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It’s an old adage, perhaps overused, but fitting just the same: Put something away for a rainy day. For Kysa and Derwin Daniels of Conyers, Georgia, the downpour came last Thanksgiving when Kysa, 35, lost her job as an overnight anchorperson at CNN Headline News in Atlanta. “I was blindsided,” she says. “I had just been given keys to my new desk literally minutes before I was laid off.” But the Danielses have since put away $18,000 and have remained relatively unaffected by the loss of Kysa’s job because of their adherence to DOFE Principle No. 5: to engage in sound budget, credit and tax management practices. Their diligence has left them debt-free. The emergency fund remains untouched, and Kysa adds her severance pay to it as they continue to live solely on Derwin’s salary of $48,000.
But things weren’t always so simple. When Kysa graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico, with a master’s degree in mass communications, she went back to Texas to live with her mother while she worked at the Houston Defender. It would have been the perfect opportunity to build up her savings; instead it marked the beginning of her spiral into debt. “When you don’t have to account for your money, it just goes,” says Kysa who, though she describes herself as a modest spender, is unable to say exactly where her money went. It wasn’t until 1994, with the birth of her son, Ryan, that the then single mother had to really juggle to make ends meet. She had to pay 20% of the hefty hospital bill after having her son. And living on her own, she occasionally used her credit card to pay the rent. “I told myself I’d pay it off,” she explains, “but things just began to mount. I had only two cards, but between them I was $12,000 in debt.”
Kysa made other financial mistakes, among them, cosigning on a loan for an ex-boyfriend who left her with an additional $3,000 of debt. Eventually, she determined that it was time to get her finances in order, but it wasn’t until she married Derwin in 1997 that they put a plan into action. “I’ve never really used credit cards or had much debt,” says Derwin, 41, a coordinator of fire management on the Decatur campus of Georgia Perimeter College. He used those fiscal principles to set the tone for the marriage.
The couple began by listing all their debts on a dry-erase board, an amount totaling just over $20,000. They agreed to live on Kysa’s then $33,000 salary and used Derwin’s to pay the debt. As each amount was paid, they crossed it off rather than erasing it so they could track their progress. In just 10 months the debt was gone. They paid off both their car notes, totaling about $34,000, a little over a year ago, then began building an emergency fund.
“It was simple math,” Kysa says, “the power of two.” The next goal is to pay
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