MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Sometimes debt can be seen as a neverending mountain, getting higher and steeper, keeping some financially trapped for years.
Tech. Sgt. George Madrid, a 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron quality assurance evaluator, and his wife, Erika, found themselves $230,000 deep in debt, and their financial mountain looked like Mt. Everest. They needed a way out.
Today, the couple is debt-free, sharing their story with Misawa service members seeking financial help and explaining how to become good stewards of their money.
“My first piece of advice would be to listen to those who are trying to advise you on your finances,” George said. “There were people in my life as a younger Airman who talked about budgeting and how to set up your finances and poured wisdom into my life. That helped me be financially responsible.”
Six years ago, though, their lives looked much different.
“We had around $230,000 in debt,” Erika said. “Emotionally, it was really hard for me. I owned $40,000 in clothes alone. I didn’t want a budget, and I didn’t want to give up the lifestyle I had. However, George wanted to save for the future and ‘change the family tree.’”
The Madrids explained they didn’t have in-depth talks about their money management, which attributed to their financial burdens.
“It was surface level,” Erika said. “We never talked about it for our first few years of marriage. We didn’t even have a budget until we were pregnant with our first child, Bria.”
George added the realization of having their first little one hit home with him.
“We had to get real,” George said. “We were going to be a mom and dad, and we have to be grown-ups. We have to take care of someone. That’s all it took to spark it off.”
To add kindling to their spark, George came across a radio show about money and getting financial help. Soon, he found himself diving into podcasts, watching videos and reading books to educate himself on money.
The kindling caught flame, and their tiny spark turned into a blazing fire as life changed more and more for the family. They sold their two cars, which totaled to $60,000, for $17,000 each, the large house they built for themselves and as many clothes as possible.
“It was one of the most difficult things I had to go through,” Erika said. “My hardship was going from spending money on whatever I wanted to having a limit. I couldn’t eat out all the time, and you really have to think, ‘I only have this set amount, do I really want to spend it on this item?’”
Being debt-free for two years now, the Madrids took their passion and began teaching Financial Peace University classes at the base chapel.
“If I can go on a budget, anyone in the world can go on a budget,” Erika proclaimed.
She added that Misawa AB was the first base at which they started teaching the classes and agrees it’s impacted a few Airmen.
“We have seen the effects the class has on Airmen already,” Erika said. “Even though we are only in week four, there are differences in how couples talk with each other, and many singles are changing their mindsets, helping them realize this is a really good time to start saving.”
Staff Sgt. Jacob Singletary, a 35th LRS inbound cargo supervisor, said that until he joined the finance class, he didn’t realize how much the small things they paid for totaled into large amounts, which he thanks the class for helping his wife and him see.
“I like the class,” Singletary said. “It’s giving my wife and me more of an insight on how to budget our money. We calculated if we strictly stick to our budget, we can get a majority of our debt paid off by the end of our Misawa tour.”
Erika said carelessness is a big reason why people get into debt, but Airmen can avoid it.
“It’s important for people to get finances together while they’re still young because, typically, you do not have a large amount of debt,” George said. “It’s small, and if Airmen start right away, they can knock it out of the way."
Joining the Air Force comes with a plethora of financial benefits, but with that comes a stack of responsibility. George said if Airmen remain willing to listen to those wise financial leaders in their life, they can avoid troubles that come with financial headaches.