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Get Rid of Debt to Build Wealth

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2003 3 Nov
Get Rid of Debt to Build Wealth

Does money seem to slip through your hands like water?  If your finances are out of control, you need to give them a makeover so you can direct the flow of your money.  Don’t waste your income on interest payments for debt.  Use it to build wealth instead.

Here are some steps in the process of building lasting wealth:

• Don’t live in denial.  Admit the problems that debt is causing in your life – stress, anxiety, exhaustion, damaged relationships and more.

• Commit to live ahead of the crowd.  Know that just because most people are saddled with debt doesn’t mean you have to be.  Decide that you want a better life than what the cultural norm offers.

• Realize that debt is not a tool.  Recognize that the risks you incur when you take on debt far outweigh any ways you could leverage it to build wealth.  Understand that debt makes banks wealthy; not you.  Don’t put your relationships in danger by borrowing from or loaning to a friend or relative.  Never co-sign a loan.  Avoid rip-offs like cash advance loans, rent-to-own plans, whole life insurance, and car leases.  Instead of pursuing debt consolidation (where you’re only treating the symptom), get to the root of the problem by aggressively paying down your debt.  Don’t use credit cards unless you can pay them off entirely each month.  Choose a 15-year mortgage over a 30-year one.

• Destroy money myths by learning the secrets of rich people.  Avoid “get rich quick” scams and instead build your wealth by the time-tested method of working for it.  Start saving as early and as much as you can to provide for your own retirement rather than depending on other sources of income that likely won’t materialize.  Never buy a new car because it will lose much of its value during the first few years you own it.  Instead, buy used cars that are in excellent condition.  Avoid all forms of gambling, like the lottery and casinos.  Develop a budget, retirement plan, and estate plan.  Don’t prepay your child’s college expenses or your own funeral costs; instead, save the money for these things yourself.  Never file for bankruptcy.  Never go without health insurance.  Draw up a will. 

• Don’t worry about keeping up with your neighbors. Realize that your neighbors are most likely broke and struggling with a heavy load of debt to keep up appearances. 

Don’t let peer pressure dictate how you live your life.  Live to please God instead of other people.  Ask God to give you the grace you need to be content.  Ask Him to show you how much He loves you, and know that real love doesn’t depend on what you have or how you look.

• Take baby steps to reach your goals little by little.  Create a written budget for each month.  Catch up on your bill payments so you don’t lag behind any longer, and focus on the necessities first (food, shelter, utilities, clothing, and transportation). Save $1,000 cash to set aside as a starter emergency fund to help you deal with inevitable, expensive circumstances that surprise you.

• Attack your debt.  Make a list of your debts (except for your house), listing the ones with the smallest payoff amounts first.  Then work your way down the list, paying off small debts first to encourage yourself and working your way toward eliminating large debts.  Get mad about your debt and determine that you will focus intensely on the task of paying it off.  Consider working overtime or taking an extra job until your debts are paid.

• Finish funding your emergency fund.  After you reach the point where you have no debt except for your mortgage, add onto your $1,000 emergency fund.  Fully fund it to the point where it can provide all your expenses for three to six months in case you get laid off from your job or face major, unexpected bills.

• Maximize your retirement investing.  Figure out how much money you would need to retire with security and dignity, taking inflation into account.  Invest at least 15 percent of your income into retirement savings, especially through mutual funds.

• Save for your child’s college education.  Do research to find out what today’s costs are for both public and private colleges.  Then factor in inflation, and estimate what costs will be when your child start college.  If you have more than one child, estimate costs for each one.  Make plans to save and avoid student loans, which would place a huge burden of debt on your child or children.

• Pay off your home mortgage.  Eliminate your last existing debt – your mortgage – and savor the feeling of being completely free of debt!  Now none of your hard-earned money goes toward paying other people interest.

• Put your wealth to good use.  Give generously to causes God leads you to support.  Don’t feel guilty about having fun if you can pay cash for things like vacations or a sports car.  Pursue more investments.

Adapted from "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness," copyright 2003 by Dave Ramsey.  Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.,   

Dave Ramsey, host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show "The Dave Ramsey Show," is the author of New York Times bestsellers "Financial Peace" and "More Than Enough."  Dave knows what it’s like to have it all – and lose it all.  By age 26, he had established a $4 million real estate portfolio, only to lose it by age 30.  Dave rebuilt his financial life, and now teaches thousands how to successfully manage their finances.