As I discussed in my last post, my husband and I are in pretty major debt. We landed in this hole through a combination of credit cards used for things we couldn’t afford, student loans, and car loans. Recently, we’ve been using the Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover to dig ourselves out. If you’re brand new to the program, here’s my own simple explanation: Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover is designed to help people achieve “financial peace” by eliminating debt, saving money, and adequately preparing for the future. In his book, The Total Money Makeover, he lays out the seven baby steps for achieving financial freedom, which are as follows:
- Step 1: Save $1,000
- Step 2: Pay Off Debt
- Step 3: 3-6 Month Fund
- Step 4: Invest 15%
- Step 5: College
- Step 6: Pay Off Home
- Step 7: Give
I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of breaking down what each of these steps entails because I really believe that reading the book is the best way to absorb the information. What I will do is talk about our individual experience moving through these steps and what we’ve discovered along the way.
Though I believe firmly in Dave’s system, I’ve always thought the first true baby step should be “Get Your Spouse on Board.” Managing a family’s finances works better as a joint effort and it’s a huge hindrance to the progress if one party is disinterested, or worse, undermines the process by spending recklessly. Not only that, but for some couples with massive debt like ours, embarking on this journey is a huge undertaking and not one that’s fun to do alone. Having someone to shoulder part of the burden really helps to keep things moving forward.
Having said that, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this step is often one of the hardest for many couples. Trying to convince a spouse who either doesn’t think it’s necessary, believes it’s some kind of gimmick, or just generally doesn’t like to try new things can be like pulling teeth. Many people don’t even bother having the discussion because they know what kind of resistance they’ll meet from their significant other. True, there are some who just aren’t going to go for it, unfortunately; they’re much happier ignoring their debt and are too scared to face it head on. But there are others, I believe, who can be swayed with the right amount of convincing. That’s where I come in.
- Set common goals
Staring down a long list of your debts is defeating and depressing. Unfortunately, that step comes right at the beginning and can make people feel like throwing in the towel before they even get started. Take some time early on in the process to dream a little with your spouse. What would you do if you were out of debt tomorrow? Travel? Buy a new car? Put a down payment on a house? Give your hardworking waitress a $200 tip? What excites you about the idea of financial freedom? Explore that together and write down some common goals. When things start to feel difficult down the road (and they will) circle back to that list and remember what you’re working toward as a team.
- Read together
If you’re really having a hard time getting your spouse to hear you out about starting the program, ask him or her if they’d be open to reading the book together. I’ve taken this approach with many (many) of the half-baked self-improvement schemes I wanted to try from Hypnobirthing to the KonMari method to potty training our barely two-year-old. Since I don’t always do well selling an idea to my husband when I explain it in my own words, I figure it has more credence if we go right to the source and read it together. Every night before bed, block off 10 or 15 minutes to read out loud from the book until you finish. (Honestly you don’t even have to finish. Baby step #2 is going to take you quite a while so you don’t have to read past that point at the beginning if you’d rather not.) I’d be very surprised if your spouse still didn’t want to try it after reading all that can be gained by following the program.
- Make it a game
If your spouse is competitive, make it a friendly game. Find the areas where each of you typically overspends (Starbucks, new books, lunches out) and plan a month where you try to save more than the other person. It’s a good intro to the mindset of Dave Ramsey (cutting out unnecessary spending) but is also a little bit fun. (I said a little. Unless you’re an accountant, managing finances is never going to be as exciting as going on a shopping spree with a zero-interest credit card.) You’ll both probably find that you didn’t really miss the things you cut out all that much and could stand to stick with it for another month or two or more. If you can do the initial hard work of getting the ball rolling, chances are you can keep it going.
- Leave room for fun
Some people are hesitant to start the program because they think it spells the end of fun for the foreseeable future. They envision all the enjoyable activities and fun expenses getting nixed from the budget and replaced by paying off debt, which seems really lame by comparison. In many ways that vision is accurate, but it doesn’t mean you can’t work some fun into your monthly budgets. Set aside a little bit of “fun money” each month—whether that’s $20 for each of you to spend on whatever you want or $50 for you to go out to dinner together—and let that serve as your reward for the hard work of getting out of debt. It’s unsustainable to be working at this for months or years without still enjoying your life in the meantime, so make sure your spouse knows you can still have fun while being frugal.
- Let the numbers do the talking
If you’ve tried everything and they still aren’t budging, let the numbers do the talking for you. Put all your debts on paper from smallest to largest and total them up. Print out your last few months’ worth of bank statements and break out the highlighter. Calculate your household income and compare it to how much you’re spending monthly. If your spouse is anything like me before I started this program, he or she might have no idea how much you’re actually spending beyond your means or how deep a hole you’ve dug for yourselves. Put it on their radar. After they’re sufficiently shocked, explain that the majority of people pay off their debt in less than two years using the Dave Ramsey method. Two years might sound like a long time, but the prospect of having all your debts (besides your house) paid off in 24 months is seriously motivating.
Hopefully some of these steps will work for you in your quest to get your spouse on board with the Total Money Makeover. If all else fails, start without them and lead by example. There’s always the chance that watching you implement the program with success will motivate them to get on board, too.
Next week we’ll talk about the ins and outs of setting a realistic budget.
Til next time,