Updated: Jun 25, 2021
For those of you just tuning in, I am about to get into the nitty gritty of my first attempt at The Total Money Makeover. As I mentioned in my first post, my then-landlady introduced me to this book, and, after reading it, I was so excited to get started with my own money makeover. I was going to save; I was going to budget; and I was going to pay off all my student loans immediately. Spoiler alert: that is not what happened.
Let me pause in my story and tell you a bit about The Total Money Makeover. I know some of you are starting this journey with a goal of saving money. I applaud you. If that is the case, I recommend you go to your nearest library and check this book out. For those of you who are okay to spend a little money, this book is a tremendous investment in your financial future.
In his book, Dave Ramsey talks about his own life and how he went from being extremely wealthy, to having nothing, to becoming extremely wealthy again. I bought into his financial philosophy because he wasn't selling some get-rich-quick scheme. He was speaking from experience and talking about a shift in how we view our finances and in how we interact with money.
Dave Ramsey begins his book by telling the reader what the book is, and what the book isn't. He then explains, quite comprehensively, how and why we should be shifting our thinking about money and how it works in our society. He wraps up the book with baby steps that clearly lay out how you can begin to achieve a better relationship with your finances. The book is also peppered with testimonies from people of all walks of life who have tried and succeeded at taking control of their finances. Those testimonies were very encouraging to read as a person starting out on her own journey.
While I will reference The Total Money Makeover frequently, I am not going to provide cliff notes for the book in this blog. I'm only going to reference the parts relevant to my journey. I really encourage you to read the book for yourself.
I completed the first baby step of the book, saving $1,000 for emergencies, pretty quickly, and I felt like I was on a roll. So I tried to tackle budgeting.
Ramsey's budgeting sheet is simple to use, but it was made for someone who had a steady paycheck. As I was mainly working part-time jobs and getting paid hourly at the time, that budgeting sheet wasn't going to work for me because I couldn't predict at the beginning of the month what my paychecks would look like. The budgeting sheet Ramsey provided for people employed part time seemed way too complicated to me. Since this was my first time budgeting, I wanted to use something that was easy; something I could stick to. Once I realized that I wouldn't be able to budget like I wanted to, I gave up and decided to focus on paying off my student loans: my original reason for reading the book in the first place.
I had deferred my loans since I was only one year out of college, so I had no monthly payments. To me, this seemed like the best time to start paying them down. No payments were expected, so there was no real pressure if I wasn't able to make a payment, and any payment I did make, just reduced the total. I began making extra payments as often as I could.
My landlady was a friend of the family, and had known, gone to school with, and/or lived with several of my cousins before she and I lived together. She knew my job situation, or lack thereof, before I moved to DC, and graciously reduced my rent my first few months living there so that I could get my bearings. I had read Ramsey's book on her recommendation and had been paying off my loans for about a month or two, when she asked to speak with me.
She wanted to have a candid conversation about when I could start paying the full amount of rent (this was about 4 or 5 months into living with her). Because I was paying less, she was covering more of the overhead costs than she typically had with other tenants. I started to stress out and told her that I was trying to pay off my student loans, and that I was not forgetting the fact that I needed to start paying more, but I couldn't figure out how I could do both. I'll never forget what she told me. She started off by saying that what she was about to say had nothing to do with our relationship as landlady and tenant, and everything to do with how I should structure my life: you have to take care of your necessities first, above everything else. If you can't pay your rent, you can't pay off your student loans. Truer words had never been spoken.
Needless to say, I increased the amount I paid in rent the following month, and was still able to pay down my loans. Not once in that conversation did she make me feel ashamed or stupid for not having my priorities where they should have been. She was honest with me, which helped me to be honest with myself.
This recap of my first attempt at The Total Money Makeover may not seem to be as big of an obstacle as it felt, but it truly was. This book centers on being able to budget and I wasn't able to do it. Or rather, I gave up on it. I also had my priorities really screwed up since I wasn't considering paying for basic necessities as being as important as paying down my student debt. Fortunately, these served as teaching moments, and I was able to bounce back for another round. Although I didn't re-read and really embrace The Total Money Makeover program until 2014, I was still able to take some of the advice offered in the book and put it into practice.
You may not get this financial fitness thing right on the first try, but that does not mean you should give up. Start doing what you can now, and when you can do more, start doing more. Don't let the first obstacle you face stop you from moving forward. And, don't think you can do this alone. You will need people in your corner backing you up, and telling you when you need to re-prioritize. There will be plenty of people who tell you achieving your financial goals will be impossible, including yourself at times, so finding those people who will support you is important. Who knows? Maybe you starting your journey was the push they needed to start their own.