Personal finance can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Even the best of us slip up sometimes, and even if we do everything right, something out of control — like the 2008 recession — can knock us right off track again. That’s where the Superheroes of Personal Finance come in. These personal finance gurus are experts in the field, and at a moment’s notice, they can fly in to save the day. But even more important than that, these superheroes can give you the knowledge and the power to save yourself.
Dave Ramsey was born and raised in Tennessee. He got a degree in Finance and Real Estate from the University of Tennessee in 1982, which he put to good use right away: he started a real estate company and by age 26 it was worth more than $4 million, with Ramsey himself having a net worth of over a million dollars.
Unfortunately, that’s when the bottom fell out for him. Ramsey had a lot of debt in his business, and when one of the banks came calling to collect on a loan, he wasn’t able to pay. He had to file for bankruptcy and it nearly ruined him by the time he was 30.
Ramsey took time to learn all he could about money, and he decided that he was the source of his money problems: his borrowing habits had put him at the mercy of his creditors, and he felt like he had no one to blame but himself for what happened. He took the lessons he learned and started counseling people at his church – the start of a close connection between his religious and financial beliefs. He founded the Lampo Group – which would later be renamed Ramsey Solutions – to grow his counseling business, went on to publish and sell his first book Financial Peace on his own, and eventually started a financial advice segment on The Money Game radio show.
Ramsey eventually took over the show and after it became popular and was syndicated nationally, changed its name to The Dave Ramsey Show. It remains one of the most popular radio shows in the country
In addition to his radio show, Ramsey has continued to write books. He also offers classes to teach money habits, such as Financial Peace University, which he bills as "a biblically based curriculum that teaches people how to handle money God’s way," The Legacy Journey, and Foundations in Personal Finance, which is geared toward students.
He’s everywhere. Information and advice is a lot more useful if you have access to it. And when it comes to Dave Ramsey, he’s not hard to find. The Dave Ramsey Show is on 550 radio stations nationwide, and online, and it’s available as a podcast. It has 11 million weekly listeners. Or, you can stream the video anytime you want. The Dave Says column is published on his site every week. He’s published 11 books, along with 6 children’s books. He also speaks to crowds of hundreds. Basically, if you can’t listen to, watch, or read Dave Ramsey, it’s because you aren’t trying to, not because it isn’t available to you.
He’s faith-based. Ramsey doesn’t hide his faith, as evidenced by the products he sells and the language he uses. Faith is an important part of the lives of millions of people, and Ramsey is reaching an audience for whom faith is inseparable from financial responsibility. Positioning his Financial Peace University course, for instance, as a way to teach "God's ways of handling money," gives a certain subset of people a stronger connection to their money than something like "Hey, you should really avoid debt" does, and any way to connect with people to educate them about their finances is good.
He believes in self-restraint. Ramsey’s personal story took a turn when he realized what the source of his financial problems by looking in the mirror: himself. He tells his fans the same thing, that they’re the cause of the issues they’re having. This obviously isn’t always true (which is something Ramsey’s detractors say, and we’ll get to that in a bit) because a lot of things can happen that an individual has no control over. But telling people they’re the cause of their problems has a flipside – that they’re the solution to it, too. It makes people accountable for their financial decisions and gives them confidence that they can turn around their current situation and make things better.
So back to that point about people’s financial responsibility. Some critics of Ramsey use this an example of a disconnect that he has with understanding the money problems that affect some people. For example, he talks a lot about unchecked spending and unnecessary debt, but for a lot of people it’s just expensive to be alive. Incomes have mostly stagnated and basic costs, like food, have gone up, so times are tough for people no matter how much they cut back. He also doesn’t adequately account for accidents or emergencies that can wipe out savings quickly. Ramsey takes an absolutist view of money problems – you are the cause – while seeming to disregard that sometimes it isn’t the person’s fault.
Ramsey’s seeming hypocrisy over bankruptcy is also a point of contention among people. Ramsey claimed bankruptcy when his real estate business went under; he says that he doesn’t want other people to have to go through this, so he tells people not to do it. But other experts see bankruptcy as a valuable tool and note that by following Ramey’s advice people dip into money that would be protected in bankruptcy, like retirement accounts, to pay off debts, which can be worse for their long term financial situation – another example of the disconnect between the general advice Ramsey gives and what works for certain individuals.
Ramsey hates debt. Like, really hates it. One of his favorite Bible verses is Proverbs 22:7: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender." The only sort of debt that Ramsey deems appropriate is a home mortgage – and even then, he only considers a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage a good deal and rails against 30-year mortgages. He also tells people to ditch their credit cards and work solely with cash. He’s even encourages a system of cash envelopes where you withdraw money, put it into the envelope for its task – groceries, for instance – and that’s all you have for the month. Once you spend it, it’s gone.
How much does Dave Ramsey hate debt? You can’t buy any of the products on his site with a credit card. Debit card? Cool. Bank draft? Yep. PayPal? Sure. Credit card? No way. It’s kind of admirable that he’d accept what probably amount to a lot of lost sales just to stick to his principles regarding debt.
What annoys Ramsey the most about debt is how pervasive and accepted it is, like it’s just a part of modern living, when he feels it doesn’t have to be. A popular Dave Ramsey bumper sticker says "Debt is normal. Be weird." It’s a nice, succinct way to wrap up his thoughts on the matter.
This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about Dave Ramsey. One of our previous posts about him started with a simple piece of advice: don’t ever, ever suggest whole life insurance to him. He isn’t a fan. He’s gotten into arguments on-air with insurance agents who suggest whole life insurance. He calls it one of the worst financial products available. Now, he’s not against all life insurance – he thinks term life insurance is a great way to protect yourself and your family – but seriously, if you ever find yourself in conversation with Ramsey, maybe avoid talking about whole life insurance.
Remember how much Ramsey hates debt? It’s only natural, then, that he hates debt collectors just as much. A quick sampling of what he’s said about debt collectors: "You know they are lying if their mouths are moving." "These people are your worst nightmare." "The last person in the world you want to talk to is a debt collector."
Ramsey also isn’t a fan of people – or, rather, their inability to make good financial choices on their own. Again, this goes back to his idea that people cause their own problems. For example, he called the student loan crisis a "parenting problem" because parents don’t save enough and insist on sending their kids to expensive private universities when public colleges (or even community colleges) can give a good education for a fraction of the cost. That may be ignoring outside influences that are causing the cost of higher education to rise, but Ramsey has definitely set a high bar for people.
The most common place to find Dave Ramsey is The Dave Ramsey Show – which, again, isn’t hard to do.
His website is the easiest way to do it. You can stream the audio and video of his show, listen to his podcast, or download the official show app. If you’d rather listen on the radio, you can find one of the 500+ stations that carry the show instead.
Or you can purchase any of his 11 books. Financial Peace was the first book he wrote, self-published and sold out of his trunk in 1992 before being picked up by a publisher in 1997, and it got an updated version in 2003. If you want the basics of what Dave Ramsey is all about, it’s a good place to start.
The Total Money Makeover is Ramsey’s most popular book, having sold over 4 million copies by itself. It’s more or less a "best of" of Ramsey’s financial advice, touching on paying off debt through the "snowball" method, setting up an emergency fund, and more. Fans of his show who want a hard copy of his regular advice should pick it up and consider getting the workbook if they need help putting his ideas into practice.
For entrepreneurs, EntreLeadership is all about how Ramsey built the Lampo Group and Ramsey Solutions into a multi-million dollar business. It’s not nearly as focused on personal finance as his other books, opting instead for leadership and business strategies.
Finally, for the parents out there, Ramsey co-authored Smart Money Smart Kids with his daughter Rachel Cruze, a popular finance personality in her own right, that talks about money moves you can make for your family while teaching your kids about "spending, saving, and giving."
You can find Dave Ramsey on his website, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also catch him on The Dave Ramsey Show and in bookstores.