to the dave ramsey disciples: beware of moths and rust

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Friday, August 7th, 2009

to the dave ramsey disciples: beware of moths and rust

for many people, dave ramsey—christian financial author and radio personality—is a financial messiah. he has droves of ardent disciples and masses of ready-and-willing evangelists. try googling something having to do with dave ramsey criticism and you’ll quickly find blogs or forums in which hordes of his disciples adamantly tell the critic why ramsey is the next best thing to the second coming of jesus.

so why do people so steadfastly follow ramsey?

let me propose my hypothesis: dave ramsey teaches little more than the american dream cloaked in simplistic biblical selling points.

allow me to unpack a loaded statement like that a little. 🙂

i should start with some qualifiers.

1. i think some of the pragmatic principles ramsey teaches are certainly not bad things. it’s good to pay off debt. it’s good to not be shackled by credit cards. it’s good to set aside emergency money. but…pragmatics are not my problem.

2. to be completely transparent and vulnerable, i don’t write this as a person who has my finances all figured out. let me just keep it real: we have a pile of student loans from my graduate studies, we basically live paycheck-to-paycheck and we could do much better in cutting out some of the non-essentials (like eating out or cable). so, just know that i speak into this not as a financial expert, but someone who is simply jesus-oriented (which i’ll get to in more length).

3. as just stated, my fundamental starting point for any financial conversation—or any conversation, for that matter—is a jesus-centric perspective. now, as i often say, you and i both may root our perspective in jesus values, but we may end up with very different ways in which that plays out. in this case, though, i’m simply making the point that my interest primarily lies in understanding what it means to live in the way of jesus and not just what it means to make good pragmatic financial decisions (like saving or investing or retirement issues or whatever).

alright, those are the qualifiers, so let me now jump into my argument.

my fundamental issue with dave ramsey’s plans are not, as stated, with the particular pragmatics, but the overall guiding values. if you’re not familiar with dave ramsey or his schtick, his fundamental plan revolves around 7 “baby steps”:

1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund

2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

5. College funding for children

6. Pay off home early

7. Build wealth!

ok, on most of this: fine. again, the pragmatics are fine. whereas i have multiple reasons for planning to not pay for my childrens’ college, if you so choose that, fine. from a pure financial standpoint, there are some debatable points (like paying off small debt first, the particular types of investments he suggests, etc.), but overall it’s fine.


as a jesus follower, i have a major beef. in essence, my problem all boils down to the essential trajectory of his schema: get rich.

now, the first thing the ramseyites would argue is that this isn’t the point. they would argue that it’s accumulating wealth so that you can give it away. no doubt, ramsey talks quite a bit about giving, giving and giving. he talks about the fact that giving helps us to be selfless people. i absolutely agree. the problem is that—as my hypothesis states—this is not what ramsey’s plan is fundamentally about. it’s about, 1.) amassing wealth and then 2.) giving a little away. again, my hypothesis: dave ramsey teaches little more than the american dream cloaked in simplistic biblical selling points.

the biblical selling point is that you simply amass all this wealth to give it away. that’s the cloak. what’s underneath the cloak? amassing wealth. that’s the american dream part.

“so what’s so wrong with living the american dream?”, you ask.

well, i guess nothing if following jesus isn’t your primary worldview. amassing wealth ≠ following jesus. don’t get me wrong. i’m not saying wealthy people can’t follow jesus, but i am suggesting that seeking to stockpile wealth is incompatible with following jesus.

brace yourself for a difficult exchange (luke 18:18-23):

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.

dave ramsey? what sayest thou?

yes dave, it does allow you to buy a luxury vehicle (like you drive) with cash instead of credit. yes dave, it does allow you to invest in high risk growth funds and build greater profits. yes dave, it does provide for the “security” and “protection” of your family’s future.

but at what cost? i have little interest in preparing for my family’s future in pure monetary means. i do have interest, though, in teaching my children that when you make more than what you need, you don’t buy stocks, but you give it to people who don’t make what they need. i want to teach my family to be sheep instead of goats. i want to teach my family to not be concerned with moths or rust.

jesus living has little to do with building wealth. it absolutely has something to do with positioning yourself to be able to give away your surplus, but that doesn’t mean amassing cash reservoirs. it means living more simplisticly. it means cutting away the things that keep us from seeing the needs of others. it means forgetting about “making sure my kids are better off than i was.”

i’m not saying dave ramsey doesn’t have many, many good ideas. i could certainly stand to use some of his principles involved in paying down debt and eliminating the need for credit. but, i hope to never chase the american dream, even if it is bathed in bits of biblical feel-good undertones.

thanks for listening dave ramsey disciples. the comment line is open. 🙂