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December 15, 2013

It takes intense focus to get out of debt

Dear Dave,

What would you recommend for 401(k) contributions while getting out of debt?

Chaz

Dear Chaz,

I recommend putting a temporary stop to investing while you’re getting out of debt. Lots of people are shocked by this advice, because they’re afraid of missing out on the wonders of compound interest or their employer’s match. But the key word here is “temporary.”

Millions of people have followed and been successful with the program found in The Total Money Makeover. The first step, Baby Step 1, is to save $1,000 as a starter emergency fund. Baby Step 2 is pay off all of your debts, except for your house, from smallest to largest with the debt snowball plan. During this time you’re attacking your debt with incredible intensity and putting every penny you can scrape together toward knocking out debt.

The average person working my plan can pay off all their debt, excluding their home, in 18 to 24 months. Some folks can do it faster, and for some it takes a little bit longer. But during this time I want your financial focus to be squarely on getting out of debt. Once that’s done, you’ll find that you have a lot more control over your biggest wealth-building tool: your income.

Many times in life we try to accomplish too many things at once. One problem with this is often it diminishes our ability to focus. When you spend all your time nickel-and-diming everything, the result is that nothing gets done very well. You need to really move the needle and see results because personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent head knowledge. It’s not really a math issue because if you’d been doing the math all along, you wouldn’t have a bunch of debt.

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