Step Zero

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

[Ed. Note: This is from the drafts folder, written October 2013. Don’t know why I never posted it, seems good enough to send out into the world. Even though it will bump Julia from the home page, and put Dave Ramsey there. That’s an unhappy trade if ever there was one. But in the interest of Fresh Content, I am hitting the “publish” button.]

For a while, I’ve been thinking of doing a new feature on this blog called Where I Read Books So You Don’t Have To.

I was reminded of this recently when I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Man. Talk about stretching things out. That book is barely a magazine article, it’s maybe a Reader’s Digest article, yet the author and publisher managed to stretch it out for 280 completely excruciating pages. Holy schmoly.

I’ll save the full analysis for a future post, but in the meantime I want to talk a little bit about I what I found to be the biggest flaw with Dave Ramsey’s strategy in that book. (Okay, one of the biggest flaws. There were quite a number of flaws, but I’m going to stick with just this one for now.)

One of the main flaws I found with The Total Money Makeover is that Step One is Save $1,000.

Well, okay!

Most people I know who are struggling with their finances are struggling BECAUSE THEY ARE UNABLE TO SAVE MONEY. How is telling them to save a thousand dollars useful? If they knew how to save a thousand dollars, wouldn’t they just do it?

Maybe I’m missing something here.

So personally I would suggest a few preliminary steps to get people to the point where they can save a thousand dollars.

The very first step is to think about why you want to fix your finances. What problems are you having that you do not want to have anymore? What goals do you have that you will not be able to achieve living the way you are currently living? What do you hope to accomplish with the program you are thinking of starting?

It might seem like you can skip this step, of course you want to fix your finances, who wants to live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of their life, but the reason you want to do this is because it’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a while and you are going to run into things that totally knock you off track. You need to be motivated enough to get through the hard things, to get back on track, to keep working.

I learned this lesson when I was trying to be more organized.

Progress was slow, and sometimes I felt like I tried as hard as I could but I kept ending up back in the same place. When I started to feel like it wasn’t worth it, I just wasn’t going to be able to do it, maybe I just didn’t have it in me and who cares anyway, the thing that worked to get through was to remember what I was trying to accomplish. Not the grand plan of “being organized,” but living in a house that didn’t always have piles of laundry, or not being late. Those are the things that bothered me, so those were the things I focused on. And those are the things I fixed.

I’m still not organized, but I’m not late anymore, and I always have clean clothes when I need them. [2015 note: Hmm, okay. May have to revise this now that I’m in school. I always have clean clothes when I need them, but they are not always folded and put away. Clearly experiencing some backsliding on this particular goal.]

So think about specifically what you want to fix, and why, and keep that foremost in your mind. Especially when it all feels hopeless.

The other thing you can work on if saving a thousand dollars sounds like taking a trip to the moon is imagining yourself saving money.

If you can imagine yourself saving a thousand dollars, that’s great, you can start working on saving a thousand dollars. If not, get it down to an amount you can imagine saving, in a time frame you can think about. How much can you save each week? Can you save twenty dollars? Ten? One? Start with whatever you can think about starting with and build from there.

As Marilyn Paul says in It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, it’s very difficult to make something happen if you can’t even think about it.

Think about what you want your life to be like. Think about being able to save money. Then imagine yourself doing it.

Step Zero.

8 Responses to “Step Zero”

  1. J. Flanagan Says:

    As usual, you are spot on. (I like the whole you read books so we don’t have to thing ;) I think I read some of his stuff years ago and while it made sense logically – it didn’t make sense holistically. With crushing debt it really made more sense for us to keep funneling any additionally money out instead of saving $1,000 (which is exactly what he says not to do.) But for us, only once we started paying down the debt faster did it make sense for us to save a little (not the $1,000). For us, it was that step – what did we want our life to be like – it was no debt (not necessarily $1,000 in savings). I’m glad you posted this (even if it does put Dave Ramsey ahead of Julia Child for a bit).

  2. lessisenough Says:

    @J. Flanagan

    I know that Dave Ramsey has helped a lot of people and clearly his ideas do work but I think there are some serious holes in his philosophy and a bunch of stuff he says doesn’t even make sense. I am hoping to write a post about it because some of it really made made me pull my hair out. So hopefully more on this at some point.

  3. J. Flanagan Says:

    Looking forward to it. It’s been awhile since I read his stuff. (But now that it’s January I see all these “Dave Ramsey Financial Peace” signs everywhere….)

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Oh wait, now it’s coming back to me why I never posted anything on this. I have a friend who did the Financial Peace University thing, I think through her church. I wanted to talk to her about it to get more info. And then I never did, and it just fell off the radar screen. Will try to get back on that.

  5. frederica987 Says:

    Some people are not able to save anything, to the point where they could not imagine living without overdraft. A friend of mine who really saves much more each moth, recently said that he now put 20 € aside each month. I liked this idea, because it seems feasible for most people and might be a first step to get away from this overdraft. You won’t have your $1000 quickly, but you will learn how to save. Month after month, you can start to put aside $30, $40 etc. and watch this sum grow until you have finally learned how to save something and how to live off the money you have without overdrawing (which seems to be a huge step for a lot of people). Someone once told me that she does not want to know how much money she has each month and refuses to make a budget, as this would depress her too much. This person spent 300 € each week on groceries, most of which went into the freezer where they stayed until they were thrown away. Putting aside these 20 € might be a good start for these kind of people to learn to save a little (although this specific person would have blown it all for Christmas etc. ;-)).

  6. lessisenough Says:

    Yes, yes! You have to start somewhere.

    I think one of the reasons that people don’t want to put together a budget, or truly look at what is happening, is because they don’t want to see what it says. They just don’t want to face it, they don’t want to have to make decisions. Especially people who never have money but feel like they don’t spend any money, they feel like the problem is they just don’t make enough. I think this makes them feel like putting together a budget wouldn’t help, because the problem is they just don’t have enough money.

    But I think that most people, no matter how little they make, could make some small changes that would allow them to save a little bit. Combine errands to drive less, make sure you’re eating all the food you buy (i.e., never throw anything away), substitute reusable towels and napkins that you buy once for disposable paper products that need to be purchased every month.

    You might think these changes would save so little it wouldn’t make a difference, but small changes become new habits, and they build on each other — eventually you will end up with a noticeable amount saved. You have money still left from the last paycheck when the next paycheck comes through, and no more overdrafts. That is where you start. Then you can build up to save $5, $10, $20 a month. Whatever you can save.

    That is how you start.

  7. shanna Says:

    Man, I just fell into a rabbit hole reading your blog posts from the most current one back to this one, and I have just kept reading and reading because of your voice. Great voice! You remind me of the early days of blogging, before Pinterest and Instagram and blog empires, when people just wrote to write and because they had something interesting to say. I miss those days. But maybe those days still exist! That’s what your blog makes me think.

    Now about Dave Ramsey. Ah. My husband and I have talked about his perspective a lot because, our entire marriage, we have wanted to be totally out of debt and on this super smart plan with saving money, but, bottom line, our entire marriage, we’ve had a low(ish) income and surprise expenses. The car broke down, the A/C went out, tree roots took over our plumbing, we had a baby and it was crazzzzzy expensive emergency surgery, yadda, yadda. So while we have been out of debt, (well, until the baby, now some medical debt, blech), we have never been able to gain momentum saving. Every now and then one of us will bring up Dave Ramsey and how the obvious answer here is that we need to make more money but, genuinely, if that were an easy task, we’d have done it already. All that to say: while I appreciate Dave Ramsey’s overall idea of getting out of debt and following some sort of plan to save, I do think the issues are complicated.

    There is more I could say, but I’ll stop myself! Anyway, hi. Glad to have found your writing.

  8. lessisenough Says:

    Glad you found me, and thanks for commenting! This is sort of a retro blog — I write when I think of something I want to say.

    Dave Ramsey totally made me pull my hair out. If I ever feel like I don’t have anything to say but feel like I should write something, I should just pull that book out again. So much material.


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