Older man looking worried about finances

Rules are made to be broken, right?! If you’re working to get out of debt or fix your finances, it’s very likely you’ve heard of Dave Ramsey and his Baby Steps System. Maybe you’re even using it as a framework on your debt-free journey like we did, and maybe you even skipped a few Dave Ramsey steps like we did.

Here’s the thing…personal finance is personal, and as much as I appreciate Dave Ramsey’s teachings and ministry, ultimately, WE are in charge of our finances and the daily decisions we make in regard to our money and our financial goals.

There are a lot of financial gurus out there, and I believe that *most* of their financial plans work – if you work them.

Getting your finances in order is similar to losing weight and getting on a fitness plan.  Most diet/exercise plans work – if you do the work.  

The basic framework is the same: calories in, calories out, eat well, move your body, etc.

Just as with improving our finances: get out of debt, live on a budget, save money, invest, etc.

So, what’s the variable that makes some plans “work” and some “not work”?  You!

You’re the variable.  Most plans will work if you’re doing the work…

If you’re making the changes…

If you’re taking action…

And if you’re being consistent, you will see results.

This applies to your health and fitness, your money, and most other changes you’d try to make in life.

Dave’s plan works. It is tried and true and proven by the thousands and thousands of success stories we’ve seen over the years.

And while I do believe that when following a proven system, it’s important to stick to the system.

It’s already been tested and proven to work, so why try to change it, I also believe that personal finance is personal and not necessarily one-size-fits-all so I get the desire to make it your own.

During the 20 months we worked to pay off our debt, there were a few Dave Ramsey rules we broke – or at least bent – to make them better fit our needs.

Dave Ramsey Steps We Didn’t Follow

If you’re not familiar with Dave’s Baby Steps System, you can get a quick rundown of the steps here, then come back to this article afterward.

1. Stopping Retirement Contributions

The first of Dave Ramsey’s rules we bent was not stopping our retirement contributions while paying off debt.

This is a big one.

Dave is adamant about stopping ALL retirement contributions while working to pay off debt so you can focus all of your financial energy on this one goal.

Normally, I’d agree with this advice as I believe we can make huge strides in our lives when we are focusing on one main objective however, this one was out of our hands.

At his job, my husband is contractually obligated to contribute a minimum of 5% to his pension each paycheck.

I must admit I was actually relieved by this.  When we first began following Dave’s system I wanted to follow every single step “to the T” and my husband did not was to stop contributing to his pension.

Since his employer actually wouldn’t allow him to, this was an easy decision.

In hindsight, I’m grateful we weren’t able to stop. When we took Financial Peace University, I was entirely on board with stopping retirement contributions while paying off debt, but now I’m not so sure.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, personal finance is personal, and I believe the decision of whether or not to stop contributions while paying off debt is hugely personal and will vary a lot based on each person’s situation, such as:

  • How old are you?
  • How much do you already have saved for retirement?
  • How much debt do you have?
  • How long will it take you to get out of debt?
I’m glad the choice was taken away from us because I believe this is a tough one to make, and it is definitely worth taking some time to really weigh the pros and cons.

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This course helped me learn how to invest in index funds and gave me a good foundation for investing.

2. Cutting Up Your Credit Cards

Another one of Dave Ramsey’s rules we broke was we did not cut up all of our credit cards.

Dave’s teachings are very polarizing – especially his beliefs surrounding the use of credit cards.

When working through Baby Step 2, Dave implores students to cut up and close all credit accounts of any type – and I don’t necessarily blame him, considering Americans began 2020 owing more than $1 trillion in credit card debt.

He preaches debit cards to be responsible replacements for credit cards and strikes down any argument that suggests credit cards as a viable financial tool.

Again, I completely subscribed to this belief at first and proceeded to cut up, and subsequently close, every single one of our credit cards – even my beloved Target RedCard.

However, when it came to our very last credit card, our Chase Freedom card that we’ve had for a decade, I hesitated and eventually decided to keep it.

Initially, I kept it because it was the dead of winter, I despise the cold, and we live in Pennsylvania.

All this to say there is no way I was getting out of my car to pay for my gas in cash each time I needed to fill my tank and I wasn’t ready to use our debit card regularly because we were keeping our bank account super low and I was worried I’d mistakenly miss a transaction and possibly overdraft our account.

Silly excuse? Yeah, maybe. But I’m just being honest, and that was my thought process at the time.

I was willing to risk all of the financial progress we were making for the sake of convenience (and staying warm).

Here’s what we did…

We agreed to keep this single credit card IF we could abide by these rules, and we mutually agreed that if we were not sticking to the parameters we set, then the card had to go (and I would have to freeze.)

  1. We used the credit card only for fuel purchases and online orders
  2. We never charged anything unless the money was physically in our bank account or a cash envelope (this required an extra step by checking the bank account and/or cash envelope before charging)
  3. We had to pay the card off IN FULL every single time my husband was paid (every two weeks)

That was it…if we messed up in any way and paid one penny in interest, we had to close the card.

One thing I will say is we’ve worked very hard to change our habits regarding credit card usage, and we believe being able to adhere to these rules helped solidify new, good habits and gave us very clear signals to warn us if our habits began sliding in the other direction.

I’m happy to report we have not paid a penny in interest since we paid off this card during our debt-free journey.

We now happily use it for the majority of our spending instead of using the cash envelope system (this was prompted by my germophobia and feeling like we needed a change after using cash for 3+ years), and it has been working very well for us.

We have multiple online bank accounts set up as “spending accounts” and use them to cover all of our credit card charges, so it’s basically like using the cash envelope system without using cash!

We have been doing this for about five months now and are loving the convenience and all of the points we’ve been earning on our card.

Note: Please be honest with yourself regarding your discipline when using credit cards. They can be a great financial tool or they can quickly and all too easily put you deep into debt. If you cannot charge responsibly, please don’t use credit cards.

3. Investing Strategy

The last Dave Ramsey step we veered from is the investing strategy he outlines in his book (this is one of my favorite money books, btw). Again, while taking his course, I was completely sold on his investing strategy.  It’s a safe and solid strategy that anyone can apply and understand and as someone very green to investing, it appealed to me.

It appealed to me because that’s exactly what it was designed to do – appeal to the masses, regardless of financial positions or knowledge of investments.

When your platform is as large as Ramsey’s, it’s important to develop your strategies and systems to cater to as many people as possible.

If your recommendations are confusing and overcomplicated to most people, they will not have the desired results, and it will be assumed that your system is ineffective.

I get it. And even knowing that I was good with the plan he laid out for investing because I knew it would work, and I like having a specific roadmap showing me exactly what to do – I find it comforting. 

But over time, as we began reaching different financial milestones and I began doing more research and reading more personal finance books, I began learning about different investment vehicles that caught my interest, and I realized I wanted to invest differently than Dave Ramsey lays out.

This book, specifically, gave me so much helpful information on investing, so I used it to guide me in rolling over my Roth IRA and choosing which funds to invest in. If you are clueless when it comes to beginning to invest for retirement, I highly recommend reading it.

If I were to do it over again…

Baby Step 1 is to save a starter emergency fund of $1,000 before you begin to pay off your debt.  We followed this as instructed, but if I were to do it all over again, this is another one of Dave Ramsey’s steps I would do differently.

Dave’s system gave us a new perspective on money. It empowered us to take back control of our finances and encouraged us to ditch old habits that weren’t serving us and create new ones that would.

It’s a transformative journey and one that provides you with a greater understanding of your spending habits, saving habits, and emotional relationship with money.

Not to get too deep here, but one thing I learned through this journey is that we make most of our money decisions based on our feelings and emotions, and I know I am someone who feels extreme stress and anxiety surrounding money.

Knowing this now, I would certainly save more than $1,000 for a starter emergency fund. We are a family of four, and while I do believe that most emergencies that may come up would be covered by $1,000 – there are also many that would not. 

If the current Covid-climate has taught us anything, it’s that we truly can never be too prepared.

The point of an emergency fund is to protect your budget and your finances in the event of an emergency and had my husband lost his job during the pandemic as so many others had, $1,000 would last us a week, maybe two.

I don’t know what the magic number is, and I know that number would be different for all of us, but I do know that $1,000 in my bank account will never make me feel financially secure.

Again, I understand Dave’s motivation for creating that step, but it is a very different world we are living in these days, and we are the ones in charge of our finances, so please be sure your emergency fund makes you feel secure.

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