November 24, 2008

Early Retirement | Debt Snowball Update

Right now early retirement is probably the last thing on anyone's mind. With the economy in the tank, automakers on the verge of bankruptcy, and winter nipping at our noses (I hate cold weather so I thought I'd drop that in!) there is no room to talk about early retirement right? Although it may appear as though the primary question of the day may be how to get out of debt, now is actually the perfect time, because there is never going to be an exactly right time to get your financial house in order.

Because of the state of the economy, however, you may need to turn your sites away from investing and creating passive income and focus on the things that are slightly less risky. And there is no better time than the present to start another debt snowball to help you on your way. If you remember, I discussed exactly what a debt snowball was in an earlier post (and my friend over at the daily dosh has done exactly the same thing).

If you are anything like me, you have probably strayed from your debt snowball for whatever reason (for me it was moving to a new city and starting my own business from scratch). Well, now is the perfect time to get back on that horse. It is really hard to retire early if you have a mountain of debt to pay down.

To started paying down your credit card debt, first find out the exact balance and interest rate you are paying on each card, find out the minimum payments on each, and find out what you can put toward credit card debt generally per month. After that you pay the minimums on every card you have but one, with the one you choose determined depending on your psyche. One way to pay down the debt is to put all the extra money toward the lowest balance and moving upward. This is nice because it allows you to actually see progress very quickly. The other method is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This actually save you more money in the long run (and is the best choice if you are strong willed).

As you pay off each credit card balance, you apply all of that payment (the excess plus the minimum you were paying) toward the next card in line. In no time you have eliminated credit card debt!

As for the update on me, I don't have much progress to report, sadly. I think I may have to make that a New Years Resolution. Starting a business is tough on the debt, though. But if you want to retire early sometimes you've got to go out and get that money on your own, you know.

October 15, 2008

Update on the House Flip | The Housing Market is Bad!

You've all heard about my house flipping story. My wife and I bought a house about two years ago now that we thought just needed cosmetic work (there should be a foreboding pause here...). Some minor renovations to increase property value and we were sure we'd be able to turn this thing around and sell it and make a little money. We did the first part right - new paint all over the place, and added a few countertops and a vessel sink to make the place pop a little, although we didn't put in epoxy garage floors.

Only problem was, that wasn't the only thing that popped! We already knew that the housing market wasn't great. We were okay with that. The thought was people will buy a nice house for a nice price - that is what we will give them. So, the house was finished, my wife applied for and accepted a nice job in Seattle, and we put the house up on the market for a price that was substantially higher than we paid for it.

And what do you know, after about 3 weeks we had two offers! For over our asking price! It was awesome. Then guess what happened - the house inspection. Although we only bought the house two years ago and we knew there were some minor deficiencies that needed to be fixed, when the home inspection report came back (which was put together with some great home inspection report software - very professional) there were all kinds of problems. Roof maintenance, new siding, new window sills, it all added up to a pretty penny. We responded to their
home inspection request with a list of what we would and wouldn't fix and what we would credit.

And then the buyer's just backed out.

No counter-offer. No last and final offer. They just quit. And so the house is back on the market. Although it has given us time to do the things that were on the home inspection report, we are now into October with no buyer. And because we want to sell it (we are moving to Seattle in about two and a half weeks) we have already lowered the price once. But it still looks like no one can get credit, and no one wants to buy a house right now because the economy is tanking. I'm holding out hope that eventually we will give a deal too good to pass up.

Here's to our house selling!!

June 18, 2008

Flipping Houses | How Good is the Real Estate Market in Your Community?

Real Estate Market in Your Area is What Matters

We've recently had a pretty big event happen in our lives that directly effect the information discussed on this site. About a week ago my wife applied, interviewed, was offered, and accepted a job in a faraway place - Seattle. As a result, our plans for fixing and flipping our house have been accelerated somewhat.

Many people in this situation would be worried that the housing market is going to effect both the price received for their house and the time it takes to sell it. And many should. However, you should only be worried if your local housing market is acting the way those cold spots around the country are. For example, if I was selling a house in Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Miami, I'd be worried because those real estate markets are not only flooded with houses, but housing prices have dropped dramatically.

Our market, thankfully, has not acted in that way. It seemed that for a time people heard the news of the housing bubble, the housing crisis, and the mortgage crisis, and everyone was scared away from buying or selling their houses. After a bit of time, though, it became clear our market wasn't affected like some of the above named. As such, people, like they always are, are looking to buy a home for the first time, move out of a home that is too small, or move into a bigger home that reflects how important they are. All these reasons are great reasons to buy a house - and our flip in particular.

I haven't updated the status of our flip in a long time, and I plan to do so shortly. If you missed out, though, I've already talked about the flip in general, the kitchen, and the dining room. It is almost complete; only a few small things left to do (as there would be on any house about to go on the market), and I'm excited to see what we get for it.

So, stay tuned for updates on our house flip, and feel free to leave comments with suggestions, thoughts, comments, or anything else you might have.

Flipping Houses

June 7, 2008

Building Wealth | Should You Sell Your Home Yourself?

Should I Sell My Home "For Sale By Owner?"

These days, if you are selling your home, the greatest fear is that it will sit on the market forever, with no buyers, and possibly no one even looking. The second greatest fear is that you will get tons of interest but everyone will present offers far below your asking price, in hopes that you are in such dire straights that you have to take whatever you can get. Add on top of that closing costs, repair costs, and realtor's fees, and you may feel lucky just to break even.

One train of thought regarding getting the most bang out of selling your house is to forego the realtor and sell the house yourself. It seems like a quick and easy way to avoid a cost (which is part of building your wealth) and keep more of the money your house has created for you in your pocket. And for some people, selling a home without a realtor is a great idea. But for most, however, it can lead to your house being on the market longer and missing the buyer that wanted your home.

Realtors Know How To Price Your Home Right

A primary function of realtors (besides actually selling your house) is their duties before even listing the house for sale. One of these duties is helping you to set the price for your house that will both get it sold and maximize your profit. From a homeowner's standpoint, your best day in the market is the highest price a bidder would pay for your house. It is not what you think they should pay, what some magazine or publication says you should be getting per square foot, or any other hard and fast rule. The market determines what your house is worth.

What realtors can do for you before you put your house on the market is find out what the market is bringing for homes similar to yours. A primary way to value real estate is to see what has recently sold on the open market and find properties that match or are very close to your property. What those other properties are selling for is a good indication of what yours will probably sell for. If it is a little nicer than most, it will likely go for a little more. If it is a little less nice, it will likely go for slightly less. Finding out this number, though, is the key to selling your house quickly and getting the most money you can.

(Realtors also serve an important function of looking over your house before it is placed on the market and providing helpful hints and tips for getting your house ready for show to the public. For example, no one wants to see a picture of your grandmother's 90th birthday party. They want to picture themselves in the home. Your realtor can give you great information on how to prep your home for sale).

Realtors Get People to Your House

The way realtors sell houses is getting people to look at them. They don't eat if they don't sell houses. Because of this, when you hire a realtor, you can probably be rest assured that they will be spending some part of their day trying to let people know your house is for sale. This includes listing your house in the newspaper, in trade magazines, and on the multiple listing service, letting all the realtors in their office and other offices know a new property is on the market, and holding open houses for people to stop by and fall in love with your house. The best part of all this is, for you the homeowner, you don't have to do anything. It may seem like they are getting a lot of money from you, but to sell your house, especially in today's market, they have to bust their tail (most of the time).

Realtors Have Lock Boxes At Their Disposal

This again goes back to saving time for you. If you sell your house on your own, every time there is an appointment you are going to have to come by and let the people in, let them look at your house, and show them out. This could become very annoying after a while.

With a realtor, they simply put a lock box on the door and give the buyer's agent the code when they want to come in. That allows people to look at your house without your presence, and without hassling you.

Why Stay Away From Realtors?

I can only think of two reasons why you might want to list your home on your own. First, if your house is either in a very hot area or is sure to sell quick, you might want to think about listing it yourself. In this case contacting the local real estate agencies and listing the house on MLS yourself (small fee) should be enough to get someone to put an offer on your house.

Second, realtors have an interest in selling your house, not selling it for the highest possible dollar. If you didn't know, your realtor typically takes 1.5% of your purchase price as payment (1.5% goes to buyer's agent, 1.5% goes to buyers agent's company, and 1.5% goes to sellers agent's company). If you do the math, a $15,000 increase in price, while doing a lot for your pocket book, doesn't necessarily help out your realtor that much ($225.00!). It only makes sense that at some point they may be more interested in closing the deal than getting you the most money possible. I don't think this is reason enough to go out on your own to sell your house. Having this information at the back of your mind should keep you cognizant enough of the situation.

To Build Wealth Get a Realtor

In the end, getting a realtor is a pretty good deal, assuming they do the work I've discussed above. Selling a home is a big ordeal, and it is much easier to do with help.

Building Wealth, Personal Finance, Creating Wealth

May 27, 2008

Staying on Track with Personal Finances

All the time, in personal finance blogs, you hear people talking about personal finance and financial planning. They discuss the best ways to reduce debt, the best ways to save for retirement, handy-dandy tools to get things cheaper, and generally how to better handle your money.

I know this, and I know that they know this, and I know that you know this, but managing money is not easy. It is extremely difficult to stick to a budget, to stay at home and eat instead of going out (which I would guess is one of the top 2 ways money is wasted), to put off that lavish vacation until the money to go has been saved, and just generally to do what is necessary to maintain a healthy financial situation.

Now, the people at these other sites have great information. The Get Rich Slowly author is in my blog reader, and I check out what they have to say every day. The information helps to keep everything in perspective for me. Same with I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit's site. His information is geared more toward the 20 somethings coping with new money and accumulated debt, and I think the things he has to say are great.

But it is hard, and I just wanted to let everyone know that I know it is hard, and I struggle with it as much as you do. A perfect analogy is this. Yesterday, I was playing golf with my wife. My wife is a pretty good golfer - so am I. She always talks about how she is going to beat me, straight up. Yesterday we put it to the test. Now, I am an avid golfer. I play at least 3-4 times a week and practice whenever I can. My wife plays a couple times a week, but not nearly as much as I do. As we are out on the course playing she hit an errant shot. Being frustrated, she asked me if she could hit it again or not count it. I said "sure, but this round won't count as you beating me." She was confused as to why not. I told her that the only way you can say you beat me is if you play by the rules, no cutting corners. She took her stroke, I beat her by 4 (she is gaining fast though - a little practice putting and she'll be close).

This story fits exactly into the way personal finance works. When you are out there making decisions, every day you are faced with whether to do the right thing, the thing that will get you where you want to go, the thing that will get you closer to your goals, or the thing that will provide instant gratification and make you feel good at that instant. It doesn't matter if technically it is cutting a corner because everyone (your spouse) agrees that it is okay, just this one time. Well, when it comes time to play for real, or in this case balance the checkbook, it becomes clear that your goals have not been reached. Playing by the rules all the time is hard, but if you want to win the game, you have to practice, according to the rules, even if they are hard. In time you will groove your personal finances like you groove your golf swing, and success will come easy. But taking shortcuts doesn't do you any good, even if it causes pain you'd much rather alleviate.

I guess where I really wanted this post to go was to acknowledge that yes, personal finance is very hard. That yes, you will have to do some things and give up some things that will make you uncomfortable in the short run. But in the end, when your financial goals have been reached, and the lessons of building wealth are ingrained in your every day habits, you will look back on those hard times with longing and include them in stories to your kids and grand kids about "walking up hill both ways in the snow."

So keep at it. Keep working, and even if you hit some bumps in the road, take that next step toward financial freedom.

Building Our Empire

May 19, 2008

Building Wealth | Bush's Economic Stimulus Check

I received my economic stimulus check on Friday from the government. I'm married, so it totaled $1,200.00. Although when you just look at it like that and think about holding $1,200.00 it seems like a lot, when you think about what you can buy with it, it really doesn't amount to much.

Since we did get it though, and this is supposed to be a discussion on personal finance, building wealth, and retiring early, I thought I'd discuss how my wife and I planned on spending the stimulus money we received. What better way to talk about personal finance than to discuss what you are doing in a real world situation, right?

For starters, although we knew we were getting the $1,200 from the government, we didn't pre-spend the cash before we got it. This is a major problem for a lot of people. You know you are coming into some money, whether it is a lot or not, and you spend it before you get it, and when you get it you spend part of it on what you'd intended to and the other part on something else, and when you look back you actually have a net loss. So, great thing number one, we waited until we had the money to decide what to do with it.

Once we had it, we had a pretty clear plan for it: (1) save; (2) reduce debt; (3) reward ourselves for reducing debt; (4) let some linger in the bank account.


Actually, we aren't technically saving. We are saving to spend (which I guess what all saving really is technically). As I mentioned before, saving for fun is just as good as saving for a rainy day and is an important part of personal finance: it allows you to spend without worrying; it provides a sense of accomplishment as you see your bank account growing; and it gives you concrete financial goals to work toward. My wife and I recently set up a vacation fund, where we sock away a hundred to a couple hundred bucks a month to use at some point on a destination vacation (our vacation dream list is long and includes places such as Atlantis, Greece, Brazil, and Paris).

To get a great start off on this, we decided to put $500 of this money in our vacation fund (it has actually already been earmarked, as we have planned a trip to London this summer with family). But it technically is saving, and we'll be pulling the interest from it in our ING savings account.

Reducing debt

As you have heard, we've put ourselves on a debt snowball, to hopefully erase our debt and feel really great about it at the same time. Like many others, though, the debt is going down, but not nearly as fast as it should, because things come up that get put on the credit card, making the debt reduction more of a trickle than a flow (for example, a plane ticket to Seattle this summer was put on the credit card - it just doesn't hurt as much when your balance is going up - credit card balance - as it does when it's going down - bank account balance).

In an effort to feel better about our actions, we decided to take $300 of the economic stimulus check and put it toward our credit card debt, on top of what we already pay. That will make the Seattle tickets almost non-existent, and make us feel like we aren't completely wasting the money. Remember, the key to the debt snowball is to get it rolling. I know it's easier said than done, but you can't start building wealth if you don't get started.

Our Reward

Because we were so good with so much of the money, we decided that some of it we should just use for whatever guilty pleasure we want. To do that, we decided to divide up $300 between the two of us to spend on whatever we want. $150 went to my wife, in her separate account (marital finances is an interesting topic of discussion that I'll touch on some other time) and $150 went to me. Once again, the point is to use it for something you want that you may not need. Kind of like taking a bite of a cookie when you're on a diet - it's something that gets you through the hard times of personal finance.

If you are wondering what I'm doing with mine, I haven't decided yet. I'm trying to save for a trip to Wales in a couple of years for the Ryder Cup, so most of it will probably go there. A new golf club is also a distinct possibility. I have no idea what my wife will use it for, and would hate to speculate.

A Little Money Left Over

If you are doing the math, we have $100 left of our $1,200 that hasn't been earmarked for anything. We have decided to just keep that in our checking account and build that balance up just a little so the threat of over drafting is even further reduced. Again, probably doesn't sound very fun or very sexy, but building wealth and personal finance only gets sexy at the end. Spending the money you've been saving and ensuring the stability of your family feels great once its accomplished.

Personal Finance - Building Wealth

May 2, 2008

Building Wealth | Personal Finance | Tracking Expenses

Tracking Your Expenses the First Step Toward Building Wealth.

There is an old saying out there that goes something like, "you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been." This adage applies to many things: career; love; family; life; and, believe it or not, finances. So often in our lives we have dreams of wealth and happiness and early retirement, but we never seem to reach those goals. One of the primary reasons for this is that so much of our money slips through the cracks. Money that in the end could be used to buy that new car you want, pay off that credit card debt, or invest in that IRA so you can retire early.

Perosnal finance and building wealth begins with one very simple idea: you must bring in more money every month than you spend. If you do not, it will be impossible to build the wealth you need to retire, to accrue the compound earnings necessary to live the good life, and to live without having to worry about paying the bills every month.

I'm sure that you believe me that knowing what comes in and out every month is important to your personal finances, but you probably have no idea how to get started. Starting is simple. It is maintaining your data over the long hall that I have found to be the hardest thing to do.

To track what you spend (tracking what you make is usually fairly easy), the easiest thing to do is set up a spreadsheet. I use one sheet per month, and label each row with a category that I want to track. When you first begin, you may not have that many categories. That is okay. As you discover a category you can add it in for that month. Right now I have the following categories: fast food; dining out; booze; miscellaneous; bills; gas; and groceries. I think the more precise you are with your categories, the easier it will be to see what you can minimize to increase your savings potential.

I'd label each spreadsheet something like Personal Finance - Building Wealth - May, to give you a reminder of where you want to go each month. Then at the bottom of each tab I set it up to add everything up. So, for instance, you can instantly know what you've spent on groceries for the month. I then have a final tab that adds everything up so I can know exactly how much I've spent.

Once you have these numbers you are on your way to building wealth and retiring early. Armed with these figures, you can begin to tweak your lifestyle to shave some of those wasted dollars off your monthly expenses and put them where they are more beneficial.

I'll keep you up to tabs on my monthly numbers so we can all experience the journey that is personal finance, building wealth, and retiring early together. Implementing this into your life will help you get where you're going, because you will know where you've been.

April 23, 2008

Building Wealth | Save for Fun

One way to get ahead and stay ahead with your finances, and in the process build wealth, is to plan ahead for fun. What does that mean, you might be saying to yourself. Well, it means exactly what it says. Plan to have a good time in the future, and save money so you can do those things guilt free and within your budget.

Doing this is easy. It just takes a little self-discipline and an automatic savings plan. In no time you will be surprised with the amount of money you have saved up to spend in whatever reckless, enjoyable, completely fun manner you choose.

Automatic Savings Plan

One of the beauties of using ING Direct, or any other online savings plan, in addition to the extraordinary interest rates and ease of use, is the ability to automatically set a specific amount of money to be transferred from one account to the next. You can transfer as little or as much as you prefer, but it happens automatically, so you don't have to think about doing it, and more importantly, you barely notice it happens. In no time the deposit debit you see on your account will seem to be like any other purchase you have made. Essentially you are paying yourself.

Ryder Cup Savings Plan

I have a buddy that I play golf with who is from Wales. He is a great golfer, oozes Welsh, and is a good friend. When we found out that the Ryder Cup is going to be in Wales in 2010, we all decided we have to go and experience not only the Ryder Cup, but the Ryder Cup in Europe with a local tour guide. We plan on playing a lot of golf, watching a lot of golf, drinking a lot of "pints," mingling with the locals, and generally having a great time enjoying Wales and learning a little bit more about our friend.

There is only one small hiccup about this plan. It is going to cost about $5,000 to go and do it right. At this moment, I don't have any of the $5,000. It isn't really in my budget, wasn't really planned for, and so no money exists to pay for it.

To fix this problem I just created another account with ING called "Ryder Cup." It takes about 5 seconds to do when you already have an account, I put $10 in it, and I'm on my way to living it up in Wales. I plan on saving about $50 a month regularly (which I know won't get me to $5000 by 2010) and stashing away as much cash as I can in the account every chance I get. I should be able to reach my goal in time, and have what might be one of the best times of my life.

I'll keep you up to date on my progress, and will be sure to include some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Update - October 2010

The Ryder Cup started today and I'm not there. If anything, it was for lack of trying. I was lazy about saving, moved across the country, opened a new business, and the Ryder Cup just got pushed to the back burner. Here's to making it to the next Ryder Cup in Europe, four years from now...

March 26, 2008

Building Wealth | Passive Income

Building Wealth - Passive Income - Personal Finance

Building Wealth includes many things: reducing debt; planning for retirement; taking advantage of tax rules; passive income; and expanding your income base. This post is about expanding your income base, and the things I have planned to expand my income base.

Blogging for Money Making Money Online

There are a ton of ways to make money online, some of them good, some of them bad. I am following a method I picked up online (for free - if you have to pay for it, it sadly, is probably a scam) from another blogger. From what I've learned so far, it is not complicated, although it does take some work at the beginning. It involves setting up blogs, getting a good page rank, getting visitors, and selling them stuff when the content isn't exactly what they are looking for. If he were reading this site he'd tell you this isn't the right thing to do, but you can learn about the finer points of making money online by visiting his site (he will note that I made his link a quality one, though).

I am still in the initial stage of this, and still getting my mind around what needs to be done to be succesful using this method, so I don't have a lot of success at this point. But I'll keep you posted.

Working a Side Job to make Money.

I am an attorney, and my job allows me the opportunity to utilize my talents outside of my day job for the benefit of myself. This can be an option for many others too. It just takes some thought about the skills that you have and how you can apply them outside of your job to make a little extra cash. Often this means consulting, coaching, or some kind of teaching.

I am a property attorney, with a majority of my work surrounding acquiring properties, drafting purchase contracts, and condemnation and eminent domain. Click on the link to check out that site. This allows me to help others going through the real estate process, whether it be in condemnation, the purchase or sale of a house, or any other property issues that might arise.

This too, is a burgeoning enterprise, just getting started, so I don't have a lot to report. I promise to keep you updated though.

Flipping Houses for extra money.

I have also taken to flipping houses for extra money. You may ask how that is possible with the housing market in the state its in today, but I think this is the perfect time to get into it. The extent of my exposure, despite my great feelings about the market, is small. But I don't want to get in too deep.

Right now I am flipping one house, the one I live in. It is almost finished, and when complete, should make about $20,000 profit. This isn't bad for a first effort, and the goal with this flip is more to learn what I'm doing, become acquainted with contractors and home repair, and have my house fully paid off in a couple of years (I plan to take the profit from this house and move over to a similar house, doing the same thing, until I have no house payment - I think 4 years should be enough time to reach my goal).

Online Poker.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of suckers out there playing online poker, just waiting to give you their money. All it takes is a little practice, some patience, and enough self-discipline not to chase cards, and you can actually make decent money playing poker.

For my exploits, I've started with only $10, and hope to build that up to $1000 by July. To to that I'll start playing with very small stakes, hopefully building my experience as I build my bankroll. I'll keep you posted on this progress as well.

Online Sports Betting.

Some people also believe you can make money betting on sports online, NFL betting. I'm still an amateur, but I know if you do it right you can make decent money betting on sports, particularly if you use NFL betting software. All you have to do lose all your money making stupid bets, like parlays and the like, and concentrating finding good match ups that you can take advantage of.

Making More Money is Easy. It just takes drive.

There are no easy money answers. Everything takes work, discipline, and effort. Even scamming people takes time to learn. If you want to make more money, build your wealth, and stop living paycheck to paycheck, take a step back, evaluate your skills, and put them to good use. Before you know it, you'll be making a ton of money.

March 13, 2008

Personal Finance | Eliminating Credit Card Debt | Debt Snowball

Building Wealth - Personal Finance - The Debt Snowball

In my last post, I talked about debt snowballs and eliminating credit card debt. In this post, I want to outline my own personal debt snowball to provide not only an example of how to do it, but to provide you some motivation to do it yourself. It really doesn't take that long to put together, and once it's up and running, it's very easy to maintain. This post is all about building wealth and personal finance. Furthermore, if you are wondering how to be frugal, this is a great start.

Debt Snowball Spreadsheet

To keep yourself on task (and motivated to continue the project) the first thing I would do (after compiling all of your credit card debts) is put together a spreadsheet. I use google docs spreadsheet. It's free, it's easy to use, and you can access it from any computer.

Step 1 - Dates

In my spreadsheet, I have DATE up in the top left hand corner. Down the first column, in the next space I have "beginning balance", followed by a blank cell, followed by the rest of the months in the year. After that is a blank cell, followed by "current balance," followed by another blank cell, then "original owed," and finally "current owed."

Step 2 - Labels

Going across the top row I have each of the names of the credit cards/debts I have (6 total). Before getting to this step, though, first you need to list your debts in order, from smallest balance to biggest balance, from left to right. This is how you would enter the names of the debts into the spreadsheet in the first row (rows go across, columns go up and down). If you pay interest on your debts, leave two columns in between each of the debt descriptions.

In the next row, enter the current balance of each of your cards (it should correspond with the "beginning balance you entered earlier"). In the row right next to the balance, put the minimum payment, or just over the minimum payment, except in the first column. In that column, I want you to write in whatever it is you have determined you can pay, which hopefully is at least 3 times your minimum payment (for me, my minimum payment is $50 and I'm paying $650 - put in the most you can comfortably put toward it).

After the balance row, under the row you actually entered your current balance enter "payment." In the row right next to that put "interest." It is in these columns that you'll document your monthly payment as well as the interest that has accrued on your debt. This should keep your credit balance up to date.

Step 3 - Formulas for Calculating Progress

Next, go down to the current balance row and in the payment column enter the formula so your monthly payments will be subtracted from your balance but your interest will be added in. In Google docs it looks something like this: B2-SUM(B4:B14)+SUM(C4:C14). The letters and numbers refer to the cells you want to add up.

Almost done. The next step is to define your original balance. Do that in the cell right next to the one labled "original owed." That formula looks like this: SUM(B2+E2+H2+K2+N2+Q2). This will add up all the original balances.

Finally, determine what your current total balance is (you don't have to do these two steps, but I think it really helps to see that balance shrinking so rapidly). That formula looks like this: SUM(B16+E16+H16+K16+N16+Q16). Once this is complete, all you have to do is fill in the corresponding cells every month and the math will be done for you.

Remember though, that when the first debt is paid off, you roll all that money over into paying off your next debt. By the end you should be making a huge monthly payment toward that big balance (mine will be over $1000 in the end).

My personal debt snowball

Finally, to give you an idea of where I currently stand, and to make updates worthwhile, I'm going to give you my current debt standing. As I said before I have 6 outstanding balances originally totalling $30,693.11. The current balance is $28,667.96. My original balances are as follows: $3,197.41; $4,516.20; $5,819.77; $7,110.55; $8,564.00; and $1,485.18 (interest free). On those balances I pay $650; $100; $100; $120; $80; $135.93. If you add all that up, I should be completely debt free in 2 1/2 years. At that time all this money can be put someplace much more valuable!

Hope everyone learned a little from this. I plan on updating it from time to time to let you know my progress.

Personal Finance Debt Snowball Credit Card Debt

March 11, 2008

Personal Finance | Dave Ramsey "The Total Money Makeover" Review

Building Wealth - Review of Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover"

A sucker for personal finance books, both the get rich quick kind and the get rich slowly kind, I couldn't pass up checking out this book when I was perusing at the book store. As the cover implies, it is your traditional get rich by scrimping, saving, getting out of debt, building wealth, and throwing as much money as you can into retirement (good advice by the way - just not worth paying for). If you are wondering how to create wealth, you might want to check this book out.

Although it is full of much of the same information, he did have some points worth repeating. Essentially he laid out seven steps toward "financial freedom." Some of them are good for everyone, some of them you should take with a grain of salt. Let's take a look. All of these are supposed to be done in sequential order.

1. Save up a starter emergency fund of $1,000.

This one actually makes a lot of sense and is something everyone should do. This fund is essentially untouchable unless an actual emergency arises. Things that would not qualify for emergencies would be Super Bowl parties, a chance to play 18 at that exclusive golf course, a sale at Macy's, or a chance to score those Bon Jovi tickets you've been searching for. Things that would: car repairs, house repairs, hospital bills, etc.

It is astonishing how hard it is to dig yourself out of financial ruin when one of these emergencies arises. Not only does it make it feel like you'll never get out, but it actually does make it harder. Imagine the difference in putting $400 of an emergency fund toward a car repair versus $400 on a credit card. The implication with a credit card is that you don't have the cash on hand, starting once again that cyclical fall into debt.

This is important for everyone, and should be done.

2. Debt Snowball.

The next thing prescribed by Dave Ramsey, and another I completely agree with, is beginning your own debt snowball. What is a debt snowball, you ask? A debt snowball is simply a term used to describe a method of paying down credit card debt. It works like this (there are actually several ways to do it, but this is the one Dave recommends and the one I use): line up all of your credit card balances and their minimum payments from smallest to largest. If you are paying more than the minimum balance (or just over it), take that money out and document it so its available. Next, see if there is any additional money coming in that you can allocate to credit card debt. Put that money in the same pile as the pile with the extra money. Finally, put all your credit cards away and stop using them (you really don't need them).

Once you've done this it's time to get the debt snowball rolling. All you do is take the smallest balance and put the minimum payment and all the other money you have over and above the minimum balances into that smallest balance. When that one is paid off you move onto the next balance, putting all the money from the first into the second. In no time at all you have paid off your credit card debt!

This really works and I would recommend using this method if you want to get rid of credit card debt and are looking for a way that works fast and provides postitive reinforcement (there is nothing better than paying off that first card!)

3. Finish the emergency fund.

After the credit cards are paid off, it's time to move on to building up that emergency fund so you can really take a financial hit and still stay afloat. Dave Ramsey recommends 3-6 months expenses in your fund, but I'd stretch it out to 6 if you can. There is nothing that helps you sleep at night like knowing you are financially secure in the event if a tragedy. I'd recommend this one too.

4. Invest 15% of your income in retirement.

Again, I say go on ahead with this, especially if you are young. The more you save now, the plusher your lifestyle (and your kid's kids lifestyle) will be in the future. And the great thing is this shouldn't be that hard to do because you can apply the money you've been paying off credit cards with toward this. I think you'll find it won't take much more to get up to 15%.

And this is a little more specific than Dave discussed, but make sure you are maxing out your 401K and Roth IRA contributions first. These will be discussed in much greater detail later, but not only is much of this either tax deferred or tax exempt when paid in, with the 401K your employer likely matches your contribution up to a certain percent. That is free money for you for doing nothing! Take the time to learn about these savings vehicles and become familiar with them. It will pay off enormously in the future.

And while I'm telling you where to go, let me tell you where not to go. Savings accounts with your local branch are the worst place to store your money. The interest rate is not high enough to make it worthwhile, particularly with all the high-interest savings accounts available. If you need the safety of a savings account, make sure you have a competitive interest rate (nothing below 3%).

5. Save for college.

Now is where Dave Ramsey and I start to drift apart. I am all for saving for college, and Dave recommends using an education savings account or 529 plan, which is sound advice, but there are other things you can do with your money that can provide a greater return and still pay for your kid's college in the end.

Alternatively, taking some of that extra money and putting it into making sure your kid has a solid elementary, middle, and high school education is also an option. College is lost on so many who don't have the foundation to excel and succeed there. Give your kid a head start and he or she will likely be getting paid by their college of choice to attend (and there are tons of scholarships available, don't forget to look).

6. Pay off your mortgage.

Again, I'm going to have to diagree with Dave Ramsey on this one. Mortgages, like student loans, are great to have, especially if you are paying them on time. They provide a great source of credit information for lenders and anyone else who relies on credit score to evaluate your risk tolerance and the interest rates are usually so low you can invest the extra money you would be paying toward your mortgage some place else and see greater returns (isn't this what building your empire is all about?).

In following this plan, I'd probably skip this step. It isn't a financial step backward, put to me it feels like treading water instead of swimming ahead.

7. Build Wealth.

Now he's talking. Building wealth means many things to many people. For some it is getting that vacation home, for some it's starting or investing in that business idea you've always had, and for others it is simply accumulating enough wealth so you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

This blog's focus is on building wealth, which for me includes all of those things previously mentioned as well as building several streams of passive income so while I am playing I am continuing to build more wealth. I'll touch more on building wealth in future posts, but I'd highly recommend focusing on this immensely when you have time (even before you've completed some of your other steps, if you can).

All in all, I'd say Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover has a lot of great content. Some of it is original and fresh, but most is information everyone has already heard before, or can hear right here. It's not a bad book for the shelf, so if you have the extra cash, I'd pick it up and take a look.

Personal Finance Building Wealth