Marcene Austin doesn't live in Boise anymore.
She pulled out earlier this week from her Boise Foothills home and headed for Bellingham, Wash., to live in a waterfront condo with a view of the San Juan Islands.
She bought it with $380,000 in cash she had saved in part by following the advice of financial guru Dave Ramsey.
"I like quaint little towns, and when I did the research, this is what came up."
Ramsey is the nationally known radio talk show host, a frequent TV morning-show guest, an author and a columnist. His radio show airs from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays on KIDO-AM (580). His columns run Saturdays in the Idaho Statesman's business section.
On TV and in personal appearances, Ramsey's humor and broad smile make palatable the message that people must control their debt and not let it control them.
Ramsey declines to say how much revenue his sensible-spending empire brings in. About 6 million listeners a week listen to "The Dave Ramsey Show," and 1.5 million people have attended his Financial Peace University, a video series aimed at helping people get a grip on their money. Since 2004, Ramsey's university has conducted 1,100 classes in Idaho, mostly via video.
For the past decade, as a community service, Zions Bank has coordinated classes in Idaho and Utah for people who want to attend Financial Peace University. The bank charges nothing for its service. The programs cost $89-$99.
The classes challenge participants, said Don Milne, Zions' financial-literacy manager, who has coordinated Financial Peace University programs in both states since 2003.
"Any time you change your behavior there is pain involved," he said.
Austin is one of thousands of Idahoans who clamped down on spending, shredded credit cards or paid off tens of thousands of dollars after going through Financial Peace University.
Like many of Ramsey's students, she wasn't in financial difficulty. A Zions survey shows that only about 20 percent of those who attend are in deep financial trouble. About 50 percent are managing their debt, and about 30 percent don't have financial difficulties. Austin attended after encouraging her grandson to go.
Austin started her career auditing taxes and later worked for the Internal Revenue Service as a senior manager. "I knew how to handle my money," she said.
But Ramsey showed her how to do it better.
Austin says she has a weakness for buying some things, such as kitchenware at Costco because of her love for cooking.
She always thought that as long as she paid her credit cards off each month, she was doing fine.
"What I learned through Dave Ramsey is how important it is to use your own money as opposed to credit cards," she said. "It has been proven you'll spend more if you spend it on the credit card."
Now she watches every expense carefully. "I pay for it out of my account as opposed to putting it on a credit card."
The money she saved combined with other money she had allowed her to buy the condo outright rather than take on a small mortgage, she said. "It's wonderful, total peace of mind," she said.
Companies are offering the classes to employees.
As the housing market soured in 2009, CBH Homes in Meridian saw some of its 50 employees and families struggle with finances, Vice President Rhonda Conger said.
"It was just a topic: money, paying bills, talking about second jobs," Conger said. So she contacted Zions about setting up Financial Peace University for employees.
About 15 couples signed up. Among them were Jennifer and Christian Schobert. Jennifer Schobert, 41, is CBH's human resources administrator.
The Schoberts were managing their debt - which totaled $58,000 - and using credit cards to buy things if they didn't have the money.
Dining out was a big item, said Christian Schobert, 36 who is a technician at Western Aircraft. But there was also a car loan, medical bills and credit card debt.
As they started Financial Peace University, they sat down to figure out where their money was going. Then they planned a budget for monthly costs, naming the destination of every dollar they needed to cover ongoing costs such as utilities and insurance.
"Wow," Christian remembers thinking, "we make this much money - where is the rest of it?"
They took Ramsey's advice to avoid impulse buying and abandoning credit cards. Over the past three years they have paid off the car, the medical bills and the credit cards. A student loan in still outstanding, and they are working on that.
They've built up an emergency fund - one of Ramsey's top priorities.
"When you have that money set away, you don't have emergencies," Christian said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts
Dump the credit cards. Use cash. Get ready for change.
Those are parts of the Dave Ramsey plan for fixing your finances.
The Statesman e-mailed Ramsey seeking financial tips and information about his programs. His replies are edited for space.
Q: Getting out of debt is a little like losing weight. People go at it with fervor. But what has to happen to create life changing behavior?
A: Change is painful. Most people won't change until the pain of where they are exceeds the pain of change. Just like with weight loss, you have to make the decision to change and not turn back.
Q: How do people avoid impulse buying or constantly dining out with money they can't afford to spend between the times they see you in the weekly video and film sessions?
A: In some of the first lessons of Financial Peace University, we talk about the importance of making a written budget every month and sticking to it. Spend every dollar on paper, on purpose, before the month begins. Take the cash you budgeted for eating out and put it in an envelope. Use the money out of that envelope, and when you're eating out and the money is gone, stop spending. The envelope system helps you to not spend money you don't have.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in keeping control of your finances? Can you tell me a story?
A: By the time I was 26 years old, my wife and I held real estate worth more than $4 million. But the banks called on our loans. We were sued, foreclosed on, and eventually bankrupt, all with a new baby and toddler. So, after losing everything, I went on a quest to find out how money really works and how to get control of it. That quest is what led me to get out of debt and start teaching other people what we had learned about handling money.
Q: What is the connection between churches and you, since so many of these Financial Peace University programs are held in churches? Is there a Christian element to your work?
A: Churches see the need for this information. There are more than 800 scriptures about money and personal finance. Because I am a Christian, my faith plays a role in the lessons I teach.
Q: Isn't there ever a time when you simply can't work your way out of debt and have to declare bankruptcy? When are those times?
A: Most bankruptcies can be avoided by using the steps we teach in Financial Peace University. It may involve selling a lot of stuff and seriously downgrading your lifestyle, which will be painful, but bankruptcy is much worse. I know from personal experience the pain of bankruptcy, and it's not worth it.
Q: What's the single biggest complaint you hear from people who enroll in your program - the challenge they can't seem to get over?
A: A lot of people still want to hang on to their credit cards.
Q: What is one thing people can do today to improve their financial condition?
A: Start with a written plan, a budget. The word "budget" has gotten a bad rep. But when people start spending their money intentionally, they actually experience more freedom.