If you’re struggling with debt, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover (Thomas Nelson, 2009). With his characteristic humor and brilliance, Ramsey offers “a proven plan for financial fitness.”
The “I Want It” Factor
To get on solid financial footing, we have to learn to deny our impulse for instant gratification. “It is human nature to want it and want it now; it is also a sign of immaturity,” Ramsey writes. “Our culture teaches us to live for the now. ‘I want it!’ we scream, and we can get it if we are willing to go into debt. Debt is a means to obtain the ‘I want its’ before we can afford them.”
That’s why one of Ramsey’s priorities is teaching us to protect ourselves from the natural temptations we feel to squander our resources on short-term highs. By resisting the urge to buy unnecessary stuff or give in to time-sucking distractions, we can begin to conserve more of our resources for the things that really matter to us. We can begin applying those resources more deliberately toward the things that give us real satisfaction.
Delayed gratification is still gratification, only better, Ramsey reminds us — and it never accrues interest!
A Snowball’s Pace
The key to getting out of debt is pacing. If our good intentions cause us to do too much too soon, Ramsey explains, we get overwhelmed and give up.
Ramsey’s momentum- building, feel-good strategy for getting out of debt relies on what he calls “The Debt Snowball.” This involves paying off credit-card balances not in descending order of their interest rates (as many experts recommend), but, rather, from smallest balance to biggest. As you eliminate small balances, you experience an encouraging sense of success, and then, as you begin applying the combined payments from those paid-off cards to subsequent, larger balances, you create a “snowball” effect, making increasingly big payments to one card at a time (while making minimum payments to the others), until finally you’re debt free. Check out the book for the technical details of Ramsey’s approach.
Get a Plastectomy
First things first: If you’re going to get rid of debt, you have to stop accruing more.
“You must draw a line in the sand and say, ‘I will never borrow again,’” recommends Ramsey. “As soon as you make that statement, there will be a test. Trust me. Your transmission will go out. Your kid will need braces. At this point, it is time for a plastectomy — plastic surgery to cut up your credit cards. I’m often asked, ‘Should I cut my cards up now or when I pay them off?’ Cut them up now. You need a permanent change in your view of debt.”
“When we think of millionaires, we think of big houses, new cars, and really nice clothes,” Ramsey writes. “[But in his book The Millionaire Next Door,] Dr. Tom Stanley found that most millionaires don’t have those things. He found the typical millionaire lives in a middle-class home, drives a two-year-old or older paid-for car, and buys jeans at the discount store. In short, Stanley found that the typical millionaire derived infinitely more motivation from the goal of financial security than from what friends and family thought. The need for approval and respect from others based on what they owned was virtually nonexistent.”
Trying to impress people is a good way to create poverty, not wealth. Start trying to impress yourself with financial savvy instead.
Growth in Stages
Getting out of debt is the first step in the Total Money Makeover; learning to invest your resources is the next one. As with the “debt snowball,” start small and be patient, Ramsey says.
“Systematic, consistent investing is the tortoise that beats the hare in the race,” he writes. “As performance coach Timothy Gallwey likes to say, when we plant a rose seed in the earth, we may notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless.’ We give it the water and nourishment required of a seed. At each stage of its development, the rose is perfectly all right as it is.”
It helps to think of your Total Money Makeover and fledgling investments in much the same way, says Ramsey. “Push with intensity to help them bloom, but know that as long as you take the progressive steps, you are winning.”
The Power of Generosity
Plenty of people believe that money and greed are synonymous, but money is just a tool. We have infinite choices about how to use it. If we’re centered in unselfish values, more money just allows us to be more generous. As Ramsey says, “Money gives power to good intentions.”
He writes: “‘No one would remember the good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had to have money as well,’ said a former British prime minister. The good Samaritan had a good heart and a heavy enough purse to pay an innkeeper to help take care of the injured man. Money was at its best that day. That’s why I’m unashamedly in favor of building wealth.”
Keep in mind that most icons of selfless service had a lot of wealth at their disposal. Mother Teresa had the Catholic Church supporting her mission. A wealthy industrialist who supported Gandhi said, “It costs me a fortune to keep Gandhi poor.”
“At its best,” writes Brent Kessel in his great book, It’s Not About the Money, “investing is about being an active, contributing member of the human race. It is about providing our capital to other human beings so that they can live more productive lives.”
Let It Be Simple
Getting right with your financial life takes focus and dedication, notes Ramsey, but it’s not rocket science: “Living right is not complicated. It may be difficult, but it is not complicated. Living right financially is the same way.”
Building a better relationship with your financial resources can be simple. The challenge, of course, is to go from knowing what to do to actually doing it. I strongly suggest you check out the action plans in Ramsey’s book so you can get your financial game on for the long haul.