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Saturday, May 15, 2021
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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.

Dave Ramsey Says

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Evaluating insurance needs

Dear Dave,

Last year I got a divorce. I’m 32, a teacher and a single mom. I’m on Baby Step 2 right now, and I was wondering about life insurance. My son is only two, and if something happened to me, he would go to his father. His dad is in good shape financially and responsible with money, so how much life insurance should I have?

Christian

Dear Christian,

Well, you probably don’t need the full 10 to 12 times your income like I recommend for most people. The only dependent you have is also dependent upon his dad. And from what you said, his father seems perfectly able to take care of him.

I’d get a good term life policy equal to the amount that you’d like to supplement your son’s care. The good news is you can get a couple hundred thousand in life insurance at your age for practically nothing.

If you get life insurance, make sure his dad—your ex—is not the beneficiary. The beneficiary should be a family trust, formed upon your death, and the money would go into that trust for the benefit of your child. You set the terms of the trust. It should not be controlled by your ex. In a divorce situation, I would never name someone I’m not willing to be married to the trustee of my money on behalf of my child. 

I’m so glad you’re thinking about these things, Christian. It shows you’re an intentional lady, a fine mom, and a good planner. Those traits will serve you and your son well!  

—Dave

Are utilities included?

Dear Dave,

I just received a formal job offer in law enforcement. I’m debt-free, single, and I’d like to move out of a roommate situation and into my own apartment. I’ll be starting out at $34,000 a year, then moving up to $38,000 after my probationary period. You have a rule that says to make sure rent or house payments are 25% or less of your take home pay. If I can find a place where utilities are included, do they figure into that amount? 

Josh

Dear Josh,

It’s really more of a guideline than a rule. The point of not letting your housing cost eat up more than 25% of your take home pay is to make sure you have money left over for other important things. It’s hard to save and invest for the future when a huge chunk of your money is eaten up by rent or a mortgage payment each month. But no, utilities are not part of the one-fourth of your take home pay guideline.

At this point, it doesn’t sound like you need anything fancy. Try to find a safe, quiet place to call home—somewhere you can relax and decompress when you’re off duty. And thanks for entering law enforcement. A lot of folks are leaving your line of work, and we need good men and women in that profession right now.

—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.

Dave Says April 8, 2020

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Responsibilities come first

Dear Dave,

My husband runs a small business that has never done very well. We have three kids, and I make $55,000 annually in my job. Part of what I make has been going into the business for over a year to help keep it afloat, and we don’t have a lot of money in savings. What do you think we should do?

Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,

If you’re putting other money into a business account, that’s a pretty good sign you’re not making money in the business. You and your husband need to sit down together, and do a household budget and a profit and loss statement on the business. You’ve got to get on the same page financially.

Put all his business expenses on the profit and loss statement in detail, and write out what it would take for him to break even each month.  But honestly, with everything that’s been going on with your finances, if he’s not at least breaking even at this point, then it’s time for him to do something else for a living full-time.

I’m an entrepreneur and business owner. Trust me, I totally understand the allure and excitement that goes with running your own business. But your own household and its immediate financial responsibilities come first. The only money that should go into the business account is income the business creates.

—Dave

No free passes

Dear Dave,

I own a small business, and recently a relative asked for a job with the company. I hate to say this, but I’ve got reservations about hiring her. She’s basically a good kid, but not the most reliable person in the world. Do you have any advice on how to handle a situation like this?

Bill

Dear Bill,

As an entrepreneur, you have the right and responsibility to do what’s best for your company. That means you shouldn’t hire anyone who isn’t a good fit—even a relative.

If a relative is qualified, and the kind of person who understands they’ll have to bring it every single day, performing at a level equal to or above your other team members, that can be a special and rewarding thing. But if that relative is the kind of person who expects special treatment or is a problem child, that kind of situation can be a nightmare for you, your company, and the whole family.

Would you hire this person because they’d make a good team member? Would you hire this person if they weren’t part of the family? If the answer to either of these questions is no, don’t hire them. It’s as simple as that.

The bottom line is you have to do what’s best for your business, your immediate family, and your team.

—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.

Dave Says February 4, 2020

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Tighten up!

Dear Dave,

I’m beginning to think we got in over our heads with our house. My wife and I make about $125,000 a year combined, but we’ve never been able to put anything aside for an emergency fund. Our mortgage payment is 35 percent of our take home pay each month. We have two young children, so we eat out a lot, but we have no debt other than our house. Do you think we should refinance our home?

Jeff

Dear Jeff,

You two are making good money, and you’re debt-free except for your home. You can’t tighten up your budget enough to save up an emergency fund? Stay out of restaurants, dude! There’s no law stating you have to eat out a lot just because there are kids in the house. I mean, you’ve got no emergency fund. That’s a pretty basic thing.

You guys need to get on a written, detailed plan, and start hitting your goals. I’m talking about a strict, monthly budget. Now, I’ll admit your mortgage payment isn’t exactly what I would’ve signed you up for. Your house payments, or rent, should be no more than 25 percent of your monthly take home pay. But your house payment isn’t what’s holding you two back. What’s holding you two back is the fact that you haven’t been willing to tighten up the finances in other areas of your life to offset biting off more than you could chew in terms of a home.

No, I wouldn’t refinance. You’re fairly close where the mortgage payments are concerned, so I think you can make it through this by looking at ways to increase your income and selling stuff you don’t need to build an emergency fund. You two have been smarter than some, but you’re really going to have to buckle down and rearrange your priorities to make this happen!

—Dave

Cash out my Roth IRA?

Dear Dave,

I have around $15,000 in a Roth IRA. I just recently started studying your advice, and I was wondering if it would be a good idea to cash it out and put the money toward debt.

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I teach people to stop investing temporarily while they attack their debt. So, I wouldn’t add anything to it at this point, but the worst thing you could do is cash it out. If you do, taxes and penalties will steal a huge chunk of that cash. The only time I take money out of a retirement account to pay off debt is to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure. 

Start working the Baby Steps from the beginning. Baby Step 1 is saving up $1,000 for a starter emergency fund. Baby Step 2 is paying off all debts from smallest to largest, except for your home, using the debt snowball method. This will free up a ton of money! Then you’re ready for Baby Step 3, which is increasing your beginner emergency fund to a fully-loaded emergency fund of three to six months of expenses.

Now you’re ready for Baby Step 4, which is 15 percent of your income going into retirement!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books, including The Total Money Makeover.The 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.

Starting off on the right path together

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Dear Dave,

I’m getting married next summer. My fiancé and I are in agreement about how to handle money, and we both follow your plan. Do you recommend pre-marital counseling? If so, what do you feel are some of the important areas of agreement for couples before they get married?

Allison

Dear Allison,

Congratulations! I’m glad you’re both on the same page with your finances, too.

I’ve worked with thousands of couples and numerous marriage counselors over the years. In that time, I’ve learned fights over money—and the resulting problems from those disagreements—are probably the biggest cause of divorce in America. In my opinion, in-depth pre-marital counseling is an absolute must. The idea of entering into something that’s supposed to be a lifelong commitment, without thoroughly addressing all the issues—and potential issues—is a really bad idea.

With that said, it’s been my experience that couples have a high probability of a successful marriage if they agree on four things, in detail, before the big day—kids, money, religion, and in-laws. With kids, the big question is do you want them? If so, how many and when? Are you going to let them run wild, or are you going to provide structure and make them behave?

When it comes to money, something it sounds like you two are already in agreement on, get all your cards out on the table, and construct an intelligent game plan for your finances that you both agree on. Staying away from debt, living on a written, monthly budget, and saving for the future are important parts of this. 

Also, be in agreement on religion. Statistically speaking, two people from the same faith have a better chance of making a marriage work. And finally, when it comes to your future in-laws, you need to learn who they are and what you’re getting into. What are they really like? What are the boundaries when it comes to their influence on your lives?

All these topics should be discussed at length, dealt with, and agreed upon before the rings are exchanged. God bless you two, Allison!

—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.

Dave Says December 17 2019

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Great start, but follow the steps

Dear Dave,

I’ve recently begun living on a budget, and I’ve got $1,000 saved. At the moment, I have $150 left over each month after everything is account for in my budget. I also have three debts totaling about $12,000. Should I use this extra cash to pay off debt, or would it be a better idea to start investing the money?

Leland

Dear Leland,

Let’s put off investing for the time being. You’ve done a great job so far by getting on a budget and saving $1,000. Making mature decisions and telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went, is the key to gaining control of your finances.

Now, let’s take a closer look at my plan and where you stand. You’ve already set aside $1,000 for a beginner emergency fund. That’s Baby Step 1. Don’t touch that money except in the event of an actual emergency. You’re ready now for Baby Step 2, which is to pay off all debt except for your mortgage using the debt snowball system.

To do this, make a list of your debts from smallest to largest. Make minimum payments on all but the smallest debt, and attack it with a vengeance. As soon as you get that one paid off, move on to the next one and then the next one.

Once you finish the debt snowball, and you’re debt-free except for your house, you go back to your emergency fund and stash more money away until you have a fully-funded emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. This is Baby Step 3. Now you can begin concentrating on investing for retirement, which is Baby Step 4. Start with your employer’s 401(k) plan. Then, you can invest the rest into Roth IRAs—one for you, and one for your spouse—if you’re married.

Saving and investing are both very important. But it’s also important to become debt-free. That’s what makes them easy!

—Dave

Who will be liable for the debt?

Dear Dave,

My parents are getting up there in years, and they aren’t really prepared for when they pass away. They can’t afford life insurance at this point, and they also have a lot of debt. When they die, who will be liable for their debt?

Tammi

Dear Tammi,

Any outstanding debt your parents have upon passing will likely go against their estate. If they have a positive net worth—meaning they owned more than they owed—there will be money left over after the debts are paid, and this could go toward an inheritance. If they have a negative net worth, which means they owed more than they owned, everything could be sold off to cover as much of the debt as possible. Regardless, you would only be held liable for any of their debt if you were a co-signer on the loans.

I’d also suggest getting their permission to buy burial policies on them. If they won’t agree to this, you might have to save up money for their final expenses yourself. In most areas, $10,000 to $15,000 is enough to cover basic burial costs for two people.

—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.

Dave Ramsey Says October 29 2019

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Mini emergency fund?

Dear Dave,

I’m 26 and single, and I have about $35,000 in credit card and student loan debt. I’m only making $20,000 a year right now, but I expect to be making almost $30,000 soon. Under the circumstances, can I get by with $500 in my emergency fund, or do I need to have $1,000 set aside like you recommend in Baby Step 1? I’m worried about keeping up with bills while saving money for my starter emergency fund.

Thomas

Dear Thomas,

I know it will be tough, but a $1,000 emergency fund should be your first big goal. Also, if you’re not already doing a monthly budget—and spending every dollar on paper before the next month begins—start doing it now! Living on a budget will help you control your money instead of allowing a lack of money to control youThat’s how you can keep up with the bills while you save that first $1,000.

Let’s say you know you’ll be getting two $750 paychecks each month. You go ahead and plan out how to spend that money before you ever get it. Take care of necessities first. I’m talking about food, clothing, shelter, transportation and utilities. After that, make sure you’re current on your debts. Once those things are out of the way, pump every spare dollar you can into your emergency fund. And remember, limit your spending to necessities only!

Start working on that now, Thomas. It’s very important. Remember the old saying about Murphy’s Law, and how anything that can go wrong will go wrong? If you keep living without a plan and no emergency fund, Murphy will hunt you down!

—Dave

They’re just trying to help, but…

Dear Dave,

My husband and I are in our twenties, and we work for the same company. We’ve been thinking about going back to school and finishing our degrees, because our employer is willing to pay for up to 10 credit hours, plus books, per semester with no strings attached. My parents think we should get student loans instead, so we can finish faster. We both have less than two years to go to complete our degrees, so what do you think?

Janet

Dear Janet,

Wow, this is a fantastic opportunity! How many times does someone offer to pay for a college degree with no financial strings attached?

I’m sure your folks want what’s best for you, but the truth is you probably couldn’t take more than nine or 10 hours per semester, work full-time jobs, and keep your relationship and your marriage healthy. If you’ve both got less than two years of school left, it’s not going to take that long, anyway. You’re still young and have plenty of time to make this happen.

I don’t think your parents mean any harm, but they’re wrong on this one. I’ve got a feeling they’re like most people in America today. They’ve spent most of their lives swimming in debt, and they’ve reached a point where they’ve just accepted it and think there’s no other way. To me, that’s sad.

If you and your husband really want to finish your degrees, I’d say the two of you need to march into work tomorrow morning, and take advantage of that wonderful offer. Stay away from debt! 

—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.

Dave Says August 1, 2019

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Adjust our emergency fund?

Dear Dave,

My husband and I have been married five years, and we’ve decided we want to have children. We’ve both been working full time since our wedding, and we were wondering if we should adjust our emergency fund and retirement investing to accommodate all the upcoming life changes that go along with having a bigger family.

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

When it comes to an emergency fund, I’d stick with what I recommend in the Baby Steps. A good emergency fund of three to six months of expenses should be fine. If you feel safer leaning toward the six-month side, that’s fine. As far as investing is concerned, that’s Baby Step 4. This means 15 percent of your household income going toward retirement. None of that really changes.

Now, with another person in the house, your day-to-day expenses are going to increase. That’ll make it even more important to make sure you’re living on a written monthly budget. What you don’t want to do, is quit your job to come home and be a full-time mom, then find yourselves dipping into the emergency fund. Being a stay-at-home mom is fine. It’s a wonderful thing if you can afford it. But if that’s the plan you need to budget accordingly, and practice living on just your husband’s income before you quit your job.

God bless you two, Rachel!

—Dave

Micro investing apps?

Dear Dave,

What is your opinion on micro investing apps like Acorns and Betterment? Are these good vehicles for building wealth in the long term, and are there any major drawbacks to these types of services?  

Alex

Dear Alex,

I’m not saying there’s anything really wrong with Acorns or Betterment, but they do different things. Acorns is more of an invest pennies, round-up kind of program, where Betterment is kind of a robo-investing deal.

Here’s the thing. Micro investing is going to create micro wealth. And the big downside is you’re going to feel like you did something important. The way you end up with money is by investing money. The way you end up with more money is by investing more money. You can argue all you want that using things like these create extra money. Yeah, but not really. The returns are still micro. An app doesn’t make two dollars turn into twenty dollars.

It’s okay to use apps like that. I’m not mad at them, and I don’t think they’re a rip-off. What worries me about these kinds of things, in an investing sense, is they give the illusion that you’ve done something significant with your money.

—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.

How to Budget for Christmas in July

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Can you believe Christmas is right around the corner? It seems like we were just celebrating the Fourth of July, and now it’s time for another Christmas season.

Okay, don’t get mad and protest that I’m bringing up Christmas too early. Even though the actualholiday is still five months away, it’s not too early to budget for it.

One of the most frequent stressors I hear about during the holiday season is overspending. So many people have the best intentions—and they want to give to as many people as possible—but those good intentions often come with a lot of bills in January.

If you’re worried about overspending this Christmas, the fix is to do a Christmas budget. Here’s how you make a very simple zero-based Christmas budget:

Step 1: Decide how much you can spend on Christmas gifts

I’m not talking about throwing Christmas parties or decorating your house. This is just about gifts.

Last year, 33% of Americans planned to spend $1,000 on Christmas gifts. Now, depending on your family and money situation, that might be a lot or not nearly enough. But chances are you don’t have that kind of cash just lying around in your bank account, which is why you’ll want to start putting a little bit aside each month starting now.

For example, let’s take that number and reduce it a little. Let’s say you budget $600 for Christmas gifts. That’s the total amount of money you plan on spending on your family and friends this holiday season. If you start saving for that this month, you’ll need to set aside $120 per month. That’s if you do all your shopping in December.

Step 2: List the people you want to buy for, and how much you plan to spend on each

Your Christmas budget might look like this:

Kid One: $135
Kid Two: $135
Spouse: $50
Mom: $50
Dad: $50
In-Laws: $100
Sister: $30
Friend: $30
Office Secret Santa: $20

Step 3: Subtract all those numbers from the total amount you’ve budgeted for gifts 

If you end up with zero, then you’ve perfected a zero-based Christmas budget!

Every dollar you’ll spend is attached to someone’s name, just like categories in a normal budget. It’s that simple, and all you really need is a sheet of paper. If you prefer a digital budget, check out EveryDollar. It’s the budgeting app I use.

Don’t get too caught up in the specifics of this example. Your situation might be totally different. The main thing is being intentional, proactive, and precise with your spending. And when December comes around, your Christmas shopping experience will be much more merry and bright. You’ll be checking everyone off your budget list, instead of spending first and worrying about the consequences later.

Merry Christmas in July, and happy budgeting!

About Rachel Cruze:

As a #1 New York Times best-selling author, host of The Rachel Cruze Show, and The Rachel Cruze Show podcast, Rachel helps people learn the proper ways to handle money and stay out of debt. She’s authored three best-selling books, including Love Your Life, Not Theirs and Smart Money Smart Kids, which she co-wrote with her father, Dave Ramsey. You can follow Cruze on Twitter and Instagram at @RachelCruze and online at rachelcruze.comyoutube.com/rachelcruze or facebook.com/rachelramseycruze.