One of the principles of my blog is the “Teaching of Wealth Building and Financial Literacy”. A key component of Financial Literacy is understanding debt – specifically what happens when you carry too much of it. I painfully learned what it’s like to carry exorbitant amounts of debt – a place I hope never to return to. The featured image of this post is the exact same American Express Gold Charge Card which was a critical piece in my debt journey. The image of it will always hold a special significance for me – a reminder of what not to do.
My Inspiration For Writing This Piece
I got out of debt because some friends graciously shared Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” with me. While there are supporters of Financial Peace University and Dave’s “Debt Snowball”, I found that there are also detractors and critics. I wrote the following piece on the Examiner in early 2016 after someone else wrote an article about why she quit her Debt Snowball. I didn’t write this to rebut the author in a confrontational way or to discard her experience altogether, but instead to share an alternative perspective. By the way, to read about how to prolong your Debt Snowball, see my Mother’s Day 2017 blog post.
Giving Up On Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball
Over the holiday season, an article appeared on my Twitter feed from another passionate Financial Literacy writer (there are many) entitled, “Why I Gave Up on Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball”. Being a coordinator within the Financial Peace University ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and also in the final stages of my own Debt snowball, the article resonated with me and prompted the crafting of this piece. This piece won’t refute Jennifer Calonia’s experience, but will actually agree with some of her points and discuss my own experiences.
Starting To Accumulate Debt
No one plans to go into crippling financial debt which usually occurs because of a lack of Financial Literacy; living above one’s means, or something else such as today’s soaring costs of higher education. Many people don’t understand what they’re doing and the long-term ramifications as was in my case. Roughly nine years were spent completing my Ph.D. and then the two and a half years of subsequent training – all on a taxable graduate stipend which ranged from $17,000-$22,000, and then a postdoctoral salary of $37,000. During that time, my expenses often exceeded my income for a number reasons. My old Saturn SL2 was bought with my father’s credit card. It was maintained using another credit card whose balance eventually ballooned to $8,500 (just paid off this month). An unhealthy relationship or two also contributed to the bonanza.
Going Deeper Into Debt
After starting my first real job in the federal government, my debt swelled at least two to three times due to wanting to learn to invest in real estate, and wanting to do too much too soon money-wise. It was a good idea but the trainings came at a steep price which in hindsight could’ve been obtained for less money. Those who gave those particular trainings dangerously encouraged us as students who didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars saved up, to use our credit cards, under the assumption that the costs of the classes would get paid off relatively easily once we got some real estate deals done (to be covered in depth in a later piece).
Finding A Way Out
After accumulating my mound of debt, my life was blessed when two friends (from the same real estate trainings) discovered and shared Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU). Just briefly, four of the key components of FPU – the cornerstones of Dave’s “Baby Steps” include:
• Saving an Emergency Fund – one month and then four to six months
• Learning how to budget
• Using cash instead of credit cards and debit cards
• The Debt Snowball
The Debt Snowball is a strategy for eliminating debt. The individual lines up all of their debts smallest to largest, steadily paying them off one by one using the money from each paid off debt on the next one, steadily increasing the size of the payments on the larger ones until everything is paid off using “Gazelle Intensity” as Dave Ramsey calls it. Dave Ramsey uses the parable of the Gazelle who represents consumers who are preyed upon by the Cheetahs who represent credit card companies, banks and marketers.
The Debt Snowball Takes Determination And Work
Jennifer Calonia’s points are honestly all valid. My own Debt Snowball has taken two to three difficult years (and that’s without children), and it is easy to feel like quitting. Life continues to happen not just to you, but those around you – some of whom aren’t making good financial decisions and ultimately need your help – often unexpectedly. There is also the pull to do what others are doing – taking lavish vacations and acquiring luxury items for example. Finally, because you’re living on a fixed income when doing the debt snowball, some people may conclude that you’re “strapped” for cash which can be hurtful if you’re sensitive to the words of others.
These are all reasons why Ramsey discusses prayer when pursuing this effort (if that’s in your value system of course). From experience, when doing the Debt Snowball, one has to know that there are times when this financial plan can and must be altered temporarily – the holiday season for example. Furthermore, periodic rewards are realistically a good idea too (within reason). In other words, if you’re doing the Debt Snowball, you have to allow yourself some fun, or else you’ll stop it and never go back.
Other Ways To Pay Down Debt
Much to my surprise, Dave Ramsey does have his detractors and critics as does every author/speaker/guru. There is for example a second method to paying down debts which involves paying down the highest interest rate obligations first. Some consider this more financially intelligent than the debt snowball which is powerful because of the ‘emotional’ effect of seeing the debts go away.
“We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else,” Ramsey says frequently during frequently during Financial Peace University meaning that some sacrifices are initially involved, for greater gains and a comfortable life later on. Money is an emotional topic and as with most things, everyone has to make the best decisions for their own lives. Being on the cusp of completing my own debt snowball, it admittedly wasn’t easy, but if one can find a way to stick to it, it does work.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:
• Chris Brown discusses true stewardship and financial peace
• Your gross net worth, your gross salary and what they mean
• The difference between being cheap and frugal
• Mother’s Day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
• Father’s Day 2017: Reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons
• We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing and technology story
• Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege
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