Victor Blackful, a Chicago DJ known as "the Diz", made a nice living as half of the Bad Boyz, a hip-hop and R&B radio duo on WGCI-FM. But every month without fail, he and his wife, Michelle, who stays home with their two young children, spent more than they were earning. Roughly $5,000 was coming in. Roughly $7,000 was going out. By the time Victor decided to try Oprah's Debt Diet, the family had more than $7,000 on plastic.
On March 1, he tucked a small notebook into his back pocket so he could track every penny spent ( Step 2 ). Each Monday, he'd pull it out and report to his show's listeners. Between gas and parking, he was paying $32 a day to drive to and from work. That was a staggering $640 a month, or $7,680 a year. Plus, eating on the run was adding up. "I'd walk in [to a convenience store] to get a bottle of water," he said, "and come out $8 later." The Blackfuls went to restaurants every night. "In this house, it was Chinese on Monday, pizza on Tuesday, Subway on Wednesday, and McDonald's on Thursday." Victor sat Michelle down and explained that he was going to start taking public transportation and that the family's weeknight restaurant outings had to stop.
Michelle feared the debt diet would be harder for her than for Victor because she was running the household. She suggested online grocery shopping, which she heard would be cheaper because you'd stick to your list. Although the Blackfuls are always on the go, Michelle, like Victor, cut out fast food. Instead, before she leaves the house with the kids, she packs grapes, carrots and sandwiches. "We're eating better and we feel better," she said.
Change their habits was only a start. Michelle wanted Victor to agree to move ( Step 7 ). They could get the same size property across the lake in Indiana for 30 percent less than in their Chicago suburb, she said; they'd pay half the taxes and could send the kids to excellent public schools. Victor was having a very tough time with that idea, so Dr. Robin tried to help him understand that "consistent sacrifices lead to big, lasting payoffs financially and in marriage." Victor recognized that he was reluctant to leave the house because it had once been his bachelor pad, and selling it represented a clear end to his carefree days. However, says Dr. Robin, "he was transformed by the knowledge that what he thought he needed to survive was draining his bank account, his marriage, and his joy." In May, the Blackfuls put their house on the market for $90,000 more than Victor paid for it in 2001. Within a month, they were getting nibbles.
Victor's commute now costs $9.60—a savings of $22 a day, $440 a month. By shopping for groceries online, they've trimmed that bill by $400 a month. Not eating out on weekdays has cut several hundred dollars more. They've reduced their $7,000-plus credit card debt to $2,500, and Victor lost 16 pounds without trying.
The Blackfuls are looking forward to the future. "I made an appointment with a financial planner," Victor said. "If we're not going to have to pay private school tuition, we can start putting money away for college."