David Bach and the Egglestons

The Egglestons nearly filed for bankruptcy because of their mounting debt. With help from financial expert David Bach, they're tackling their money problems and taking control of their finances. After five hours of getting organized, it's time for Sally and Dan to take the first step in the Debt Diet plan.

Step 1: Calculate debt and get your credit score
After doing the math, Sally and Dan discover they have $43,521 in credit card debt. What's even worse than the debt, explains David, are the sky-high interest rates. With an average interest rate of 20 percent on their credit cards, the Egglestons are looking at $8,704 in yearly interest payments. On top of that, the Egglestons are getting hit with thousands of dollars a year in miscellaneous credit cards fees, including late fees and over-the-limit fees.

Step 2: Track your spending and find extra money to pay down debt
David finds some hidden costs that are sinking Sally and Dan further into debt, such as unnecessary cancer and accident insurance that's costing them $1,056 a year. David calculates that the Egglestons are spending $500 more per month than they are bringing in.

After taking a tough look at their finances, Sally breaks down. "The whole thing just makes me feel really stupid," says Sally. "I feel bad that I got my family into this whole stupid thing. I got my family in so deep. I feel like this has killed my credit."
Sally Eggleston

David spells out his strategy for tackling credit card debt with Step 3: Learn to play the credit card game. He creates a chart to help the Egglestons figure out the order in which to pay off their 12 credit cards. David's theory is to pay off the cards with the smallest balances first. According to David, the Egglestons need to reduce the amount of debt they're carrying on all their credit cards as fast as possible. "In a matter of months we can reduce their cards and they'll have fewer cards, therefore they'll make fewer mistakes, therefore the credit card companies can't get them as easily," David says.

Following this system has given Sally and Dan a huge emotional boost. "It's very motivating and it feels so good to have a plan," says Sally. Dan shares his wife's enthusiasm. "We're being proactive instead of just reacting to the bills coming," says Dan. "We have a goal and we're going to get there and we can see it."

Overall, the Egglestons say that tackling their debt has been a positive experience. "It's been very emotional, but it's also been wonderful because I really believe it's brought us closer together," Sally says. "Dan was so not a part of the bills or the finances, and he's talking in language I've never heard him talk before."
The Egglestons

To play the credit card game, David says there are "secret" tricks the Egglestons must learn in order to deal with credit card companies. David coaches Sally and Dan as they negotiate with their credit card companies to lower interest rates and waive fees—one phone call at a time. With a little persistence, the Egglestons each score a small victory. 

At first, Sally and Dan were hesitant about making the phone calls—until David put it all into perspective. "I said, 'You guys, it's just a game.' They said, 'It's just a game? Well, we're competitive, we like to win!'" 

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The Egglestons

David has helped Sally and Dan get honest with themselves about their finances—now they have to be truthful with their friends and family. Sally and Dan decide to reveal everything about their debt to them. Although Sally says many people were "very shocked" by the news, they've reacted with "nothing but a hundred percent support."

Now that the secret is out, Sally says she can be honest with friends. "When you're asking us to go out to dinner and we can't do it, it's because we're cutting back on our Latte Factor®!!" she tells them.

In fact, David says cutting back on little things—like eating out with friends—can add up to big savings. David helps the Egglestons pinpoint areas where they can cut back on spending per month. By making small changes like carpooling, reducing cable and cell phone packages, and eating out less frequently, the Egglestons can save $504 a month! Dan decides to make his biggest sacrifice yet by selling half of his Chicago Bears season tickets—that's another $1,000 saved.

"It's been hard, it's not easy and I don't want to make it look like it's easy," says Sally. "But we're committed. We've got to beat this monster!"
David Bach and the Egglestons

The Egglestons seem to be doing well on the Debt Diet, but they have their setbacks, too. Sally admits she bought a pair of pants for $25 after she had told the kids they couldn't have McDonald's because they were on "the diet." It was an impulse purchase that left her feeling guilty even though she later returned them.

David says Sally's setback is normal. "This is going to happen to people when they go on this diet—you're going to fall off," says David. "Don't beat yourself up about it, just get back on the diet!"

What advice does David have for people with an urge to spend? "We are overleased and underloved," David says. "When you go out to buy something to make yourself feel better, there are other things you can do." David suggests trading your expensive habit for a healthy activity. "If you know you love to shop, go to the park. Come up with something else that you can start doing as a new hobby."

The Egglestons mean business.

More from Oprah's Debt Diet 

8 steps to financial freedom