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Your Host, Randy Petrick
  • Writer's pictureRandy Petrick

Dave Ramsey's "The Total Money Makeover"

Book Review by Randy Petrick, ChFC, RICP



The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey is a no-nonsense financial guide rooted in Christian principles. As Ramsey himself says,

 

“…I openly discuss the spiritual in this book. As a Christian, I include some Bible verses. This is not a “Christian” book, and it for sure isn’t a Bible study on the subject of money. But this is a book about a “Proven Plan to Financial Fitness”…and that plan includes addressing the spiritual issues surrounding money.” (xviii)

 

WHAT THE BOOK DOES WELL:

 

With clear and actionable steps, Ramsey helps readers take control of their financial lives and move toward places of peace and generosity. The book is valuable if you want to manage your money wisely, get out of debt, and build wealth.

 

For me, this book had two key strengths:


  1. The book emphasizes specific steps that anyone can take to move out of financial struggle. (I’ve had my fill of books filled with numbers and theory. This one is practical.) 

  2. It includes giving and generosity as pieces of the overall plans. (I actually wish Ramsey had hit this aspect harder. More on that later.) 


RANDY’S REFLECTIONS:

 

Ramsey’s stress on living debt-free convicts me whenever I pick up one of his books. While we (Randy and Gwyn) are essentially debt-free other than our mortgage, I always feel that extra boost of encouragement to rid ourselves even of the mortgage when I read or listen to Dave. (Yes, that may mean not taking full advantage of financial “leverage” as suggested by some financial coaches, but… Well, that’s a topic for another day. “Using” debt is an interesting discussion all its own.)

 

Eight burlap sacks filled to the top with different types of grain.

You likely already know how much I encourage building up an emergency fund. It is a biblical principle to save for the future to ensure we are prepared for unexpected challenges. Ramsey’s use of that concept reminded me of Joseph in Egypt, storing up during times of plenty to sustain during times of scarcity.

 

As my longer-term readers know, I’m also all about giving – and it pleased me to see Ramsey encouraging giving as well:

 

“Giving is possibly the most fun you will ever have with money… Every mentally and spiritually healthy person I’ve met has been turned on by giving as long as it didn’t mean his own lights got cut off. I can promise you from meeting with literally thousands of millionaires that the thing the healthy ones share in common is a love of GIVING.” (189)

 

“If you want to help someone, many times you can’t do so without money. The Bible states that pure religion is actually helping the poor, not theorizing over why they are poor (see James 1:27). Margaret Thatcher said, ‘No one would remember the good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.’ The good Samaritan had a good heart and a heavy enough purse to pay an innkeeper to help take care of the injured man. Money was involved. Money was at its best that day. Money gives power to good intentions. That’s why I’m unashamedly in favor of building wealth.” (190)


Is the book a flawless masterpiece? No, but if you are floundering financially, this book does have the potential to help you move into a better place. I do feel for Ramsey, though, as he has critics liking it and disliking it for the same reasons. Writing a book based on biblical principles but not having it be overtly spiritual must be like trying to navigate a ship through stormy seas. It’s tricky.


A man screaming in frustration because he has a tiny man on each shoulder with a bullhorn competing to get his attention.

Some people don’t like the book because Ramsey includes spiritual thoughts in his teachings, and others don’t believe his writing is spiritual enough. It is a fine line he’s traveling, but the fact that he has critics on both sides tells me he may have taken a reasonable course. Why? To garner detractors on both sides, he had to write a book that got Christians and non-Christians to read it!

 

Readers also criticize Ramsey’s presentation style. Although he is very straightforward, his tough-love and no-nonsense approaches sometimes seem to lack empathy. I get it, but I’ll take straightforward any day.


Other critics disagree with his one-size-fits-all approaches to debt and investing; some even disagree with the amount ($1,000) he suggests for a starter emergency fund. I may weigh in on some of those topics in later posts, but for now, let Proverbs 15:22 (NIV) be your guide:

 

            Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.

 

Reading or listening to multiple money counselors as part of your quest for financial wisdom and guidance has solid support from scripture. Take the best from each counselor to fit your situation. And since I’ve been sharing some of my frailties throughout my posts, I will ask you to remember this about all your advisors: Advisors are humans, too, and there may be times when you need to separate the wisdom from the person. There. Now I feel better.


CONCLUSION: “The Total Money Makeover” gets four out of five stars from me. It is one of Ramsey’s signature works but needs to be contextualized with the lessons he expands on in his later books. I found this one heavier on “winning” by accumulating wealth and less about giving and generosity than some of his recent works. This book emphasizes family legacies and the personal freedom that comes with wealth. Ramsey encourages giving and generosity but shies away from the emphasis I prefer, which is to present the use of money to build God’s Kingdom here on earth as foundational. He does talk about generosity, but I hoped to see a heavier lean in the direction of stewarding or managing God's resources for Kingdom purposes. With that caveat, I still recommend this book to anyone looking for no-nonsense, practical steps to help transform their financial situations and improve their money management.

 


Two extended hands with five stars floating between them with four of the stars filled in.










Postscript:

Please note that Ramsey is not a licensed financial advisor. Dave does a great job of motivating people to get out of debt and be responsible with their finances, and I applaud that. Just be careful not to put all your faith in advice from a single source. Explore diverse viewpoints.


My ChFC and RICP are postgraduate designations from the American College of Financial Services. Ramsey calls people like my professors there “Supernerd Goobers.” I, for one, am happy to have been able to study under those Ph.D. goobers. I’d encourage you to learn from some goobers, too. At the least, please listen to the Bible when it counsels having “many advisors.” Seek out more than one teacher as you build your financial wisdom. Explore diverse viewpoints. That’s being a wise steward.


Proverbs 11:14 (AMP): Where there is no [wise, intelligent] guidance, the people fall [and go off course like a ship without a helm], But in the abundance of [wise and godly] counselors there is victory.

 

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