They raised seven kids while drowning in debt. Here are the lessons they’re passing on.
The Kunziers were rich in the things that matter most—family and love—but their finances were in shambles.
John Kunzier had been running a successful construction business when 9/11 happened and changed everything. When the business started struggling, John didn’t want to fire his employees, so he made some decisions that, in hindsight, were the wrong ones. The following year, the business failed.
“It was a big blow to my ego,” says John, “to have something you built completely collapse.”
John had to declare bankruptcy. John’s wife, Liz, was pregnant with twins at the time, and the family had to rely on loans to make ends meet. “We actually took out a loan that would never end,” says John.
“It was a horrible financial decision for us,” says Liz.
The Kunziers began, slowly but surely, picking up the pieces of their financial life but then the 2008 Great Recession hit. “It was literally like somebody ripped the rug out from under us,” says John.
Liz kept a “money tree”—a good luck tree people sometimes keep in their homes. The tree wasn’t in great shape, but it limped along, and then one day one of the twins cut it down. It was the perfect metaphor for the family’s financial situation.
As a result, the family took no vacations, never ate out, and didn’t buy any new toys. Despite that, they weren’t unhappy.
The Kunziers are a large family. John and Liz have seven kids including the twins and two grandchildren. So when they hit financial hard times, they had to cut out everything but the necessities. The couple didn’t even give each other birthday or Christmas presents.
They’ve been real with their kids about their situation, especially as they’ve gotten older. The family lives in a very affluent area, and the kids are used to seeing people with lots of material things. But John and Liz maintained the philosophy that “things don’t make you happy.”
“I took it as us being a different kind of rich,” says the Kunzier’s daughter, Claire. “Us being rich in family.”
Not wanting their kids to feel a sense of deprivation, Liz says, “We didn’t say, ‘Oh we can’t do that because we can’t afford it,’ we would just say, ‘No, we’re not doing that. That’s not something we’re going to do.'”
“We wanted to make sure your upbringing was good and memorable and fun, and that you guys didn’t know any different,” John tells his kids.
What’s more, the Kunzier kids have learned valuable lessons from their parents’ financial experiences.
When the market turned around, the Kunziers were able to refinance their home, which helped them climb out of their financial hole. “All of a sudden, things got better and better and better,” says John. “It’s a snowball effect, either way.”
Because the Kunziers are open with their kids about their financial journey, their kids will have a better sense of how to financially plan and make sound monetary decisions.
“I think it’s really important for me to hear this,” says Claire. “Because I am a freshman in college, and I am starting to make these financial decisions for myself, especially with loans.” Claire says she won’t live on campus next year so she won’t have to take a loan out to pay for room and board.
“For me,” she says, “deciding what’s important to do is being shaped by what you guys did.”
The Kunziers now have loads of financial wisdom, guidance, and proven advice to pass on to their kids and grandkids. But perhaps the most crucial lesson is one they’ve already imparted — how to maintain a resilient spirit and focus on what’s most important when times are toughest.
“We didn’t have all the money in the world, but we had each other,” says the Kunziers’ son, Jack.
“Not having a whole lot of money isn’t the worst thing in the world,” says Liz, “because if you’ve got your family with you, and you love each other. That makes it not sting so bad.”
Learn more about the Kunziers in the video below: