Money expert Ramit Sethi shares his 3-step strategy to save money while eliminating debt

On Wednesday, Ramit Sethi, personal finance coach and best-selling author of “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” took over the CNBC Make It Instagram page to answer reader questions and offer financial advice.

During the live Q&A session, Sethi fielded questions from CNBC Make It Instagram followers on everything from how to earn more to how to start a business to how to save money while eliminating debt.

If you missed Sethi’s live stream, here’s a recap of his best advice. Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Is it safe to purchase a house right now?

Sethi: Cash is king and you do not want to tie up a ton of cash in an expense without knowing what’s going to happen.

What is the best book to learn about investing?

Sethi: “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” of course! Pick up the book. You’ll learn everything you need to know about money.

What’s the No. 1 thing you wish you would have done in your 20s but didn’t?

Sethi: Be spontaneous! It’s good to have plans … but sometimes you have to do something that feels good without knowing where it may lead.

I got $10,000 from my tax refund, a college student says. What should I do with the money?

Sethi: This is a good time to put that toward a one-year emergency fund. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Yes, you have a long time horizon and for someone who’s young, you have major opportunities in the future with investing. But right now, cash in your pocket is more important than potential cash down the road. Save it and you can start investing slowly over the long term.

What’s the best way to be productive while in quarantine?

Sethi: When you fast forward, whether it’s two months, three months, six months, I want you to be able to look back and say, What did I make of this time? In the early days right now, a lot of it is just about survival. How do we get things set up? Are we equipped on food? Do we feel safe? We need to do that stuff first. But after that, we want to look back and say, Did I make an opportunity of this? What skills did I learn? I’ve always said if I had more time, I would pick up another language. This is that chance.

My recommendation is to put 30 minutes in your calendar each day for that long-term goal that you’ve always wanted to do. Is it to learn a language? Is it to plan out a trip that you are going to take in the future? Whatever it is, create an opportunity so that once this is over and we go back to our new normal, we can look back and say, I’m proud of myself for what I accomplished.

What is the best way to save while also paying off student loans and credit card debt?

Sethi: There are three parts here: C.E.O. The first is cut costs. The second is earn more. And the third is optimize your spending. Let’s go through them.

To cut costs is one you are familiar with. You should cut costs and you should have somebody else look at your expenses. They’ll quickly be able to tell you 10% to 15% more that you could cut.

The second and more important part is ‘E,’ [which stands for] ‘earn more.’ See, there’s a limit to how much you can cut, but there’s no limit to how much you can earn. Whether it is negotiating your salary when things get back to a new normal or whether it is starting a business right now so you can increase your earnings, that’s powerful.

The final point is ‘O,’ [which stands for] ‘optimize your spending.’ Call up your credit card companies … call up your student loan companies and ask them to work with you. Make sure they levy no finance or interest charges.

What are the best and worst pieces of financial advice you’ve heard?

Sethi: Let’s start with the worst: Cut back on lattes! Guys, saving $3 a day is not going to change your financial life in a material way. It’s all focused around no. No, you can’t buy lattes. No, you can’t go out. No, you can’t buy jeans. You can’t do anything! Maybe, if you save for the next 80 years, maybe then, you’ll be able to come out of that cave and live life. I hate that. I want to live a rich life where money is about saying ‘yes.’

My best advice is to do the fundamentals. Automate your savings and investments and remember a rich life is lived outside the spreadsheet. That means travel, that means relationships, that means feeling safe enough to take risks.

How do you start a business if you are not sure which idea will sell?

Sethi: A simple way to do it is to ask your friends, Right now, what is something that you come to me for advice on? So you’re known as the person who’s really good at keeping your apartment organized or who’s really good at relationship advice. Write those answers down and ask 10 people. You’ll be surprised by the end of the day how much you’re really good at that you never even thought of.

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