I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve stumbled upon personal finance inspiration through born-again/salesman Dave Ramsey. Embarrassed because I can’t help feeling that Dave Ramsey is the Dr. Phil of finance and he’s just one of those overly suave politician-used-car salesman types who can’t be taken entirely seriously. For example, he acts like he’s survived hardcore poverty despite the fact that he appears to come from a relatively well-off family — and while he did file for bankruptcy at one point, it was AFTER becoming a millionaire at 26. In my humble opinion, He doesn’t seem to be aware of his own privilege compared to others who start life off with seriously serious financial obstacles, appears to compare women to yapping Chihuahuas and offers unrealistic advice like paying your mortgage off in 15 years. Who in the D.C area can afford to pay a half million mortgage in 15 years? He draws parallels between obtaining wealth and Godliness, and this makes me deeply uncomfortable despite the fact that I don’t consider myself religious. Oh and he advises you to IMMEDIATELY stop all unnecessary spending (sell your car, clear your house of junk, go to thrift stores – sage enough advice) BUT he’s also selling you his CDs, books and “Financial Peace University” courses, so I guess you aren’t supposed to splurge unless it’s on him.
Anyway, the point of this post is not to talk about how much I would probably dislike Dave Ramsey if I met him in real life but to say that despite the fact that I could barely stand the sound of his voice, he did get me thinking about getting my finances in order. I’m a single-income household with a penchant for travel, a bunch of student loans and a job in social services, so money isn’t exactly flying my way. Mostly it flies away from me. Very cruelly and quickly.
Several months ago I started writing down every last penny spent. What I found out is that I spend A LOT of pennies, mostly on things like runts, pizza, $5 happy hour specials, ill-fitting clothes, impulse online purchases and Vietnamese summer rolls. Upon discovering the hundreds of dollars I was spending (mostly) on making myself fat(ter) I decided the excessive spending had to stop. I called phase 1 of my financial plan “Stop Wasting Money.” No more than two restaurants per month, no more 7-Eleven pit-stops (except maybe coffee once or twice a week…I don’t want to be too extreme) and no more Amazon. I’m not going to lie. Life after breaking up with Amazon seems a little devoid of….pizazz. Day after day you get home after a long day of work…and there is no brown package waiting for you. Those brown packages were like Christmas all year long and oh, how I Iong to find one on my porch.
I miss summer rolls like crazy. I miss Runts. I miss the convenience of food prepared by someone other than me and the unmatched joy of online shopping. It is sad to behold all the fine and wonderful things capitalism offers us and to say no over and over again. But I’m proud to say I’ve gotten my spending under control. I’ve learned to survive on $120 of groceries every month and I’ve started returning my library books on time to avoid late fees. I even cancelled my Pandora subscription and taped all my credit cards together so I can’t use them, even if I want to.
But back to Dave. He has 7 steps to financial freedom. The firsts step is to save $1,000 — an emergency fund for all of life’s unexpected twists and turns (as if $1,000 will cover all emergencies…). But I did what Dave told me to and saved up $1,000. Then I moved on to Step 2, which is to pay off all your debts. I took a look at all my debts and it turns out that at my current salary, I’m likely to stay at step 2 for the rest of my natural life, mostly because of that biotch Sallie Mae, who is a real horror of an entity. I hate her with all my might but she just lingers. Sometimes I feel like Sallie Mae is actually mocking me because I’ll pay, say, $500 in one month, but somehow, my balance is EVEN HIGHER the following month. Advice to all college students: NEVER get a Sallie Mae Loan.
According to Dave, you should apply the snowball effect: Pay your smallest debt first and work from there. After realizing it would take me approximately 80 years to pay off my debts using the snowball effect, I knew my only option was to implement phase 2 of my financial plan: “Become a Hustler.” I’m Colombian and my people are, historically speaking, hustlers, so I figured this wouldn’t be much of a stretch. To get Sallie off my back I had no choice but to increase my paltry income. So after doing a bit of research and getting myself some gigs, I’ve emerged a dog walker, pet-sitter, babysitter and elder care-giver extraordinaire. And guess what? Babysitting is incredibly lucrative…it sure pays a lot better than when I was 16! Nowadays, if you want a date night with your spouse, you’ve not only got to shell out money for dinner and drinks, but $100 to pay the babysitter!
Something else that has changed since I was a kid is that dogs can no longer hold their bladders. Back when I was a kid, dogs held their bladders for hours. My poor childhood dog, Pebbles, sometimes held it for up to 10 hours a day before someone would get home and let her out, upon which time she’d gleefully run into the backyard and pee her little heart out. Nowadays, dogs need relief several times a day which is a good thing for me. As a result of shrinking dog bladders, I managed to find myself a nice little weekend dog-walking gig so I’m getting paid AND getting exercise at the same time! It’s a win-win situation! I also signed up for this research study website and got called to do a market research study and it was so fun. I got paid $100 for sharing my opinion for an hour. I’ve discovered that with a little persistence and sacrifice, there are plenty of non-terrible ways to make a little extra money. Got a job that needs to be done? Call me.