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Church offers financial counseling for families

Kendra Trautman plays a game with her son, Scott, 8. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Jan. 10, 2007 | PLANO, Texas (UMNS)

Custer Road United Methodist Church lies in the middle of one of the most prosperous areas of the country, home to high-tech companies and upscale restaurants and retailers near Dallas.

But something not reflected in the Census Bureau’s household-income figures is families living beyond their means.

“We have a lot of people that have high salaries, but they spend more each year than what they make,” said the Rev. Rick Enns, associate minister at Custer Road.

The Rev. Rick Enns leads the financial-counseling Bible study at Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

Under his guidance, the church offers a 10-week Bible study on finances. The course covers not just giving to the church, but overall financial planning and dealing with credit cards and other debts.

“Collin County has a large debt ratio,” said Enns.

“So I see people that come in that are upside down in their rent. They’re struggling with what they’re going to do each month and each week — not enough paycheck at the end of the month.”

The area also faced an economic downturn around 2000, when many high-tech companies were laying off employees. Enns said the dip forced some families to adjust their lifestyles.

Difficult decisions

Tony McIntyre and his wife, Toni, eliminated more than $60,000 in debt since taking the course two years ago.

“It’s been a huge change, a big difference,” said Toni McIntyre, a court reporter who works part-time from her home. “We tried for 10 years by ourselves to get our debt under control, and we could not do it.”

Part of the adjustment for her husband, a software engineer for Microsoft, was making fewer trips to his favorite electronics store.

“I do a lot more window shopping now,” he said.

Another difficult decision was selling his prized pickup. That saved more than $500 a month in payments and reduced a $300 monthly gasoline bill for his commute to work. He now drives his wife’s eight-year-old car.

“It’s nice to have that truck, but it’s nicer not having a car payment,” he said.

The McIntyres still allow themselves an occasional luxury, such as a portable GPS navigation unit. They bought it with cash and points accumulated on a credit card.

“I’ve wanted a GPS because, like some guys, I’m directionally challenged,” Tony McIntyre said. “So we can still get nice, cool things, it’s just that we don’t get them as often.”


Toni McIntyre and her husband, Tony, reduced their household debts by $60,000 in two years. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

The McIntyres now help teach the financial course at Custer Road United Methodist Church.

Tracking expenses

Others who have taken the course, and now volunteer to teach, include Jeff and Kendra Trautman — both certified public accountants. Jeff Trautman is an accountant for a large information-technology company, and his wife works part-time at the church.

Even though they have three children, the Trautmans will not be struggling this year with after-Christmas bills.

“I think sometimes the adults and the grownups start kind of trying to compete with each other on who’s getting the best and who’s getting the most, and we try really hard not to fall into that trap,” Kendra Trautman said.

One of their children, Scott, 8, asked for a football jersey for Christmas — unlike other neighborhood children whose lists were much longer.

“They’re greedy ’cause they have a bunch of stuff on their lists,” he said.

Jeff Trautman said an important part of the course is developing a budget and tracking where money is spent.

“Most people don’t like to budget or look, keep track of the expenses,” he said. “And it’s very surprising at times to see how much you’re spending on what.”

He said credit-card debt is a common cause of problems for families.

“A lot of people think the minimum payment will eventually pay it off in five to seven years,” he said. “When in reality, the minimum payment is set up so that you never pay it off.”

New way to live

The church started offering the financial course three years ago and classes have remained full. The Bible study is based on a course developed by the non-denominational Crown Financial Ministries.

Enns said the experience has been life-changing for church members.

“It’s just to neat to see that light turn on in their head when, for the first time, they understand, ‘You know what, I don’t have to live this way.’”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.


News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Custer Road United Methodist Church
6601 Custer Road, Plano, TX 75023
(972) 618-3450

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