Dave Says: Focus on the debt first, then save and invest

Dear Dave,

My husband and I have paid off all our credit card debt, and we are following your Baby Steps plan. We still owe about $40,000 on two cars, and our combined income is around $150,000. Since we have a good income, we were thinking about finishing our emergency fund and contributing to our IRAs while we finish off the car payments. Under the circumstances, is this okay?


Dear Paola,

I understand the temptation you guys are facing. But there’s a power in behavior modification on a short-term basis that supersedes the power of mathematics. Stick to the plan, and pay off the cars first.

When you’re still on Baby Step 2, you need to stop all saving and investing, and attack your debts with a vengeance. You’ve got a lot of money wrapped up in cars, and even with all the great work you two have done I know it’s probably still a little hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. Debts that large can be intimidating.

But I’m afraid you’ll lose focus and intensity when it comes to getting out of debt if you worry about your emergency fund and setting aside for retirement too soon. I’ve seen that happen to lots of people, and when it does it can end up taking several years to get rid of all that debt.

You guys have made great progress, and you’re making good money. If you stay gazelle-intense about getting out of debt, those car payments can be history in about a year and a half. Think about how fast you can get that emergency fund in place then, and how much money you’ll have freed up to go into retirement.

Now is the time to roll up your sleeves, get mad about all that stupid debt and knock it out once and for all. You can do this, Paola!

— Dave