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Seven steps to living the life of your dreams

For more than 20 years, I've had the honour of helping millions of families take control of their money and stop drowning in debt. It's been awesome to see so many people change their lives.

Early on, however, I noticed a pattern with the people I was counselling and the callers on my radio show. The thought of getting out of debt was overwhelming to them. The pile of debt in front of them seemed too big, and they didn't know how to start.

That's why I created the Baby Steps. These seven money markers are designed to get you out of debt and show you how to build the kind of wealth you always dreamed of. But taking control of your money doesn't happen overnight. The Baby Steps are based on the idea that you can accomplish anything if you take it one step at a time.

Baby Step 1: Save $1,000 in a beginner emergency fund

Life happens. Transmissions blow and dryers burn out. An emergency fund takes care of these not-so-happy surprises. Don't be one of the 60 per cent of Americans who can't cover unexpected expenses. Having $1,000 set aside just for emergencies puts a little buffer between you and the “Check Engine” light on your dashboard.

Step 2: Pay off all debt with the debt snowball

List all your debts except your house from smallest to largest by balance. Make minimum payments on all of them except the smallest one, and attack that one with a vengeance. Put every dollar you can get your hands on toward that smallest debt and get it out of your life for good. Once the first one is out of the way, take that money and add it to the next debt on the list. Keep going all the way down the list, one debt at a time. Every time you pay off one debt, you have more money to throw at the next one. That's what we call it the Debt Snowball: As the snowball rolls over, it picks up more snow. By the time you get near the bottom of your debt list, it starts to look like an avalanche. You'll be debt-free faster than you ever thought possible.

Step 3: Build a fully funded emergency fund of three to six months of expenses

Once you're out of debt except your house, go back to that little emergency fund and beef it up to a full three to six months of expenses. At that point, you have no debts other than the mortgage, and you have $10,000—15,000 in the bank just for emergencies. Life starts to feel a little different here, doesn't it?

Step 4: Invest 15 per cent of household income into retirement

With no debt and a big emergency fund, you've finally freed up your greatest wealth-building tool: your income. So now it's time to focus on your retirement dream. Once you hit Baby Step 4, I want you to start investing 15 per cent of your income into your 401(k) and Roth IRA.

Step 5: College funding for children

After you've gotten your retirement fund going strong, it's time to think about college for the kiddos. I recommend the Education Savings Account (ESA). Most families can save up to $2,000 a year in an ESA. If you want to do more, you can also check out a 529, but only choose a 529 that leaves you in control of your investments.

Step 6: Pay off your house

Now it's time to reach for the golden ring. Keep going. Don't stop now. How cool would it be if you actually owned your home instead of the bank? Then do it. Put every extra dollar in the budget toward paying off the mortgage early.

Step 7: Build wealth and give

Baby Step 7 is my absolute favourite because it's the most fun. With zero debt and a big emergency fund, you can now build wealth, give like crazy to good causes, and leave an incredible legacy for your family. This is the goal.

If there's one thing I've learnt from working with millions of families, it's this: Your situation isn't hopeless. With a lot of hard work and determination, anyone can get out of debt and build wealth. Because when you live like no one else, you can truly live and give like no one else.

*Dave Ramsey is America's trusted voice on money and business. He's authored five New York Times best-selling books: Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover, EntreLeadership and Smart Money Smart Kids. “The Dave Ramsey Show” is heard by more than 8.5 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations. Follow Ramsey on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

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Published August 22, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 21, 2015 at 9:46 pm)

Seven steps to living the life of your dreams

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