Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"The Total Money Makeover" (chapter 9)

It's an amazing concept, when you stop and think about it. If you follow Dave Ramsey's plan and work hard, this is the step where you get to breathe a little easier. Think about it: you have gotten completely out of debt (except the mortgage) and you also have a great buffer against "life" with your fully-funded emergency fund.

I'm not there yet, but I think about it every day. What a great day!

As I've said in this book review series, and as Dave says in the book (several times), this isn't some "get rich quick" scheme. This system takes time, dedication and great focus. But, when you get to this point, you begin to see the system really working for you. No more interest payments (except the mortgage). Life's financial problems taken care of. And now...?

Baby step four: Invest 15 Percent of Your Income in Retirement.

How can you afford 15%? That depends. I think that's a great number to shoot for, but Dave teaches tithing. While many teach that as well, I think we should aim for giving more than just 10% to the Lord. If you are giving more than 10%, you might have trouble attaining the 15% level at first.

However, you also now have no payments! You are not sending money to GMC or MasterCard or...well...anyone else! You have now freed up all that money you were sending to your creditors.

15% seems like an aggressive number, but, sadly, many of us are not starting at 18 years old. We have fought for several years to get out of debt and, now, we need to "ramp up" the number a bit, so we can make up for lost time.

So, when I get to this step, where do I put the money? As with other things, Dave has a simple rule. First, he teaches that we need to get a good financial planner; one who has the "heart of a teacher." If you don't understand the investment, don't make it. If your planner is calling all the time asking you to move your money, it's time to change advisers. Get a good planner and stick with him or her.

On page 157 of the book, Ramsey gives a "Reader's Digest" version of where you and your planner need to put your money:

I select mutual funds that have had a good track record of winning for more than five years, preferably for more than ten years. I don't look at their one-year or three-year track records because I think long-term. I spread my retirement investing evenly across four types of funds. Growth and Income funds get 25 percent of my investment. (They are sometimes called Large Cap or Blue Chip funds.) Growth funds get 25 percent of my investment. (They are sometimes called Mid Cap or Equity funds; and S&P Index fund would also qualify.) International funds get 25
percent of my investment. (They are sometimes called Foreign or Overseas funds.) Aggressive Growth funds get the last 25 percent of my investment. (They are sometimes called Small Cap or Emerging Market funds.)

There is far more in this chapter, but this system does two things:

  1. First it puts money into retirement automatically. If you work for a company that allows you to put money in before you see it, take advantage of that. Set up the system and put the money in. Every month.

  2. The system also diversifies the money enough to where you can feel safe. You may want to select individual stocks or another type of fund, but Ramsey (and I) would recommend only doing that above and beyond these investments--and only when you finish steps 5 and 6, as well. In other words, if you want to speculate a bit, that's okay, but wait until you actually have money you can afford to lose. Even at this baby step, you're not there...yet.

15% for the rest of your life will add up quickly. Compound interest is a beautiful thing. Are you beginning to see how Ramsey's plan, combined with a great amount of focus, will pay off? Near the end of the chapter, Ramsey writes:

After completing this step, you have no debt, except the house, around $10,000 cash for emergencies, and you are taking steps to make sure you will retire with dignity. I think I see a smile broadening. (page 166)