M.E. Kinkade's Reviews > Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money: The Handbook of Financial Peace University

Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money by Dave Ramsey
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If you're unsure about how to manage money, or have already made some big mistakes and are trying to recover, or just want to brush up on some obscure things, this book will likely help you out.

HOWEVER...it has its flaws, despite the enthusiastic baying of many of Ramsey's constituents.

I received this book as a very well-intentioned gift to help my new husband and I get our marriage started on the right foot. I'm already persnickety about how I manage my money, so I may not be the ideal audience for this book, but as much as I read about personal finance, I figure there is always room for a little more knowledge.

I did find it practical. Ramsey uses folksy analogies and down-to-earth language to explain the sometimes high-falutin' financial language that can be a barrier. His strategies are fundamentally simple: don't be in debt, save money before you buy something. He has undoubtedly helped many people find a workable strategy to put themselves on a path to financial security, and that is to be commended.

But I found parts of the book deeply distasteful. My concerns:

It's Self-Serving.
You've probably heard of Dave Ramsey by now. He has a radio show, a whole series of classes and DVDs, and several books. This book aims to make sure you know who he is--the appearance of his name TWICE on the front cover, as well as the plug-in for his class "Financial Peace University," is just another way to build his personal brand.

Now, that may be unavoidable--it is a self-help book, after all--but the repeated references back to Ramsey's personal products, other books, and stuff he's selling started to make me feel like I was at a flea market (want this? How about this? No? Well, you definitely need one of these!). Ramsey's a smart marketer; if he can get his hooks into you with this book, he hopes you'll buy everything he's ever made.

He Doesn't Think Much of Women
I'm sure if you spoke to Ramsey--and he seems like a very affable and likeable guy--he would insist that he loves women and that I'm crazy for suggesting this, but his own book would be great evidence against him. Ramsey may like women well enough, but the book repeatedly takes a "that's nice, little lady" tone. Women are called out repeatedly based on negative female stereotypes--"stop shopping ladies!"--and reminded that they are best in the home with the kids, whereas men are repeatedly held up as the providers, the "real men" who "take care of their families," the ones who are the responsible ones.

Even when he praises women (mostly via his wife) he is slighting them with more aw-shucks patronizing: following an apocryphal tale of President George H.W. Bush wherein Barbara supposedly gets the upper hand, Ramsey discusses the way decisions are made in his family--he makes decisions and "if I'm not careful, I'll just roll right over her when it's time to make a decision. It's not that she doesn't want to contribute..."

Let me finish the line for him: it's that he's already made up his mind and his wife's vote isn't as important.

This is further shown in his advice, including that married couples have one bank account and one only. That may work out very well for some people, and the more power to them, but having one bank account and no money of their own is one of the most common ways women end up poor: husband leaves, takes all the money and there is nothing in her name (or, she wants to leave, husband takes all the money, etc.). I feel strongly that both spouses need some way to access at least some money without involving the other.

Ramsey does a good job of talking to the reader as if you are just like him. Which is great, and is a sign of excellent persuasive writing! Except. Ramsey is an evangelical Christian, and you may want to avoid this book if you aren't as well.

Even though I'm a Christian, I must not be the same variety as Ramsey. I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the Bible every other page for awhile there.

And while I am happy that folks have a spiritual life they can tend and enrich themselves with, Ramsey doesn't even cater to the idea that you may not be the same. The chapter on giving never mentions how to give to charity except through your church. Further, his example about giving exorbitant tips to waitresses on Christmas Eve fell flat with me. He says the only reason a waitress might work that day is because she really needs the money. Well, Dave, I came up with a few other reasons:
-Her boss won't let her have the day off, and while she doesn't need the money so much this month, she needs long-term job security, and that means she doesn't get to pick.
-She's Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/FSM-ist and doesn't celebrate Christmas.
-She's Christian, but is celebrating Christmas in two weeks because that's when her family can all get together.
-She thinks she'll get extra tips from the travelers desperate for a meal on Christmas Eve. And besides, it's generally quiet.

Four reasons I just thought off on the spot! Not everyone is the same as you, man.

Additionally, as an intellectual-type person, it is useless to me when he provides a Bible verse as the reason why I should do something. Sorry, I want evidence. History has shown that Bible verses can be made to fit just about any situation.

Anathema to Debt or Help
This is tricky, because I almost agree with him here, but he takes it to extremes that I find uncomfortable. Ramsey repeatedly insinuates that money should not come to people from the government, and further suggests that putting "burdens" on wealthy people will "make the golden eggs dry up." I see your Trickle-Down Economics at work, sir. Let's just say I disagree and found his mixing of politics with finances when it isn't needed.

But further than that, he is completely 100% opposed to debt. On paper, I agree with him: debt is not a positive, and, particularly for people struggling under a mountain of debt problems, his strategies will be effective. But I think it's short-sighted.

Debt, in my opinion, is like a pit bull: Sure, it can be awful, but it can also be useful tool when used properly. Much like a pit bull can be one of the meanest fighting dogs out there in the hands of an abusive animal, debt can turn on you quick. But a pit bull well cared-for and attended to will be the sweetest dog in the neighborhood.

I think his "no debt at all" view is problematic in particular for young people. Ramsey's quite a bit older than me, so perhaps he doesn't remember, but having zero credit history (yes, that means zero history of debt) will make it hard to get: an apartment to rent; a job (they sometimes check the scores); a car; and, eventually, a mortgage on a house. Zero credit history is treated the same as bad credit history, and refusing to teach people how to handle credit responsibly means young people who end up in a bad spot. Additionally, his "pay cash for everything" strategy is an effective way to get him something else he rails against: kids coming back after college.

One of the things that most upset me in this book was a story from a reader about how her son was going to school, the Dave Ramsey way! It is featured as an example of doing things right, and it hit me like a brick. In this story, a boy works hard in school, gets several scholarships, and his parents have saved money for some of his tuition for college...but it's not enough. Because they are following Ramsey's preachings, they don't get a loan of any kind, but instead pull their son out of college. He was already accepted, but he is forced to withdraw (wiping out, by the way, all that prepaid tuition money).

He goes to community college (which has a drop-out rate of well over 50% right now) and then...drops out after one semester and joins the Navy. The story was submitted before the boy finished, but supposedly he was working on college classes while he was in the Navy. (This story is on page 251.)

This story just breaks my heart. It's not a triumph. This kid was on a path to go to a good school in his state, but his parents dropped him rather than let him take on a loan. As a result, he is working on a ship somewhere far from home. I have a dear friend who went to the Navy, and...it's not easy. It wasn't this kid's real choice. He learned that his parents won't support him in his future. I feel sorry for him.

The mom says "saying no to college was hard, but it turned out to be a good thing." Yeah. A good thing FOR HER.

I found copy editing mistakes a few times, which always makes me leery, but then I found a glaring error of fact, which scares me more--a book is a big investment, so the time should be put in accordingly. When it isn't, it makes me worry about the rest of the content. (The mistake is this: Ramsey cites the New King James Bible as the "first in the English language." It wasn't. It's the third, and was created not as a way for folks to access scripture but as a political move to consolidate a divided country.)

In Sum...
This book has exceptionally good advice to help people get out of debt and establish new patterns. It's written for those who don't know much of anything about financial planning or organization. The basics are sound, and I found the chapters on insurance and investing basics to be the most informative and helpful. I also like that it comes with budget worksheets in the back.

That said, this book is not for everyone. And I would say that it--and all the rest of the Ramsey brand--absolutely should not be the exclusive place you get advice.

It comes down to what you value. My impression is Ramsey values money (the having, and the dispensing of it) above all else. In order to have money, he advocates sacrificing time, personal interests, sleep, a diverse diet, and educational opportunities for your children. Me? My values are a little different than his. Take his advice, therefore, with a grain of salt.
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Reading Progress

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July 11, 2014 – Finished Reading
July 12, 2014 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Ann Thank you so much for your detailed review. I always appreciate reading constructive critiques. I'm so glad I read your review before deciding to purchase this book (I'll probably just take it out from the library).

M.E. Kinkade Happy to help! It's been a few months since I've read it now, but some of the advice is still useful (and the things I found annoying are still annoying).

Yay libraries!

Bridget Jack Jeffries What an excellent review! I'm just now starting the class at a local church, reading this book along with it, and I am enjoying it, but I appreciate the thoughtful critique. You sound like my kind of Christian woman. Thank you!

M.E. Kinkade Thanks, Bridget, for your kind comment!

kisha I agree with you with some of his political opinions and especially his patronizing approach with women. And he does force all his opinions on you such as one bank account which I personally think is reckless, and also how he feels about loaning money and raising kids. But that's kind of how self-help goes...a book full of opinions and you have to separate what you want to receive from it and what you choose to toss. I'm enjoying his book so far. It's a great start from where I am financially. Nice review I enjoyed reading it!

message 6: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Thank you for your review! That attitude about women is why I spit when people mention Steve Harvey to me. I'll continue listening to the podcast voraciously, but with salt!

message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Excellent review!

message 8: by Jesse (new)

Jesse Great review - I share your same thoughts. I consider Ramsey a dangerous person to trust due to his view on debt, as you mentioned here, and his promotion of paying back debt using the "snowball" method. The snowball method will NEVER save you money if used instead of the "avalanche" method (google these if you want to understand the difference).

Ramsey's advice really only works for two types of people: 1) People with loads of debt and zero financial sense or understanding of how to pay his debt; and 2) Wealthy people with very great income who can get by without taking on debt (ex: people who might decide they need a new car and can easily save up 30 grand within a year to go out and pay cash for it).

Britnie Campbell What a fantastic review! I agree with you point-to-point and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who was left a bit dubious. Yes, the information is useful, and he also comes across as a very personable person, but there was something off about it to me when I read it, and I'm having trouble seeing how I can realistically apply everything he says to my life in the order he says it needs to be done. it was very much "my was is the ONLY way" and towards the end of the book it was incredibly evangelical and preachy. Thank you for your well thought out and well worded review!! It put into words what I wanted to say.

message 10: by Zach (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zach This review captures everything I’ve felt about Ramsey. Always with a grain of salt...

message 11: by M.E. (new) - rated it 3 stars

M.E. Kinkade Thanks!

message 12: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Love your review. My husband and I are following the FPU to get out of debt and we had to stop watching the DVDs for many of the reasons you outlined above. I still enjoyed this book and just browsed over the parts that irked me (Bible verses, particularly). As non-Christians some of his views are a little much for us, but the basics of his program have been helping us so much (approximately $6,000 in debt paid in 3 months).

message 13: by Jamie (new) - added it

Jamie I have not finished the book yet, but I am taking the class. We're about halfway through the 9 weeks worth of videos and a whole lot of stuff in the book is word for word what he says in the videos. However I'm sure there are probably some things in the videos that are not in the book. The part in your review that really caught my attention was the part where you were talking about the zero credit score making it hard to rent an apartment or get a mortgage. Dave Ramsey's idea and ultimate goal for his program is for you to not need to get a mortgage because you can pay cash for your house. "If you can't pay cash for it, you don't need it."

Rachel And where do you live while you’re saving Jamie? The streets?

Rachel This review is spot on! The book is filled with useful information but you have to wade through misogyny to get there. I also felt like I was supposed to feel my life was somehow incomplete because I’m unmarried and single. With no intention of having children. DR basically wrote this book to help people, only people exactly like him. Shame the rest of us were made to feel lacking or wrong in some way.

message 16: by Jacob (new)

Jacob Taylor This is an outstanding review that convinced me to get the book from the library rather than buy it. I like Ramsey quite a bit, but he can be very heavy-handed and black-and-white. The part of your review about how self-serving it is rang particularly true; it seems like every hour of his radio show involves him going off on a tangent about his enormous net worth, or how many books he's sold, or how many followers on social media he has, or how many listen to his show, and on and on. It surprises me that someone who has had so much success still has the need to explain to people that he's successful.

message 17: by RACHEL (new)

RACHEL BUI Amazing my LADY! Excellent! Bravo!

message 18: by Reeds (new)

Reeds I haven't read any of his books. I was here reading reviews on them to figure out if any of his books talk about something other than debt snowball because that's all I've ever heard about him. You made him sound like he's just one-size-fits-all, and you sound angry. If I can figure out which of his books talk about something other than debt snowball, I'll take what helps me and breeze past the rest, no need to get angry about it.

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