Updated on 02.20.07

The Total Money Makeover: Buy or Don’t Buy?

Trent Hamm

The Total Money MakeoverThis week, The Simple Dollar is conducting a detailed review of radio host Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. This book is basically a printed distillation of Dave’s “financial preacher man” style on his radio show. Is there serious meat to be found here, or is it a bunch a fluff around a few small ideas? Let’s find out.

Before you decide on whether or not to buy this book, I want you to answer yes or no to the following five questions.

1. Have you ever read a general (non-financial) self-help book and enjoyed it?
2. Are you completely lost with your financial situation and want a firm, clear, and simple guiding hand?
3. Have you ever listened to and enjoyed Dave Ramsey’s radio show?
4. Are you a practicing Christian?
5. Do you find anecdotal evidence to be more enlightening than detailed instruction?
I recommend that you buy this book if you answered “yes” more often than you answered “no,” and I also recommend that you don’t buy this book if you answered “no” more often than you answered “yes.” Sound strange? Let’s break it down.

First of all, this whole book is written like a self-help book. It’s not written in the more dry and informative style of many personal finance texts. Dave is up there preaching the truth of personal finance success, and if you’re open to it, he’ll take you along for the ride.

Second, the advice is very basic and direct. The Total Money Makeover plan is about as simple as it is going to get when it comes to personal finance. If you’re really lost and most personal finance advice seems over your head, Dave can probably help.

Third, it comes off like a continuation of Dave’s radio show. If you’ve heard Dave’s show on the radio, what was your gut reaction to it? If you liked it, you’ll like this book; if not, then you’ll probably find this book less than compelling as well.

Fourth, there are some Christian overtones. Dave quotes Bible verses multiple times each chapter. If this makes you uncomfortable, you’ll probably have a wave of feeling uncomfortable every fifteen pages or so; if it’s fine, this is a non-issue.

Fifth, the evidence for success relies heavily on anecdotes. Unlike the conclusions in many personal finance books, which offer raw numbers and walk you through calculations to show you how to do it on your own, Dave’s ideas are often supported by anecdotes. Admittedly, most of the ideas are easy enough to grasp that you won’t need a calculator, but the flood of personal stories from hundreds of people is almost overwhelming at times.

I enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to many people, but not to everyone. It’s a great, simple methodology for getting your money in line, and Dave is an enthusiastic promoter of the message.

You can jump quickly to the other parts of this review of The Total Money Makeover using these links:
The First Steps
Building Wealth
Buy or Don’t Buy?

The Total Money Makeover is the fifth of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.

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  1. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    I only meet two of your criteria (or maybe one-and-a-half), yet I think this books is invaluable to anyone in debt and seeking a way out. I loved it. It was key in setting me on the right path. Of course, I did borrow it from a friend, and only purchases it later when I found I was referring it all the time for articles… :)

  2. mary says:

    I passed this book several times thinking it was too simplistic (my background is engineering and I’m a number crunching FREAK!)

    My husband bought it accidentally so I couldn’t pass a fun, quick read. We had paid off all our consumer debt a few years and used credit cards paying the balances off each month. We weren’t making any progress towards our financial goals. Dave Ramsey says do not use credit cards PERIOD! At this stage of my life, I can see why. You overspend – I even put a post it note on each card so I could track my spending and it just doesn’t work for us.

    I also saw the envelope system as all or nothing. I wrote software for our family that allocates our income into electronic “envelopes” and we base our spending on how much money is in a particular category instead of the bottom line number in our checking account. This works well except for abouut 3 categories that probably most struggle with: food, miscellaneous and my personal allowance.

    TMM taught me that any problem category should be on a cash envelope system. Again this has been a fabulous solution for our family finances.

    Dave Ramsey rules! He understands the problems that average families face and has tools to solve those problems that are easy to implement and that work very well.

  3. Michelle says:

    I would like to comment that even being a “nonreligious” couple, we were able to to just skim over any religious aspects of Dave’s plan. We are intending on “giving” to different charities of our choice rather than to a church. I think that although Dave is very much into giving to the church of your choice, he is also very good at not “cramming” religion down your throat. AND that was a good choice on his part. I know most of my family has read this book and most of us are not religious and have enjoyed it and have gained great financial knowledge.

    Even though the plan may seem “so simple” to some financial gurus, your average person need simplicity in their lives. This is the perfect plan for us simpletons.

    Thanks Dave


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