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.

No, We Don’t Follow Dave Ramsey (and That’s Okay)

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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.

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34 Comments

  1. Everyone’s journey is different. We were doing budget stuff before Dave Ramsey, so no, we don’t “do” him either. The stuff that works is pretty consistent, nothing is totally original, so if what you do parallels his stuff, don’t let it bug you. I shamelessly stole my husband’s mom’s envelope system, (which was probably her mom’s), and picked stuff up along the way, tweaking ideas to work with our circumstances. I particularly appreciate certain financial people over others, as they have added to our repertoire, so recommend them to others. They’ve encouraged us along the way by their examples, because their journeys paralleled our own, or they showed particular moxie or good humor in their circumstances. But not every guru helps everyone. You help those who follow your blog. That’s all that matters.

  2. I think Dave Ramsey has great ideas about debt reduction, however, I don’t like his investment advice. My favorite DR quote is “live lik no one else so someday you can live like no one else”.

  3. Holly, I guess you know by now, mis management of money is a real problem for many people of this world. I think Dave Ramsey teaches from a Biblical point of view. I agree with Biblical teaching because I have accepted Jesus and his teaching is about love, forgiveness, and serving others. Accepting Jesus in no way means our problems go away even though some preachers will stand and preach that. Money is mentioned many, many times in the Bible, particularly new testament. I have been blessed immensely, but if it all leaves tomorrow, I will be just as happy. I have learned that money is not everything and money will not buy one happiness or joy. I have found that through Jesus Christ. I think Dave Ramsey teaches from that same basis.

    I do think your practices are alot like Ramsey’s and I am glad it works for you. Different approaches hit people differently just as your approach is different from Ramsey.

    1. I’m glad he’s your inspiration, but he’s not mine. And really, that’s the point of the post. Dave Ramsey didn’t invent common sense when it comes to financial matters. Lots of people reach similar conclusions to him about debt and other personal financial issues on their own.

      1. leroy Jenkins says:

        The sad part is they reach that conclusion too late in life and are bound by debt to live in poverty in their later years. You read stories constantly of people who “learned too late.” I read his book-for free-used h methods and paid off all of my consumer debt and my mortgage within 10 years. With an audience of 8 million a week, I think he has done great for himself and those who follow his plan. I will always support him.

  4. LOVE this! I have never followed Dave Ramsey and don’t really know any of his teachings (I’ve never read or listened to him). Everything about money I learned from my own mistakes, haha!

  5. I love this! After I graduated from college Suze Orman’s show on CSNBC (I think that’s was the channel) was someone I looked to. Ultimately I just knew I was tired of making lots of money and having nothing to show for it. I got a lot of ideas from a lot of ppl, but no “one” person gave me “the” idea to do better. Even Dave Ramsey says he got his ideas from others and like 70% came from the bible so yeah, there’s that. You keep on doing you girly!

    1. I actually have watched Suze Orman. That lady is pure entertainment value. But, like Dave Ramsey, she is not the end-all-be-all of personal finance. We all have to learn from our own mistakes and find our own way. It sounds like you are doing great!

  6. I, too, do NOT do DR. Never read any of his books, or listen on the radio. In fact didn’t know he was on the radio until reading this blog post. Like Olivia said the stuff that works is pretty consistent. You read enough personal finance stuff you will start to see the same advice repeated. I learned about being frugal, staying clear of debt from my parents who came out of the depression. I have never been into having a lot of stuff. I have never been into make-up or the latest fashion trends, definitely not outrageously expensive “name” purses. Please don’t misunderstand, I try to dress appropriately and wear make-up when necessary. I lean toward paying a little more for something classic that is made to last. Common sense stuff should be but isn’t always common.

  7. This is a side note about someone I know who was a tried and true Dave Ramsey following family. The daughter got married and went to buy a home with her husband and get a regular mortgage, b/c who has several thousand just laying around to buy a house outright. She was denied because she had no credit history. The husband had to be the one to legally purchase the house. The only credit card she was able to get was a Costco VISA. I agree with the having no consumer debt and living up to it but some of his ideas are not feasible for certain people.

    1. I totally agree with this. I agree with not having DEBT, but he praises having no credit as good, that is not good.

  8. Good article. Just like you, my wife and I were ultra frugal before we’d ever heard of Dave Ramsey. We didn’t do it to appease him. We simply did it because we wanted the life we dreamed about, and living on a solid financial foundation was simply the smartest way to get there. We became frugal because it was the smartest idea we came up with. By the time I learned about Dave Ramsey, I was well on my way to wealth. By the way, it was fun hanging with you and your husband at Fincon. So glad I found that free tex-mex bar with you at the end of the night before they yanked it away from us and sent us home. Free party. Free food. Club thrifty and Wealth Well Done for the win!

  9. I like you blog but this post is childish. It’s only nature for people to make a comparison because Dave is very well known. There’s enough saving advice to go around. You do good work!

  10. This is sooo like Dave Ramsey. Ha ha.

    Glad you are guys are working hard at achieving your goals. Isn’t FI great? Wait till you are in your 40’s, you look back and realize how much you have achieved. People don’t realize that you need to come to the decision to make change. I don’t care if it takes this blog or any blog, the person has to want to change and start making the change. Kudos to you guys for keeping the credit of changes you made in your financial life!

  11. I do love the debt free screams but his advice is unrealistic for many like the no credit score advice. I knew someone that didn’t have a credit score and ended up renting an apartment on the bad side of town so I had to talk to them and convince them to get a credit card.

    They were able to move into a nice neighborhood once they got their credit established. The investment advice I don’t agree with. But yes debt free advice has been around way before Dave Ramsey. Love this post.

  12. Yesssssss, this is the article I didn’t know I needed but now that you’ve written it, it all seems so clear. I get into fights all the time with a friend over Dave Ramsey. It’s such a sore topic between us we cant even talk about him or have to preface the conversation by saying “he who shall remain nameless.” Having read this article now, I realize that I probably dont disagree with most of what he shares but my real gripe is that he’s seen as some sort of ultimate expert on personal finance. I’ve shared loads of information with my friend over the years, the fact remains her pf awakening only came after she had occasion to interact with Dave Ramsey material. For some reason, where I couldn’t reach her, she connected with his ideas and has done an awesome job getting herself out of debt over the last year plus. Talking to her now is like night and day, I can hear how much her mindset about money and finance has changed. So proud of her but the fact remains, he’s not saying anything magical. He’s just wrapped it together in a nice easy to follow strategy. That doesn’t make him THE ultimate authority on personal finance though, there’s lot’s of great stuff out there to learn. Different strokes for different folks, I’m just glad she’s heading in the right direction now.

  13. Holly, you make a great point…each person’s journey with their money/debt is unique to them. While I have read Dave Ramsey (really Suze Orman is the first to have peaked my interest 20 years ago), I like to take the approach of “take what you need and leave the rest.” Some of Dave’s advice works for me, and some doesn’t, so I implement what I want in my personal money journey and then move along.

  14. I think Alana hit the nail on the head regarding Dave Ramsey’s appeal. It’s the way he “wraps” the material that a lot of people find attractive. Easy to follow “do this, don’t do that” advice.

    However, as much as I appreciate the contribution he’s made to waking people up, I take issue with his totalitarian approach to credit cards. On the face of it, it all sounds good–you don’t have a credit score because you’re debt-free, so who cares?–but in the real world, that score does matter. Potential employers might want to see one, for example, and insurance companies sure do. In fact, I sent an email about insurance issues to DR’s website. The reply admitted DR does pay more for insurance than he otherwise would, simply because he’s not rate-able in terms of a credit score.

    I guess if you know you have absolutely no willpower when there’s a card in your hands, then never having them makes sense. But a lot of us aren’t in that boat, and never were. So on that front, I disregard his advice completely.

    1. The part about credit and employers is what gets me. I’ve had credit checks done by employers. Back before I got my life together, a low credit score meant I had to write a letter explaining myself to be placed into my HR file (yes, really). That moment was actually the thing that made me vow to fix my financial life, so while I’m all about living debt-free, “acting your wage,” and being responsible with money, I am NOT trying to erase my credit score.

  15. I’m a credit card rewards earner, like you guys, so my name would be mud in DR’s world. He has to ‘hate” credit cards because so many of his followers lack the control to use them properly. As for budgeting, having no debt, etc., those were things my parents taught me–not Dave Ramsey. I applaud him for having the idea of packaging practical and basic financial advice into a multimillion dollar empire. But we’ve done very well and have no plans to stop anytime soon.

  16. I only learned about Dave Ramsey because I got into personal finance, not the other way around. I took his course for a couple reasons – because I want to learn everything there is and I understood Dave Ramsey to have a slightly different perspective, and I took the class with my then-fiancee in preparation for being married.

    > Dave Ramsey doesn’t get an ounce of credit at my house.

    I’m sure Mr. Ramsey is fine with that since he detests any form of credit!

  17. So funny that I found/read this post on your blog today. I was just telling my wife how much I enjoyed you guy’s blog and your perspective on debt. I said to her, “I’ll be they are Dave Ramsey people.” This was not a knock at all. I really like Dave and the advice he gives to thousands to get out of debt. But, he did not invent being debt free. However, he made his niche by creating a financial strategy to get out of debt in a very simple, and concise package. You guys have done the same thing! I think that is a credit to you, and shows you’re doing something right. Keep up the great work!

    1. I guess we “are” Dave Ramsey people in the fact that we hate debt. But he didn’t introduce us to the concept! =) Nothing wrong with him, of course. I think most of America would be better off if they listened to even half of what he has to say. Thank you for reading and commenting, Randy!

  18. Justin Shuman says:

    I stopped reading your article when you said you had never listened to him on the radio or read any of his books. But yet you go on to say he never helped you and you will give him no credit. I’m not sure if this how you manage other things in your life, but knowledge is power. I think it’s pretty unfair to undercut someone you do not have knowledge of.

    1. Your reading comprehension must not be that great. We never knocked him – we are simply saying that we reached conclusions about money on our own.

  19. I have nothing against Dave Ramsey, aside from the way he treats his employees (I am strongly against stepping on others on the way up.) I enjoy watching him on YouTube for inspiration, but everything he says, I learned from my parents. His advice fells like parents teaching you to order a small soda and refilling extra times instead of buying a large soda. It’s common sense that parents have been passing on for generations

    1. Lindsey have you seen the millions of people who have paid off debt because of Dave? Obviously, parents have not been passing this on for generations like you are suggesting. It’s just not true. Based on several research studies conducted by CNBC, USA Today, and the Guardian almost 80% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck. Thoughts??

  20. I understand your points of view. I am not at all saying that you stole Dave Ramsey’s ideas. Nonetheless, he has been doing this for over 30 years. He has helped millions of people get out of debt. Why not just write your article about what you are doing. I don’t understand why you had to put Dave’s name in the title. Dave is changing millions of lives including mine. If you create a beverage product that looks like a Coca Cola and tastes like Coca Cola, I am sure people would call it Coca Cola, hence Dave Ramsey comments from others.

  21. Andrae Alexander JR says:

    I enjoyed your article. It’s my opinion that no one solely does anything by themselves. You, I, and anyone owes some credit to those around us whether it’s parents, environment, upbringing etc. Dave himself days he uses the teaching from his elders. So I guess my point is although you came to the conclusion of personal finance theory your own thought. That in itself is not and was not a sole reason for why you concluded debt is bad.

    The reason you get so many Dave references and questions is because he has achieved notoriety amongst the financial gurus of the world. Until you reach that, this will always be the case.

    1. Thanks, I think I have achieved plenty of notoriety. I write columns that are read by millions of people every month through various publications.

      The point is that Dave Ramsey has nothing to do with my views on personal finance. I picked up most of my ideas on frugality and debt by watching my parents and how they lived. In that respect, you are right. We all pick up things from the people we observe – both good or bad.

      But the point of my piece remains. How I feel about money has nothing to do with Dave Ramsey and it’s strange to me that random DR fans believe that anyone who is good with money MUST have learned from Dave Ramsey. That is just not the case.

      1. Dave Ramsey doesn’t claim to teach anything unique; he advocates “God’s and Grandma’s ways of dealing with money.” He calls it common sense, and if you have listened to him–>he always gives credit to the ppl who’ve made positive changes, rather than taking credit for himself. When ppl, compliment him, he’s quick to tell them–>”No–you’re the hero of your story! You did it, I just gave you some tools!”
        His Financial Peace University course changed the trajectory of my family’s financial life, therefore, I’m very grateful Mr. Ramsey has been willing to share publicly the disastrous financial decisions he made as a young man, in order to help us head off making the same foolish mistakes. He was in quite a hopeless situation back then–but the changes he made turned his life around. He speaks hope to ppl who you cannot reach. Good for him!
        So glad you guys came to some wise conclusions after making mistakes! We also learned from some of ours, but are grateful to have been introduced to DR’s material before we did more “stupid.” It didn’t take but a few months of the 13 week class to shift our paradigm. This culture bombards us with foolishness from every side, so how refreshing it was to hear a different perspective–wherever it came from!
        There are lots of voices of truth and wisdom out there, and plenty of us who need to hear it from one source or another. I’m not comparing the messengers, I’m just super encouraged to hear of anyone who has been freed from the slavery of debt, hopelessness and ppl pleasing.

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