Psst! Have any of that green stuff left since you've paid the Christmas bills and before your property and IRS taxes come due in April? What? You haven't paid off those Christmas bills?
Enter Dave Ramsey, a guy who was a millionaire by the time he was 26 but lost it all a few years later.
"After losing everything, I went on a quest to find out how money really works, how I could get control of it and how I could have the confidence in handling it," he said. Along the way, he began helping others.
The result is a syndicated radio show, books such as "The Total Money Makeover," a company with more than 100 staff members and a 13-week video series called Financial Peace University that has reached hundreds of thousands of people, including folks in Modesto.
Kari Swanson, a certified public accountant who works for E.&J. Gallo Winery, and her husband, Jevon, a junior high school teacher, have led Ramsey's FPU classes at Centenary United Methodist Church in Modesto for the past four years.
Swanson said she likes Ramsey's videos because they are helpful for everyone, Christian and unchurched, college-educated or not, financially comfortable or struggling.
"He's very entertaining, but he still teaches what you need to know," she said. "He talks about diverse
topics, like insurance and mutual funds, so you understand how it works. He talks about mortgages and what kind to stay away from, which many people don't know about. This class gives you the skills to check out what you're being told and see if it's really good for the family."
And, she added, it's very practical. The average family has nine credit cards, a national report revealed earlier this week.
"We encourage people not to use credit," Swanson said. "At one of the classes where Dave Ramsey talks about all the mess that is created by credit, we give (class members) the opportunity to shred their credit cards.
"Last year, our class had paid off $28,915 during the (13-week) class and had saved $28,620. Per family unit, that was more than $3,600 paying off debt, and then the savings was $2,385 per family. Our first class paid off more than $6,000 per family."
Kim Reisz of Modesto took the class with her husband, Bill. Their goal was to find a way that she could stay home with their three children, ages 1 to 10. She's now a full-time homemaker.
Ramsey "makes it entertaining, easy to apply," she said. "He teaches you to tell your money where to go, so you're not just wasting money, but how to use it to the biggest advantage that you can. It was definitely helpful. We realized we were wasting money in a lot of areas, whether it was eating out or walking into Target and buying all kinds of little things that were on sale. We learned how to focus on our necessities and stick to it."
Alan and Stacey McCord of Turlock were part of Centenary's first class in 2004. They later taught the class at their own church, Cornerstone Covenant.
"We really didn't have too much debt, probably about $5,000 total in credit cards and an auto loan," Alan McCord said. "But my wife wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and we were in the process of adopting a child."
McCord heard Ramsey on a radio program and called to find the nearest class. There was only one at the time, at Centenary. They signed up and changed their finances.
"We were able to adopt the child without going into further debt," he said. "We have our emergency nest egg put away. We now have two children and we live by the principles we've learned. All our money is accounted for -- no credit cards at all. We are currently paying extra on our mortgage; we plan on having it paid off in 10 years (instead of 30)."
All that, plus paying off their 2001 and 2004 cars on his $52,000 a year salary.
His biggest lesson?
"Living as a steward of God's money instead of spending all I earned," he said.
Ramsey's videos incorporate biblical truths and verses, but he said in a recent e-mail interview that he also speaks to groups in the secular world and that his money techniques apply to everyone.
"When I answer a question on the radio, it's based on what I would do if I were in that person's situation. Because I'm a Christian, faith plays into my answer. But we also have a lot of people of other faiths who listen to the show and call in.
"Financial Peace University is the same way. There is Scripture sprinkled throughout the program, but we have people of all faiths in the classes offered at churches. FPU is also taught in corporate settings, on military bases and in community groups. We also have a version for teens taught in public and private schools across the country."
The classes are not cheap, ranging from about $90 to $110 per individual or couple. It does include a hardback book, a hardback workbook, CDs of all the lessons taught and other materials. But there's still that cost, which Ramsey said is intentional.
"We learned many years ago that people had to make a financial investment in the program or they wouldn't invest the time," he said. "That's why when I give the class away on my radio show to a desperate caller, I always make them promise to go. Since the kit was free, they are more likely to skip classes and not do the work required to win."
What advice would he give to people in our high-foreclosure-rate area?
"If you don't have to sell your house right now, don't," he said. "It's still a good investment if you can stay in it for five years or more and let the market correct.
"If you have to sell your house because you're going to be foreclosed on, then consider a short sale (selling for less than the mortgage amount, with the lender's approval). But make sure in doing a short sale that you get in writing that the short sale is 'without recourse.' That means the bank won't come after you for the difference.
"If you are debt free, have three to six months of expenses saved in your emergency fund and have a down payment, then now is a great time to buy."
It's easy to give advice, but sometimes the proof is in how the advice givers' children are doing. Ramsey has three.
"My daughters are 22 and 19, and my son is 16. We taught them to handle money from an early age, so now that my girls are in college, they can handle a monthly budget and a checkbook better than most adults. My son is driving and just bought his own car. He knows he's responsible for all the expenses that come with driving, and so far, he's doing great."
And what is his advice for those caught between Christmas and IRS bills?
"The first thing is to do a budget. That's the only way to really know how much money you have to tackle the debt. Next, set aside $1,000 for a starter emergency fund to cover little things that come up while you are getting out of debt. Then use the debt snowball to get out of debt -- list all your debts smallest to largest and put every extra dime toward the smallest while still paying minimum payments on the rest. When that debt is paid off, move to the next smallest and so on until you've paid off the last debt."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2012.