Review: Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money

Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace UniversityDave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re unsure about how to manage money, or have already made some big mistakes and are trying to recover, or just want to brush up on some obscure things, this book will likely help you out.

HOWEVER…it has its flaws, despite the enthusiastic baying of many of Ramsey’s constituents.

I received this book as a very well-intentioned gift to help my new husband and I get our marriage started on the right foot. I’m already persnickety about how I manage my money, so I may not be the ideal audience for this book, but as much as I read about personal finance, I figure there is always room for a little more knowledge.

I did find it practical. Ramsey uses folksy analogies and down-to-earth language to explain the sometimes high-falutin’ financial language that can be a barrier. His strategies are fundamentally simple: don’t be in debt, save money before you buy something. He has undoubtedly helped many people find a workable strategy to put themselves on a path to financial security, and that is to be commended.

But I found parts of the book deeply distasteful. My concerns:

It’s Self-Serving.
You’ve probably heard of Dave Ramsey by now. He has a radio show, a whole series of classes and DVDs, and several books. This book aims to make sure you know who he is–the appearance of his name TWICE on the front cover, as well as the plug-in for his class “Financial Peace University,” is just another way to build his personal brand.

Now, that may be unavoidable–it is a self-help book, after all–but the repeated references back to Ramsey’s personal products, other books, and stuff he’s selling started to make me feel like I was at a flea market (want this? How about this? No? Well, you definitely need one of these!). Ramsey’s a smart marketer; if he can get his hooks into you with this book, he hopes you’ll buy everything he’s ever made.

He Doesn’t Think Much of Women
I’m sure if you spoke to Ramsey–and he seems like a very affable and likeable guy–he would insist that he loves women and that I’m crazy for suggesting this, but his own book would be great evidence against him. Ramsey may like women well enough, but the book repeatedly takes a “that’s nice, little lady” tone. Women are called out repeatedly based on negative female stereotypes–“stop shopping ladies!”–and reminded that they are best in the home with the kids, whereas men are repeatedly held up as the providers, the “real men” who “take care of their families,” the ones who are the responsible ones.

Even when he praises women (mostly via his wife) he is slighting them with more aw-shucks patronizing: following an apocryphal tale of President George H.W. Bush wherein Barbara supposedly gets the upper-hand, Ramsey discusses the way decisions are made in his family–he makes decisions and “if I’m not careful, I’ll just roll right over her when it’s time to make a decision. It’s not that she doesn’t want to contribute…”

Let me finish the line for him: it’s that he’s already made up his mind and his wife’s vote isn’t as important.

This is further shown in his advice, including that married couples have one bank account and one only. That may work out very well for some people, and the more power to them, but having one bank account and no money of their own is one of the most common ways women end up poor: husband leaves, takes all the money and there is nothing in her name (or, she wants to leave, husband takes all the money, etc.) I feel strongly that both spouses need some way to access at least some money without involving the other.

Ramsey does a good job of talking to the reader as if you are just like him. Which is great, and is a sign of excellent persuasive writing! Except. Ramsey is an evangelical Christian, and you may want to avoid this book if you aren’t as well.

Even though I’m a Christian, I must not be the same variety as Ramsey. I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the Bible every other page for awhile there.

And while I am happy that folks have a spiritual life they can tend and enrich themselves with, Ramsey doesn’t even cater to the idea that you may not be the same. The chapter on giving never mentions how to give to charity except through your church. Further, his example about giving exorbitant tips to waitresses on Christmas Eve fell flat with me. He says the only reason a waitress might work that day is because she really needs the money. Well, Dave, I came up with a few other reasons:
-Her boss won’t let her have the day off, and while she doesn’t need the money so much this month, she needs long-term job security, and that means she doesn’t get to pick.
-She’s Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/FSM-ist and doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
-She’s Christian, but is celebrating Christmas in two weeks because that’s when her family can all get together.
-She thinks she’ll get extra tips from the travelers desperate for a meal on Christmas Eve. And besides, it’s generally quiet.

Four reasons I just thought off on the spot! Not everyone is the same as you, man.

Additionally, as an intellectual-type person, it is useless to me when he provides a Bible verse as the reason why I should do something. Sorry, I want evidence. History has shown that Bible verses can be made to fit just about any situation.

Anathema to Debt or Help
This is tricky, because I almost agree with him here, but he takes it to extremes that I find uncomfortable. Ramsey repeatedly insinuates that money should not come to people from the government, and further suggests that putting “burdens” on wealthy people will “make the golden eggs dry up.” I see your Trickle-Down Economics at work, sir. Let’s just say I disagree and found his mixing of politics with finances when it isn’t needed.

But further than that, he is completely 100% opposed to debt. On paper, I agree with him: debt is not a positive, and, particularly for people struggling under a mountain of debt problems, his strategies will be effective. But I think it’s short-sighted.

Debt, in my opinion, is like a pit bull: Sure, it can be awful, but it can also be useful tool when used properly. Much like a pit bull can be one of the meanest fighting dogs out there in the hands of an abusive animal, debt can turn on you quick. But a pit bull well cared-for and attended to will be the sweetest dog in the neighborhood.

I think his “no debt at all” view is problematic in particular for young people. Ramsey’s quite a bit older than me, so perhaps he doesn’t remember, but having zero credit history (yes, that means zero history of debt) will make it hard to get: an apartment to rent; a job (they sometimes check the scores); a car; and, eventually, a mortgage on a house. Zero credit history is treated the same as bad credit history, and refusing to teach people how to handle credit responsibly means young people who end up in a bad spot. Additionally, his “pay cash for everything” strategy is an effective way to get him something else he rails against: kids coming back after college.

One of the things that most upset me in this book was a story from a reader about how her son was going to school, the Dave Ramsey way! It is featured as an example of doing things right, and it hit me like a brick. In this story, a boy works hard in school, gets several scholarships, and his parents have saved money for some of his tuition for college…but it’s not enough. Because they are following Ramsey’s preachings, they don’t get a loan of any kind, but instead pull their son out of college. He was already accepted, but he is forced to withdraw (wiping out, by the way, all that prepaid tuition money).

He goes to community college (which has a drop-out rate of well over 50% right now) and then…drops out after one semester and joins the Navy. The story was submitted before the boy finished, but supposedly he was working on college classes while he was in the Navy. (This story is on page 251)

This story just breaks my heart. It’s not a triumph. This kid was on a path to go to a good school in his state, but his parents dropped him rather than let him take on a loan. As a result, he is working on a ship somewhere far from home. I have a dear friend who went to the Navy, and…it’s not easy. It wasn’t this kid’s real choice. He learned that his parents won’t support him in his future. I feel sorry for him.

The mom says “saying no to college was hard, but it turned out to be a good thing.” Yeah. A good thing FOR HER.

I found copy editing mistakes a few times, which always makes me leery, but then I found a glaring error of fact, which scares me more–a book is a big investment, so the time should be put in accordingly. When it isn’t, it makes me worry about the rest of the content (the mistake is this: Ramsey cites the New King James Bible as the “first in the English language.” It wasn’t. It’s the third, and was created not as a way for folks to access scripture but as a political move to consolidate a divided country.)

In Sum…
This book has exceptionally good advice to help people get out of debt and establish new patterns. It’s written for those who don’t know much of anything about financial planning or organization. The basics are sound, and I found the chapters on insurance and investing basics to be the most informative and helpful. I also like that it comes with budget worksheets in the back.

That said, this book is not for everyone. And I would say that it–and all the rest of the Ramsey brand–absolutely should not be the exclusive place you get advice.

It comes down to what you value. My impression is Ramsey values money (the having, and the dispensing of it) above all else. In order to have money, he advocates sacrificing time, personal interests, sleep, a diverse diet, and educational opportunities for your children. Me? My values are a little different than his. Take his advice, therefore, with a grain of salt.

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2 responses to “Review: Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money

  1. I, personally, am all for responsible use of credit cards, so I don’t agree with Dave Ramsey on that point. With that said, employers cannot see your credit score. They can get a credit report, which will show them if you have negative history that would adversely impact your score, but I’ve never heard of anyone not getting a job because they didn’t have any credit history.

    • Oops, thank you for your correction, my mistake! Of course, would a company ever tell you that wasn’t the reason they hired someone? It’s tough to know, but some places are checking.

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