Samuel and Kirstie O’Banner posted a photo to share with family and friends through social media on December 31, 2015. That photo went viral within hours. Our editor had the opportunity to chat with the couple about their journey to becoming debt free in just 15 months.
Q: Who was the first to mention debt in the relationship? When did you do mention it?
Samuel: I mentioned debt when we were dating, when I first met her. We have a unique story. Our first date was January 9, 2014. It was my first time even seeing her and then we got married seven months later. When I met her I was facilitating a financial course. Every Tuesday night it gave me the opportunity to bring up the course. It was an easy way to lead up to the conversation because it was important to me.
Q: What were the next steps after the acknowledgement that the debt existed?
Samuel: To pull her credit report.
Kirstie: Let me clarify. He likes to make jokes! Like he said, he was facilitating the financial course. Part of the process that the participants would go through is that they would pull their credit reports and arrange their debt in a way so they could start paying it off.
I lived about five minutes from the church where he was facilitating the course every Tuesday night. He would come by my house after the course, we would have dinner and talk about whatever they talked about in the class. It was so easy to talk about the subject because we would discuss how the class went. That’s how the credit report came about because I began to go through the class even though I wasn’t going to the church.
What he did was purchase the kit they were using in the class for me so I could go along with what they were doing in the class.
Q: Since you started, Kirstie, while you were dating did you start to handle some things before you got married?
Kirstie: I was definitely grasping the concept and I was learning. There were a couple of things that I did pay off because I was learning the steps. I had no idea that we were going to get married. I was just trying to learn things for myself not knowing where we were going to go.
Q: What sacrifices did you make within those 15 months so you could clear out the debt?
Samuel: I always say this, compared to the way some people live in other countries it’s not really a sacrifice. We’re still very blessed and fortunate. But, to answer your question, we didn’t go out to eat a lot as much as we were used to. We didn’t have any cable. We’re not big t.v. watchers anyway.
We kept our expenses low. We had very cheap rent. A lot of people sometimes want to impress and get a nice house and what not. We have a nice place but it’s not expensive.
Kirstie: We just got creative with different things. Samuel likes to use the term, opportunity cost. That’s when you take money and you have the opportunity to do what you want to do with it and you miss out on something else. I’m a person who likes to shop. I used to shop a lot! I would get my hair done. I would get my nails done. I scaled back
with that. I started doing my own hair instead of going to the salon.
I was saving, literally, hundreds of dollars there alone. There were some things that we really had to decide. Another thing that was big for us was grocery shopping. I would go somewhere that was convenient and I changed that up and started shopping at places that were more cost effective, even if it was out of my way. I was able to cut our grocery budget in half.
Samuel: I want to note this too, even with finding out about the debt before dating, what made me propose was that I always told myself that I didn’t have to marry somebody that was debt free. We just needed to be on the same page. I felt like Kirstie was on the same page with me. I told her before that I wanted us to be debt free and knock this out if we were to get married. Even before marriage she was on board. So, that gave me the confidence to go through and here we are today.
Q: When you were going through the steps to become debt free what did you experience emotionally and spiritually?
Samuel: For me, earlier in the marriage, it was a bit stressful. I had been debt free for three of four years prior to that. I was adjusting to being married and living with someone. I embraced the debt. We never said this is Kirstie’s debt. I always said it’s our debt. That added a little stress.
Kirstie: Samuel had to go back to tightening the budget and get back in the mode to pay off debt.
Samuel: It takes intensity. You have to attack it. I was getting myself prepared mentally for that.
Kirstie: That’s one of the things that I remember a gentleman saying that teaches on debt. He said, “You can wander into debt, but you can’t wander out of it.” That’s true. You have to be very intense. It’s easy to do what we want to do instead of what we know we should do.
It was difficult for me and still is difficult for me. I had come from a place where I did not budget. It was a struggle because everything that you’re used to I couldn’t do because of the accountability of marriage coupled with trying to get out of debt. I was trying to break a habit. It was stressful for me to have those conversations where it was noticed that I was spending outside of the budget. I had to remind myself this is what we are doing and I have to stick to it. He (Samuel) wasn’t hard on me but had to remind me of what we were doing.
Q: Did God deal with you at all throughout the process?
Kirstie: Of course you hear people say you can trust God and he’s faithful. What we realized going through paying off the debt is that the motivation was to honor God in our finances and to be good stewards. It was not just to say we were debt free to spend money on other stuff. The desire was to honor God in every area of our lives and I think finances has to be included with that. When we were going through the process we began to see God open doors. We were blessed tremendously throughout this process. It’s almost like God was right there with us saying he was going to help us because we were looking to honor him. Things began to happen that were en-explainable. We both experienced increases as far as our incomes. I was able to get two new jobs and both came with substantial raises within that year. My husband is a recording artist and he was getting different engagements and I started a business. It was crazy to see how God was blessing us at every turn. We really didn’t expect for these things to happen but it aided us throughout the process and kept us encouraged. Spiritually, we saw the faithfulness of God. It helped us to trust him even more.
Q: Why did you choose to share your story on social media? Did you think it was going to take off like it did?
Kirstie: Samuel posted it because some of our friends knew the journey we were on. We were facilitating a financial course earlier in the year last year. We were able to share with some of the people in the class. We shared the post for our friends we had no clue that it was going to generate the type of attention that it did.
Samuel: We were both on our way out the door after we made the final payment on the student loans. I said, “Kirstie, lets share with our friends online.” We put the picture up and we walked out the door. I get notifications to my phone and I started getting hundreds and hundreds of notifications.
We share our life all the time talking about debt, music and whatever is in our heart at the time. But I guess this resonated with people because it gave them hope.
Q: What do you want to say to encourage our readers?
Kirstie: They can do it. It’s possible. In the culture we live in people feel like it’s normal to have debt. They feel like it’s okay to always owe somebody for this or that. You can do it the way scripture teaches us. It’s worked for us and it’s worked for countless people. We believe the word of God. I feel if we are going to trust scripture then we should believe it in every area of our lives, including our finances. When you begin to obey what God has to say about money you begin to see that things from our culture contradicts but it works and it really is the best way to be.