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Monday, June 27, 2022
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Dave Says

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The zero-based budget

Dear Dave,

I have a good job and make pretty good money, but I’m tired of always worrying about my finances and being strapped for cash at the end of the month. I’ve heard you talk about getting out of debt and living on a zero-based budget, but what exactly is a zero-based budget?

Edward

Dear Edward,

The concept of a zero-based budget is simple: income minus outgo equals zero. If you bring home $4,000 a month, you want everything you spend, save, give and invest to equal $4,000. That way, you know where every one of your dollars is going. Not knowing where the money’s going is what kills lots of people’s financial dreams. They think they know how much they’re spending and where it’s going, but they really don’t.

Here’s how you do it. List all your income sources for the month. Your income should include paychecks, small-business income, side jobs, residual income, child support and so on. If it’s money that comes into your household’s bank account, write it down and add it up.

Next, list every single expense you have each month. Rent, food, cable, phones and everything in between. Your expenses vary from one month to the next, and this is why you make a new budget each month. Your giving budget might be high in December when Christmas rolls around. The car budget will spike during months when you pay insurance or renew your tags. Focus on one month at a time.

Now, subtract your expenses from your income. Ideally, this number will be zero. It might take a few months of practice, so don’t worry if it doesn’t balance out immediately. If it doesn’t, it just means you need to do something to bring one of the numbers up, the other one down—or both. If you’re spending more than you make, you need to make some cuts in your spending. If you need to generate more money, get apart-time job or sell a bunch of stuff.

The deal with a zero-based budget is this: every dollar must have a name. That means every dollar has a designated job to do. If you fill out every item in your budget and come out $100 ahead—meaning you have nothing for that $100 to do—you haven’t finished your budget. You have to find a job for that $100. It’s your decision what it does, but if you don’t give it a name and purpose, you’ll end up blowing it and wondering where it went.

Good luck, Edward!

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Ramsey Show, heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Ramsey Says

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Smallest to largest

Dear Dave,

I’m on Baby Step 2, and I’m working hard to get out of debt. My last two debts are $6,000 on a credit card, and $10,000 on a car loan. I’ll be receiving a $6,000 bonus at work in a couple of weeks, and I was wondering what to do with the money. I’m single, and I make about $45,000 a year, so should I sell the car and get rid of some debt that way, or use the extra money to completely pay off the credit card debt?

Aaron

Dear Aaron,

Just remember the debt snowball—pay off your smallest to largest. In your case, that means knocking out the credit card debt completely, and then attack the car loan with a vengeance. It will be a lot easier once you’re rid of that credit card debt. A $10,000 car with a $45,000 income isn’t unreasonable, but don’t mess around and let that note hang around longer than absolutely necessary. 

My rule of thumb when it comes to things with motors, wheels—I’m talking about big toys, here—is when they’re all added together, they shouldn’t equal more than half your annual income. You don’t want that much money wrapped up in things that are going down in value. You’re in no danger of that here, but at this point you’re so close to being debt-free you can practically taste it.

Follow the plan, Aaron. And stay focused and intense about becoming debt-free. You’re almost there!

—Dave  

Keep the homeowner’s insurance

Dear Dave,

Recently, I made a claim on my homeowner’s insurance for hail damage. It was my first claim ever. Since I’m retired and completely debt-free—including my home—and have over $1 million in the bank, is homeowner’s insurance still a good idea? The house is insured for $250,000, with a $5,000 deductible, and the insurance is about $1,200 a year.

Mary

Dear Mary,

You’re obviously in good financial shape, but I’d still recommend you have an up-to-date homeowner’s insurance policy. If something happened to my home or one of my rental properties, I could write a check and replace any of them. But I still have homeowner’s insurance on every single one.

It’s just good risk management to transfer the chances of a fire, tornado, or other catastrophic events to homeowner’s insurance. If something disastrous happened, you could write a check to cover the deductible with no problem. But writing a check for $250,000? You’d feel that one. Keep the policy, Mary!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Ramsey Show, heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Says

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A calling or a job?

Dear Dave,

When it comes to your career and profession, how can you tell if you’ve truly found your calling in life?

Tony

Dear Tony,

I don’t think it’s common for most folks to feel like they’ve experienced some kind of grand revelation, and suddenly they know what they’re supposed to do with their lives. Personally, I believe this kind of thing usually starts out as an activity or ideaconnected to something they enjoy and want others to experience. Often, that can grow into a job, and then maybe into a career—or even a business.

I think it takes a lot of time, reflection, insight, and self-evaluation before anything can be termed a calling. I know this is true insome cases, because that’s how it happened with me. I can’t honestly tell you that when I first started on radio, or began formally teaching and writing I knew it was God’s plan for my life. I knew early on I was drawn to it, and felt there was a need for it, but it took a while for me to understand and accept that it was what I was really meant to do.

I hope this helps a little bit, Tony. Just be honest with yourself, think about it, and pray about it a lot, too. God wants what’s best for you, so make sure you include Him in everything. It worked for me. I’ve been doing what I do for nearly three decades now, and I still love it. I’m convinced that it is God’s calling on my life.

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Ramsey Show, heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Says

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Good news and bad news

Dear Dave,

My wife and I are in our late twenties, we have no debt, and our household income is about $180,000 year. We’re thinking about building a home, but we’re not sure whether to build just for us, or maybe building a multi-family place so we could live upstairs, rent the rest, and make some money. Your advice would be appreciated.

Joel

Dear Joel,

If you’re looking strictly at quality of life considerations, like privacy and having a little room to yourselves, a single family home is the way to go. But, if making extra money is important to you at this point, a multi-family structure might work. The good news is your tenants would be right there. The bad news is your tenants would be right there!

From a landlord’s perspective, living next to or above your tenants means you can keep an eye on things a little better. Your tenants might also take better care of the place with you around. But those kinds of situations aren’t always beautiful things. When you’re living a floor or wall away from someone, you’re all up in their business, and they’re all up in your business. It’s not for everyone. 

If you’re planning to have kids soon, I’d recommend going the single family route—specifically because of the quality of life. Looking at the other side, you’ll make money with a multi-family construction, but it’ll probably be a pain in the butt. You’ll be giving up some things if you go that route.

Let me put it this way, Joel. I’ve owned a ton of investment real estate in my life, and my wife didn’t want to live in any of those properties. Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either decision. Just make sure your mortgage is a 15-year, fixed rate loan, and the monthly payments are no more than 25 percent of your combined take home pay. Save up for a down payment of at least 20 percent to avoid PMI, too.

Take a hard look at the numbers, and make sure you and your wife have a long, long talk about everything. You two should be in complete agreement about every aspect of this situation before moving forward!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Ramsey Show, heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Ramsey Says

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Live like the money isn’t there

Dear Dave,

I’m 24, single, and I make $60,000 a year. I’m also debt-free and live in an apartment, plus I have about $550,000 in a brokerage account that’s made up of 75 percent mutual funds and 25 percent single stocks. The money in the brokerage account was originally an inheritance of $280,000 that has grown since I received it in 2007. Am I putting my money toward the best investment possibilities right now?

Drew

Dear Drew,

You’re in a nice place! I’m glad you’re taking your finances and your future so seriously.

First of all, I don’t play around with single stocks. There’s just too much risk there for me. Since I don’t invest in single stocks, I don’t recommend others do it, either. I look at two things when it comes to investing—real estate and mutual funds.

I always pay cash for income-producing real estate. And when it comes to mutual funds, I invest in good, growth stock mutual funds with a solid track record of at least 10 years. Now, I don’t get mad at people if they want to dabble in single stocks a little, but I wouldn’t recommend having more than 10 percent of your investment portfolio wrapped up in them. The numbers on playing single stocks are just not that good for the individual, and besides that, I don’t like losing money!

If I woke up in your shoes, I’d move the 25 percent you have in single stocks into good mutual funds. And I wouldn’t use a brokerage account. I’d stick with a quality financial advisor, one who has the heart of a teacher. I think you’ll end up doing better with your money in the long haul this way. It might be a little boring, but boring is good when it comes to stuff like this. Exciting means you stand a good chance of losing a lot of money.

You’ve got a good income, especially for a single guy who’s 24, so I’d make those adjustments and live like the inheritance money wasn’t there. Stay away from debt, live on a reasonable budget, and make sure you’re putting 15 percent of your income away for retirement. Then, when it’s time a few years down the road, use some of that inheritance money to pay cash for a nice home.

If you can manage to do all that, the money you inherited—even with buying a home—will likely grow to millions of dollars by the time you’re ready to retire. Pretty cool situation, Drew!   

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Ramsey Show, heard by more than 18 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Says

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Push the pause button

Dear Dave,

I’ve been following your plan, but recently I experienced a medical emergency. I’m about halfway through Baby Step 2 and paying off my debts using the debt snowball system. Considering the circumstances, should I stop doing the debt snowball for now?

Brooke

Dear Brooke,

That’s exactly what you should do. But make sure you’re only pressing the pause button on paying off debt. I’m talking about temporarily stopping the debt snowball, and making only minimum payments on all non-mortgage debt for now.

Cash is your umbrella when it rains, and you never know just long the rain will last. Even if you have great health insurance, you might end up paying a chunk out of pocket. That’s why it’s important to save up and have plenty on hand.

Things like this are often just a bump in the road, so don’t get discouraged. They can be expensive, and they’re part of life, but taking care of these kinds of issues doesn’t have to mean giving up on getting control of your finances. Emergency issues, especially a medical emergency, come first. Then, go back when things are better and pick up where you left off knocking out debt using the debt snowball system.

You can do this, Brooke. God bless you!

—Dave

You’re just not ready

Dear Dave,

My husband and I just bought a small business with cash. My sister let us live with her while we saved up the money for it, but things are starting to get a little cramped for everyone. The other day, my sister offered to co-sign on a house for us. Do you think this is a good idea?

Cari

Dear Cari,

Ok, so you just bought a business. I love your entrepreneurial spirit and the fact you saved up and paid for it with cash. But at this point, you don’t know if the business is going to be successful or not. On top of that, you told me you’d need a co-signer for a home. If you need a co-signer for anything, it means you’re not financially ready for that purchase.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but you guys need to just forget about buying a house for a while. If I were in your shoes, I’d find a decent, inexpensive place to rent, and spend two or three years getting the business up and running. Pay off any debt you have, while saving as much money as you can in the process. 

I want you and your husband to have a nice house someday. But right now, it would be a burden instead of a blessing.

—Dave 

Dave Ramseyis a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Dave Ramsey Show, heard by more than 16 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Ramsey Says

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Save up to get out of the rust bucket

Dear Dave,

I let my fiancée use my car to get back and forth to work, and it has a lot of miles on it and a few mechanical issues. The money we’ve put into the car to fix the issues is about the same or more than the car is actually worth. We just started your plan a couple of months ago, and we’ve almost got a beginner emergency fund saved up. We also have very little consumer debt to pay off. I’m afraid, though, if we get into a second $1,000 to $2,000 car, we’ll just experience the same kinds of issues and it will turn into another money pit. I bring home about $5,000 a month, and she works part-time and goes to school. How do you think we should handle things? 

Thaddeus

Dear Thaddeus,

Well, if you’re serious about following the plan, you don’t really have a choice right now. But you’re bringing home a nice paycheck, man. You ought to be able to buy a better $1,500 to $2,000 car with cash in a month or so, just to give you some relief. Then, stick some money aside each month until spring and get something that’s a big step up in the $5,000 to $6,000 range.

Listen, I don’t want anyone driving around in a rust bucket longer than they have to. And it sounds like you really need to get up out of the junk. But if you do some research and buy wisely, you can get a good year or two out of a $1,500 car. The car may not look like much, but you’re not trying to catch a girl’s eye. You’ve already got a fiancée. If you find an old Honda or Toyota that’s still mechanically sound—and yes, they’re out there—it’ll get you by while you save up for something a lot better.

But remember, you and your fiancée don’t need to own anything together until you’re married. The kind of arrangement you have now can cause real problems. If you guys get married and combine your resources and dreams, it’ll be better for everyone relationally and financially. You’re playing house already, so you might as well go ahead and get married and combine your lives on every level.

It’s time to paint or get off the ladder, dude!

Dave Ramsey Says

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Refinance in Baby Step 2?

Dear Dave,

My husband and I are on Baby Step 2, and we’ve paid off about $30,000 in consumer debt since March. We were wondering if we should refinance our mortgage. Our current rate is 4.875%, with 28 years remaining on the loan. We found a 15-year refinance at 2.5%, which would raise our monthly payments about $200, but we can handle that. We have $150,000 in equity in our home and about $207,000 left on the loan. What do you think we should do?    

Raye

Dear Raye,

You two have done a great job this year! I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished and that you’re looking to the future.

Baby Step 2 wouldn’t be affected, except that your monthly mortgage payment will go up a little. I wouldn’t pay the refinance costs out of pocket, though. I’d roll them into the loan. You’d be saving more than 2% by locking in this crazy-low interest rate, and you’re knocking the whole thing down to a 15-year loan. I love all that. It’s definitely worth the extra $200 a month to make it happen.

Think about it this way. You’re going to be saving more than $4,000 a year with the interest rate reduction. You’re not going to see it in cash flow because of the $200 increase in monthly payments, but over the scope of the loan, you’re going to be charged between $4,000 and $4,500 less per year for interest. All that money is going toward paying back the closing costs and reducing the principal built into the move from 28 years to 15 years.

Yes, you should do this!  

—Dave

Which comes first?

Dear Dave,

I just saved up my $1,000 beginner emergency fund, and I’m looking at paying off my car and credit card debt—a total of $3,400—by the end of January. Before I started your plan, I took out a $7,500 student loan to pay for my fall and spring semesters. I still have a year of school left, which will cost about $10,000. Should I save up the money for my final year before attacking my student loan debt, so I don’t have to take out another one, or go ahead and begin paying it off?  

Emma

Dear Emma,

Well, it doesn’t make much sense to pay off the current student loan, then turn around and take out another one. Your first goal—after you get the credit cards and car paid off—should be saving cash to finish school. Once you’ve done that, start paying off the student loan.

Long story short, you’ve got to stop borrowing money. The idea of saving up to pay for things should be the default setting in your brain, Emma. Otherwise, you’re going to spend the rest of your life with car payments and other debt hanging around your neck. That’s not being responsible with your money, and it will keep you from saving for stuff that matters and becoming wealthy.

Stop. Borrowing. Money. I hope I haven’t been unclear.

—Dave   

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Dave Ramsey Show, heard by more than 16 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Says

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Use non-retirement account to pay off debt?

Dear Dave,

I have $11,000 in a mutual fund account that is not a retirement account. My wife has a retirement account through her job as a teacher, but I do not have one at all. We’re in Baby Step 2, so should we cash out the $11,000 in the investment account to help pay off debt?

Chris

Dear Chris,

If this money is designated as non-retirement funds, I’d say go ahead and cash it out. Use the money to pay down debt, and continue to stay focused working the Baby Steps. Get that debt paid off, build an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses, then it’s your turn to start investing.

The quickest way to build wealth is to get control of your largest wealth-building tool—your income. When all your money is going out the door to other people, you don’t have that tool at your disposal when it comes to important things like saving and investing. There’s some math in there, but it’s also about behavior and being intentional. Getting out of debt dramatically shortens the distance between you and wealth.

A lot of people are having some major “never again” moments right now in the wake of COVID-19 and all the other stuff 2020 has thrown at us. They’re saying things like, “Never again will I be broke, never again will I have debt, and never again will I live with no savings to help take care of me and my family.”

You can do this, Chris. Get after it! 

—Dave

Zero-based budgeting explained

Dear Dave,

What exactly is a zero-based budget?

Dean

Dear Dean,

Simply put, a zero-based budget is income minus outgo equals zero. If you earn $4,000 a month, and you’re doing a zero-based budget, every item you spend, save, give and invest should add up to $4,000. It’s a method of knowing where every single one of your dollars is going. Most people don’t live on a budget. They just cash checks, write checks, then they look up and wonder where all their money went. Not having a plan, especially for your money, is a bad plan.

List all your income from all sources for the month. Next, list every single expense you have each month. Rent, food, cable, phones, and anything else you pay for gets added to the list. Your expenses vary from one month to the next, which is why you make a new spending plan each month.

Now, here’s where it gets real. Subtract your income from your expenses. Ideally, this number will be zero. It might take some practice, so don’t be discouraged if everything doesn’t balance out perfectly the first few times. All that means is you need to find a way to bring one of the numbers up, the other one down—or both. But whatever you do, don’t spend a dime that’s not accounted for.

If you have a problem with spending more than you make, make some cuts in order to equalize your income and your outgo. Using coupons, cutting back on groceries, or carpooling to work are great ideas to reduce spending. If you want to generate more money, get a second job on weekends or sell some stuff.

You’re the boss of the budget—in the beginning. Once it’s committed to paper, in a spreadsheet, or on an app like EveryDollar, the budget is the boss!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is a seven-time #1 national best-selling author, personal finance expert, and host of The Dave Ramsey Show, heard by more than 16 million listeners each week. Hehas appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today Show, Fox News, CNN, Fox Business, and many more. Since 1992, Dave has helped people regain control of their money, build wealth and enhance their lives. He also serves as CEO for Ramsey Solutions.

Dave Says

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A very generous offer

Dear Dave,

My in-laws have very generously offered my wife and I $250,000 to help with a down payment on a home. I know the amount exceeds the IRS’s yearly gift allowance, but they want to structure it as a family loan and have already told us they don’t care if we pay it back. If we accept, we technically owe them a lot of money. If we say no, they may be offended. What do you think about this and how it might impact the relationship?    

James

Dear James,

Well, it makes sense your wife would be onboard with the whole thing. It’s her dad making the offer, so of course she would be a lot more comfortable with the idea than you are.

 This is a big deal, and it’s something you two should have a very serious conversation about. Get on the same page in every regard. Also, I’d recommend making sure you get everything in writing. See to it, as well, that it can be forgiven at the maximum allowable annual gift rate.

In addition, in the event of death make sure it’s included in the estate, it’s forgiven, and there will be zero call on the note. In effect, that would make it an advance on your inheritance instead of debt. Under no circumstances should they, or any other heirs, have grounds to call the note. 

That’s a good question, James. And a nice gift!

—Dave

Keeping the side hustle alive

Word count: 272

Dear Dave,

I have a full-time job, but I also have a side job providing firewood to help pay off debt. I make $600 to $1,000 a month with this project. My log splitter went down recently when a hydraulic line burst, and the machine caught on fire. I’m not sure how much it will cost to get it going again. Should I invest in a new one that will increase my productivity and help me pay off debt faster?

Chris

Dear Chris,

If I’m in your shoes, I’m going to fix the old one. Even it means duct tape and glue, I’m going to try to find a way to repair it instead of spending a bunch of money or going deeper into debt.

If you can’t do that at a reasonable price out of pocket, I’d be in the market for a decent, used log splitter. And pay cash! I get your line of thinking when it comes to increasing productivity. Splitting wood is real work. But don’t try to justify buying an expensive, new piece of equipment when it’s just not necessary.

If you’re making that much with a side hustle, you can make your money back on a used splitter in a month or two—three at the most. Be smart about it, Chris!  

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books, including The Total Money MakeoverThe Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 16 million listeners each week on 600 radio stations and multiple digital platforms. Follow Dave on the web at daveramsey.com and on Twitter at @DaveRamsey.