How a Dave Ramsey Fan in San Francisco Does Money

Photo credit: Aaron Tait, CC BY 2.0.

Liz is a 32-year-old fundraising professional in San Francisco.

So, Liz, how much are you making?

So… I work for Stanford full-time, and then do a TON of babysitting on the side. If I continue to babysit as much as I currently am, I should make about $93–95K this year. Total, that is.

Nice! How does that compare to your expenses?

My expenses are fairly low. Compared to most people in the Bay Area, my rent is relatively cheap. I share a wonderful four-bedroom, two-bath apartment with three great guys, and I pay $604/mo on rent.

Utilities range from $85-110/mo, depending on the season (we use the heat in the winter sometimes). We have all the fancy TV channels (not my choice) and internet, and we have cleaners come every other week.

I get a discount through Stanford on my Sprint phone bill, so I pay $88.10 on my iPhone.

Right now the largest expense is my debt: student loans and a personal loan. I “only” have to pay $629.54/mo, but I’m trying to pay close to $3K/mo to get out of debt faster.

That’s a pretty impressive loan payment!

Thanks. I feel dumb for having that much debt, though, so I’m just trying to shovel through it quickly. I was on autopilot for a while, but became more intense about it in 2017.

How big are the loans?

I checked Mint this morning actually—not just for this interview but because I obsessively check it every day! My remaining balance just fell below $50K, which feels like such an achievement! It’s $49,905.52, to be exact.

I took out student loans for grad school, and then just kinda continued to take out more loans, and stayed in grad school for TOO long, and they just sort of accrued to a large number.

Then I moved to San Francisco, and was a nanny for a year, and while I was making good money, my expenses were large because I had to pay for health insurance (a little over $500/mo), and I just kept using my credit card for non-essential items.

So my debt ballooned to a number that made me queasy. I started working for Stanford last fall, and once I had that very steady income, I looked again at my finances, and realized I had to put a stop to my spending and really start throwing money at my debts.

Are you willing to share that queasy number?

Sure. $68,755.02. Most of that is student loans. I took out a personal loan of $14K to cover the credit card debts.

Hey, I’ve been $14K in credit card debt before too. It… happens sometimes, especially if you’re not making a lot of money.

Absolutely!

But when you did start making more money, how did you make the transition to spending less? Or… how did you decide to make a budget and stick to it?

So, my commute from SF to Palo Alto is really long. When I first started my job, I took a combination of buses, Caltrain, and a shuttle to get to and from work. It would take nearly two hours each way.

I was doing that because I thought I was saving money—bus rides were $4.50 daily, and the train and shuttle were free.

HOWEVER, I wound up taking Uber Pool more and more frequently to get to and from the Caltrain station. My credit card bill just continued to balloon up, without really realizing it.

Also, I thought I was going to be “productive” on the train or bus, but wound up just watching The Sopranos (never saw it before last year) or sleeping.

So I decided to start driving, which cut down my time considerably, and now I have pretty predictable gas fill-ups twice a week.

Because I still drive nearly two hours a day, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I began listening to the one-and-only Dave Ramsey and everything kinda clicked.

I started using the budgeting tool he recommends, EveryDollar.com, and it’s fantastic. I literally log in every babysitting job I get and every tiny expense. It’s been really helpful to see where my money goes, and to have a plan for my money each paycheck.

I’ve been a Billfold reader for a while, and have a good sense of how I should invest and make money, but just really wasn’t doing a good job at watching where everything went.

Good old Dave Ramsey!

Atta boy!

So… you started watching where everything went, which is the first step.

Yep. Which seems like something I should have learned… years and years ago.

But how did you stop the spending?

I knew I had to stop “treating myself” to clothing binges, so I stopped online shopping. Before, I would just load up my online carts. Target, Boden, and ModCloth were regular staples. So I just told myself I have enough clothes for a while. I’ve sold a lot of old clothes, so I have credit at consignment stores—which means I can still buy clothes when I need them, just not through online shopping.

It also took me a while to “nest” here in SF. I had been living in DC in a small one-bedroom apartment on my own, and when I decided to move to SF, I just took what I could fit in my car. When I got to SF, I knew I wouldn’t have to re-furnish an entire apartment again, but still had to buy things like dressers, some kitchen gear, hangers, etc.

So I felt like I spent a lot in getting settled here. Now that I feel more settled, I don’t really have those kind of household expenses anymore. I had pretty much put everything on my credit cards when I got here.

Oh, also, you know how people make New Year’s resolutions? Mine this year was to pay off $17K in 2017. So far I’m doing pretty good. My 2016 goal was to apply for airline credit cards! I got plenty of bonus miles, and a few free vacations, sure, but it made it SO easy to go further into debt. Ugh.

For sure. Those airline cards can get you in real trouble if you don’t pay them off. 

Oh totally.

And congrats on your 2017 goal!

Thanks!

So it looks like you’re doing a lot of things well, financially—especially post-Dave Ramsey. Where do you want to be in five years? Or… two years, if you don’t want to think that far ahead?

Haha!

Well, I’d like to be completely out of debt, and contributing more to retirement. Unlike Dave’s plan of putting every-single-dollar towards your debts, I still currently contribute to my Roth and 403(b) plans. When I was nannying last year, I was putting $250/mo into my Roth, because I didn’t have any other kind of retirement plan during that time. I’m contributing less now, only $50/mo, the minimum, because I’m trying to pay off these debts. But I’d like start maxing that out and putting more into my Stanford plan.

I’d also like to be married! And have kids. The big motivator for getting out of debt quickly has been my goal of being a stay-at-home mom at some point, and I wouldn’t feel right about not working if I still had some debt.

So I babysit all weekend to pay off my debts, but have barely any time to date, so… no marriage bells in my immediate future!

Well, it does look like Dave Ramsey has plenty of dating advice on his website, so… I wish you the best.

Umm… was that a joke?

No, Dave really does have dating advice.

That is… interesting.

Search and ye shall find!

Haha! I mean, I’ve got friends here, and still have time to socialize. Dating has just been harder: I tend to be working during times when people are free to socialize or date. But I’m good at finding free/cheap things to do, though, and almost always recommend that over a first-date dinner. I’ve been regularly winning concert tickets through a music blog and recently saw Aldous Harding, Washed Out, Methyl Ethyl, and others all for free! And one of my roommates hosts trivia night at a bar, so I’ll go there with friends or a date, and just order a beer or two. I also went to a free music festival in the Mission the other day with some friends and the toddler I used to nanny. Super fun.

Last question: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

As far as advice goes, I don’t think I’m the best person to ask. I’ve really mismanaged my money in the past and I’m now finally trying to dig out of it. I think I’ve learned to not have a new year’s resolution that involves taking on more credit cards—so, so dumb. Also, like everyone and their mom and grandma and great-grandma has warned, DON’T get an MFA in Poetry if you can’t cash-flow it or get it for free.

I’m really happy working at my museum job at Stanford, but I could have saved myself so much money and time if I hadn’t gone to grad school.

Team “grad school sounded like a good idea at the time!”

Want to be the subject of a future Doing Money interview? Email nicole@thebillfold.com.

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