Money, Day 2: Getting it Sorted

October 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm 3 comments

Here’s the problem with money, as I see it…

It’s embarrassing.

Well, okay…it’s embarrassing when you’re not handling it right.   But since it’s directly tied into ‘success’ in our society in a way that even our health and overall goodness is not, having to own up to one’s financial disasters is really tough.   And since so much of it is relatively private, it’s easy to lie to the world for a long time about how you’re doing, which makes owning up later that much harder.

I’m thinking about this today because of Dave Ramsey.  Well, okay…to be fair, not Dave Ramsey HIMSELF, but rather his more devoted followers.   Well, okay…to be even more fair, not his devoted followers as a whole, but rather the two or three I happen to know.  Unfortunately those people I’ve run across who are gung-ho about Dave Ramsey tend to be people who sort of triumph in the shortcomings of others, and that has been a major turnoff for me.

Honestly, though, there really isn’t anyone I’ve run across who has been exposed to Dave Ramsey’s financial wisdom that hasn’t walked away saying, “Yeah, he has a point.”  And Dave himself manages to be authoritative and Christian and firm about his principles without being threatening about it.  After all, he went from being a young millionaire to losing everything in a few short years, so I guess it’s safe to say he can’t really judge.  Nonetheless, you do get the sense that if Dave knew what you were doing, he’d have a lot to say about where you’re going wrong.

I don’t think this is necessarily bad.  If you’re going to be a motivational speaker, conviction is good, and I’ll admit that there have two specific incidents where I’ve been tempted to spend money unnecessarily over the last two weeks and I have — quite literally — heard Dave in my head saying, “You don’t deserve that kind of break today.” and guiltily stopped myself.   So there is efficacy to that, at least with someone like me.  I hate feeling like someone has good justification to judge me harshly, and I will tend to change my behavior to avoid it if possible.

But it’s one thing coming from the man himself.  It’s another when my sister says, “If one of your kids was dying and you needed to spend $93 [to purchase the Dave Ramsey FPU Kit] to save him, you’d do it, right?”   Or when a woman I know who is now leading a DR-FPU class at her church sits around at a party and triumphantly recounts stories of people who have balked at her class because they ‘have too much debt’ and are therefore, you know, embarrassed.. and how she TOLD them “Yes, but if you don’t come, will it get fixed?  No, I don’t think so.”   Yes, that is true, but sensitivity is important.   It’s hard enough to face this stuff alone in your kitchen at midnight the day before some big bill is due, and all that much harder to own up to it in front of a room full of fellow church members, your parents, your sisters, etc.   Be a little kinder.

Especially irritating for me is my sister, who is terribly sensitive about any major purchase she makes because she thinks everyone is judging her for it.  A little bit of judging by her own example going on there, I expect.

My only point in bringing all of this up is just to sort of demonstrate that I have already been listening to Dave Ramsey, and that, I guess, I like him but I dislike it when other people who listen to him preach to me about him.   This is just such a sensitive topic that I think most people need to keep their noses out of other people’s financial affairs until they are specifically invited to comment, no matter how much help they think they can provide.   That may more or less go without saying — I certainly hope it would — but it’s my blog and I guess I’ll snark if I want to. 😉

As for me, I’m still kind of a long ways off of Baby Step #1.   I used to be able to say I’d skipped #1 and gone to #2, since we’d *technically* paid off our credit card bills… But then I had an accident with the van and because we don’t have #1 done, we had no Emergency Fund to go to to pay for the $250 deductible on the repairs.  So… now we have credit card debt of $250 again.  Meh.

So back to square one.  The problem is, I have no idea how we’ll ever get #1 done.  Dave is adamant that this must be done quickly, without further ado, and before anything else is even attempted.  I understand why, but for most of us $1,000 isn’t just hanging out somewhere waiting to be thrown into an account.  If I had $1,000 at my disposal in any way, believe me I’d be using it.

This will no doubt invite the usual lectures from Ramsey-ites.  Sell this, do that, put this on hold.  Whatever you have to do, but get that Emergency Fund done.  Yes yes yes.  To all of you I say: Shut Up.  I already heard that line from DR himself, and I listened THAT time. You reiterating it isn’t going to change my situation.  I agree that it’s important, but unless you’re offering to hand me $1,000 right now to demonstrate how $*($#@ing easy it is to do, then just do us all a favor and stay quiet over there and leave me alone.  Our friendship will continue nicely, and all will be well.

As far as I’m concerned, as important as the Emergency Fund is (and I do, by the way, agree that it’s important), it’s not the first step.  The first step is sorting all this crap out and figuring out what goes here and what goes there, and how much we’re spending on this and why that charge is on the account and on and on and on.   I can’t very well put $1,000 anywhere if I don’t even know what I have and what needs to go out.

Back in February, I did sit down and do a budget.  I didn’t do it very right, though. I mean, I sorted through our various financial obligations and planned what money should go where and when and all, but it was largely contingent on a sort of running balance with nothing put into savings or anything.  All of that was fine, too, but when stuff changed — we changed cell phone providers, for example — it messed the whole thing up pretty badly and I had to start over.   Except, of course, that I never really DID start over.   I just kept meaning to, and kept putting it off.

We also came into some new and fun expenses, as I mentioned yesterday.  Last year we homeschooled the boys on the state’s dime (well, okay…my own dime. I pay taxes like anyone else.), so we didn’t have any schooling costs.  This year we have the kids attending Zion’s day school, which means we have tuition to think about now.   In our case, with three kids attending, that’s a cost of about $600/mo, and even that is lower than it would be if my parents weren’t kicking in $1,000 for it, and we hadn’t received a $500 discount as a ‘new family’ this year.   That’s a big chunk of change right there.  Two months of that would be Dave’s Emergency Fund.

But so it is….  Many have questioned why on earth a family that can’t make ends meet to begin with would send their kids to private school?  I ask myself the same question.  I mean, we have the usual reasons…  a Christian education, a better educational environment… a situation in which we actually know all of the parents of the other kids in the class…  But there’s also a sort of social pressure at play, too… and my concerns for Zack, especially; I think he’d wind up crucified in a public school.   That may be me projecting, but it still worries me.

Fortunately,  I think God was looking out for us, there.  This year Andy’s school district introduced one of those high-deductible health plans that allows us to pay about $600 less than we were paying before.   It does mean that if anything goes wrong, we’re going to be stuck contending with a $6,000 deductible, but considering I’m not going to get pregnant again, and on the whole our kids are really healthy, I’m okay with that.  The district is putting about $100/mo into a tax-sheltered HPA for us, and I really don’t think we’ll ever use all of it.  Moreover, I figure, when we get our legs under us we can set up a tax-sheltered account of our own and put $6,000 into it to cover the Just-in-Case, and then, unlike the HPA, we can take it out for other things if we really need to.

In fact, that would just about get us halfway to Dave’s Baby Step #3. 😉

But in the meantime, I have work to do.  I need to sit down with the bills, decide what comes out of which paycheck, and then plan accordingly.  I spent today investigating the wonderful world of online bill-paying, because I learned last week that we apparently missed the last AT&T bill and now owe about $300.   We can cover this, largely thanks to my paychecks from my summer job at the amphitheater, but it’s still daunting.  Fortunately, today is Payday and if I can just work with the numbers a little I think we’ll be okay.



Entry filed under: Money, Successes. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Money, Day 1: Remember me? Money, Day 3: Budget


  • 1. Pangie  |  October 27, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Many have questioned why on earth a family that can’t make ends meet to begin with would send their kids to private school?

    But you’ve made this a priority for yourself. It’s nobody’s business why or if it’s a “good” priority. Everyone has their priorities, and you do what you need to do. Don’t beat yourself up about that one.

    On the topic of the Baby Steps made famous by Dave Ramsey: It’s hard!! I’ve made it past step 1 and have a pretty decent start on step 3, (in my situation, 3 seemed more important than 2. My only debt is structured loan payments, and my employment situation is less concrete than my debt situation, haha.) But I wouldn’t have reached this without living in my parents basement for 3 months before moving this summer.

    The only advice I have on how to get the emergency fund filled that you didn’t discuss already in the post is: I never budget for “windfalls” as you call them. Tax refunds, bonuses, etc. When I’m planning things financially, I ignore the fact that those kinds of things even exist. And my paychecks come on a biweekly basis, so I budget for 2 a month. On the few months where I get a third, it’s all for debt and savings. I don’t know if that advice fits your situation, but it’s all I’ve got. 🙂

  • 2. Jennifer  |  October 27, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Yeah, I’ve avoided doing that too. In fact, I’ve not even taken my tutoring income (or Andy’s, as he’s apparently going to start tutoring again as well) into consideration when I do our finances. In the first place, that money is by no means reliable, and in the second, it is by nature supplemental. Same with Tax refunds and the like; I’d rather leave that stuff to be chunked into savings if at all possible.

    Dave actually rang in on the Private vs, Public School thing. I linked it to my Facebook profile awhile back. His response to the question is not surprising at all. Yes, there’s value to private school, but there are, of course, limits. The difference between one Kindergarten and another, he says, is not such that spending $25K to send your child to a certain kindergarten is justified. I agree. But ultimately, whatever your values might be and however important it might be, you can either afford it or you can’t…. And if you can’t then you should be grateful that our country provides tax-supported government education and make use of it, and save tuition toward the expenses of your life.

    The example he gave was of a family making $35K/year, though. If our situation were like that, the question of private school really would be moot. As it is, we CAN afford it… mostly. It just prevents us from saving much… I chafe against it a little because I do see it as a needless expense. Not that I want to send my kids to public school — we all know how I feel about that — but I would be all for it if we lived in a smaller community.

    Of course, if we did, Andy wouldn’t be making as much as he is, so I guess it’s a tradeoff. In the Suburbs, you make more money but if you want the benefits of a small-town education (knowing the parents of your kids’ classmates, etc.) you have to pay extra for that. :/

    I still really want to just move out of here. 😦

  • 3. Jennifer  |  October 27, 2009 at 9:40 am

    And just to disclaim here, no one in ‘present company’ has ever irritated me by quoting Dave Ramsey. Really, it’s only been my sister and my friend’s Mom. :/

    And to be fair, my friend’s mother was only saying what she said because it was ‘safe’ to do so; none of us attend her church or are likely to encounter the people she was talking about. But it was just the way she said it that rubbed me the wrong way…the sort of smugness to it. I just didn’t feel that was right.

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