I just finished reading The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. It was a book I had initially intended to avoid, due to the author’s insistence on religious importance and his conservative attitude. However; after reading it, i’ve reached the conclusion that it’s 50% solid money advice, 48% experience-based opinions, 1% conservative, and 1% religious. I do not regret reading it. I will pick and choose from it, but I will pick most of it. It’s mostly common sense, structured into a very simple formula for getting out of debt, building a savings, and investing in the future.
I told my brother that I was going to start handling my family’s money. My wife had recently decided that budgeting and paying bills was going to be my new job and I was excited to take on the task. My brother, a catholic conservative, suggested I look into Dave Ramsey’s radio show for advice on money. I did, and was disappointed to hear the show start with a bible quote, contain a few snarky comments about the government, a few pitches at selling things, and ending with his sign-off “The only way to financial peace is to walk daily with the prince of peace, Christ Jesus.” Yeah, I wasn’t impressed. This guy must be selling snake oil to people who watch Fox News all day. But out of fear of being close-minded, I gave the podcast a few more tries, so I could tell my brother with full confidence that it was all bullshit. As i listened, forcing my mind to be open, I started to notice that the system he used, which he calls “baby steps,” sounded pretty underwhelming. That’s my weakness. I’m not good at taking on overwhelming tasks. Giving me a simple blueprint that turns the overwhelming task of financial freedom into something with small attainable milestones… well, now you’re speaking my language. I went to the used bookstore and picked up a copy of his steps to getting out of debt and building wealth: The Total Money Makeover. Ironically, I paid for it with a credit card.
The religious part of Dave Ramsey and his financial advice is not something I completely disagree with, as an Atheist. I don’t think it’s the word of god, but I sort of agree with it. He constantly reminds his listeners and his readers about the second half of Proverbs 22:7, which is “...and the borrower is slave to the lender.” This gives Dave the fuel to “preach” about finance. As with most faith-based teachings, it’s not up for discussion. His mind is made up that the bible teaches that you should not have any debts. Not credit cards, not car payments, not student loans, not mortgages. This gives him a REASON. More likely, it gives him the excuse that he’s not doing all this for book sales, but rather he’s evangelizing. Whatever. If he’s going to preach about money, his audience is going to be the sheep who flock to a sheppard. It’s actually pretty genius. Trying to preach anything to atheists is like trying to herd cats. Naturally his audience is going to be faith based people, and so a bible quote here and there is going to make what he’s saying the authority on the subject. You don’t have to agree with it. If you’re not afraid of borrowing money and paying interest, you can simply disregard Dave’s “commandment” and carry on with the rest of his advice. It is, however, the foundation to his principles. But that’s the extent of the religious aspect. Pretty much just that one bible quote.
Yes, he also suggests you tithe. If you are religious, you know this as giving money to the church. Watch how easy this is: If you aren’t religious, don’t give money to the church. Feel free to give money to charities instead. Or don’t. There, crisis avoided. You can still read his financial advice.
After I got about halfway into the book, I checked back in with my brother. It turns out my brother had not read the book and he wasn’t following the baby steps. As I explained to him the rules suggested in the book, it became clear that my brother actually didn’t agree with Dave Ramsey on almost anything. So I asked him “Why did you recommend this guy to me if you don’t agree/follow his advice?” to which my brother responded “Well, I just like listening to him tell the people who call into his radio show to get their ass off the couch and get a damn job.” It’s an attitude thing. That whole “grit” thing about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is just audio-porn to hardcore conservatives convinced that poverty exists because of laziness and bad priorities. I’m not even getting into that debate right now. But it became clear why conservative people like this guy. Here’s the thing, though: “Spending less money than you make” and “working hard” are not exclusively conservative concepts. So, in that sense, I’d say nothing about this book is “conservative.” Dave thinks you should give the federal government as little taxes as possible. That also means that you should give the federal government every dollar you are required to. I don’t know a single democrat that tries to pay more taxes. So again, this book isn’t conservative. He never mentions what tax rates SHOULD be, but only that you should pay them. Just not a penny more than you legally have to.
This book is strange in that it is 225 pages long but everything you want to learn can be summed up in a pretty short list. He spends the first half of the book just trying to convince you that debt is bad. If you already agree, you can skip to chapter 6. It also is filled with stories of families who have already followed the steps and are telling their story (this book is as old as I am and has been reprinted and updated with these stories many times). If you’re like “Yeah, I get it, it has worked for people” then you can skip those too. They are scattered everywhere throughout the book, so this book reads pretty fast. There are also several full pages of blank budgeting forms for you to use like a worksheet, so again, the actual meat and potatoes of this book is pretty short. Here, look how short I can summarize it:
That’s basically it. There are a lot of details for each step, but you get it. I nice little system to set goals, feel accomplished, and stay on target. It’s not rocket science. Nothing here is probably blowing your mind. It’s just nice to see the path spelled out in black and white. Do this, then do that. A big takeaway for me is just having one thing to focus on at a time. If I start trying to save for my kids college, my retirement, my emergency fund, a car, a house, a vacation…. All at the same time, it will be either overwhelming, or it will seem like there isn’t enough money in the budget to fund anything fast enough. Just being given the permission to temporarily stop investing into everything and instead just focus on one thing at a time, is a big weight off my shoulders. With his method, you do one thing at a time, you do it as fast as possible, and then you never have to do it again. The idea that you haul ass now and go 100% toward one goal at a time gives you a momentum to keep going. And the most rewarding goal would be to have no payments toward any debts, have a bunch of money in savings, and do whatever the hell you want to with your money. Dragging it out just means waiting longer to be able to do whatever you want.
An important thing to note is that these baby steps will not work if you have an income problem. It's another black and white formula: If you're having money trouble, you either spend too much, or you make too little (or both). He doesn't go into what "too much" and "too little" is. So if you are living under the poverty line, making less money than a living wage, these steps aren't likely going to help you. Making more money is going to help you. This is not a book about how to make more money. It's not a book about how to spend less. He gives suggestions, like not paying more than 25% of your monthly income after taxes on rent/mortgage. He suggests selling your car if it's not paid off. He suggests getting a second job delivering pizzas. I can't in good conscience tell a single mother already working 2 jobs that this book is going to help at all. And if you make over $100,000/year, this shouldn't be even remotely challenging for you.
In conclusion, I pretty much recommend this book to anyone who is interested in making a plan and setting goals to getting out of debt and saving money for the future. It’s not religious or conservative enough to disregard the whole thing. And if you don’t want to buy his book, you can read all about the baby steps for free on his website. https://www.daveramsey.com/baby-steps/
Hi, i'm John(ny). I'm a middle-aged(?) husband and dad. I have a video/photo business that fills in all the gaps.