Do you feel like you’ll never get out from under your pile of debt?
If so, you need to read this inspiring story from the Miller family.
As their family grew from five mouths to feed to seven and with a wage of no more than $14.50 per hour, Ella and Lavern Miller paid off $137,000 of debt in four years!
Read on to hear from Ella Miller herself how they paid off so much debt in such a relatively short time.
My name is Ella Miller, and I’m married to Lavern Miller. My husband is 41, and I am 42. We have five children — Kathryn Ann (age 15), Danny Lin (age 12), Emily Rose (age 9), Regina Grace (age 7), and Anita Sue (age 5).
We live in Nunn, Colorado, about 60 miles north of Denver.
We decided we needed to get out of debt back in 2007 when it felt like we had no other option. We don’t regret our decision.
We paid off $137,000 of debt in four years and were completely debt free until we bought our property and house in 2014. We are working hard to pay that off quickly.
Lavern and I got married in 2002 when I was 28 years old and my husband was 27.
At that time, he had a good job at a furniture shop, and I worked at the same place peeling house logs. I quit my job shortly after when I became pregnant.
We had the opportunity to rent a place with a shop on it, so we thought it would be ideal if he would quit his job and make furniture at home. For awhile we were able to sub-contract furniture for the same company he had worked for at the shop.
In 2003, we bought a bigger shop, and moved again, but still on rented property.
Because we bought a bigger shop our payments were bigger too so we decided to make kitchen cabinets too because we weren’t always busy with the other furniture.
We thought it was a dream come true because Lavern could work at home, but it wasn’t long before we realized that we were in a vicious cycle. With doing cabinets we had a lot more overhead expenses, and the money never seemed to come in fast enough to pay our bills.
Because we went bigger, we also had to have hired help. So we struggled along for four years until our backs were against the wall.
It wasn’t too long before we realized that we didn’t really know what we had gotten ourselves into.
We had both grown up Amish and went to school through the 8th grade, but we were never taught a lot about money matters.
We were both taught how to work hard, which was a good thing, especially for the next few years.
In August of 2007, my husband bid on a huge set of cabinets for a guy, and the guy was pretty certain he was going to get my husband to make them but later changed his mind.
It was then my husband realized that we couldn’t continue this way. We already knew before then that things weren’t looking good for us, but we were always able to scrape by.
For some reason in July of that same year, we had decided not to use credit cards anymore, but we had a lot of debt accrued on them already.
In June of the same year, however, we bought a Dodge Dakota that was almost brand new. Our thinking was that as long as we could make the payments we would be good. Those payments were $527.18 per month. (Makes me sick to think about it now.)
My husband wasn’t sure what to do so he called three of the church brethren together to ask for their advice. The Bible says in Proverbs in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
(In March of 2007, we left the Amish culture and joined a bible believing church in our area.)
We pulled out all of our books and showed them all our debt. We owed on the Dodge Dakota, on the furniture shop, on seven credit cards, to some of our suppliers, and on three other unsecured loans from the local bank.
The total came to $137,000.
These men advised us to have an auction and sell everything, and they said that my husband should get a day job.
So that is what we did.
A guy from church offered my husband a job working in a mechanic shop starting at $14.00 an hour. He started working there in September of 2007.
In October of 2007, we had the auction. After we sold everything we could and all our money went to the bank, our debt came to $100,000.
All we had left was what we had in our house, our healthy able bodies, and the faith in God that we were going to make it somehow.
Later in 2008, we took the Dodge Dakota back to the dealers where we got it. (We had tried selling it before then, but that didn’t work out.) They gave us $13,500. So we still owed $11,000 on it.
My brother Hank put up his backhoe as collateral for us so we were able to get the loan from the bank. We paid the dealers and then paid the bank back in payments, which took us two years.
When my husband started working at the mechanic shop, he was putting in 12 hour days, and we were making right around $3,200 a month.
Our debt payments were $2,300 a month, and our rent was $300 a month at that time; although later it went up to $450 a month.
One of the men from our church who advised us on how to get out of debt also helped us get on a budget, which is absolutely essential if you want to get out of debt.
I started keeping track of everything we spent, and I still do that even eight years later.
The same guy that had the mechanic shop also had a logging business. In February of 2008, he asked my husband to get his CDL to drive truck so that he could haul logs out of the mountains in western Montana. At that time, we were living in Rexford, Montana about 1 1/2 miles from the British Columbia border.
My husband’s pay was raised $0.50, so now he was making $14.50 an hour.
We really had no choice but to try to live as frugally as possible because somehow we knew we were going to make this work
Every month we made out a budget and started giving and putting a little in savings.
It was amazing to us how we were able to put even a little bit in savings, whereas before our money never seemed to reach that far.
After we got rid of the Dodge Dakota, one of the men from church helped us buy a Subaru for $2,500. He paid it up front, and we paid him $100 a month until it was paid off.
My husband started hauling logs in May of 2008. His workdays were between 12 and 16 hours long. He worked very hard and never took off work in those first two years.
We only had one car, and he took it to go to work, which was 30 miles away. He parked the car at the mechanic shop, and then took the truck from there.
We had three children at this time, and in November of 2008, our 4th child was born. She was born at a midwife’s house so it didn’t cost very much.
It was in October of 2008 when we were first introduced to Dave Ramsey, his book, “Total Money Makeover,” and the debt snowball. Reading his books opened our eyes, and we became even more diligent in trying to get out of debt.
We lived very simply. I stayed home with the children and homeschooled them during the winter.
In the summer, I did gardening with them, which also helped some with the grocery bill.
I did some odd jobs from home to help with the income, but they weren’t anything dependable.
When my husband started hauling logs, we were making closer to $4000 a month because of all the hours he was putting in.
When he was logging, we had to make sure we put money in savings to tide us over in the spring for four to five weeks. When it would be too wet to get in the woods, he would hardly have any work during that time.
My husband wrecked twice in the big rig with a load of logs. Both times he walked away with barely a scratch. We feel it was the Lord keeping him safe.
In 2009, we started our debt snowball.
Starting our debt snowball was so much fun. It made so much sense to do it that way and watch the debt go down.
Our youngest daughter was born in August of 2010, bringing us to five children.
In December of 2010, we took Dave Ramsey’s class, which helped us a lot.
In the fall of 2010, the logging business wasn’t doing so well. By winter, we weren’t sure we would be able to pay our bills.
Luckily, in the fall of 2010, the boss asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind going to the oil fields of North Dakota. My husband agreed so in April of 2011, he took the truck and headed for Fairview, Montana, which is close to the ND line.
He started hauling water and was still making $14.50 an hour, which came to between $45,000 and $50,000 a year because of all the hours he put in.
When he first arrived, he was able to bill 22 hours a day some days because of the work he was doing.
That lasted till August 2011. After that, he wasn’t able to bill that many hours.
In June of 2011, we all went over to Fairview, Montana as a family.
When he started going over in April, he would come home every two weeks to be with us, but in June we found a place where we could all stay. In order to move, we needed a family vehicle so the weekend when he came to get us we went to Kalispell, Montana to go vehicle shopping.
We found one we liked, and we had $4,000 cash in our pocket. They wanted $7,500, but we offered them $3,800 cash and they took it. We call it our God vehicle because we prayed for a vehicle for a year or so before we bought it. While it has a lot of miles on it now, that vehicle has served us well.
We could see our debt going down, and the pay was especially good the first couple of months when we were in eastern Montana. But in August the company stopped doing so well, so from August of 2011 to September of 2012, we didn’t make as much as we had been making in western Montana.
In November of 2011, we paid our last debt. It felt so freeing!
Being debt free was definitely a new feeling. It felt like we had run a marathon!!!!!
Today, we have three vehicles. We paid cash for two of them, and the third one was given to us.
After we became debt free, a friend gave us $10,000 to buy a trailer house while we lived in eastern Montana. This friend told us we never had to pay it back if we didn’t want to. But the year after becoming debt free my husband made $100,000, and we were able to pay back that $10,000 before the year was up.
Later, before we moved to Colorado, we sold the trailer for $23,000. With that money and our savings, we had enough to put 20% down on our property where we live now.
We made sacrifices to reach our goal like not going on family vacations and not keeping up with the crowds. My husband worked all the time. He never asked for time off. It didn’t matter if it was a holiday or not. We would celebrate holidays on his days off.
We saved money by buying mostly secondhand clothing, and we’d also do sale shopping and only buy what we needed.
My best advice for others who want to get out of debt is to stay focused on your goal and do not become sidetracked by stuff or wanting to do things you cannot afford.
Stay focused on how much you’re spending. It is absolutely vital to be diligent in writing everything down so you know how much you’re spending. And it is very important that both husband and wife are on the same page.
The best part about being debt free is that we are not stressed about money, and I don’t feel like we have to buy things just to have things. We are just not as willing to throw our money away. We have learned to do with what we have.
And the very best part is that it’s so much fun to be able to GIVE!!
I want to thank Ella and Lavern for agreeing to share their truly inspirational story with us.
I am in complete awe of the determination and faith that they demonstrated to reach their goal.
What a noble example to set for their five kids!
They have proven that paying off a mountain of debt is possible, no matter how much income you bring in. It takes drive, sacrifice, and a lot of hard work, but it can be done.
Now I’d love to hear about you!
What parts of the Ella and Lavern’s story did you find most inspiring? What advice from Ella can you apply to your life? Please share in the comments below.