History of ABC Budget Service

      Ralph Gillingham had a successful career with Household Finance Corporation as a Regional Manager. In 1963, Ralph, and Cliff Carlson, also from Household Finance, decided they wanted a change. They saw a need to help families who were behind on their bills, get their finances in order, and avoid the terrible stigma of bankruptcy. After discussion with their spouses, they decided to go into partnership running a budget service named Credit Planners. The service was licensed and regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. 

      Over the next few years, they were so successful, they bought out several competitors, including a small company named ABC Budget Service. After a while, Ralph decided to go on his own, and they split the business. Ralph took the name ABC Budget Service. 

      ABC Budget Service calculated a workable budget for the family; making sure there was enough money for their weekly expenses and enough for ABC to pay all of the bills. The budget’s goal was to bring all past due bills current.  Clients would come into the office on payday to cash their paychecks and take back the money necessary to cover their personal expenses for the week.   Most clients got paid on Friday by paper check, so it was necessary for the office to remain open until 6:30 pm on Friday. For many years the office was also open on Saturday morning. 

      Ralph made a conscious effort to be fair when making payment arrangements with a creditor. The amount had to be acceptable to the creditor and fit into the client’s budget. If there was a threat of disconnection by the electric, gas, or phone companies, Ralph would personally deliver the check to prevent the disconnection.  

      As ABC Budget Service grew, Ralph asked his wife Corinne to join the business. She started out working as a secretary; answering the phone and typing checks with an electric typewriter. Eventually Corinne became one of the counselors and another secretary was hired. 

      ABC did some advertising on WEMP radio. The advertising representative would meet Ralph at the radio station and together they would write the script.  In those days, several commercials would air for only $20.00.

      One day, an advertising representative contacted Ralph regarding advertising on television. The representative convinced Ralph he could meet the rate the radio was charging. At that time a local radio show called “The Bickersons” was popular. It involved a pair of old movie stars who acted out stories. Ralph had an idea to make commercials based on the Bickerson style of delivery and could utilize Ralph and Corinne’s experience performing in local theater. Ralph and Corinne went to the TV station, wrote a commercial, taped it and “Herb and Ethel” were born. They even included their dog, Pugsley, in the commercials.  When the commercials aired, the phones rang wildly. Herb and Ethel were a hit!

      In 1989, son Steve and daughter-in-law Cindy joined ABC, and the company also became incorporated as non-profit. The business grew; making it necessary to become more efficient; and computers fit the task. Checks no longer had to be individually and manual typed. One combined check per creditor printed via a computer printer was much more efficient.

      ABC Budget eventually grew to 11 employees, and included offices in Madison and Appleton, and two offices in Milwaukee. As technology improved, the need for multiple offices diminished. Clients began using direct deposit, internet and e-mail. Fewer people had reason to come into the office to complete their business. The same high quality of service could be maintained utilizing only one office in Milwaukee.

      Clients of ABC Budget come from all walks of life; including factory workers, doctors, lawyers, even Playboy bunnies, and exotic dancers.   There was great satisfaction helping families get through their financial difficulties.   Ralph and Corinne Gillingham helped over 30,000 families in Wisconsin during their time in business.

      After over 40 years of service, Ralph and Corinne decided to retire and allowed Steve and Cindy to continue the tradition. Steve and Cindy are able to assist their clients in more areas than just finances. Steve’s background is in management, sales, mechanical aptitude, income property, insurance and tax reduction. Cindy has a degree as a Home Economist and specializes in family household management, consumer issues, cooking and sewing.

      Over the last few years, there have been some changes to ABC Budget Service.  Clients are now “members” that are referred and invited to join, and most have access to a computer and e-mail. Changes eliminated the need for State licensing.  Without the restrictions of the license, Steve and Cindy are able to assist their members in many more areas. 

      More services are being offered than ever before. ABC Budget’s vision is “changing lives through strategic family money management and consumerism”. The system provides coaching to promote wise consumer decisions, aggressively paying off debt, and eliminating paying interest forever. ABC Budget Service’s members now have the opportunity to learn how to pay off all of their debt, including their mortgage, in less than 10 years.  Ultimately, we want our members to be financially independent, and be able to retire earlier than they would have on their own.

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