In early October, we took our kids on a two-week trip through Spain and France. One day, while riding a train from Barcelona to the mountain monastery of Montserrat, we struck up a conversation with some other Americans sitting nearby. They asked if our kids were out of school and what we did for a living – stuff like that. We told them that, yes, our kids were on their two-week fall break from school. We also told them that we were bloggers who wrote about money and travel for a living, along with the name of our website.

We didn’t see them again for a while, but when we did, the husband of the pair said he looked us up on his smartphone. Then, it happened.

“Did you get started after hearing about Dave Ramsey?” he asked.

Greg was polite about it, shaking his head while smiling and saying, “No…well…umm…”

I tried to hide the fact that this question pisses me off, but I’m so bad at that. I didn’t reply, but I’m sure the look on my face said it all.

Why on Earth do people think Dave Ramsey is the source of all money wisdom in the world? I mean, geez!

What is Wrong with Dave Ramsey?

Before I dive into this any further, I want everyone to know that this piece is not a knock against Dave Ramsey. While I’ve never really listened to his radio show and have never read one of his books, I have learned a great deal about his thoughts on debt through writing and researching articles and through hearing stories of the things he’s said.

By and large, I love his ideas about remaining debt-free and “acting your wage” and all that jazz. I think his advice is great for the vast majority of people, and he is obviously helping thousands live more fruitful, happier lives.

Dave Ramsey is great, and that’s no lie.

My problem isn’t with Dave Ramsey himself, but with the fact that people assume he is the only driving force encouraging people to get better with money.

When I wrote a column for my local paper, the Indianapolis Star, I experienced this phenomenon on a much larger scale. I wrote about different topics – things like not buying my kids too many Christmas presents, avoiding the push for too many sports when your kids are young, and avoiding debt like the plague.

Without fail, several people in the comments would jump in to accuse me of stealing my ideas from Dave Ramsey. Comments like these are still laser-etched onto my brain:

  • “This girl read a Dave Ramsey book and thinks she knows everything. LOL!”
  • “Everyone should just read Dave Ramsey and ignore everything she has to say.”
  • “Wow, this lady really copies Dave Ramsey. Sad.”

Never mind the hint of patriarchy that comes with assuming a 37-year-old woman can’t teach people about money. These comments made me crazy because, well, I don’t follow Dave Ramsey.

I don’t own his books, and I don’t listen to his radio show (or any radio show for that matter). I don’t read his blog, and I don’t watch him on television. On a daily basis, I literally pay zero attention to what he is doing.

The Real Way We Learned About Money

So, how did we decide to turn our lives around and get smart about money? And, when did we decide that debt is toxic and that we never wanted to borrow money again? How did we decide that freedom was more important than “stuff?”

Since we didn’t learn about Dave Ramsey and build our life around his opinions, let me tell you the real story about what happened.

Our journey toward debt freedom actually started when we were in our late twenties. We were working in our mortuary jobs with a small child and another one on the way. We spent at least 40-60 hours at work every week, yet we had almost nothing to show for it. Due to poor planning and our lack of dedication, we were saving almost nothing outside of our 401(k) plans.

But really, it was worse than that. Over time, we got sick and tired of working a ridiculous amount of hours and having nothing to show for it. Dave Ramsey didn’t show up and ask us what the hell we were doing. Instead, we looked around and wondered where we would be in ten or twenty years if we didn’t make savings a priority.

We also got serious about the debt we had, which was made up of $50,000 – $60,000 of car loans, student loans and credit card debt. How could we ever get ahead in life when we were pouring thousands of our hard-earned dollars into these loans every month?

How We Took Control of Our Financial Lives

Listen up, you do not need Dave Ramsey to tell you that debt is absolutely soul-draining. I didn’t need Dave Ramsey to tell me that I hated making those monthly payments, or that the interest we paid made it harder to get ahead.

We already knew that debt was a major source of our money woes, and we only felt more strongly about it as we continued making all those huge payments every month. That’s why, eventually, we sat down and tracked our spending to find that we were paying out more than 30 percent of our income in debt payments. It was crazy, and we knew we had to do something to turn our lives around.

From there, we started using a zero-sum budget, which required us to cut our discretionary spending by more than half. (In fact, at the time, we were naive enough to think we invented the idea!) Dave Ramsey never said, “quit spending so much at the grocery store,” or “it’s time to cut your cable television off for a while.” These were conclusions we reached on our own.

And, you know what? Our kids actually played a huge part in our transformation. I clearly remember having our first child and realizing that we were 100 percent in charge of her future. Looking into her big blue eyes, I knew we were on a path toward letting her down. If we remained in debt, she may not have the kind of opportunity I dreamed of giving her. And I had such big dreams for her as well as our other daughter – big dreams that could never come true unless we learned to manage our money differently.

Those dreams were, and still are, important to me. I wanted to save for my children’s college education and hopefully foot the entire bill. I wanted to take my kids on fun trips like my parents did. I wanted to be able to buy the prom dress they wanted – to be able to take them shopping. What I did not want was to be a financial train wreck they would have to take care of when they grew up.

Final Thoughts

Nobody has a premium on great financial advice, not even Dave Ramsey. Here's the source of our inspiration and how it led us to seize control of our money.I’m so glad I listened to that inner voice – the one that said I could do better for all of us. Over more than a decade, we took the lessons we learned – our mistakes – and used them as fuel to fire our debt-free dreams.

These days, we are debt-free (except the house) and saving nearly 70 percent of our income. We travel the world, save for our children’s college education, and invest like our future depends on it – because it does. We are four payments away from paying off our primary residence, and we only have one mortgage left on one our two rental properties.

Basically, we are killing it with money…and Dave Ramsey doesn’t get an ounce of credit at my house.

No matter where you are in your financial journey, reading stories from financial experts can help. But, the best source of inspiration often comes from your own life. What do you dream about? And, how can you change your life to get there?

At our house, we dreamed about a brighter future for our beautiful daughters. We dreamed about being able to afford fun beach vacations and about the day when we could finally stop worrying about bills and debt. We dreamed about feeling in control of our lives and about having a future we could get excited about.

No one could dream for us, especially not Dave Ramsey. We had to dream for ourselves and find a way to change. Most importantly, it had to come from us.