A Handsome Reward

“We’re completing our journey from the pit to the palace,” says Samuel Collins III. After years of sacrifice, he and his wife, Doris, are preparing to move into an historic estate in Hitchcock, Texas. Once owned by Confederate Army lieutenant and horticulturist Henry Martyn Stringfellow, their new 12-room house has four bedrooms and sits on 9 1/2 acres—which should be plenty of room for the couple and their three kids: Torin, 11; Dallas, 9; and Joseph, 7.

Last summer, while the Collins’ 125-year-old home was being renovated, they opened the estate for a weekend of community events to mark June 19 or Juneteenth, the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas learned they were free. That weekend, Doris and Sam say they also celebrated their financial freedom. The momentous milestone was achieved through strict financial discipline, which allowed the couple to climb out of debt and purchase and restore the historic home.

Just six years earlier, they were neck deep in debt and living paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment in Texas City. Desiring more space, the couple purchased an acre of land in Hitchcock for $8,000 and shelled out $500 for architectural plans for their dream home. But when they applied for a $140,000 mortgage, delinquencies on Doris’ credit report resulted in a subprime mortgage offer at an interest rate close to 10%. “I was shell-shocked,” says Sam, who was just starting his career as a financial adviser. They refused the loan.

At the time, the Collins’ combined income of $61,000 was just marginally higher than their $55,000 debt—which included a $15,000 loan they had taken against their plot of land, as well as car loans, student loans, and credit card debt. Discouraged, they resolved to fix Doris’ credit and to tighten their belts.

As a first step, they signed up for a 13-week debt-reduction program taught at a church in Galveston using videos from financial guru Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program. Nine months later, they had paid off $40,000 in liabilities, learning many material and spiritual lessons about wealth along the way.

To reach their goal, they quickly jettisoned their cell phones and stayed “cell free” for more than a year, saving at least $1,200. Doris, 36, and Sam, 35, set a budget, cut excess spending, stopped eating out, and began paying cash whenever possible. Already saddled with a $250 monthly car payment on their 2000 Dodge Neon, Sam refused to pay for repairs or buy another car when his 1989 Honda Prelude broke down. Instead he put his pride aside and caught rides to work with his assistant, paying for gas. If he had a client meeting, Sam took the working car and dropped Doris off at her job as an assistant manager at Walgreens.
Another innovation was family game night, where they played board games or found other free entertainment. They also started the Collins family bank, where all spare change is pooled for family treats, such as movies and ice cream. What’s more, rather than splurging on big