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That seems to be the mantra of family finances in this day and age. Does it seem like literally everyone and everything is vying for a piece of your hard-earned money?
And then, once you decide to get your financial house in order, it's not like the stress goes away. It's still there, but now there are additional pressures. You might be feeling some of these:
Take a deep breath.
All of us on are different pages in this financial journey, and you can't check off every financial item on your list all at once. If you're in $20,000 of credit card debt, should you be contributing money towards your kids' college fund? No. If you don't have any emergency savings, should you use your entire tax refund to pay off debt? Good question.
One popular order of operations of getting out of debt and saving money is Dave Ramsey's baby step method – and we happen to agree with him. I want to focus on the first 3 steps:
So why is an emergency fund so important? Here's the short version – you need to start learning how to borrow from yourself to stop the vicious cycle of debt.
Here's the longer explanation. The way most Americans operate financially goes as follows – you make enough money to cover your bills and spending without much leftover, if anything. So when an emergency comes up, like an unexpected car repair or deductible to cover an emergency room visit, you don't have the extra money available to pay it. So that emergency expense goes on the credit card.
You had to borrow money from someone else to cover for you. And pay them back with interest. Not fun.
But what if you could borrow from yourself? And not pay interest? And not go into more debt? That's what an emergency fund does.
Get anywhere from $500 – $1,500 in a bank account and leave it there. If you're single with no children, $500 would be sufficient for an emergency fund. But if you're married with 3 kids, then you'd probably want $1,500. More people, more things to go wrong that cost you money.
So anyway – when these emergencies come up, you will “borrow” from this account to pay for it. And then over the next couple months, pay yourself back by the amount that you depleted it. This is the number one way to keep from going in to more debt.
And listen – getting that kind of cash is easier than is seems! Here are 5 Ways to get that cash into emergency savings much faster than you would think, and without having to get a second job.
If you don't have any emergency savings, then this is the ONLY thing you should be focused on right now! You will not be able to accomplish any financial goals unless you have some emergency savings.
If you've completed step 1, then you must likely learned a few new tricks about how to get extra cash and save money in your budget. So should you stop doing these frugal and money-making tricks you learned? Heck no! Keep doing them, and kick it into high gear to get out of debt!
So… which debt should you start with? You could tackle the high-interest ones first, or pay the small balances first. As I detail in my book, The Recovering Spender, it doesn't make a huge difference. Just get a plan and stick with it.
Normally, I would recommend paying smallest balances first, to get those little immediate wins. But if you have delinquent debt, take care of that first! And here's the thing – you have negotiating options with this debt. Here are 7 Steps to Renegotiating delinquent debt.
After you have your emergency fund in place, getting out of debt is the only thing you should be focusing on!
So once you're debt-free, you've got to get even MORE emergency savings in an account. This is for those much bigger emergencies – like if you lose your job, or have a long-term health related emergency.
So how much? 6 months of expenses. Not necessarily how much you are spending right now, get even more bare bones. If you had to get your bills and living expenses down to the bare minimum, how much would you be spending per month? Multiply that number by 6, and that is your target.
That way, if something financially tragic does happen, you have the means to get by for 6 months on your own. Imagine how amazing that kind of security will feel!
After step 3, basically build wealth and plan for your future! But that's another topic entirely.
In my opinion, this makes your financial roadmap so much easier and less stressful. Focus ONLY on completing the step that you are on. Nothing else matters. Need help budgeting? I want to help!!! Join my community below and I'll send you a complete budgeting pack!
To complete these steps, you have to be budgeting. And I've got to share with you my new favorite budgeting tool! It's called Tiller, and it's amazing. Basically, all of your bank account transactions are linked to a google sheet. They have some great spreadsheets set up for you, but you can really do whatever the heck you want with it!. Pretty sweet.
Let's assume that you set out to travel by car from NYC to LA. During the first day of travel, would you be stressing about the best route through Las Vegas? Of course not. Your concern would be navigating through the traffic on the New Jersey interstates.
If you're in debt, but stressing about retirement savings – here's my advice: Stop. Take a deep breath. Focus only on building an emergency fund, and then getting out of debt and you will get there. That's it. Consult your map to track your progress, but only concern yourself with what's right in front of you.
Oh and I forgot about the VERY first step in your financial journey – START. But you already did that.
Just don't stop.