The shift in their money habits and discipline ultimately led the Jensens to financial success.
Financial well-being comes down to habits, said Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah.
For those who are looking to make financial shifts, she said, the first step is awareness. This is important because it diagnoses problems early.
"You get rid of the stress the more that you know and the more control you have over your money."
It can be intimidating initially, but in the long run, she said, it can be liberating.
"Open up your mail. Find out where you are. Find out who you owe money to," she said.
She said people should look at their credit reports, check for errors and see if anyone else is using their name.
Overall, she said, be proactive. Take a look at things and catch financial problems early.
Jeff Lambert, a certified financial planner with 30 years of experience consulting clients in finances, said climbing out of financial despair and toward a prosperous future takes commitment.
His job is to help clients put money in its proper place so they don't think it is more valuable than it is. Once they stop seeing money as a means to happiness and instead see it as a tool to be managed, they can more easily make positive changes.
Getting out of debt means recognizing what you have, rather than looking at what you lack, he said.
He offered three ways to make practical changes, so families can go from not having enough to having more than enough money.
1. Foster a prosperity mindset: Self-defeating thoughts contribute to debt, Lambert said, so the belief that it is all right to have money is "hugely valuable."
"It's really easy to get caught in some traps thinking you don't deserve enough," Lambert said. When people believe that they deserve good things, they will begin to attract and recognize opportunities.
2. Commit and pay attention: "I think that the reason that people are in debt and get burdened with debt and can't get out is that they're not paying attention to the money that they spend and what's coming in," Lambert said.
This was the case with Heather McVey, who is married and a mother of three. She said her monthly budget expanded or contracted based on how much she spent. About 10 years ago, the McVeys looked at where they could cut back expenses.
They made the decision to have her increase her work hours and her husband worked three jobs to climb out of debt. They still live paycheck to paycheck, she said, but now they decide where their money is spent — in savings, investing and toward quality purchases — rather than the bills and debt payments making that decision for them.
"Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure helps you maintain it," McVey said.
3. Be nimble and flexible: Plans fall through, Lambert said, and families need to be flexible and willing to work around these changes. The Jensens said they learned this lesson when they were halfway through paying off their debt.
Rusty Jensen developed pancreatitis and was in the intensive care unit for seven days and in the hospital for four more. Because he was unable to work during this time, he lost his job as an independent consultant, so their family had no income. He was so sick for a month and a half that he couldn't even look for a job. His son, Rush, was then 9 months old.
"It was a devastating situation," he said. "A lot of people might look in the face of that situation and give up."
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