When it comes to personal finance, Dave Ramsey is in a class of his own.
He has built an empire based on his thoughts and opinions regarding personal finance. His radio show is incredibly popular. His books are best sellers. He holds live events that routinely sell out. He has a trademarked personal finance course, a financial coaching course, an app, a podcast, multiple social media accounts, and a whole list of affiliated financial professionals. He’s brought in a number of people into his network, including his daughter Rachel Cruze.
He is a household name that has made an undeniable impact in the world of personal finance. If you don’t know much about him and you’re interested in learning how to take control of your finances, you should probably get to know him a little better.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Even after paying off the last of our non-mortgage debt (good-bye Sallie Mae!), I felt unsettled. It was great that we reached this financial goal, but I had a nagging feeling that we could be doing better. The problem was, I didn’t really know where to start.
Then I stumbled on Dave Ramsey’s podcast. I was instantly hooked….how could you not begin to imagine your debt-free life after hearing the Debt Free Scream? In case you’re not familiar with the Debt Free Scream: Dave interviews people that have recently become debt free (not necessarily including their mortgage). They can either phone in, or they make the trek to his studio in Nashville, TN with one mission: to scream the words “I’M DEBT FREE!” into the microphone after a little synopsis of their story.
If you’re even a tiny bit motivated about paying off your debt, go ahead and give his show a listen. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start dreaming of your own debt-free scream.
LOOKING PAST THE SCREAM
So here I was, listening to these people screaming into a microphone and feeling so happy for them. I was even motivated to start paying off our mortgage sooner rather than later. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I was craving more information regarding personal finance.
Like I said, we had already paid off our student debt. And sure, putting some extra money towards the mortgage was an option to further attack our debt. But what about all of the other pieces of the personal finance puzzle?
What I was yearning to learn more about was how to prepare for the future. Specifically, how to save for retirement, how to save for my kids’ college education, how to invest properly in a tax efficient way, and how to balance all of this while we’re trying to live and enjoy our lives in the here and now. Where was the complete picture outside of debt?
Also, I couldn’t help but think about my veterinary colleagues, the ones that were still deeply in student loan debt. I had reached the other side, but I kept reading reports that the debt to income ratio was climbing every year, at what seems like an unsustainable pace. How do you account for this kind of student debt so early in life?
These are not the types of questions that get a lot of air time in his radio show. Looking back, I understand why. It’s much easier to focus on one subject: debt. Bringing other personal finance topics into the conversation complicates matters, and I’m sure that his focus is to keep his message as simple as possible.
CONNECTING WITH HIS MESSAGE
Much like other celebrities, Dave Ramsey has his avid followers and harsh critics. Strong personalities naturally attract strong reactions from other people. It’s very easy to brush someone off because of their personality, but I try to keep an open mind and really look into the heart of a person’s message. This is similar to how I viewed Suze Orman’s interview on the Afford Anything podcast.
So out of all the financial gurus out there, what makes him so popular? Here are a few reasons why I think he has really struck a chord with so many people:
- He hates debt. He really, truly despises it. To him, debt is an anchor that simply drags you down in life, making it so much more difficult to get ahead. This is why he is so insistent on doing everything possible in order to get rid of your debt so that you can work on building your wealth.
- He shows tough love. When people call into his show, you can hear the hesitation, fear, and guilt in their voices when they reveal how much debt they’re carrying. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy. He doesn’t want to hear your excuses for carrying this debt longer than necessary. He just wants you to work on getting rid of it ASAP. Sugarcoating this message just isn’t going to cut it, and honestly, there are a lot of people out there that need to come to grips with the fact that they’ve made some poor money choices to get to this point.
- He’s methodical. His seven baby steps are crucial to his message. In order for his message to stick, there has to be a very simple, methodical plan to get yourself out of debt. This has proven very popular with his audience. When faced with confusion, people automatically look for some guidance and order. A plan. His seven baby steps serve this purpose nicely.
BUT IF YOU HAVE A LOT OF STUDENT DEBT, WATCH OUT
As much as I like his overall message of getting out of debt, I do think that those who carry a lot of student loan debt are in a special category of their own.
Veterinarians, especially the more recent graduates, are dealing with a LOT of student debt. It’s not unusual to have over $200,000 in student debt alone; now we’re talking mortgage-sized debt. Dave is not a fan of any debt, and student debt definitely does not fall under the category of “good debt” in his eyes. As with all other non-mortgage debt, he basically recommends paying them off ASAP. He also steers people away from forgiveness as an option.
As I mention in this post about forgiveness, as much as I don’t like the idea of stretching out debt for 20-25 years, there are situations where forgiveness makes the most sense mathematically. If you are pursuing forgiveness, you really need to have a solid strategy on how you’re going to make the most of the situation instead of squandering this chance to build wealth.
And as much as I appreciate his tough love approach, people need to realize that an extreme approach to paying off debt may or may not be in their best interest. You have to figure out how long it will take you to pay back your loans and how much discomfort you’re willing to take during that time period.
Some people go to an extreme, where every last penny goes towards debt repayment. First of all, this might not even make sense mathematically. Secondly, this can lead to burnout, and you just end up with someone who is probably cranky and resentful of the entire situation. Kind of like someone trying to lose weight on a very low calorie diet.
I advocate for a more balanced approach. Paying off debt should make your budget feel pinched if you have a short timeline, but when it gets to a point where you feel deprived all the time with seemingly no end in sight, then you need to reconsider how aggressively you’re paying this off and if it’s worth it in the end.
Don’t forget that there are other financial goals that you may have, such as saving for a down payment on a home, saving for retirement, starting a family, becoming a business owner, etc. Your debt is one component of your whole financial picture. You may not be able to address all of these goals at the same time, but you also don’t want to miss out on opportunities to make headway with these goals. It’s so important to run your numbers and make sure that it makes sense for your particular situation.
WANT TO GET RID OF DEBT? DAVE RAMSEY IS A GOOD FIRST STEP
Despite the fact that I don’t 100% agree with his philosophy of paying down debt at all costs, I have to admit that his radio show is a good first step if you need some motivation to pay down debt. He will likely make you feel very badly about any debt that you carry, and soon you’ll start feeling guilty about all of this debt you’ve accumulated. Apparently, feeling guilty can be a great motivator for taking action.
Perhaps even more importantly, you will NOT be rushing off to acquire more debt without thinking really, really hard about it first. I cannot stress this enough. If you’ve considered yourself the type of person that is bad with money, this is a huge turning point. The key to building wealth is to not only dig yourself out of crippling debt now, but it’s also to keep this same mindset and not make the same mistake over and over again.
My kids have already picked up on this message, simply through my words and actions when it comes to money. I’ve overheard them making up stories about being in debt, and the story always ends badly. Debt is basically treated like a four letter word in this household.
(To be fair, there are smart ways to leverage debt to your advantage, but this assumes you already have a good grip on your finances to do this properly. Most of us don’t fall in this category.)
For specifics on how to tackle debt and other Dave Ramsey philosophies, go ahead and check out his bestseller Total Money Makeover. Stay tuned for my book review on this title!