Updated on 07.13.09

The Total Money Makeover: Live Like No One Else

Trent Hamm

This is the twelfth of twelve parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, where this book on debt reduction is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the thirteenth chapter, finishing on page 218.

ttmmThe Total Money Makeover ends with a very brief chapter that includes a few thoughts about what comes next once your finances are rolling along. Since this chapter is just a very brief coda, I’m also tying in my thoughts as a whole on the book, as well as links back to the older entries in the series.

Wealth As a Prison
On page 219, Dave hits upon the idea that it’s not a good idea to let wealth control your life:

The wealthy person who is ruled by his stuff is no more free than the debt-ridden consumer we have picked on throughout the book. Antoine Rivaroli said, “There are men who gain from their wealth only the fear of losing it.”

I think that anything in your life that fills you with more negative feelings than positive ones is a prison. It might be debt. It might be your job. It might be your wealth. It might be anything.

Whatever those things are, you need to eliminate them. If it’s your wealth, you need to give some of it away. Seriously. If it’s your debt, you need to get hard core about repaying it. If it’s your job, you need to focus intensely on a career change. If it’s your marriage, you need to face it and work hard on it.

If you don’t, it’s just another prison. People wonder how I can feel sympathy for famous people – I often do – when they have all of this wealth and stuff. What they don’t have is the freedom to go on a walk in the park. Is it their choice? Sometimes it is, but sometimes they’re trapped by their own fame and their only choice is to completely drop out of their career – and for some, that isn’t even enough (a la Britney Spears, circa 2007, when she was obviously trying to take a time out but kept getting hounded nonstop).

If it’s causing you more hurt than happiness, you need to do something to change it.

A Few Thoughts on the Book in General
Here are a few general thoughts I had on The Total Money Makeover from reading through it again in detail.

First, there’s more than a little “marketing flavor” in this book. Dave makes a lot of references to his other media properties – other books, his DVDs, his radio show, and so on. While I don’t mind it when those other resources are free (like the radio show), it seems a bit disingenuous to talk a lot about saving money while pitching other books and DVDs. I didn’t like this part at all.

Second, some pieces of the book have surprising depth. It’s easy to come away from this book just remembering the big points, like the “baby steps,” and Dave’s folksy tone often disguises things. However, if you peel away that stuff, you find lots of interesting things under the surface, ideas that, if you let them, guide you to reflect deeply on your life in ways you may not expect.

Third, the Christian overtones aren’t as strong as I remembered. On my original reading of the book, I had a perception that it was very full of Christian overtones. Reading it again, I realize the Christian themes are actually pretty sparse. He hits upon a Biblical idea perhaps once a chapter and spends maybe two sentences on it.

Of course, it’s not hard to see the connection between many of the other ideas and general Christian teachings, but if you study religions, you’ll find that many moral teachings are common from religion to religion. Why? I think they’re part of a moral code that exists in most humans, religious or otherwise. Dave’s book calls to the good side of our morals.

Finally, the central theme of this book is obviously “intensity.” If you’re going to do something big in your life, you have to hit it hard. You can’t do it half way. I find this really true in my own life: the things I’ve been successful with (getting my money in order, getting a writing career launched) were things I did with a deep passion and focus.

Do You Want to Know More?
Here are the previous eleven entries in this “book club” series on The Total Money Makeover. Please, dig back into the earlier entries – there are tons of good ideas and comments there.
1. The Challenge … and Denial
2. Debt Myths
3. Money Myths
4. Two More Hurdles
5. Save $1,000 Fast
6. The Debt Snowball
7. Finish the Emergency Fund
8. Maximize Retirement Investing
9. College Funding
10. Pay Off the Home Mortgage
11. Build Wealth Like Crazy

Do you have any other thoughts on this chapter of The Total Money Makeover, the book as a whole, or on how this book club went? Please share them in the comments – and feel free to respond to any of my impressions as well. After all, a good book club is all about discussion!

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  1. Jamie says:

    I agree with several of the points made regarding the book overall… there’s two that stand out for me.

    1. The marketing tidbits throughout this book were quite annoying and very transparent. It was like obvious brand placement in a major motion picture… we all know what’s going on… someone’s trying to sell me another product.

    2. The Christian overtones were a little shocking. At first it was shocking in a good way. As a Christian myself, I am often in the closet about sharing my faith and how that relates to my life, so I was a little bit impressed by finding this in the book. However, I was a little bit uneasy with it, because I got the sense that Dave is a fundamentalist Christian, which I am not, and I was waiting for one line to appear – hoping that it wouldn’t. Then, near the end of the book, Dave has a paragraph or two that are summed up as “Jesus wants you to be rich”. That clinched it for me. Religion should have been left out of this book entirely. Because the path that Dave lead us on with scripture quotes, and sharing wealth are seemingly okay, but then it is all unravelled with the result of where he was leading us. Him suggesting that if we, the good people, don’t become rich, then the bad people will, is bad financial sense, bad religious ideology, and bad advice.

    I didn’t know anything about Dave Ramsey before I read this book, and I’m glad I didn’t… or I probably wouldn’t have read it. There was some gems of advice, but some real strikes against the writing. All that aside, I’m doing the Money Makeover… but I’m doing it from my perspective, and not because “Jesus wants me to be rich”.

  2. Geron says:

    I agree that the world religions share essentially the same moral teachings and call on us to become kinder, more loving, more forgiving and more trustworthy people.

    Perhaps the moral teachings of religions are similar not because people have an innate sense of right and wrong, but rather because they all derive their inspiration from the same divine Source. Perhaps the reason why that same moral code exists in most humans is because of education. Religious teachings, either direct or through their influence on social frameworks like laws and cultural norms are the source of this moral code.

  3. Sarah says:

    I read this book and found it had a lot of useful tips, but I also found that it was very focussed on a particular set of people that I didn’t feel I entirely fit into. For example, I don’t think it would be the correct choice for someone my age to be saving the amount of income he suggested for retirement when I also have an employer pension I am paying into. However, overall it was certainly worth reading.

  4. Sara says:

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading the book club articles, even though I wasn’t reading along (*guilty grin*). It was very interesting to read a condensed but still in-depth coverage of the book.

  5. KC says:

    I used to live with an aunt and uncle who were doing quite well. They had part ownership in a yacht in Charleston. Their home on the lake included a swimming pool, lake boat, game room, exclusive gym membership, country club membership, full direct TV package and nice cars. I knew they were making payments on all of these (so they truly couldn’t afford them), but their business was good and they were able to keep up the payments at the time. But what I remember most was how we never had time to “play” with all these toys.

    We were all working people – I had my job with the state, and they were running their business. On weekends if we went to Charleston we neglected the pool, lake house, gameroom, boat, tv, etc. If we stayed home to enjoy the lake we neglected the stuff in Charleston. During the week I tried to use the gym, pool, game room and country club. But there was never enough time to play with all these toys. Of course I enjoyed living with them, but what I took away most is that even if you can afford these things you don’t have time to enjoy them all. It would be best to pick a few things that really give you and your family pleasure, and enjoy the heck out of them!

  6. Someone says:

    Sorry Geron…that’s just not true.

    Ethics is an ancient Greek word, and if you think their gods were ethical, think again. It is a myth that morals come from religion or the “divine.” One can be perfectly ethical or “moral” without that sanctimonious stuff. And for sure, NOT all religions teach love and forgiveness. Not even the Judeo-Christian book is free from atrocious hate and violence. It amazes me what people want to believe about their own culture that is simply not so.

    Anyway…back to the economics discussion!

  7. I really enjoyed the book review series. I didn’t read the book along with the series posting but I have read TTMM in the past. This was a good review and discussion.

    -Gen Y Investor

  8. Paul says:

    Just had a quick comment/thought: As an atheist, I still find lots of good advice in religious teachings/writings.

    I may not believe there’s a higher power, but I still think it’s a really good idea to treat others as you would be treated, and there’s a good bit of solid financial advice in the Bible.

  9. TLS says:

    I have never read any of Dave Ramsey’s books, but it has been interesting reading your reviews. It seems like he sets out a plan that works for many people.
    It absolutely astounds me how some people do not take personal responsibility for their financial situation. Just the other day, I was talking to a woman in the office next to mine. She had bought coffee and a snack at Starbucks, saying she ‘deserved’ it because she was having a hard day. Later she calmly told me that she was having problems paying her bills this month. It shocks me every time, why would anyone spend money on things they don’t need, if they can’t cover their essentials? My boyfriend jokingly chides me for being naive, and says it’s the American way.
    I lived abroad for a long time, in a country that is traditionally financially conservative, and where people did not have access to unlimited credit. I led a frugal life and saved my money. But I would also spend – not excessively – on things that were important to me (books, travel, occasionaly meeting friends for coffee or an inexpensive dinner). And I have always lived within my means.
    I admit, it is not always easy to do this, and sometimes it is frustrating to be confronted everywhere by excess. I see low and average-income people with many expensive things and I wonder, how can they afford it? Apparently, they can’t.
    Your blog is great, Trent. I hope many people will be inspired by your work.

  10. Rob says:


    I really enjoyed The Total Money Makeover book club series. I hope you continue it on The Simple Dollar.

  11. Amanda says:

    I liked your opening for this post. I do have a bit of a critique of the use of religion and money for your blog, however. I realize that you’re addressing specific parts of the book that deal with religion in your post, so you are dealing with the topic out of necessity, but my opinion is that religion is coming up more & more on your blog; it’s a big turn off. Again, that’s my personal preference…some people might enjoy that, but more people than will admit it publicly in America aren’t religious. You may find that you draw more people in with a more religious focus, especially during such a negative time in our financial history, but I immediately get the heebie-jeebies. As far as the book goes, I actually found a lot of useful info. in it.

  12. Joan says:

    I’d read TMM before, and browsed it again during the series.

    Mostly, what I liked was reading YOUR opinions of it.

    I already know Dave Ramsey’s, or at least as well as I’m going to know it without sitting down with him personally for a few hours. Your perspective on it was really helpful.

  13. The prison analogy has merit. How many people who make or have serious money aren’t happy? More than a few. It’s hard to imagine that if you aren’t in that category, as we tend to think that money can cure most ills, or at least make them easier to live with.

    With celebrities, I often wonder if any of us would manage the wealth, fame and influence any better than most of them do. I have a feeling we wouldn’t. It’s easy enough to imagine we could do better from the comfort of our own corners of the universe, but that ignores the fact that circumstances can and do change people.

    Maybe that helps explain the scant faith references in Dave Ramsey’s book.

  14. Amy B. says:

    Trent, I’m going to agree with Sara – even though I wasn’t able to read along, I got a lot out of this series. And, it allowed me to decide whether reading this particular title would be worthwhile for me and my family.

    Amanda, I think that the recent frequency of religion talk on TSD has been an artifact of this series (and has prompted some comments that Trent has tried to respond to). As a long-time reader, I don’t find the blog to be tied to this as a theme, and I think that religion is just one more thing that influences personal behaviors about money for some. For that reason, it deserves some modest discussion to get us thinking about what our own attitudes are in that respect.

    Have a great Sunday everyone!

  15. Christine says:

    I picked up TMM at a Walmart store a few years ago, and while I can’t say that I’ve gazelled my way from there, it did turn things around for my family. We have paid off all our debt (excluding home – we have a good mortgage rate and would rather have the extra savings more liquid in this economy) and just used part of our emergency fund to buy my husband his first ever new car after his old truck literally fell apart on the road.

    I’ve enjoyed your review of the book, it brought back a lot of insights that I gleaned from it the first time around. I enjoy your posts all over the map, but I find the book reviews (in-depth or just highlights) the best – I have such little time to read, but I enjoy skimming through the latest thoughts on saving money whether they are the author’s comments or your personal take.

    Thanks for reminding me what got me on this journey, and what an incredible feeling it is to be debt-free and comfortable going to sleep at night.

  16. Amanda says:

    Amy B.:
    I understand your point & do agree with most of it, but I respectfully disagree that it’s a topic that I feel deserves to be explored further or is at all interesting, i.e. the recent “Faith as a Guiding Financial Principal” post. I believe it’s a you say ‘tomato’ I say ‘to-mato’ argument! To me it’s like writing to John Bogle or Warren Buffet and asking either of them about similar religious topics…I simply think there are more interesting and informative things to explore. It’s sort of a ‘I feel that the sky is azure today’ sort of conversation…it may be pleasant to some or meaningful, but in reality I feel it’s without real merit. It’s completely a personal preference that may be more common than some realize. Again, a personal viewpoint just as you have.

  17. David says:

    This is the exact reason why I decided to get serious about getting out of debt. My debt had become my prison. I was imprisoned by the stress of not being able to pay bills on time, I was imprisoned by not being able to do the things I wanted to in life becuase I was broke all the time.

    Great stuff!

  18. Eric says:

    The economy doesn’t dictate a person’s faith in God. Whether you believe or not, there is a wisdom there that goes back thousands of years. Rather than getting the heebie-jeebies, you might do well to put your prejudice aside and see what you can learn from another’s perspective. Isn’t that why you’re here?

    Keep up the great work. By no means are you getting off track. I’m offended by Suze Orman; it doesn’t mean I’ll tune out when she’s occasionally mentioned! ; )

  19. kk says:

    But Amanda, if the occasionally touches of the blog with religion are a big turn off, simply don’t click on “Faith as a Guiding Financial Principal” type posts.

    You shouldn’t force your ‘to-mato’ on those who do not mind an occasional ‘tomato’, right. Or is it the other way around. ;-) Some readers do not mind the occasional treatment.

    Trent should first be true to himself, I think.

  20. Kelly says:

    I just wanted to add that I also really enjoyed the book club series. I read TMM about 4 months ago so it is still fresh in my mind, but reading your review of it was interesting. I especially loved reading others comments as well.

    Amanda, as far as the religious overtones may go in some of Trent’s posts. I tend to agree with kk that Trent should be true to himself. This doesn’t mean he should force it on anyone, but when it had an influence on him or is relevant I think it only makes sense to include it. In context of the book, I would say that Ramsey used it very well. He includes his religious thoughts only when relevant and even if you don’t agree with someone, I think it does help to understand the basis for their thoughts and opinions.

  21. Amanda says:

    Well, I’m afraid we’ll all have to agree to disagree folks.

  22. annette says:

    Iam a swede that LOVE dave ramsey.
    have “the total money makeover” and this teaching is just the way i have think my whole life.

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