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Column

DEAR DAVE: Don't skimp on your safety net

Dear Dave,

I’m 26 and single, and I have about $35,000 in credit card and student loan debt. I’m only making $20,000 a year right now, but I expect to be making almost $30,000 soon. Under the circumstances, can I get by with $500 in my emergency fund, or do I need to have $1,000 set aside like you recommend in Baby Step 1? I’m worried about keeping up with bills while saving money for my starter emergency fund.

– Thomas

Dear Thomas,

I know it will be tough, but a $1,000 emergency fund should be your first big goal. Also, if you’re not already doing a monthly budget – and spending every dollar on paper before the next month begins – start doing it now! Living on a budget will help you control your money instead of allowing a lack of money to control you. That’s how you can keep up with the bills while you save that first $1,000.

Let’s say you know you’ll be getting two $750 paychecks each month. You go ahead and plan out how to spend that money before you ever get it. Take care of necessities first. I’m talking about food, clothing, shelter, transportation and utilities. After that, make sure you’re current on your debts. Once those things are out of the way, pump every spare dollar you can into your emergency fund. And remember, limit your spending to necessities only.

Start working on that now, Thomas. It’s very important. Remember the old saying about Murphy’s Law, and how anything tha tcan go wrong will go wrong? If you keep living without a plan and no emergency fund, Murphy will hunt you down!

– Dave

This time, don't take Mom and Dad's advice

Dear Dave,

My husband and I are in our twenties, and we work for the same company. We’ve been thinking about going back to school and finishing our degrees, because our employer is willing to pay for up to 10 credit hours, plus books, per semester with no strings attached. My parents think we should get student loans instead, so we can finish faster. We both have less than 2 years to go to complete our degrees, so what do you think?

– Janet

Dear Janet,

Wow, this is a fantastic opportunity! How many times does someone offer to pay for a college degree with no financial strings attached?

I’m sure your folks want what’s best for you, but the truth is you probably couldn’t take more than 9 or 10 hours per semester, work full-time jobs,and keep your relationship and your marriage healthy. If you’ve both got less than two years of school left, it’s not going to take that long, anyway. You’re still young and have plenty of time to make this happen.

I don’t think your parents mean any harm, but they’re wrong on this one. I’ve got a feeling they’re like most people in America today. They’ve spent most of their lives swimming in debt, and they’ve reached a point where they’ve just accepted it and think there’s no other way. To me, that’s sad.

If you and your husband really want to finish your degrees, I’d say the two of you need to march into work tomorrow morning, and take advantage of that wonderful offer. Stay away from debt! 

– Dave

Follow Dave on Twitter (@DaveRamsey), or go to daveramsey.com.

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