You win with money the same way you learn to walk one step at a time. That's where the 7 Baby Steps come in. Here's the process:
Baby Step 1: Save $1,000 for Your Starter Emergency Fund
In this first step, your goal is to save $1,000 as fast as you can. Your emergency fund will cover those unexpected life events you can't plan for. And there are plenty of them. You don’t want to dig a deeper hole while you’re trying to work your way out of debt!
Baby Step 2: Pay Off All Debt (Except the House) Using the Debt Snowball
Next, it’s time to pay off the cars, the credit cards, and your student loans. Start by listing all of your debts except for your mortgage. Put them in order by balance from smallest to largest—regardless of interest rate. This is called the debt snowball method, and you’ll use it to knock out your debts one by one.
Baby Step 3: Save 3–6 Months of Expenses in a Fully Funded Emergency Fund
You’ve paid off your debt! Don’t slow down now. Take that money you were throwing at your debt and build a fully funded emergency fund that covers 3–6 months of your expenses. This will protect you against life’s bigger surprises, like the loss of a job or your car breaking down, without slipping back into debt.
Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of Your Household Income in Retirement
It's time to get serious about retirement—no matter your age. Take 15% of your gross household income and start investing it into your retirement. Start with your company’s 401(k) plan and receive the full employer match. Invest the rest into Roth IRAs—one for you and one for your spouse (if you’re married).
Baby Step 5: Save for Your Children’s College Fund
By this step, you've paid off all debts (except the house) and started saving for retirement. Next, it's time to save for your children’s college expenses (that is, if they make it through Algebra II and Chemistry unscathed). We recommend 529 college savings plans or ESAs (Education Savings Accounts).
Baby Step 6: Pay Off Your Home Early
Now, bring it all home. Baby Step 6 is the big dog! Your mortgage is the only thing between you and complete freedom from debt. Can you imagine your life with no house payment? Any extra money you can put toward your mortgage could save you tens (or even hundreds) of thousands in interest.
Baby Step 7: Build Wealth and Give
You know what people with no debt can do? Anything they want! The last step is the most fun. You can live and give like no one else! Keep building wealth and become insanely generous. Leave an inheritance for your kids and their kids. Now, that's what we call leaving a legacy!