My Financial Plan – How I Improve on Ramsey

In April, my wife and I decided that debt was done. We have hopefully closed that chapter in our lives. I borrowed, then purchased, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. <a href=budget” width=”300″ height=”213″ />We are almost following his baby steps. Our credit has always been spectacular, but we used it a lot. Our financial plan is Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, with some adjustments.

Step 1. Budget:

The budget was painful, and for the first couple of months, impossible.  We had no idea what bills were coming due. There were quarterly payments for the garbage bill and annual payments for the auto club.  It was all a surprise.  Surprises are setbacks in a budget.

When something came up, we’d start budgeting for it, but stuff kept coming up. We’re not on top of all of it, yet, but we are so much closer. We’ve got a virtual envelope system for groceries, auto maintenance, baby needs(we have two in diapers) and some discretionary money. We set aside money for everything that isn’t a monthly expense, and have a line item for everything that is. My wife is eligible for overtime and monthly bonuses. That money does not get budgeted. It’s all extra and goes straight on to debt, or to play catch-up with the bills we had previously missed.  I figure it will take a full year to get all of the non-monthly expenses in the budget and caught up.

Step 2. The initial emergency fund:

Ramsey recommends $1000, adjusted for your situation. I decided $1000 wasn’t enough. That isn’t even a month’s worth of expenses. We settled on $1800, plus $25/month. It’s still not enough, but it’s better. Hopefully, we’ll be able to ignore it long enough that the $25/month accrues to something worthwhile.

Step 3. The Debt Snowball:

This is the controversial bad math. Pay off the lowest balance accounts first, then take those payments and apply them to the higher balance accounts. Emotionally, it’s been wonderful. We paid off the first credit card in a couple of weeks, followed 6 weeks later by my student loan. Since April, we’ve dropped nearly $10,000 and we haven’t made huge cuts to our standard of living.    At least monthly, we re-examine our expenses to see what else can be cut.

Step 4. Three to six months of expenses in savings:

We aren’t on this step yet. In step 2, we are consistently depositing more, making us more secure every month.

Step 5. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement:

I have not stopped my auto-deposited contribution. It’s stupid to pass up an employer match. My wife’s company does not match, so she is currently not contributing.

Step 6. College funding for children:

We have started a $10 College fund.

Step 7. Pay off home early:

I don’t see the point in handling this one separately. Our mortgage is  debt, and when the other debts are paid, we will be less than a year from owning our house, free and clear. This is rolled in with step three. All debt is going away, immediately.

Step 8. Build wealth and give!

We have cut off most of our charitable giving. Every other year, it has been a significant percent of our income, and in a few more years, will be so again. The only exception to this is children knocking on the door for fundraisers. I have no problems with saying no to a parent fundraising for their kid, but when the kids is doing the work, door-to-door, especially in the winter, I buy something. My son’s school, on the other hand, gets fundraisers ignored. When they come home, I send a check to the school, ignoring the program. I bypass the overhead and make a direct donation.

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A Moment of Clarity

Money money money!
Image by Matt Stratton via Flickr

Ten years ago, I buried myself in debt. There was no catastrophic emergency or long-term unemployment, just a series of bad decisions over the course of years.

We bought a (short) series of new cars, a house full of furniture, electronics, hundreds of books and movies, and so much more.   We threw a wedding on credit and financed an addition on our house.   We didn’t gamble or drink it away, we just spent indiscriminately.  We have a ton of stuff to show for it and a peeling credit card to prove it.

What changed?

In October 2007, we found out brat #3 was on the way.    Don’t misunderstand, this was entirely intentional, but our…efficiency caught us by surprise.   It took several years to get #2.   We weren’t expecting #3 to happen in just a couple of weeks.   #2 wasn’t even a year old when we found out she was going to be a big sister.  That’s two kids in diapers and three in daycare at the same time.

The technical term for this is “Oh crap”.

I spent weeks poring over our expenses, trying to find a way to make our ends meet, or at least show up in the same zip code occasionally.

I finally made my first responsible financial decision…ever.   I quit smoking. At that point, I had been smoking a pack a day or more for almost 15 years.   With the latest round of we’re-going-to-raise-the-vice-tax-to-convince-people-to-drop-their-vices-then-panic-when-people-actually-drop-their-because-we-made-them-too-expensive taxes, I was spending at least $60 per week, at least.

Interesting side story: A few years ago, Wisconsin noticed how many Minnesotans were crossing the border for cheap smokes and decided to cash in by raising their cigarette taxes.   The out-of-state market immediately dried up.  Econ 101.

So I quit, saving $250 per month.

Our expenses grew to consume that money, which we were expecting.  (Remember, we were expecting a baby!)   Unfortunately, our habits didn’t change.   We still bought too much, charged too much on our credit cards, and used our overdraft protection account every month.  At 21% interest!

Nothing else changed for another year and a half.  My wife would buy stuff I didn’t like and we’d fight about it.  I’d buy stuff she didn’t like and we’d fight about it.   When we weren’t arguing about it, we’d just silently spend it all as fast as we could.

Bankruptcy was looming. We had $30,000 on our credit cards and our overdraft protection account was almost maxed out.  Have you ever thought you’d have to sell your house quickly?

One day, while I was researching bankruptcy attorneys, I ran across Dave Ramsey.   When I got to daycare that evening to pick up the kids, I noticed they had The Total Money Makeover on the bookshelf, so I asked to borrow it.

I read the book twice, had a very frank discussion with my wife about the possibility of bankruptcy, and we set out on the path to financial freedom together.

What made you decide to handle your finances responsibly?  Or, perhaps more importantly, what’s holding you back?

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