This week, The Simple Dollar is deconstructing five top personal finance and investing pundits and asking the big questions about their track record and their message.
Quite often, I find myself listening to streaming audio of Dave Ramsey’s radio show on weekday afternoons (I usually listen via NewsTalk AM 1270). His message is very similar day in and day out, but it’s a message that is apparently not being followed by many Americans, based on the way many people live and throw their money about. Is his message worth listening to?
In the 1980s, Ramsey was heavily involved in the foreclosure real estate market, and by the age of 26, he had a rental real estate portfolio worth more than four million dollars. However, he lost it all: the Tax Reform Act of 1986 brought about major changes in the real estate market and forced bankers to take a closer look at people they were lending money to – and Ramsey got burned. He lost everything and started over from scratch.
After that disaster, Ramsey became involved in personal finance advising, founding the Lampo Group (a financial advice group) in 1991 and starting a syndicated radio talk show in 1992. Books, media appearances, and seminars soon followed.
Dave’s message is quite simple: avoid debt at all costs. His entire message revolves around escaping debt in all forms, including credit card debt, auto loans, and even home loans. If you can’t afford to buy it, you shouldn’t be buying it.
In order to provide a framework for getting started down this path, Dave offers a series of seven baby steps to follow:
1. Start a “beginner” emergency fund of $1,000
2. Start and complete a “debt snowball,” except for a house mortgage
3. Create a fully funded emergency fund equal to six months of salary
4. Invest 15% of your gross income in 401(k)s (up to the match), Roth IRAs, and then in mutual funds
5. Fund some portion of your child’s college education
6. Pay off the home mortgage
7. Build wealth by investing a significant amount of your income once you have no debt at all
Dave repeatedly preaches these seven steps in all of his various books, programs, and seminars.
One interesting aspect of Dave’s message that alienates some of his potential audience (but endears him to others) is his regular use of Christian themes and biblical quotes in his radio show, his books, and his other appearances. The references are not overwhelming, but for some they seem very anachronistic in an ever more secular society.
If you’re really lost and looking for someone to lead you to a better financial path, Dave Ramsey might be the best choice out there. However, if you’re already on the path to success, Dave can often seem trite and repetitive.
Dave has two major skills that work in his favor:
One, he has a strong evangelistic ability. His oratory skills are very strong and he has the ability to make you believe in his system. Scoff if you will, but that is a very powerful force.
Two, his plan is very simple – but fundamentally sound. Dave makes something that is very challenging for many people (if it wasn’t challenging, everyone would be in great financial shape) and breaks it down to the point where it seems much easier.
For me, Dave was a big help when I was completely lost; without him, I might not have been able to turn things around. Now that I’m headed down the path and focused on it, quite often Dave’s messages seem really simplistic. This, of course, is likely the result of my mind’s desire to overanalyze everything.
The bottom line: As long as you don’t have a deep aversion to Christianity, Dave’s ideas are fundamentally sound, though he pulls the belt pretty tight.