I am not a farmer, nor have I played one on TV, nor have I slept at a Holiday Inn Express in the last month. Thus I cannot pretend to know all the benefits and challenges that today's small farmers face. What I can do, though, is receive questions by email, and then offer them up to my readers for opinions and advice.
Here's the question I received:
It's hard for me to lay out what Dave's response to this would be; in the end, I'm just making an educated guess. But here's what I'd guess:
Each year youíre borrowing money to run your business (farming). What you hope is that your yearly crop will provide enough revenue to pay back the loan, the interest, cover any other costs of doing business ... and also provide you with income over and above all this.
Dave Ramseyís overriding idea is that we all should save enough money so that we DONíT have to borrow at all. Ever. For anything. This would apply to your business interests also: Save up money, control costs like crazy, earn extra on the side somehow, sell stuff, or whatever — accumulate savings so that you donít have to borrow to get the farm, or store, or shop up and running each year.
Or, put another way: Accumulate money, setting some aside each month and each year in what is essentially a Freedom-Account-like concept, so that you have to borrow less and less each following year ... on your way to eventually having to borrow nothing. At that point, you're entirely self-sufficient, and surviving on the merits of your own capital and skills.
As I glanced back through my copy of Total Money Makeover (review) tonight, I couldn't find anyplace where Dave made exceptions to his plan for folks with "out of the ordinary" occupations, or for self-employed persons. He does mention that such situations create an even deeper need for strict budgeting (thanks to uneven incomes over time).
I know this: Ramsey displays a definite affection for businesses which are run debt-free, and he isn't shy to declare the merits of such. Farming is a business like any other, and it's subject to cyclical risks (and rewards) like any other.
Is there a difference between debt used to finance a business (farming, in this case) and debt used to finance the purchase of consumer stuff? Absolutely there is. We take on the first in order to (hopefully) earn a return; we take on the second often because we're impatient, immature, or we simply didn't plan very well.
But just because one reason for taking on debt might be "better" than another, it doesn't mean we're in the clear. Leverage, regardless of its intended use, brings risk in the door. (Yes, even small-time ventures like credit-card arbitrage.)
Besides: Farming is a tough gig, no matter how you look at it. Why rely on the bank to finance your livelihood if you don't have to?
And so, Dear Reader, I'm asking for any and all thoughts on this topic. What guidance might you offer to the couple who emailed me — a couple who has apparently (like so many farming families) relied on leverage every year to get their noble pursuits off the ground?
Labels: Dave Ramsey