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Dave Ramsey’s snowball method is kind of right. Kind of.

“I got a text saying my student loan payment is late – did you pay it?” My husband messaged me last week. Of course I paid it. I always pay it. The message was probably a scam.

Except I opened up my bank account and instead of paying $210.31, I had entered a typo, only paying $21.31. It was a scramble, but I got it figured out.

I put off paying my final payment on our lawn mower until I got the bill because I wasn’t sure exactly what I owed (since it was the last one, I wanted it to be an exact payment). Except somehow I missed it when it came in, and instead of owing $76.25, I had a late fee, and owed over $100 (I called and had the late fee removed. It almost always pays to call).

My 0% interest credit card bill came; they had received no payment so there was a fee, but hold up! I had paid $450 on the first of the month! Except I had entered it into the wrong line on my bill paying screen and while I had paid $450 to Citi, who had happily cashed it, I had sent it toward the wrong account – a card I haven’t used in years. Another call.

I really dislike Dave Ramsey. Mostly because he won’t get on an elevator alone with a woman and I find that to be fundamentally offensive. If you can’t be alone with a woman it means the first and most important thing you notice about her is her vagina, and while my vagina did provide me with three children, it is like the 50th most important part of my body. I’ve had friends that I’ve known for decades who have vaginas that I have never seen! Even when I’m alone with them on elevators! I know, it’s crazy.

You know who I won’t get on an elevator with? A lion (maybe even a rabid cat). A convicted rapist who appears to be on the hunt. Oh! And Dave Ramsey, because he won’t get on one with me.

I cannot take advice from somebody who at his core believes that women are primarily a means for sex.

Anyway, his standard debt-paying advice is to snowball it – pay the smallest debt off first, then roll that money into the next smallest debt payments, then move on to the next and the next and by the time you’re left with your mortgage or student loan, your snowball is thousands of dollars a month. Lots of people claim success with this method.

On the other hand, paying off debt in his snowball fashion will give you psychological wins, but cause you to lose money over time – if you pay off your low-interest small loans first, but leave the high-interest bigger loans, you’re losing out on all those interest payments. My personal debt payoff strategy is a mishmash of strategies, paying off what I can when I can, paying attention to interest rates for the big ones when possible, trying to consolidate everything to being under about 5% interest (0% if possible!). That way, it makes mathematical sense to be putting money into retirement/savings, because what I make there is more than what I lose on interest payments.

Except I have to admit that with our current mess, which thank God we are finally clawing our way up from, there is a cost associated with debt that has nothing to do with interest rates – it has to do with the time and mental energy it takes to manage it all.

We currently have: one main credit card with revolving credit (groceries, gas, kids, pets); one 0% interest card from Citi for previous consumer debt that we are catching up on, a 0% interest balance from Bank of America for the big bathroom purchases, a 0% card balance from Lowe’s and one from Ikea for the tile/tub/vanity/etc. in the recent bathroom remodel; an American Express card that for some ungodly reason is still our Netflix card that I pay off every time it gets charged (memo to me: change that); an Amazon card on which I make my Amazon purchases and save up points to eventually put a mother flipping zip line in my back yard; two student loans; a mortgage; a car payment; the occasional balance on a Kohl’s or Justice card (those two stores in particular have substantial benefits connected to their cards with regard to sales/shipping/etc.); a loan for waterproofing the basement; the solar panel loan; a 0% PayPal card for my computer; brain surgery payment; dear LORD.

It was worse a few months ago when I had the lawn mower card, the Orkin guy, another brain surgery bill. And we are entering a time in the process where every month or two, it gets better. In two months we will be done with the computer; in another two months, Lowe’s; a month after that, Ikea.

Every one of those balances is either paid in full each month or under 5% interest – much of it is 0%. This mishmash is “smart.” We have been able to borrow a lot of money pretty cheaply, and my spreadsheet promises me we can get rid of many of these bills in the next several months – almost all of them within a year and a half (assuming we don’t take on any more projects, which I hope not to).

This is all embarrassing. It’s embarrassing how many debts we have, even though the vast majority of the overall balance is either mortgage, student loan, car loan, or 0%. It’s embarrassing to admit how many screw-ups I’ve had in the past few months. I’m embarrassed that we dug ourselves into a much deeper hole doing this bathroom remodel than I expected, making the entire situation worse when it was supposed to be getting better.

It doesn’t make mathematical sense to get rid of low-interest bills early. Except it does. Because when you have 75 different balls in the air, sometimes, inevitably, one or two drop. And with these credit cards, that translates to fees. A $25 fee on a $75 balance is much worse than slightly higher interest rates on one loan versus another. I’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to actually pay any fees for my own slip-ups, but the slip-ups are much more likely with more and more balances.

But it is getting better now. Month by month, payment by payment. I’m so looking forward to the time – should be within a couple of years – when I really only have a few things to keep track of each month. Just in time for my girls to enter puberty, which is when everything is calm and peaceful, right?

So Dave, you’re kind of right about the snowball thing, even if the interest doesn’t make mathematical sense. Except I still think you might get some better ideas if you’d be willing to look at half the population as people instead of walking vaginas. Snowball method: maybe not so bad. Women: also not so bad! I’ll start paying more attention to his other advice when he starts treating people like people rather than objects that could cause his penis, at any moment, to spontaneously betray him by entering enemy territory.

6 thoughts on “Dave Ramsey’s snowball method is kind of right. Kind of.”

  1. Wow that Dave Ramsey stuff is CRAZY! How about the company’s female dress code because “men are visual creatures”? So much to unpack there, but I think “creatures” is particularly interesting because it implies a certain kind of automated instinctual behavior that may not be controllable through rational exertion. Really, Dave?
    Quick question: is there a reason that you don’t just set each card and loan to automatically withdraw the minimum payment each month? The minimums are usually very small so are unlikely to overdraw your bank account, and that way you never have to worry about accidental late fees. You can still make additional payments on whatever card you want whenever you want, but in the meantime you remove that lingering anxiety of keeping all those balls in the air perfectly. I suppose it does necessitate keeping a couple hundred extra dollars in your low-interest bank account just to make sure you don’t accidentally overdraw (and then have to pay a different fee!), but given that you do have some retirement savings it seems like it might be worth losing the interest on few hundred bucks in order to avoid the anxiety of timing all those payments perfectly each month.

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    1. That’s a great idea! The truth is, it isn’t something I have considered because only in the past few months has it gotten so nuts, as I try to get a billion dollars for no interest. I also am generally not a fan of auto payments because I like to feel the pain of every payment. But pulling out the minimum would give me some insurance for sure.

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  2. Wow! You are doing such an amazing job! For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think it’s embarassing to have your debt spread out like that. Life happens (brain surgery, pest control, etc) and life is also worth living (zipline, Kohl’s, etc). I’m honestly impressed.

    I see what you mean about too many balls in the air. I find myself thinking I have to do it all, and only in the most optimal way. I constantly have to remind myself that everything is ok, that I’m doing great, and with all that we all have going on (life, families, bills, health issues), we’re kinda rockin’ it!

    This was a really good post, and I love your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It feels embarrassing to write it all down, but also relieving.

      I had requested an increase from the Citi card and they denied me because I increased fewer than six months ago, and I was like “your loss, now you don’t get my business.” Except then I remembered that I never intent to pay them any money, so…

      Liked by 1 person

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