Friday, December 28, 2007

2008: The Year That...

When Leah and I got really serious about getting out of debt, we looked at "the numbers" very closely. We added up our debts from Turner's birth and the debts we already had, and looked at our income and any other variables we could think of.

While things change and some numbers change, we are still focused on getting out of debt on our target date. That date?

December 31, 2008.

We are happy to say that, since April of this year, our debts have continued to go down. We have not added a penny to them. While we do not know if we will "hit" that target date, we are going to do our very best.

Hopefully we can keep you up-to-date on this blog as to how we are doing.

In other news...

Where Your Treasure Is has been added to This site is a reader--much like an RSS feed--of scores of personal finance blogs. However, to be added, a site has to be reviewed and approved. I am proud to announce that we were approved yesterday and added late yesterday. Check out the site for literally hundreds of great articles from dozens of blogs and watch for articles from Where Your Treasure Is!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A GREAT Month!

Usually, December is a hard month in which to really "pay down" debt. With Christmas shopping (which, for us, includes driving = $ for gas) and the electric bill starting to rise, this just usually isn't a very fun month.

But December 2007 will go down as a great one in the Faughn house!

We budgeted for Christmas throughout the year and are going to be right at the budget. We still have a couple more gifts to purchase, but we still have money left, too. So that came in right on schedule. Our family helped very much. We all set a limit (that was equal for everyone) on what we would spend on Christmas presents. We set a limit where we could get each person something he/she wanted, without feeling the pressure to buy anything huge. It took some savvy shopping, and some online work, but we met that goal.

Also, our electric bill (for November; paid in early December) was low for this time of year. We have been staying around 50 degrees and have actually been up in the 70s for a few days in late November, so our heater didn't have to run all that much. Also, when we went out of town for Thanksgiving, we turned the unit way down, so it would hardly run. While our water bill was a bit high, it was more than covered by the lower electric bill.

We have had two negatives this month, though. First, we have had to travel a bit more than expected, so we are going to barely make our gasoline budget (if we make it). Gas prices have come down just a bit, which is helping, but we are still paying quite a bit (about $2.85 on average). Also, our DirecTV bill had a mistake on it and the mistake was ours. We had been paying it, but we had been unintentionally late a couple of times. We just did not realize that our payment was due on the 1st of the month, and we had been waiting until the 2nd week of the month, because we pay all our bills out of that one paycheck. We had to pay the extra money, but we also had DirecTV move our "due" date back so we can continue paying without the late charge. We also went ahead and paid January's bill early.

Now, for the big "upside" factor. For the past 3 months, I have been teaching a class for Faulkner University, one night each week, on the Book of Acts. I finished last week and quickly graded all papers and sent in the necessary paperwork on the night of the final. I was hoping to get my paycheck before Christmas (kind of a "special" holiday treat). They were good to me, and we got the paycheck yesterday.

Add all these up, and December became a banner month for us:

1. First, we got cash to pay for our entire trip to the Freed-Hardeman University lectures in February. The trip is already taken care of, which will be a big help in January's budget.

2. Second, we are up to date on all bills (since we got our mistake taken care of with DirecTV). We have never been behind before--and still haven't intentionally--so this is a great relief.

3. Finally, and most exciting for us, is the fact that we paid off...are you ready for this?...over $1100 in debt this month! We did that while going Christmas shopping and taking another 2 trips out of town! By sticking to out budget and using the extra money from my class, we were able to attack our debt.

When you have good news, you just have to share it. And this was great news to us. We're not debt free, yet. But we are working on it, and this month really pumped us up to work even harder in 2008 to finish our journey out of debt!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"The Automatic Millionaire" (Conclusion)

The last section of David Bach's book is brief, but, in my mind, it is a solid conclusion. Entitled "Your Journey Begins Today!" this section simply gives a "pep talk" to those who might have read the book and thought, "That works for some folks, but not for me."

Bach takes a moment to remind the reader of the most important step to any financial plan: "You just need to start" (226). How true that is! For the rest of this short section (it is only four pages), Bach reminds the reader of the different chapters and asks you to re-read whichever will get you going (or going again).

For me, the best part of this book is the opening story, about the McIntyres. It's one of those "if they can do it, I can, too" type of stories.

Buy or Don't Buy: My Recommendation

I have read Automatic Millionaire cover-to-cover on more than one occasion. I am glad I own the book and it is helpful.

My personal feeling is that someone just starting out needs to read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover first. For my money, that book is more practical and helpful.

That being said, if you have read Ramsey's book and still need a little encouragement, The Automatic Millionaire can deliver. You will obviously find some differences in the books, but you will also find help in both.

So, my recommendation is to buy Dave's book first, but make sure you add Bach's book to your library eventually.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The Automatic Millionaire" (Chapter 8)

If you have followed this series on David Bach's book, you have noticed that now, just about everything is "taken care of" financially. All debt payments, the mortgage, retirement--it's all being automatically drawn either directly from the paycheck or from the checking account.

However, in this last chapter, Bach addresses one more aspect of life that is a financial decision: giving back.

When I first saw the title for this chapter, I was a bit upset. It is "Make a Difference with Automatic Tithing." While this is another discussion, I don't believe in tithing. I believe in giving. I believe we are under New Testament obligation to give, but that we are not told to give a specific amount. Also, I had trouble with the idea of making my giving "automatic." Bach goes so far as to say that your tithe should be automatically deducted from your paycheck, just like the mortgage.

While I still don't agree with all the aspects of this chapter, after some consideration, I turned around a little. Why? Because Bach is writing a book "for the masses," and he still makes giving a priority.

Admittedly, he speaks of giving to a charitable organization or church (and he leans towards charities), but, still, Bach helps us understand that giving is an essential part of any financial plan. He ends the chapter by reminding the reader that some of the wealthiest people of all time gave, and did so before they could really afford to give!

My recommendation is to give, but don't "automate" the process. Take each week and think of how the Lord has prospered you. Give accordingly.

While I don't agree with the entire chapter, there is still quite a lot of worthy information if you are interested in giving money to a specific charity. Bach takes a brisk look at different ways to accomplish this worthwhile goal.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Eating Out? Where Does the Money Go?

My wife and I do not have a "blow" section of our budget. We just don't blow money right now (or we do our best not to!). However, we do have a couple of areas of our budget where we splurge every now and again. One is that we still have DirecTV, but we do not have a large package (and we renegotiated our bill down to less than $40/month, with two receivers).

The other is that we still go out to eat sometimes. We don't go a lot, but we do like to "grab a burger" every couple of weeks. We also like to "dine" about once a month. We don't go to five-star restaurants, but we also don't go to Waffle House for our fine dining!

However, just because we set aside money for eating out does not mean we can just pile up a huge bill when we do so. Many people leave a restaurant and have no idea where all the money went. Here are some "little" things that really add up when you eat out:

1. Appetizers and desserts. At most national chains (think Applebee's, Olive Garden, etc.), these can be anywhere from $5-$10 each. Just adding one appetizer and/or dessert can make a bill get large quickly. Why do you think the wait staff asks you if you want them?

Two people: one gets an appetizer, the other dessert: add about $15 to your bill.

2. Not drinking water. I have to admit, I "add this" on my bill nearly every time I eat out. I drink a lot of water during the day, so, when I eat out, I want something else. This being a Christian blog, we're not even going to discuss the cost of alcohol. But just think of a soda, tea or lemonade. $1.50-$3.00 per person! And many restaurants are starting to offer "premium" drinks, like specialty sodas that are even more.

Two people: two "non-water" drinks: add about $4 to your bill.

3. Over-ordering. Some restaurants have smaller and larger versions of certain dishes. Many have half-portions if you will just ask, especially on large dishes. Often we are guilty of letting our eyes tell us we will eat a 12 ounce steak, when we only end up eating 6 or 8 ounces. If you constantly have food left over, ask about smaller portions, OR...

4. Not getting to-go boxes. When you have food left over and you can take it home, but fail to do so, you are leaving money on the table. If an entree costs $10 and you each 3/4 of it, but don't take the rest home, you, in essence, just left $2.50 on the table...and not as a tip. Sometimes you are travelling and cannot take food home, but you often can. Do so if possible.

Two people: don't eat (or take home) 1/4 of two $10 entrees: you just lost $5.

5. Tipping Too Much. I think tipping is a great thing. Many waiters are great and earn their money through kind service and quick response. Others, though, don't. They are just there and don't do well at all. There are some who think you should tip a certain percentage "no matter what, because it's just the right thing to do." I can't disagree more! While I always leave a tip, a waiter has to earn a larger tip.

Two people: overtip by $3.

Add all those things up. On a typical night at a typical restaurant, by just doing these five things, you have over-spent (or lost) $27. Now, do that once a month (which is way less than most people eat out), and you have just thrown away over $300 just in "extras" while eating out.

You can eat out and be frugal, but you have to think and plan ahead.

"The Automatic Millionaire" (Chapter Seven)

In this, the shortest "action" chapter of David Bach's book, the author simply gives some tips on how to use your new automatic system to get out of debt and then stay that way. Getting and/or staying out of debt is a major step in becoming a millionaire. As you know, if you don't have to pay Mastercard, Visa, and other cards, you have freed up money each month, and you are not paying interest.

How do I get out of debt? Bach offers five steps, but, before doing that, he reminds us all of how bad credit card debt really is. If you are like the typical American family, you have $8,400 in credit card debt (and only credit card debt!). If you pay just the minimum and never charge another thing, you will pay over $20,000, and you will be paying it off for over 30 years! (pages 195-196)

With those things, in mind, how do I pay off those cards quickly? Here are Bach's five steps:

1. Stop Digging. It's pretty simple when you think about it. If you don't have credit cards, you won't build up debt on them! Dave Ramsey recommends cutting up your cards (which I did a long time ago). Bach never makes a statement quite that bold, but he does recommend that you never go shopping with a credit card in your pocket.

2. Renegotiate the Interest on Your Debt. A lot of people don't even realize you can do this. Check the fine print to find out how much interest you are really paying, then simply call the company and ask for a lower rate. If they act like they won't do it, tell them you will be closing the account and moving (transferring) the money elsewhere. If they won't go lower, ask to speak to a supervisor. If that person won't go lower, transfer the money. Another way to accomplish this, is to move all your debt to one card (or account, since, hopefully you'll get rid of the actual card). Many companies will take a higher amount and give you a lower rate.

3. Pay for the Past; Pay for the Future. Here is where I disagree with Bach. He says that you should continue to put money into retirement and pay off the debt. He says that you will see progress in both areas and that will be a great motivating factor. I disagree. I would rather get rid of the debt as quickly as I possibly can. Either way works, as long as you stay focused.

4. DOLP Your Debt Our of Existence. "DOLP" stands for "Dead on Last Payment." This is basically the same idea as Ramsey's Debt Snowball, but is a much more math-intensive way of doing it. Here are the steps (quoted from page 206):

  • Make a list of the current outstanding balances on each of your credit card accounts.

  • Divide each balance by the minimum payments that particular card company wants from you. The result is that account's DOLP number. For example, say your outstanding Visa balance is $500 and the minimum payment is $50. Dividing the total debt ($500) by the minimum payment ($50) gives you a DOLP number of 10.

  • Once you've figured out the DOLP number for each account, rank them in reverse order, putting the account with the lowest DOLP number first, the one with the second lowest number second, and so on. [Page 206 has a table that shows you small example; using three credit/charge cards.]

5. Now Make It Automatic! You knew this was coming, didn't you? Automatically pay your debts from your paycheck (or checking account) until the debt is gone. When it is gone, call that company and close the account completely, then automatically pay off the next debt, paying all you can each month to get it gone (including the money you were sending into the first debt).

Now, you are debt free, your house is being paid off quickly and you have money going into retirement. There is still one more step, though.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"The Automatic Millionaire" (Chapter Six)

Poor people rent, while rich people own their home. In fact,

According to one survey of consumer finance published by the Federal Reserve in January 2000, the average net worth of renters was $4,200 vs. $132,000 for homeowners. In other words, homeowners were more than 31 times richer than renters! (page 160)
No doubt you have been told that before. It is true, at least to a certain extent. Rich people aren't rich because they have a house payment for thirty years. They also didn't get rich with a massive mortgage on a huge house they really could not afford.

The next step in David Bach's plan is to automatically pay off your house. How do you do that? It's not as hard as it may sound, if you follow Bach's plan. There are really just two steps!

1. Buy a house, but buy a house you can afford. From pages 162-165, Bach lists 6 reasons to own a house. These six reasons are worth your time. Bach then takes the time to walk the reader through different kinds of loans and companies that can help you understand more about this massive purchase.

Also in this section, Bach discusses the question, "How much can I afford." While the numbers are a bit odd, he says that a person can afford to spend up to 29% of their income if they have debt (unless the debt is out of control), and up to 41% if there is no debt. Personally, I think both of these are a bit high. I am not comfortable paying more than 25% of my income for a house, because there will always be other costs!

Unlike Dave Ramsey, who recommends getting a 15-year fixed mortgage, Bach says it is okay to get a 30-year mortgage. BUT, only if...

2. Pay off the mortgage quickly and automatically. How do you accomplish that? There are three ways that Bach recommends, all of which equal about the same thing:

First, you can enroll in a bi-weekly payment plan. In other words, you will pay on your mortgage every two weeks instead of each month. How does that help? Run the math. There are 52 weeks in a year, so you make 26 payments. That equals thirteen months!

Second, if your company does not offer bi-weekly payment, you can just send in an extra payment at the end of the year, and ask the company to apply the entire payment to the principle amount of the mortgage.

Third, you can pay "extra" on your mortgage. If you do this, Bach recommends paying 10% extra each month.

No matter which of these you choose, Bach recommends you do them automatically if possible. Once you have paid a bit extra for 3 or 4 months, you will no longer "miss" the money.

Finally, how much of a difference does this make? A house, when purchased correctly, is a great investment, but keeping the mortgage for three decades greatly hinders that investment. Paying just a small bit extra can save you tens-of-thousands of dollars over time! By way of example, Bach uses a $250,000 mortgage. If you paid for 30 years at 8% you would pay $410,388.12 in interest alone! However, if you paid every 2 weeks and had the same terms on your mortgage (30 years at 8%), you would pay $119,000 LESS!

Owning a house, when you are financially ready, is a great decision, but having the mortgage around forever is a terrible idea. Follow these steps and you can greatly help yourself truly OWN your home more quickly.