If you’re new here, we have a “10 pages a day” challenge you can join: If You Have 10 Minutes, You Can Read a Book a Month. The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness was the first book I read in the series, however, you can see a full list of all the personal finance and professional development books we’re reading by clicking here or join our newsletter for the latest career and money tips!

Photo Credits: Dave Ramsey | Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 1st edition (September 17, 2013)

I decided to start my personal finance journey with Dave Ramsey. It is widely accepted that Sir Ramsey and Suze Orman are the Grandfather and Grandmother, respectively and respectfully, of personal finance in America. I didn’t ask them if they approve of these titles, and frankly, I made them up. These are two highly regarded experts in the field of personal finance, so I could do much worse. You can see my review of Ms. Orman’s book, The Dos and Donts of Money: Easy Solutions for Everyday Problems by clicking here.

A little about what I knew of Dave Ramsey before reading his book:

  • He’s a Caucasian male
  • He wears glasses, sometimes
  • He’s *old and rich
  • He has a radio show my parents used to sometimes listen to when I was growing up
  • He wrote a book people talk about all the time when lecturing you about snowballs and envelopes

*not a bad thing

A little about me, the author of the post:

  • I’m an African American male
  • I do not wear glasses, yet
  • I’m younger than Dave Ramsey, but not young — a “Senior Millennial” a younger Millennial called me, allegedly as a compliment — and I’m not rich, yet
    • According to CNN’s Millionaire calculator, I’ll be a millionaire in 2049 around age 66
    • According to Google, I’ll be dead in 2055 around age 72 (I’m kidding. The world won’t be around in 2055!)
    • I became debt free in my 30s and I’d like to obtain Financial Independence in my 40s
  • I wrote a book no one talks about

If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” – Dave Ramsey

The above quote is the cornerstone of Dave Ramsey’s book. It’s a good read, and I do recommend you read it. If you’re sensitive, start with Chapter 6 — I explain why below.

As a Millennial that has struggled on and off with debt since age 18, I had some uniquely interesting takeaways from The Total Money Makeover. Because this book has been out since 2013, there are a plethora of reviews written by people far smarter than myself. If you want a traditional book review, thank you for visiting but you’ll be better off returning to Google.

If you want my opinion on the book, please continue reading.

Lessons Learned from Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps

Source: DaveRamsey.com

I heard of Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method before and his advocacy for the envelope system (listen to our tips for modernizing the Envelop System thru electronic apps and accounts here and here). This book goes into greater detail about his “Baby Steps” to reaching debt freedom. I had only heard of a few:

  • Save $1,000 Fast
  • The Debt Snowball
  • Finish the Emergency Fund
  • Maximize Retirement
  • College Funding
  • Pay off the Home
  • Build Wealth

Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with debt and credit cards for over a decade now so I didn’t learn a lot of new information about debt or debt management. To be fair, Dave opens the early chapters by accurately setting our expectations that he won’t preach anything new or groundbreaking, just a proven system that works.

I highly recommend this book for anyone about to enter college, especially if they’re considering paying for it using student loans, or for any first-time credit card users. Most of what I’ve learned about debt has been through trial, error, and ignorance. That is not a path I would recommend for anyone else. I wish someone gifted me this book when I was in my 20s instead of my 30s but here we are.

Where I Agree with Dave Ramsey

The best advice is the advice that works, so I agree with any advice that works for you regardless of the source. As you’ll see below, I disagree with the tone of some areas of the book but — with one exception — the facts are solid. My few disagreements also decreased exponentially after Chapter 6.

I like Dave’s approach to quickly establishing an emergency fund of $1,000. First, I think it’s actually practical for people my age. Second, he notes, “78 percent of us will have a major unexpected event within the next 10 years,” and “the worst time to borrow is when times are bad.” This fund acts as both a buffer against crises and when well-funded, improves your perspective to view previous crises as future minor inconveniences.

The typical advice is to save 3, 6, 9, or even 12-months of expenses, but no one ever tells you where you’re supposed to find 12-months of extra income when over 7 in 10 full-time workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and 6 in 10 Americans don’t have $500 in savings. In these scenarios, the average individual’s money for an emergency fund would need to grow on trees, and we would need to be a full-time tree worker to find the time to pluck from this mythical money tree.

Dave favorably addresses tailoring your emergency fund to your security needs and job security. I appreciate him for doing this because most financial advisers simply recommend you put 12-months of savings in a savings account when most accounts currently earn under 2-percent. When the average credit card has an APR of 15%+ and student loans average 4-7% that math makes so little sense it is sense-less advice to give, yet people keep doing it.

The “debt myths” and “Truth / Myth” breakdowns sprinkled throughout the book are also great reminders. I used a “debt free or die trying” system, and Dave uses a “gazelle-intense” Baby Steps system. In both, failure is not an option. Given enough time to work, any well thought out debt management plan will succeed if the option to fail is removed.

Where I Disagree with Dave Ramsey

Disagreement #1 – 12-percent: You need only do a cursory Google search to see that I’m not the only one baffled by Dave’s “12-percent return” on investment estimate. His blog recently defended this position, so I doubt he’s changed his mind since 2013. Using this extremely optimistic math, he recommends only investing 15-percent of your income. This might have been true for individuals Dave Ramsey’s age, but Millennials — you know, that generation with the trillions in self-imposed [allegedly] student loan debt — can expect lower returns (as low as 5-8%). Just to afford the retirement he speaks of, we might need to invest as high as 22-percent of our income.

If you’re not good at math 12, 8, or 5 percent might not seem like a big deal. I recommend you use a retirement calculator to see how wrong you are. Dave appears aloof here because according to his estimates we’re simply discussing whether you’ll retire a millionaire or multi-millionaire. By this logic, what’s a milli to a boss, I guess?

Well, if Dave’s optimistic math is wrong, you may fall hundreds (or millions?) short of your retirement needs at a time when you will be too old, too tired or too re-tired to work. With that said, if you listened to either Dave or our P&B show, you’d still be better off than the 1 in 3 Americans who have nothing saved for retirement.

Disagreement #2 – Tone:

I came to realize that my money problems largely began and ended with the person in my miror. – Dave Ramsey

The book opens with Dave implying and in one instance explicitly stating that debt is your fault. As the quote above alludes, because most of his financial mischief was self-implied, he cannot imagine a world where bad things happen to good people purely by happenstance or bad luck. He comes to this conclusion because “I am positive that personal finance is 80 percent behavior and only 20 percent knowledge.” Based on his own quote, it’s simple to see how Dave concluded all accumulated debt is your own fault.

I disagree.

He provides an early disclaimer in the book that you’ll need to put your ego aside to benefit from his blunt advice. It is very possible I failed to heed this advice and it is my ego that is causing me to write this lengthy review. That’s one possibility. The other possibility is the book’s repeatedly calling me “broke” and an “idiot” while reminding me that Dave Ramsey is a millionaire every few chapters is what goaded my ego from mild-mannered bruce banner status to the HULK.

Metaphorically, the book references dieting, weight loss, and healthy living choices as familiar themes for relative comparison to our debt freedom journey. In this regard, often Mr. Ramsey’s advice is delivered with the tact of one of those Sour Patch Kids gummies. The first 6 Chapters of the book is “first their sour” before his coffee, sugar, editors, or wife’s input finally kicks in and suddenly, “then they’re sweet.”

Editor’s Note: Food for thought – to avoid this ego-kicking, you can just as easily gain the same amount of insight without the snarky tone by starting at Chapter 6.

If The Total Money Makeover was a meal, it’s 5 Chapters of vegetables forced down your gullet before it remembers there are other food groups to a well-balanced debt diet. I almost ejected around Chapter 3 to become one of those people I hate: logging anonymously onto Amazon like a catfish in the night to write a tersely worded book review for Dave Ramsey to ignore.

Why so defensive, Marcus?

As a Millennial myself, perhaps I’m too biased to admit it’s our generation’s fault for listening to a country that sold us on the benefits and returns of a college education for 18 years of our lives? Thus, I cannot divorce my bias or irritability with that same country for expecting our generation to spend the next 20-40 years of our lives, quite literally, paying trillions of dollars of debt for their lie.

You can sign-up for a credit card and a loan at age 18, yet only 1 in 3 Millennials own a credit card. Using our friend math, this means the greater majority of Millennials, almost 66%, weren’t reckless spenders of debt. Their great crime against humanity was pursuing a college education like they were instructed.

At this point, some irate elderly grand-person is likely 10-keying a comment on their flip phone to lecture me about all the places they’ve personally witnessed their grandchildren waste money. I respectfully encourage you not to bother. This isn’t a new phenomenon: older generations blaming younger generations for listening to them.

Throughout our youth, we were told higher education was paramount to success in America. An entire generation listened, overpaid, and accumulated debt. Lucky us, we got the screw-you trifecta.

According to NerdWallet, the average US household has over $50,000 in student loan debt. Mr. Ramsey believes these people should have just worked to pay for college because: 1) Millennials don’t work?; and 2) Millennials never thought of this idea: working to pay for college?

It’s debatable whether facts still matter, but this assertion — a fan favorite of older generations — is a complete myth. It is not even supported by the type of basic math they teach in 5th grade, let alone college.

With the clarity of both age and hindsight on his side — he was 53 when he wrote the book — Dave spends almost an entire chapter lecturing college-somethings about having the audacity to pay for their (over-priced) education. Yes, what were us Millennials thinking by listening to…everyone?

Debt has been sold to us so aggressively, so loudly, and so often that to imagine living without debt requires myth-busting.” – Dave Ramsey

Maybe Dave is right for the wrong reasons, and my feelings are just hurt because as my dad used to tell me whenever I tried to plead that my punishment was caused by someone else’s mistakes when I was growing up: “It may not be your fault. But it is your problem.”

Where Dave Ramsey and I Will Have to Agree to Disagree

The fake (social media) news will say I don’t want you to read Dave’s book. #FAKENEWS, sad!

It’s possible an ego inflated by political correctness and a collection of participation trophies has made me soft. It’s not what Dave Ramsey said — other than the 12-percent investment returns he seems to have made up — it’s how he said it!

The book offers reliable tips for building a plan to become completely debt free. If you follow his Baby Steps system, you will get out of debt. It’s not a matter of if, but when. This has been proven by Dave, whom as he likes to remind us in the book, is a multimillionaire, and thousands of his followers.

I am not against the enjoyment of money. What I am against is spending money when you do not have the money to begin with.” – Dave Ramsey

The book twice mentions, “Your largest wealth-building tool is your income. When you tie up your income you lose. When you invest your income, you become wealthy and can do anything you want,” yet dedicates surprisingly few additional words covering how to make more income beyond only living below your means. There is also no mention of how far money goes, or doesn’t go, in different areas of the country. It is really easy to prove everyone’s dollar doesn’t stretch the same depending on the city in which they live. A percentage-based budget can help normalize this discrepancy, but it is only briefly mentioned within the book.

Editor’s Note: A detailed percentage-based budget is provided in the “Total Money Makeover Worksheets” (or by visiting www.daveramsey.com) in the appendices of the book.

You can spend less than you earn or you can earn more than you spend. These are not finite or even competing goals. For Millennials, and every generation thereafter, such a lifestyle might be more mandatory than optional. Instead, we’re told a small sacrifice of 2, 3, 7, or 15-years is needed. This timeline seems inspired by the idea that we are all driving towards retiring one day in the distance future, abstractly, we assume, at age 67?

Aint nobody got time for that!

It would be great to be debt free in our 40s, 50s, or 60s. Even better? Becoming debt free when we have the maximum amount of energy and time to enjoy it.

On our show, we’ve talked about the increasing value Millennials place on financial freedom versus the sole pursuit of #retirementgoals. “Work/Life balance” is routinely mocked by Boomers because they can’t or won’t imagine a world for their kids that isn’t motivated by a reality where you work your entire life. This means many will fundamentally misunderstand the Millennial generation.

Millennials are not against working. We might be against doing a soul-sucking job for two-thirds of our life, across a 40-hour work week established in 1914, to do work we could complete in 50% of the time from home if our Boomer bosses could move to macro-managing remotely rather than micro-managing in person, all so we can have the privilege to compete with our peers for wages and jobs that make less than you made in the 1980s. Until our reality aligns with this pursuit of happiness, we snowflakes will continue to try to escape from cubicle jail ASAP to avoid going insane under the oppressive weight of our insurmountable debt, crushed dreams, and stagnant wages.

You should also read: What Does Dave Ramsey Think About Home Equity Loans?


What you don’t know about money will make you broke and keep you broke.” – Dave Ramsey

I agree. There is a buffet of personal finance books to satisfy your hunger, and I’m glad I started with this one for financial perspective. I finished the book hungrier than when I started.

They say “youth is wasted on the young,” but on the topic of living below your means throughout your youth, it feels like fun is forgotten by the old. The irony of The Total Money Makeover for me was that the money makeover didn’t feel total. After a bountiful debt diet covering a near half-dozen chapters, the part of the meal I was promised I should look forward to the most wasn’t as satisfying a dessert as I hoped.

Have you read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness? What did you think? Do you share or hate my thoughts on the book? Let us know in the comments below!

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