Mary Hunt’s book, Debt-Proof Living (DPL), is one of the best books on getting your financial priorities straight and making a plan to reach your goals, whatever they may be. Mary begins by telling readers that money “is for managing first and then spending.” This theme runs throughout the book and the more you read, the more you realize that what you’ve been doing is letting the spending manage your money.
The problem for most people, Mary says, is not that they don’t have enough money they just don’t know how to manage what they have. The first and most important step, according to DPL, in gaining control of your finances is getting out of debt and that’s what the books focuses it’s energy on. By giving people tools to plan, manage and control their money, Mary shows everyone how to get out of debt and stop living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Debt-Proof Living defines the debt-proof lifestyle as basically this:
- Spending less than you earn
- Turning away from impulsive behavior
- Avoiding debt
- Planning for the unexpected
According to DPL, you should pay cash and accrue no new debt no matter what. You need to develop a strategy for your planning your spending that will allow you to achieve your goals. More money is not the answer. As indicated earlier, most people just need to manage what they have better.
The basic idea put forth by the book, and one that I agree with, is that you need to follow the 10-10-80 rule.
- Give 10% (charity, church, etc.)
- Save 10% (Contigency Fund, Freedom Account, RDRP)
- Spend the remaining 80% on bills and household expenses
Of course these are just guideline numbers and if you can’t start at these levels, you should start with what you can and make these your goals. Of course if you can start higher on the giving and saving, by all means do so!
The first thing to do is to determine where your money is currently being spent. To do this, you need to track your spending for at least 30 days. Start a notebook and write down everything you spend money on each day. At the end of the 30-day period, total it up and see where your money went. Is that where you want it to go? Some things you may want to eliminate or change, but most of all you’ll have a record of what you spent and where.
Once you have this information you’re ready to create your Spending Plan which is actually a budget but Mary doesn’t like that word because it’s always associated with restrictions. The Spending Plan on the other hand is just that, a plan for spending your money using the DPL principles.
The order of funding your savings is an important aspect to being able to live debt-free. As mentioned above, a Contingency Fund is where you have 3-6 months living expenses in case of emergencies. This is a savings or money-market account that is liquid and easily accessible. This isn’t money in the stock market or mutual funds. This savings account needs to be in a safe investment that will not fluctuate in value and can be used when needs arise.
Once that’s funded adequately (not necessarily the full 3-6 months in my opinion) you should start building your Freedom Account. This is the most useful tool I found for me personally. I personally funded my Freedom Account before concentrating on my Contingency Fund.
The Freedom Account is what you use to pay the unexpected, irregular expenses that all of us have, that normally take us by surprise. As the book explains, it is much like the old Christmas Club accounts where you made small, regular deposits throughout the year. That way, when Christmas rolled around, the money was there for gifts without dipping into your credit cards. The Freedom Accountoperates on the same principle but for all of your irregular expenses by setting up sub-accounts for each one.
You must first determine all your irregular expenses that occur throughout the year. Go through your checkbook, Quicken, Microsoft Money, etc. to determine these. The book gives five typicalFreedom Account categories:
- Auto maintenance/Repair: $765/year $64/month
- Life Insurance $520/year $44/month
- Clothing $480/year $40/month
- Property taxes $600/year $50/month
- Vacation $800/year $66/month
The book recommends opening a second checking account to hold this money. Your original checking account will be used for normal, recurring monthly expenses. This new checking account will be used for your irregular expenses. However, I’ve found that I can just keep my Freedom Account money in my main checking account and maintain an Excel spreadsheet with my FA sub-accounts and balances. That way I only have one checking account but the money is marked for other purposes and can’t be spent for groceries. Each month you would allocate the monthly amount for each category ($64 for Auto in the above example). As this grew each month, the money would be there when you had an Auto repair. You would just move the money from the FA category back to checking and pay the bill. As I said, I use an Excel spreadsheet but you could use a pencil and paper to maintain your balances just as easily. As I indicated earlier, this is the number one thing to do if you’re truly serious about gaining control of your finances. Because, whether you like it or not, these irregular expenses are actually regular expenses that must be paid and planning for them in this way provides tremendous relief.
The book also describes what they call the RDRP (Rapid Debt Repayment Plan) which attempts to eliminate your debt as quickly as possible. The rules are simple:
- No new debt
- Pay the same amount every month
- Pay off your debts by amount owed
- Redirect payments as you pay off debts
First and foremost, the book recommends no new debt but this should go without saying. Secondly, pay the same amount every month, regardless of what the credit card companies tell you the minimum amount due is. Third, I’ve always found it provided more gratification to pay off debts rather than worry about which one was charging the highest interest rate. Actually writing that last check to payoff a credit card is really exciting to me. Lastly and most importantly, redirect your payments after a debt is paid off toward another debt. Don’t just put that money back into your “spendable” income just yet. For example, if you have the following debts:
- Mastercard balance $1000 , payment $75 monthly
- VISA balance $1500, payment $85 monthly
- Furniture store balance $600, payment $50 monthly
The total of all of these is $210 a month. You would continue to pay the above monthly amounts until the Furniture store was paid off (in 12 months or so). At that time, you would add the $50 you were paying the furniture store to the Mastercard payment, making that one $125 monthly. You would continue to pay $125 until the Mastercard debt was retired and then the VISA payment would be $210 until it was paid in full. This is a very powerful concept and one that the books stresses as being instrumental in getting out of debt as quickly as possible.
Another option, according to the book, is to turbocharge your RDRP by adding any money you can to your payments. For instance, if you find you have an extra $25 a month, add it to your payments and keep it there to speed up paying off your debts.
Mary goes on to talk about many other things in the book such as:
- How your attitude affects your view of money
- Household expenses and how to control them
- Credit reports
- Dangers of debt
- Different types of loans (good & bad)
- Debt consolidation
- Home-equity (called HEL for a reason)
- Buying vs Leasing cars
- Insurance – what types you need and how to get it
- College costs
- Preparing for retirement
All these topics are fine to touch on as Mary does, but I’ve found that other personal finance books dwell too much on many of these topics and not enough on the meat and potatoes like Mary does. Most people looking for personal finance help are deeply in debt, living paycheck-to-paycheck and need help just in planning their spending. That’s where Mary’s book stands apart. If provides practical solutions to the personal finance problems many of us face daily. That problem is too little forethought and planning in guiding our money to where it should go.
Mary concludes by saying to make all this work:
- Track your spending for 30 days, writing everything down
- Start to give (with a 10% goal but whatever you can initially)
- Save (again, with a 10% goal but anything is better than nothing)
- Create a Spending Plan so that you’re guiding your money
- Start a Contingency Fund
- Setup your RDRP and set a date for your debts to be paid off
- Create a Freedom Account and your sub-categories
As Mary said initially, “money is not for spending, it is for managing first and then for spending.” I re-read Debt-Proof Living every six months or so and subscribe to Mary’s monthly newsletter and website so that I stay on track. I also can see that there are many other people out there looking to manage their finances in a better way just like me. If you follow the plans laid out by the book, Debt-Proof Living, you will soon find yourself at peace with your finances and looking forward to the day when you’re debt-free!