, or are you barely keeping up with the Joneses? It’s time to find out.

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers without asking those awkward, prying questions. Link an account to tap into this database and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

Day 9: Wash Your Car, and Clean up Your Car Insurance Bill

You each have a vehicle. One took you on your first date. The other was topped with streamers and balloons on your wedding day. Now it’s time to give them both a good wash — and then clean up your insurance bills.

Yes. There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year. So, just like you compare the prices of flights, shoes and laptops before purchasing, why not compare car insurance?

The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.

Day 10: Make a Shopping List — and Get Paid

You probably shopped online before you were married. You won’t likely stop now, right? But now it’s even more important to save money where you can.

One of our favorite ways to save is with Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something online. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash-back on online purchases at Walmart.

Plus, you’ll get a free $ 10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.

Day 11: Stock the Fridge and Pantry With Savings

They say that 90% of marriage is asking “What should we have for dinner?” That number may actually be a bit low.

One of the best ways to avoid this trap is to get ahead of it. If you plan your meals for the week and shop accordingly, you’ll be all set. You know what makes your meals taste even better than butter or salt? Savings.

Believe it or not, Ibotta will pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.

Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes, and earn cash back.

Ibotta is free to download. Plus, you’ll get a $ 10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.

Pre-planned dinner plus a pay day? That’s romance, right there!

Day 12: Put the Gold in Your ‘Golden Years’

When you said “I do,” you made a promise to make a future together. That future will look a lot better if you plan for your retirement right now.

If you’re like most people, you have no idea whether your 401(k) is on pace for retirement or just sputtering along.

Chances are, your 401(k) could be doing a lot better. Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.

It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis  that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees. It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire.

After that, if you sign up, it’s just $ 10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.

Think of Blooom like a mechanic constantly fine-tuning your car’s engine so it gives you the best possible performance and gas mileage. Except it’s your 401(k) — and your future.

Days 13 and 14: It’s The Weekend! Relax, and Grab a Glass of Wine

You’ve made great strides! Hey, marriage isn’t all work. Give yourself a break today. You’ve earned it.

Tonight, kick back, relax and enjoy each other’s company with a glass of wine. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard and spend a bundle on that bottle. Find a great bottle of wine for under $ 20, and toast to your financial progress.  

Day 15: Clear Your Clutter

Wow. Now that there are two of you, all of your stuff really adds up, doesn’t it? It’s not just the things you have two of, like ironing boards and disco balls; it’s clothes, shoes and furniture.

Set up shop, and make some extra money from the stuff you don’t need (and probably don’t have room for anymore).

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It removes a lot of the hassle of selling things online, and it’s 100% free to use.

Marriage tip: Only sell your stuff. Posting your spouse’s items is a one-way ticket to the dog house.

Day 16: Feel the Thrill With a Free Lottery

There’s something so satisfying about those gas station scratch-off tickets, but it’s better to avoid them because, well, that’s not Penny Hoarding.

Instead, try scratching for free using an app called Lucktastic. Each day, it releases a new assortment of digital scratch-off tickets. Lucktastic says instant wins range from $ 1 to $ 10,000. You can also earn tokens that you can exchange for free gift cards to retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, Kohl’s, Sephora and more.

You can even compete with your spouse. Who can win more tonight?

Day 17: Relax, and Watch a Good Show

OK, you’re ready for a little snuggle time. That’s fair.

Tonight, pop some popcorn, pour a cool beverage and plop down on that loveseat. But instead of watching a movie, earn some money by watching movie previews or other short videos.

InboxDollars lets you actually get paid to watch TV online. The site hosts a ton of stuff to watch, including cooking, entertainment, news and health shows. The shows are sponsored by brands that need to get them in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Every time you watch one, InboxDollars will credit your account with a little bit of cash.

Day 18: Get Money for Past Purchases

What couple couldn’t use a little extra money? Here’s an easy way to see whether you could get money back on purchases you’ve already made.

One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund when there’s a price drop.

Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get compensated.

Day 19: Protect Your Nest Without Robbing Your Nest Egg

If you own a car, you know that you need to protect it (and yourself) with insurance. But did you really check out your options? You could be paying too much for your coverage. Shopping around for insurance can be time consuming, though.

Fortunately, a service called Gabi will do it for you, and you don’t even have to fill out any forms. Simply link your insurance account and provide your driver’s license number, and Gabi will go to work.

Once you link your insurance account to Gabi, it will:

  • Scan your existing insurance plan.
  • Analyze what coverage you have.
  • Compare the major insurers’ rates for that same coverage.
  • Help you switch on the spot if it finds you a better rate.

Gabi says it finds an average savings of $ 720 per year for its customers.

It is a true apples-to-apples comparison at the same coverage levels and deductibles you currently have. Once you sign up, you never have to shop again. Gabi’s software has your policy on file and keeps on monitoring for savings as your life changes.

Day 20 and 21: It’s the Weekend! Enjoy Free Stuff at Your Gym or Apartment Complex

If you have a gym membership or a fitness lounge at your apartment complex, you might be missing out on lots of luxurious freebies.

Think tanning beds, massage chairs or complimentary personal training sessions.

Get down there, and treat yourself!

Day 22: Take the First Baby Steps to Investing

Marriage makes you think about the future. A lot. A big part of preparing for your financial future is investing. Now that you’ve invested in that ring, it’s time to go further.

Consider starting an investment account through Acorns.

You can start small and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $ 10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.

Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, we reviewed how Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to save at a rate of $ 420 a year!

At that rate, you could set aside $ 1,000 in about two and a half years — without trying.

The app is $ 1 a month for balances under $ 1 million, and you’ll get a $ 5 bonus when you sign up.

Day 23: Optimize Your Credit Card Rewards

So you want a credit card, but there are too many to choose from. What to do?

Should you leaf through your junk mail and just accept one of those credit card offers that show up in your mailbox? That would be quick and easy, right?

No, no, a thousand times no! Don’t do that. That’s a good way to end up unhappily shackled to a credit card that’s all wrong for you.

At least one in five cardholders are carrying around a credit card whose fees and rewards don’t match their actual spending habits, according to a 2016 study from J.D. Power.

To help you avoid becoming a statistic, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about credit cards — including how to pick the one that’s right for you.

Day 24: Focus on Some Extra Cash

You and your spouse take the most awesome pics, right? If you have a smartphone and a photographic eye, making money might have just gotten a lot easier.

An app called Foap lets you turn your smartphone photos into cash.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Download the free app and create an account.
  2. Take a quality photo and upload it to Foap’s marketplace.
  3. Someone buys the license to your photo for $ 10. You make $ 5.

If your photo sells 20 times, you make $ 5 each time and end up with $ 100 in your pocket — all for about five minutes of work and probably a nice stroll in the park with your spouse. Pretty cool, right?

Day 25: Put Your Bills on a Diet

Good news: As a married couple, you’ll share bills. Bad news: They’re still bills.

The price of internet — and cable, if you’re still into that kind of thing — certainly isn’t decreasing. If anything, prices are steadily climbing.

And if you’ve had to chat with a representative from your internet/cable company recently, you know how long you can sit on hold.

That’s why it’s time to call in a robot. The negotiation bot Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you.

It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers.

You can sign up simply with Facebook or your email address. Then, upload a PDF of your most recent bill, and Trim’s AI-powered system gets to work. If at first it doesn’t succeed, it’ll keep negotiating until it can save you some money.

Also, if you have any outages, Trim believes you deserve a credit, and it’ll handle that for you. Trim takes 25% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.

26: Go Window Shopping, and Earn Gift Cards

No extreme physical activity or pulled muscles required for this money-making trick that’s fun for couples. All you need to do is download the Shopkick app.

Once you sign up, the app pays you in “kicks” for walking into certain stores (including Walmart, Target, TJMaxx and more). You can redeem them for gift cards to a number of retailers, including Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, Sephora and Best Buy.

It pays you even more kicks for photos of receipts that include qualifying items you purchased in-store with a connected credit or debit card. You can also earn kicks for online purchases. You don’t have to do anything; your linked cards will automatically apply your kicks.

But don’t make the mistake of buying things you don’t need just for kicks, you know better than that.

Once you’ve earned your gift cards, you can enjoy them with a little quality time together.

Day 27 and 28: It’s the Weekend! Go to a Park

When’s the last time you went to the public park in your area?

You might be able to walk nature trails, goof around on a swing set, or just sit and watch the leaves fall. Take the time to simply be together and enjoy nature. It’s relaxing and relationship-building.

Day 29: Plan for a Bad Day. Seriously.

Few things stress marital bonds like sudden financial drama. A car breaks down. Someone breaks a toe, and medical bills pile up. The roof starts to leak.

The simplest way to avoid letting life’s little mishaps turn into financial disasters is to start an emergency fund. It’s simply a bank account with enough money to get you through a minor emergency or surprise bill.

But if you’re going to save, you might as well make some interest on that money, right?

An iOS app called Varo Money combines traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy.

Here’s the best part: Pair your Bank Account with a Varo Savings Account where you’ll earn 1.75% annual percentage yield. That’s nearly 30 times — repeat, 30 times — the average savings account, based on a 0.06% average reported by CNN Money.

Day 30: Play the Slots — and Earn More Interest Than at Your Bank

It’s Day 30!! Go ahead; relax, and play some games. But you’re not done helping your finances just yet.

The folks who created Long Game have you covered with a game that’s fun and helps you achieve your financial goals.  

As you save and accomplish missions, you’ll earn coins to play mini games for cash prizes. We’re talking the classics, like slot machines, scratch-offs and spin-to-win wheels.

Once you link your bank account, you’ll earn 300 coins, so you can start playing while you wait for payday. If you sign up before Nov. 30, 2018 and enter the code PENNY5, you’ll also get a bonus $ 5 in your account!

You Did It!

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? When you start thinking long-term, you need to think about your finances. When you bring someone else into the picture, it becomes even more important.

Tackling a few of these items can help set you up for a much better financial future. That’s worth a month’s work, right?

Now… let’s talk about having kids.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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http://www.acrx.org -As millions of Americans strive to deal with the economic downturn,loss of jobs,foreclosures,high cost of gas,and the rising cost of prescription drug cost. Charles Myrick ,the President of American Consultants Rx, announced the re-release of the American Consultants Rx community service project which consist of millions of free discount prescription cards being donated to thousands of not for profits,hospitals,schools,churches,etc. in an effort to assist the uninsured,under insured,and seniors deal with the high cost of prescription drugs.-American Consultants Rx -Pharmacy Discount Network News

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A blast from the past: French couple exhibits 3,000 objects from World War One

Vases carved out of shrapnel are displayed next to soldiers’ uniforms and a warplane figurine made out of the remains of a Zeppelin: welcome to the World War One-themed home of Chantal and Serge Giudice.


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Mandy Moore Drops a Couple of ‘This Is Us’ and Red Carpet Fashion Spoilers

It was just a regular Saturday girls’ night out, but not really, as Mandy Moore hosted dinner at One Gun Ranch, a women-led sustainable farm in the rolling hills of Malibu — complete with stunning views of the ocean and friendly horses, dogs, a donkey and a narcoleptic pig roaming freely. The …

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How This Couple Made $332K Worth of Debt Disappear While Raising 4 Kids

Don’t we all wish life were more like “The Brady Bunch”?

Two parents, both in their second marriages, could blend their families. There would be comedic dysfunction, yet all would end well.

But reality is a much different show.

Kids, ex-spouses, custody battles and emotional trauma often contribute to the 67% of second marriages that end in divorce.

Plus, couples bring more financial assets — and debt — into a second marriage. Each person often has goals and spending habits they don’t intend to change.

Pete and Maria Sbashnig knew all that when they got married in 2008.

To keep things the same for their kids after their divorces, each had lived in houses they couldn’t afford on their single incomes and used credit cards to fill in the gaps.

Pete had been divorced for two years when he married Maria. He had joint custody of his son and daughter. Maria had been divorced for six years with full custody of her two daughters.

All four kids played sports, and the whole family would take trips for competitions and tournaments. The sporting events brought the family together, but financially, they added up.

I just remember being so overwhelmed with the family dynamic and the blending of the family that finances weren’t even a consideration,” Pete said.

About a year and a half into their marriage, Pete found a net worth calculator on Bank of America’s website. His 401(k) had almost six figures, so he thought he was doing pretty well.

Pete, a letter carrier, and Maria, a legal assistant, had never combined their finances, so he figured it was time to see where they stood.

Midway through listing their debts — which included two mortgages, a home equity line of credit, two car loans and over $ 60,000 in credit card debt — he realized it was going to surpass their assets. But he didn’t realize by how much.

Their total debt was $ 332,000, putting their net worth at a negative $ 244,000.

After looking at this number, I had an emotional breakdown,” Pete said. “I personally felt that I was a complete failure. I was in my mid-30s, already divorced once. We were struggling to keep the new family together, and now it looked like we were bankrupt.”

Maria knew she’d made some financial mistakes, such as taking out an interest-only mortgage. Still, she felt she was managing her finances well enough.  

“I had been on my own with my kids for six years,” she said. “I liked the fact that I had control over my own money because I was not letting anyone control me or my money.”

How They Started Blending Finances

 

A family of four sit down for dinner at their home.
Jordyn, Dylan, Maria and Pete eat dinner at their home in Spring Hill, Fl. Pete and Maria managed to put their four kids through college while chipping away at their debt. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

The next day on his mail route, Pete changed the radio station from the sports broadcast he typically listened. He came across a guy giving callers debt-payoff advice. That guy turned out to be debt-free living evangelist Dave Ramsey.

When Pete told Maria the advice he’d heard, she knew the timing was too perfect to be a coincidence; she took it as a sign.

So together, they set out to eliminate everything but their mortgages.

“[Pete] approached it like, ‘We’re in this together. We’ve been doing this ‘your debt/my debt’ and ‘your bills/my bills’ this whole time, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,’” Maria said.

They had $ 5,000 in cash, but they used all but $ 1,000 to pay down debt. That made Pete anxious.

“It’s not like $ 5,000 is a ton of money, but it felt like a big security blanket,” he said.

In the first couple months, they had setbacks. They had to replace their water heater and dryer, pay for a car repair and, to top it off, had a subterranean termite infestation.

But these troubles didn’t happen all in one day. None of them cost more than $ 1,000, so they paid for them using their emergency fund and replenished it every payday.

How Teamwork Helped Them Crush Their Debt

A married couple smile for the camera.
Pete umpired baseball games, mowed lawns and helped his dad with his landscaping business to earn extra income. Maria clipped coupons, cooked meals at home and limited school shopping. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Pete took side jobs to increase their income. He umpired baseball games, mowed lawns for people he delivered mail to, and helped his dad with his landscaping business.

Maria cut the family’s expenses. She clipped coupons, cooked meals at home and limited school shopping.

“He played offense, and I played defense,” Maria said.

They paid off $ 65,000 in 17 months while making less than $ 100,000 per year combined.

“The first year, we didn’t eat out,” Pete said. “We ate out once. We got two pizzas. We spent $ 19 on two pizzas.”

They saw that when they worked on their finances together, they did exponentially better than they did when they managed them separately.

After they tackled their short-term debt, they worked on the mortgage from Pete’s prior house — which was underwater — and its home equity line of credit. They finally sold it in 2013 and started focusing on the last debt: their mortgage.

What About the Kids?

A family spend time together in their kitchen.
Maria and Dylan watch as Jordyn shows off her new cat slippers. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

When Pete and Maria started paying down debt, their kids ranged in age from 8 to 14. Needless to say, the change in spending was an adjustment.

The kids started doing more chores around the house to earn money and were limited on what they could pick out at grocery and clothing stores.

They were all allowed to continue doing their sports and competitions — just without the frills, which sometimes caused resentment.

“They didn’t like the fact that we’d go to the baseball tournament and everyone was going out to eat, and we’re like, ‘Sorry, we’re going home,’” Maria said.

The Sbashnigs also wanted to make sure their children didn’t start their adult lives fighting to get out of debt, so they wanted to save for their college. But they made sure the kids had some skin in the game.

Their children all had to apply for scholarships. Ultimately, a state program paid for 75% of their tuitions. Pete and Maria supplemented the rest, along with housing and books.

With two kids now out of college and two entering their sophomore years, the Sbashnigs say their children are making their own financial decisions. They’ve seen what you can accomplish by saving and investing, and they’re on the path to doing well with money.

Debt-Free Now — So What’s Next?

A family prepare dinner together.
Maria makes dinner as Jordyn prepares dessert. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

In November 2017, Pete and Maria paid off their house — the culmination of a $ 332,000 debt-payoff journey that spanned almost a decade.

Now, Pete and Maria travel and live with a freedom they’ve never experienced before.

Shortly before they paid off the house, Maria’s employer cut her work-from-home hours. Because they were so close to being debt-free, she was able to take a part-time job at a law firm. The job change cut her income, but it allowed her to be at home even more. It was a choice they wouldn’t have even been able to consider before.

Moving forward, Pete and Maria want to help others in similar situations — people in divorced or blended families — through their blog, books and counseling.

Pete and Maria hope their story will encourage others to work together to get stronger.

“One Belgian horse can pull 8,000 pounds, but you put two of them together — and train them properly — they can pull three times that amount,” Pete said. “That was the same thing we found when we worked together.”

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money saving and debt payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.

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This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.


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