The Push/Pull of Saving Money vs Paying Off Debt

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“It’s a teeter-totter. One side can’t go down without the other coming up, and unless you’ve done something horribly wrong and are a really awful playground equipment jockey, you can’t get both sides to come down at the same time.

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I’m not the brightest bulb in the knife drawer, so when I talk mathematics, I like to keep it simple enough for even me to understand. So here goes…

Simple math dictates that if you have 10 dollars to spend, you can spend less than 10 dollars, but you certainly can’t spend more.

Am I with me so far? I am? Great! Let’s move on.

If we carry that same analogy forward to how my wife and I used to operate my life, if we got 10 dollars, we would immediately spend that 10 dollars on dumb stuff. Then we would hit a point in the month where we needed additional money for legitimate reasons, but again… we only had that 10 dollars. So we would instead charge things on a credit card. Simple!

Simply stupid.

Listen folks, we didn’t get into our current situation by making smart choices. We made the financial equivalent choice of stepping right into the ring with an MMA champion because we watched a Jackie Chan movie from our couch and thought “it all looked kind of easy.”

Now that we’re over that way of thinking and have firmly placed our life back on track, we don’t have the credit cards anymore. I almost said, “as a fallback,” but that’s like saying, “We don’t have the pit of spikes to catch us if we fall off of this tightrope anymore.”

The 10 dollars we have is now the 10 dollars we have.

In our situation, we had some money in a 401k, but literally no money in a savings account of any kind. So now we have two things that we need to accomplish:

  1. We need to pay off our debt.
  2. We need to put some money into savings.

Dave Ramsey’s approach to this is wildly aggressive. He basically says you should get $1,000 into an emergency savings fund, and then divert every remaining penny to paying off your debt as quickly as possible.

David Bach on the other hand goes for an approach of splitting any funds you have almost 50/50, with half going towards savings until you’ve got 3-6 months worth of salary built up, and the other half going towards debt.

Almost 7 months into this process and I’m still not sure which one I side with.

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Stop to Celebrate the Wins

It’s sort of like the folks who decided they were going to fly to the moon. It must have felt like an impossible task. It’s so overwhelming that you almost don’t know where to begin.

Starting Debt (01.01.19): $124,310.77
Current Debt: $107,793.15
Total Paid Off: $16,517.62
Income Going to Savings: 1%

I had a chance to think more about my late Friday post over the weekend, and I came to the realization that I really didn’t celebrate my accomplishment as much as a I should have.

In case you missed it, I flipped the switch and began contributing a whopping 1% to my 401K.

Doesn’t sound like much does it? You’re right.

BUT…

Then I started to look at it this way:

Less than 6 months ago, I had bills that were $3700 dollars more per month than what I was bringing in in income. You read that correctly… I was $3700 bucks upside down every single month.

As you can see by the stat cluster at that top, this means that in less than 6 months not only have I managed to pay off 13% of my outstanding debt, but I’ve also managed to overcome that $3700 a month gap and contribute that whopping 1% to my 401K.

It’s sort of like the folks who decided they were going to fly to the moon. It must have felt like an impossible task. It’s so overwhelming that you almost don’t know where to begin. But then you build your first o-ring and assemble your first flux capacitor, and you start to feel like you’re really making progress.

You know what? I shouldn’t have started that analogy. I don’t know jack about rockets, but I had started typing and it kind of got away from me.

Let me try it again.

It’s sort of like deciding to build a cruise ship. You get your first… uh… rudder?

I know even less about cruise ships. This is not going well.

The point is that we often feel overwhelmed with a massive burden like digging out from under six figures of debt. Yet if I really think about it, not only am I on the right path, I’ve actually put a really good dent in my debt in less than a half a year.

Thursday of last week I felt pretty awful about where I was at, but if I had just taken a moment and really looked at my situation, I would have realized that…

WAIT

It’s sort of like the folks who had to build the Great Wall of China. There they were with a stack of bricks and some glue…

Nope. Thought that one might work, but it didn’t.

In any case take my advice and make sure you take time to properly celebrate victories big or small. You deserve it!