Getting Better One Baby Step at a Time

Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU)? It’s a nine-lesson class on money management taught by financial guru, Dave Ramsey. The class focuses on the basics of budgeting, dumping debt and planning for the future. My boss had referred to it so much over the years that when my church offered it, I registered right away.

Financial Peace University is offered nationally at different locations, many at churches and faith-based organizations. I was a little skeptical of a money class offered at a church, but it’s a non-denominational program and is offered at different churches in the Midlands, from my Presbyterian USA church (Eastminster Presbyterian) to United Methodist with a lot of denominations in between.

Our class met on Wednesday evenings, and consisted of 10 people: three couples, a mother and son, and me. We met from 6:15 to about 7:30, where we watched DVDs and then held group discussions. For the $99 course fee, we received a book, workbook and a year’s access to a website featuring the video lessons, budget sheets and other online resources.


Ramsey breaks his class into the following seven baby steps. None of these steps were anything new or earth-shattering, but he presents them in such a way that motivates you to think about them differently.

  1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund. (This was the hardest step for me, and I just completed it.)
  2. Pay off all debt using the “Debt Snowball.”
  3. Three to six months of expenses in savings.
  4.  Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement.
  5. College funding for children.
  6. Pay off home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

One thing that wasn’t a baby step was the recommendation to use cash to “feel” your purchases. Ramsey says, and I agree, that when you use cash, you tend to be more careful with your money and automatically spend less. Still, it’s taking some time to get used to using cash. (Thankfully, you can also use checks and/or a debit card for those purchases that don’t work as well with cash.)

The hardest part of the course for me was committing to nine Wednesdays in a row. Going to class every Wednesday decreased my eligible gym days by one, which most weeks left me with no “rest day.” I ended up missing two FPU classes, but was able to watch the videos online at my leisure.

Another hard part, I’m embarrassed to say, was saving $1000. I’d started an emergency savings account a few months before I took the class, so I had a small head start, but it’s not easy to find additional money. I played games with myself to find it: if I passed on spending anything, such as a new lipstick or dinner out, I’d transfer an equal amount to savings. Then it got to be more fun, and I had my $1000 within a couple of months.

Completing Baby Step One, the $1000 savings, has been quite empowering. If I have a true emergency, such as car trouble or a leaky toilet, I know I have the money to cover it without having to use a credit card or ask Mom or Sister for help. It’s such a relief to know that it’s there, and thankfully I haven’t had to even think about using it yet.

Now I’ve started on Baby Step Two, paying down debt with the snowball method. You rank your credit cards from lowest balance to highest, and start on the lowest one first. As you pay one off, you add that money to the next account, and so on until the debt is gone. This will take longer than a couple of months, but I’ve budgeted to pay off one credit card by the end of December.

After completing the course, I feel like a grown-up, in a good way, being prepared and thinking toward the future. I’m looking forward to saving money and paying down debt in 2018.