Proper family budgeting the key to financial peace

December 06, 2004|JOHN T. DAVIS

Since being trained by radio talk-show host and author Dave Ramsey, Ed Ensslin has worked with a number of local families who are drowning in debt.

Though he closed the office of his counseling business, Integrity Financial Counseling, he is still listed on Ramsey's "Financial Peace" Web site as a certified financial counselor and gets three or four calls a month from families who need help.

"I have always approached it primarily as a ministry. I go visit them in their home, and a lot of times that kind of sheds a lot of light on their problems," said Ensslin, adding that frequently there will be an expensive vehicle sitting in the driveway and a four-wheeler in the backyard.

"When they go to the trouble of contacting me, usually they are being harassed by creditors, and quite often they will be behind on their house payment."


It's the combination of credit-card debt and home-equity debt that gets people in trouble, Ensslin said.

"The biggest problem I see with most people is that they have let their credit card and consumer debts get out of hand and they have taken out a home equity loan to pay it off," he said.

Often that just compounds the problem, he said, because they have put their home in jeopardy to pay off their unsecured debt.

"In a short period of time, they have turned around and run up their consumer debt," he said. "So they now have consumer debt and their home equity loan to deal with."

A family budget comes first

To help people, Ensslin first focuses on creating a family budget.

"For most people, it's not that they are spending money on extragavant things," he said. "It's just that they use their credit cards and consumer debt to catch their slack because they don't live on a budget."

The biggest problem he sees with newlyweds or people just starting out on their own is that they attempt to do a budget that does not reflect what their expenses will look like at the end of the month, Ensslin said.

"Typically, for most people, it's a matter of helping them understand how to do a budget that works," he said.

Crucial to that process is realizing that there is "no perfect month," Ensslin said.

"In the process of doing a budget, every month is different, and you have to account for those differences."

Inevitably, he said, people don't account for that spike in a utility bill or back-to-school costs that can throw the family budget out of whack. To avoid that, a budget has to be done at the beginning of every month, and when there is a couple in the home, both have to be involved in the process because one might know about some upcoming expense that the other is not aware of.

A "zero-based budget" emphasized

The Dave Ramsey program emphasizes a "zero-based budget," Ensslin said, in which "you spend every dollar on paper before the month begins.

"If something comes up in the middle of the month you have to adjust your budget," Ensslin said. "To quote Dave, 'You can't print money. You're not the U.S. government.'"

In addition to budgeting, Ensslin shows clients how to manage their cash expenses, such as gas and groceries, and small unforeseen emergencies.

"Those are usually the budget busters," he said.

Ensslin also will help people prioritize their debt reduction and help them learn how to deal with their creditors.

Although the Ramsey program is Bible-based, Ensslin doesn't bring up religion "unless the opportunity presents itself" because he doesn't want people to shy away from getting help with their financial problems.

"If they are struggling emotionally because of their financial problems, I will encourage them to find a good church home," he said.

Ed Ensslin usually charges a "small fee" for his services, partly because it forces families seeking help to "buy into" the process. He also has done group seminars, titled "Get out of debt, stay out of debt, build wealth," for the employees of businesses and government agencies. Ensslin may be reached by phone at (859) 236-2357 or by e-mail at

In addition to doing a radio talk show, Dave Ramsey is the author of the best-selling book "Financial Peace." Ramsey's Web site is

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