Alumna Overcomes Debt, Publishes First Book

By Andrea (Matetic) Osmun g05 Published: Dec 01, 2019

After Heather (Neilson) Burgette g04 graduated from Taylor University Fort Wayne (TUFW), she ended up accumulating a lot more debt than she could handle. She moved to California for a few years, and when she returned to her home state of Indiana, she was a “hot mess.”

“I went bonkers financially,” she said. “I didn’t have any close friends or family to say, ‘What’s wrong with Heather?’ As I was adjusting to adult life, I made a lot of bad choices with my money. Some of them were actual emergencies, but I spent frivolously.”

In August 2007, Heather met her husband Blake and was working on her MBA. When they started talking about marriage, she realized she had to tell Blake about her financial situation, because when they had kids in the future, she wanted to be able to stay home with them. Blake already owned a home and was financially stable, so Heather knew she had to break the news to him. They hoped that they’d be able to pay off her debts in two years, but life threw some unexpected challenges at them, so it turned into five years. She started thinking seriously about what her debt robbed her of being able to do. 

“Most of the debt was mine, so I felt this incredible sense of shame,” Heather said. “Blake had a house, but we weren’t able to buy fun things for the house or take any fun trips.”

In their first three years of marriage, Heather’s father died, and she watched her mom deal with the financial implications of losing her spouse. Heather had previously stayed away from specific financial responsibilities, but as she watched her mom, she realized that she couldn’t do that any longer.  “One thing I did was I handled buying our van all by myself,” she said. “It was a good experience that really stretched me.”In 2014, Heather and Blake finally finished paying off their debt. She decided to start a Facebook group called “Becoming Debt Free” to help others in their debt-free journey . Something like that would have been helpful when we were starting out,” she said. “I wanted others to have resources and support, that we’re here for you.”

Becoming debt-free isn’t easy, Heather said -- especially when you see something you want but can’t fit into your budget. “That wrestling doesn’t go away. I started thinking, ‘I feel like others might need this.’” 

That same year, Heather had the opportunity to attend the Write to Publish Conference in Wheaton, Ill. She had an idea for a book and began pitching her book proposal to an editor. However, the editor she was working with decided it wasn’t right for their publishing house. Heather took that as a sign to shut down the whole idea. 

Looking back, she realizes it wasn’t the right time. “I’m glad it happened,” she said. “I was not yet the person that was ready to write that book that’s now in front of us.” At the end of last year, Heather started looking for a job she could do from home. She considered being a virtual assistant and tried that for a while, but it just didn’t seem like the right fit. As she thought more about what she could do, the realization came to her: “Oh my gosh, it’s personal finances!” 

Heather started a blog called “The Debt-Free Mama” at, in which she began writing about her journey out of debt. In early March 2019, Heather had a conversation with her mom about what God had placed on her heart, and she realized the blog was the starting point for her book. 

“It was like a veil had been pulled back,” she said. “I struggle with finishing things, so I knew, when I said I was going to do this, that I had to finish.”

Heather Burgette - Unlock Your WhyHeather’s book, “Unlock Your Why: 7 Keys to a Thriving Relationship with Money,” was self-published and released this fall.  “This book is not for everyone because not everyone is ready to change,” she said. “This is for the person who is tired of the cycle of the stress of their finances and is not sure where to start, and it’s also for the person who has taken the financial classes and has read the books but is still at a loss for how to break the cycle.” 

The book is formatted with three days of short readings per week with a journaling exercise and action days where readers can choose a habit to start. Some habits are “one and done,” and others are something they need to commit to doing over the entire seven weeks of the book. 

“You get as much out of it as you put into it,” Heather said. “This isn’t a ‘how-to’ book—It’s a ‘why’ book. It’s about creating a healthy habit and understanding why it matters to be generous and get out of debt. A lot of people love the idea of not having debt. But why is it important to you? How would your life be different if you didn’t have this van payment, for example?”

Since her book was published, Heather has been amazed at the feedback she’s received.  “It’s very humbling that God uses our mistakes—for those called according to His purpose, for our good—to inspire other people,” she said. “My heart is to get it in as many hands as possible.”

Heather’s book is available on as a Kindle eBook and as a paperback.