There are many joy stealers but the biggest one in our lives used to be money. When we were married in 1977 we received dozens of credit card offers. We opened accounts everywhere. We lived our young adult lives buying furniture and taking trips and making all kinds of purchases. Soon we had debt that was out of control. We began to have to use credit cards to pay for normal things. We were never late making payments but we weren’t gaining ground. We paid off our debt a couple of times over the years, only to end up in the same oppressed place.
My husband and I are at extreme opposites of the personality scale. He is my strong, steady, cautious, practical man. I am his free-spirited, off the cuff, spontaneous, joyful woman. He’s great at word pictures. When we had come to an impasse regarding our finances, the word picture he gave me was that he saw “the train” as bearing down upon us and I didn’t think there was a train at all! We came to realize that reality was somewhere in the middle.
We tried a few different “methods” over the years but always went back to our familiar habits: spending more than we made, no emergency fund, no plans for the future, no hope of ever being out of debt … just treading water.
Then we discovered a simple, effective way to connect all the dots for us financially. Here are the basics:
1 – immediately build a $1000 emergency fund (and cut up all credit cards)
2 – pay off all debt, smallest to largest
3 – build an emergecy fund to 3-6 months of income
4 – resume long-term investing @ 15% of total income (401k, mutual funds, etc.)
5 – invest in a college fund for your children
6 – pay off your mortage
7 – build wealth
I won’t go into the details in this post … I would lose you, for sure. Even if you never learned another detail about the steps above but put them into practice, those feeling financially trapped and hopeless would begin to see a huge surge of strength and resolve regarding the future. But let me add just a few more words of encouragement.
Having a $1000 emergency fund keeps “Murphy” of Murphy’s Law at bay. If you need a new set of tires or have an extra medical bill or car repair you weren’t expecting, you can pay cash for it rather than putting it on a credit card. There is no more pressure! It is very freeing. The trick is that when you have to use some of your emergency fund, you stop all other spending until it’s back up to $1000 again.
As you’re building the emergency fund, you develop a written budget, before the next month starts, so you can tell your money where it’s going to be spent rather than the other way around. One of the keys for us was that there was to be a “budget committee” meeting each month … you and your spouse. One is probably a “nerd” and one is probably a “free spirit.” Both need to come together so both have a full understanding of the household financial picture and so decisions can be made together. This affirmed both of our personalities as equally valued and needed.
There is SO much more to know, but these basic concepts gave us hope and excitement for our financial future! We have made great strides on our baby steps. We paid cash for our daughter’s grand wedding last year and we plan to pay off our car this year. We now pay cash for everything … vacations, car repairs, clothing, hobbies, gifts … everything we used to put on credit cards. My home-based business is also run on a cash basis now.
We certainly haven’t done this plan perfectly. But I know there are many hurting, frustrated, hopeless, angry people out there who are feeling that way because of their financial situation. And all you need are the tools and information to get off center and make some positive changes.
Debt seems to be the American normal, but debt wraps its insidious tenacles around families and sucks the life out of them. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope for the future!
You can learn more at www.daveramsey.com.