Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dave Ramsey, How (And Why) Do I Love Thee?

I love Dave Ramsey. I do. I love him.

This might sound strange, given that Dave Ramsey is pretty much my antithesis: a good ol' boy from Tennessee who assumes that everyone in the whole entire world is straight and Christian (occasionally he mentions Jews, but mostly only to affirm that Jews, like Christians, believe in tithing). He inveighs against the evils of pot-smoking (you'll never be a success if you smoke pot, even moderately) and cohabitation. Occasionally he mentions that New York City is "a very different culture" and not somewhere he'd care to live. He calls the IRS "the KGB" and complains regularly about the "unfair tax burden" shouldered by the rich, which is oh, so perilously close to the "goddamn socialist Congress and its liberal wealth redistribution!" thing.

So why do I love him so much?

Basically, because he gives incredibly accessible advice that prioritizes people over money. One of his regular answers is "You don't have a money problem, you have a [marriage/career/personal] problem," which typifies his belief that most serious financial problems are manifestations of nonfinancial problems (or, as he says, "debt it just a symptom"). He takes a holistic approach to debt reduction, focusing on behavioral change rather than on math tricks. People argue against his Debt Snowball technique of paying your debts in order of balance, smallest to largest, because it loses a little money in interest rates, but Dave argues that no debt reduction technique saves you money if you don't do it and that his plan is designed to provide periodic positive reinforcement. At the end of each show, he reminds his listeners that "the only way to true financial peace is to walk daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus." If you substitute, say, "live a good life" for the religious bit, you lose the wordplay but gain an aphorism with which I'm totally, completely, 100% on board.

He also focuses on the bigger picture: the ultimate goal of his financial program is "changing your family tree." While many people who affect a similar down-home common-sense demeanor argue against financial help for children over 18 and even against paying for your children's education, Dave prioritizes saving for college and advocates "being a blessing" to family members (those who are managing money well, at least) with the knowledge that providing your children with college educations free of debt puts them in a position to provide more abundantly for themselves and their own children. That, and his stated opinion that payday lenders "oppress the poor" hint, at least in my head, at an ideology that recognizes the socioeconomic role of debt and consumerism and that embraces opportunity as well as the oft-abused doctrine of personal responsibility.

I also find him charming, just as a human. I like that he doesn't talk down to anyone. I like that he's blunt but compassionate, that he manages to bond with people over having done dumb things without making anybody feel that doing dumb things makes them dumb people. I like his instinctive ability to find the real issue. I think he's totally brilliant at transfering people's focus, making achieving financial success a goal in and of itself, an exciting thing worth focusing on, something for which one sacrifices gladly.

Ultimately, I think he just does good things: I think he empowers people to live fulfilling lives and improve their children's prospects. I think he encourages people to consider their values and focus on the important things without using "there are more important things than money" as a way to undermine themselves. Even though we're really different, Dave Ramsey and I, what I really agree with is his perspective on money.


Solitary Dancer said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. I have come to really like Dave Ramsey in spite of himself.


Chris Thomas said...

A lot of times people who don't ascribe to the same spiritual beliefs as Dave will discount his message and automatically toss him in with every other "Christian" they've encountered in their life. I'm glad you see Dave for the person he really is. He really does care about people. He really does want what's best for them. He really does want them to change their family tree. Outstanding post.

finance girl said...

I wish I would have heard Dave Ramsey 17 years ago, would have really impacted me to not buy new cars, lots of clothes, and instead fund my future.

oh well, better late than never!

I do like Dave's message, including his "pay your house off" message which so many people don't think about aiming for.

J.D. said...

Brilliant post.

I'm working on my own paean to Ramsey. As you may recall, you and I have very similar worldviews/philosophies, and yet I'm drawn to Ramsey and his appraoch. It's spot-on, in my opinion. I think the poeple who complain that his advice isn't optimal miss the point. He's not about optimization. He's about good. Does that make sense?

Anyhow -- great post. I'll link back to it from mine (which may be days or weeks in coming -- I'm waiting for a response from This American Life, because I've written to ask permission to post the Dave Ramsey show they did...)