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Diane Tarantini: Give (financial) peace a chance

“If only we had more money.”

Just 10 years ago, I was saying that line on a weekly basis, since there was always more week than money. That all changed when Tony Bear and I found Financial Peace.

Financial Peace is a program (and a book) by Dave Ramsey. There are classes held all over the country as well as books and a helpful website (daveramsey.com) or, you can just keep reading this column since I’m about to give my Cliff Notes version on the subject.

Though I no longer need to spend time each week applying Ramsey’s principles the way I did at the start, we still follow the program and continue to enjoy the benefits. For me, one of the main advantages has been a feeling of security. When Ramsey wrote that women are wired to desire security, a feeling of relief washed over me. I’d previously viewed my desire for security as being similar to greed, but it’s actually a craving for safety.

Some of Ramsey’s practices you could try today. For instance, a spending journal. Ramsey recommends using a notebook to keep a 30-day record of every dollar (and cent, if you’re super serious) your family spends via cash, check or charge. Groceries, gasoline and Gabriel Brothers. Starbucks and/or Sheetz. Meals out plus tips. Mortgage or rent, utilities, credit card payments. Keep track of every ATM withdrawal, also. This record quickly reveals areas of concern. Frequent trips to the mall or McDonald’s or Lowe’s. Amazon.com.

If, like me, you still use a checkbook, from now on, only use checks to pay bills. Your checking account will no longer be your personal frolic-fund. To take this one step further, cut up your ATM card.

I know, it hurts. Do it anyway. It will make balancing your checkbook so much easier.

At the Dollar Store, buy a couple of accordion coupon files. These will be your “spending envelopes.” My brother and his wife use an online spreadsheet, but I’m low-tech. Here are the categories Tony Bear and I use: groceries, gas, clothing, school, gift, entertainment and vacation. Later in life, we added a college category.

Later still, we created a wedding “envelope.” Everyone recommends a college fund, but no one mentions a wedding fund (for each daughter). Start saving now, people. According to www.costofwedding.com, the average cost of a wedding in America is $26,720. Or, you can do what my father did: Give your girls $5,000 if they elope.

Although I understand it isn’t always possible, consider tricking yourself into saving by having a small amount of money direct-deposited from each paycheck into savings. A friend has a little deposited each week into a credit union account in a different town so she has to physically drive there in order to withdraw from that account. It’s so inconvenient, the balance grows.

The Financial Peace program includes a worksheet that shows you how to divvy up your funds. A portion of each paycheck goes into your checking account to pay bills. The rest you will cash and distribute into your “spending envelopes.” When considering the bills you pay on a regular basis, don’t forget the ones that are paid annually or every six months -- car insurance, for example.

And now the hard part. Dave recommends cutting up all credit cards. For good reason. According to www.time.com, the average American household owes $16,061 in credit card debt.

Even so, after Tony and I paid off all our credit cards, we opted to keep one active for the sole purpose of accumulating airline miles. To avoid returning to the same debt cycle, we pay off the card’s balance each month.

Going forward, you will conduct most of your financial transactions with cash. Cash is harder to part with, because it is visually finite. When it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s why credit cards are so dangerous. They give the illusion of unlimited resources. Don’t believe it. It’s a trap.

Ramsey also believes cash has a power credit cards do not. He believes that often the manager of a car lot, furniture store or jewelry shop may be persuaded to negotiate in the presence of cash. Tony Bear said this is probably true, since stores typically pay up to 4 percent of each sale to the credit card company.

Finally, Ramsey and I both recommend donating on a regular basis to the cause(s) of your choice: your house of worship, the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, for instance. If the principle of “you reap what you sow” is true, your generosity with the world will someday be reciprocated.

Going into the Financial Peace course, I was certain it would feel like money-jail. Instead, the total opposite was true. With a few guidelines in place, it felt like our family received a significant raise.

Lifestyles columnist Diane Tarantini is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Morgantown. Check out her blog, “Lessons from a Life Half Lived,” at www.dianetarantini.com. She can be reached at diane@dianetarantini.com


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