Common Sense Is Common -or- Why Dave Ramsey Frustrates Me

The first sentence to come out of my fingers when I sat down to write this was

Dave Ramsey is the voice of reason to a jilted, overspent generation of high credit rollers and over mortgaged has-beens.

I recognize that’s a little harsh, though. More harsh than is warranted by this article, because I’ve not really got any beef with Dave Ramsey. From the times I’ve heard him speak, I have gotten the impression he is just as frustrated as I am.

As I begin to think, speak, and write more about money (which as I said before, I generally avoid and don’t intend to do for much longer), more people have begun to throw Dave Ramsey at me. They can’t or won’t tell me why they specifically reference Ramsey, or what it is he says, other than that he has “changed their lives.” What’s more, Ramsey appears to be the cure-all for financially moribund middle-America, so his creeds are recommended regardless of the situation.

The fervor with which people cite Ramsey is astounding to me, though, because there’s really not much there to cite. Let me see if I can summarize what this dude says:

  1. You’re in debt. Stop spending your damned money on things you don’t need
  2. Save some up in case of an emergency so you don’t need to go further in debt
  3. Pay minor things off (credit cards, car, student loans)
  4. Save up more money in case you get laid off (or a bigger emergency happens)
  5. Pay bigger things off (house)
  6. Don’t start spending all your damned money again. Instead, save it in high interest accounts such as a Roth IRA

You know what I call this? Good Advice. And that’s great, but it’s also Money Management 101. This is the most basic of the basic, the common sensical approach to money that everyone should be taking from the time they get their first job. Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford. If you do take on debt (as pretty much everyone but the very wealthy must at some point), don’t take on more than you can afford. Pay stuff off. Make a budget and stick to it.

It’s. Not. Hard.

There are two types of followers of Ramsey that annoy me. First, there’s the follower that thinks Ramsey’s words are like unto those of Jesus, our Most Holy Messiah, and that Dave Ramsey is the saviour of this world whose advice will revolutionize the way we live. No it’s not, it’s freaking common sense. I don’t mind you needing someone to tell you to get your act together–it’s hard for us to see our failings from within our failed situation, so we need someone from the outside to point it out–but we don’t fall down weeping in joy at the moral from a Disney movie so why should we make such a big deal when some dude on the radio shares some common sense?

Second, the person who trumpets Ramsey’s advice but doesn’t follow it. They’ve been through the Financial Peace University, they’ve read the books, listened to the radio show, and told everyone they know how much they love it and how helpful Ramsey’s advice is… but they’re still in a growing amount of debt and can’t seem to get their spending under control. It’s good that they can at least recognize the value in common sense, but it’s frustrating that they can’t practice it. It’s even more frustrating when they trumpet the value of Ramsey’s teachings to people who don’t have money problems.

Ramsey telling people how to save money is like a hunting instructor telling kids not to shoot at people with orange vests, or to put the freaking safety on before holstering a pistol. Don’t spend money you don’t need to, pay of debt, save.

I can’t help but think Ramsey’s downing whiskey some nights, head in his hands, wondering why people still need him to tell them these things.

Anyways, stop recommending Ramsey to me. I’m on it. I was already doing all this before I’d even heard of Dave Ramsey, because he didn’t invent this. It’s just freaking common sense.

Post Script: Maybe my lack of problems with money is a unique thing, and that’s why this bugs me so much. I grew up having to deal with bankruptcy, not having enough food to eat, and in a household that had way over-extended itself and taken on too much debt. I grew up with the fear of not knowing if the mortgage would be paid or if we’d have a house next month, and whenever we did go grocery shopping I would be on the lookout for the cheapest stuff.

A kid shouldn’t have to deal with that, and since I was very young, my goal was to make sure my kids wouldn’t have to. I understand the money thing, but that’s probably because I had to live with hard times that most of the people I know avoided.

Regardless, I guess what I’m getting at is I’m tired of people forcing advice on me that is completely unfounded. I don’t mind uninvited advice, because we won’t usually ask for advice when we most need it. Give advice when you think you need to–that’s fine. What I’m annoyed with is advice given by someone who has no knowledge of the situation into which they are attempting to impart advice. It’s pretentious at best, insulting at worst.

Post Post Script: I just replied to a comment on Facebook with the below text and wanted to post it here, as the final paragraph helps to sum up another facet of my frustration.

Like I wrote, it’s OK to offer advice, it’s just better to find out more about the situation before lobbing it like a mortar.

And it’s absolutely great if it’s helpful to you. There’s nothing wrong with that either.

Though you had brought Ramsey up, you were by no means the only person, nor were you the most animated one. I’ve been asked at least 1-2 times a week for the last 2-3 months if I want to borrow a Ramsey book, attend the FPU, or some other Ramsey-related thing. I swear, if people had talked to me about Jesus when I wasn’t Christian as often as they talk to me now about Ramsey, I’d have converted a long time ago 😛

Much Ado About Money

There are two reasons I haven’t written about money or our personal finances before. First, I felt like I was gloating, though I wasn’t. It’s just that we’re in a good place financially, and while I’d like to share some tips and my steps for how we got here, I felt like it was improper. Second, I haven’t written about money because I didn’t have all that much to say. I can list my steps, but that’s about it.

My first draft, written months ago on this topic, was long and annoying. I hated it, so I never published it. I’m not even rewriting it now–instead, I have some new things to say, and they might actually be worthwhile.

Here’s the bottom line: April and I do quite well financially, and we do that despite making less money than most everyone we know. Well, maybe not “everyone,” but we make less than a lot of people, especially those I work with. ((To clarify, I’m not saying we “do better” than everyone, either. Part of my perception is that we define comfort differently, so the sort of lifestyle that is nice to us is “unacceptable” to others. I tend to think those others might need to reevaluate their priorities, but that’s neither here nor there. All I’m trying to say is, we feel pretty comfortable with our current life, and I know a lot of people who make more money but are less comfortable. My implication throughout the series is that this is because they don’t manage their money well.)) I suspect we will continue to do quite well, and while we probably won’t be winning any hypothetical contests, we’re alright. Others will have more than us, but we’re reasonably comfortable, and that’s worth something.

I’m learning how to invest and manage our money, and we’ve got a solid financial plan for the next ten years or so. As I start to think and talk more about finances, though, I keep having advice thrown at me. This advice is well meaning, but it’s also annoying, and I want to address that too.

So it’s now Financials Week here at SilverPen Pub. Feel free to tune out if you want (I’m sure April will, since she has to hear about this stuff all the time), but I’d really encourage you to join the discussion. Share what works for you, and let me know if there’s something more you’d like to hear about.

Stay tuned to read more about investing, Mint.com, Dave Ramsey, and what works for us.