Showdown: Dave Ramsey vs. Larry Burkett

BoxingIn one corner, Dave “Beans” Ramsey

There are a lot of self-proclaimed Christian financial gurus out there, but none are bigger than Dave Ramsey. He’s one of those guys who has struck a chord in American culture and even crossed over in the secular world because of his no-nonsense approach and dynamic personality. His radio show is now heard on 500 stations around the country and his workshops are found in almost every church in America.

Having read his books, taught his “Financial Peace University” at my church, and listened occasionally to his radio program, I can say there are a lot of things that I like about his message and approach. He emphasizes getting out of debt, living on a budget, avoiding credit, and living frugally. All good stuff and his methods work incredibly well.

I have seen people go from being buried under a mountain of debt to having a bank account flush with savings. I’ve seen people who started with their arms crossed in the back of the class become ardent ambassadors of sound financial principles.

I love that he eschews the notion that your credit score is all-important and my heart goes all aflutter when he asks people to cut up their credit cards (the sound of credit cards being mutilated is like Mozart to me).

So why does all this sound like the precursor to a “but…”?

Because, even with all the common ground we share, there are a few places where I feel he goes off the map at the most important intersections.

Live Like No One Else

Dave’s tag line is “Live like no one else so later you can live like no one else” (and he has). In case you’re thinking that he means live like no one else by giving radically and living a selfless, Christ-like life, he follows that statement up with, “Drive like no one else so later you get to drive like no one else.” and “Dress like no one else so later you get to dress like no one else” (he says that here).

As Christians, if our ultimate financial goal is to dress better than the world and drive better cars than our neighbors, we are missing the point completely. Our highest priority in life should not be ourselves, our retirement or our kids’ education when we live in a world so achingly in need of Christ.

When we focus on building wealth, buying bigger houses, and retiring rich, we get dangerously close to thinking we can serve two masters. Make no mistake; we can’t.

This is not to say that Dave is against giving. He encourages it as a part of budgeting, recognizes it as an essential part of the Christian faith and gives away huge portions of his own income.

My problem is with the emphasis. He seems to be saying, “sacrifice and eat enough rice and beans so you can retire a millionaire (and, oh yeah, give some of it away if you want).”

Sacrifice doesn’t have an expiration date. Our obligation doesn’t end when we hit a certain age or the balance grows big enough. God’s money was never meant to be stock-piled. We are not cul-de-sacs of His gifts to us, we are conduits.

In the Other Corner, Larry “The Professor” Burkett

When I was fresh out of jail, making a pittance parking cars (and living in one), I tuned the radio one night to hear the plodding voice of the most vanilla man I’d ever heard. But what he was saying gently whispered its truth in my heart. He said that we’d all been guilty of stealing from God by wasting what he’d entrusted to us. He said doing money God’s way would deliver you from debt, build savings, avoid the pain of financial hardship and bring you great joy as you used it to honor Him.

I had known the extreme pain of financial hardship, so I figured if what this Barry-Manilow-loving nerd was true, it was exactly what I needed. I called the radio station every day asking for free books and giveaways, anything written by Mr. Burkett and I consumed them all with the voracity of a starving man.

With his help, I was able to climb out of $100,000 in debt in 4 years, start a business, save, and, more importantly, give recklessly. You see, this is where Larry and Dave differ. Larry’s ultimate goal was to save money to give it all away for God’s Kingdom.

I was fortunate enough to work with Larry Burkett and, although he could have bought and sold me many times over, he lived in a very modest house, drove an old beat up car (with duct tape literally holding the bumper in place), and wore the same khaki pants and beat up jacket day in and day out.

When I was in his presence, I felt ashamed of my Honda Civic and nice suit jacket. I had that rare feeling of being near the real deal. Here was a man who was living life as if he actually believed he was going someplace better.

The Decision

By a unanimous decision of one, the winner is… Larry “The Professor” Burkett! Yes, I know I may be biased, but I would advise you to check out Larry Burkett if you’re not familiar with him. His materials can be a little dry (whatever you do, don’t get Larry’s board game, “Money Matters” – yikes), but the content and the results are the same and Larry will take you into that realm of pure joy that is giving promiscuously.


26 thoughts on “Showdown: Dave Ramsey vs. Larry Burkett

  1. Dave Ramsey tweeted a reaction to the post this morning agreeing that Larry Burkett wins in his eyes 😉 and I want to say that the post was written in a spirit of fun and not bashing Mr. Ramsey as others have done. The wealth God has entrusted him is his own to manage, not ours. I happen to know through (second hand) reports that he is a genuinely good guy.

    My objection was to the materials’ seeming emphasis on sacrificing in order to be rich. Dave tweeted a link to his new program called The Legacy Journey which appears to stress giving more. I will be checking it out and reporting back to you guys.

    • Nice article. I’m just diving into some of Larry Burkett’s material. I’ve been a Dave fan for years, and he help us pay off $40,000 in 23 months.

      I think part of his message of “drive like no one else” might be nothing more than a motivational tool. But I can see how it might steer someone to thinking… get out of debt, become filthy rich, spend it all on myself.

      Dave’s teaching freed me up to thinking bigger about my time on earth and shifted from thinking about retiring on the golf course, to retiring to the mission field. How to build wealth, and become financially independent so I can serve others with the resources God’s given me. (more of the legacy stuff, Dave is working on now)

  2. Both affected my life. When my wife and I were younger I heard Larry a lot, bought his workbook about budgeting & worksheets . . . and didn’t use it. A few years ago I started hearing Dave and finally put into action budgeting and the cash envelope system. We are far, far better off.

    I too am bugged by Christians and non-Christians (e.g., The Secret) who stress getting “that dream house” or “fancy car.”

    Raised Methodist, I have John Wesley’s words stuck in my head and imperfectly in my heart.

    “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly, saved all you can, Then give all you can.”

    • Phil,

      Thanks for the comment. That quote is one of my favorites and Wesley is a constant inspiration to me. It’s said that when he died, his entire earthly “wealth” consisted of the loose change in his pocket.

      You may have heard this one before but I love the story of how God got ahold of his finances:

      While at Oxford, an incident changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately, the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward?” Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?

  3. I admit I have a soft place in my heart for Dave Ramsey. I read his book and went through his classes and paid off over 30k in debt in 18 months when I had previously scraped by paycheck to paycheck. It was applying biblical principles that made the difference and it was nothing short of miraculous how they worked. Afterwards I taught about five different groups his Financial Peace University curriculum and saw dozens of lives radically changed, for the glory of God. I’ve also attended several Entreleadership conferences by Dave Ramsey and I have often heard him say “Live like no one else so you can GIVE like no one else.” I’ve heard hundreds of stories about his generosity to the community and employees as well. Today, I DRIVE like no one else, even though my car is not shiny or fancy. But, it’s PAID FOR. I believe that is what he emphasizes as opposed to luxury. I have not read Larry Burkett in order to make a truly unbiased vote, but I don’t think there is a reason I need to pick one over the other. They are both messengers of God’s principles and some may relate to one style over another. That being said, I agree with everything you said in your article about what our end goals should be!! You are yet ANOTHER powerful teacher like these other great men of God and I’ve learned as much from you. So, thank you!!

    • Jennifer,

      I, too, have seen many lives changed from Ramsey’s stuff and think it’s one of the best resources out there for learning to manage your money. I just got a general feeling that the giving and generosity part was not emphasized as much as I prefer in my teachings because, for me, that’s the linchpin of the whole thing (but I’m a little radical in that area).

      It’s a personal preference and the picking between the two is just meant to be a fun way to engage readers on the blog. You know my heart, so thanks for the kind words about me.

  4. I will chime in and say that I have seen the material from both men and from a budgeting, cash flow and debt pay down standpoint, I love both of these guys. I especially like Dave’s “gazelle like intensity” to debt payoff! Having heard of Larry many years ago on the radio with his “Money Minute” broadcast and then reading several of his books, I also prefer his overall knowledge and style. ( I guess that means I might be pretty boring as well 🙂 )

    As a financial advisor by trade, I would lean more toward agreeing with Larry as well when moving beyond the budgeting/cash flow process. I don’t think it is a good idea to have a “one size fits all” plan as I have yet to meet 2 couples that were the same and had the same “needs” to move in a better financial direction. If I gave that kind of advice to my clients, I would lose my licenses and/or get sued. Larry leaves the insurance and financial planning alone by giving some general guidelines instead of specifics by way of the Money Map which I share with many clients as a great roadmap to follow. With that I will end my post. Blessings!

    • Thanks Kurt! The two guys couldn’t be further apart in terms of style that’s for sure. But you can’t argue with the results when it comes to debt reduction and budgeting.

  5. I am well aware of Mr. Ramsey, watched him on television, seen his books at church. I bought my 1st Burkett book many years ago, I own a few. I think it is a matter of style, I like Burkett.

    • You’re right Marsha – it’s a matter of style. My style has been described as “drinking red bull from a fire hose”, so you would think I’d prefer Dave’s approach, but for some reason, white bread Larry spoke to my heart.

  6. Yes! Yes! Yes! I totally agree with you Account4:17!!! We’ve been using Larry Burkette’s Money Matters program since before it became a computer program. At first, I really didn’t like Dave Ramsey’s approach. I even hated seeing it take off in the churches the way it did. But, I’ve grown a little wiser since then and now realize that Dave Ramsey reaches those who are more tempted in the flesh (babes in Christ) than those that Larry Burkette reached. After a time, I believe those who grab onto Dave’s methods in the beginning of their walk, eventually come to realize–through the growth of their own Christian faith–that giving is so much more satisfying than trying to drive or live elaborately for themselves. So, yeah. Both are needed in this world of ours!

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  8. Probably too late to post here and have many reads, but just in case…

    “As Christians, if our ultimate financial goal is to dress better than the world and drive better cars than our neighbors, we are missing the point completely:

    I am surprised that Account4:17 thought Dave Ramsey’s “live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else” tag line was promoting materialism. My family has been studying his materials and following his plan since 2008. We’ve been thru FPU twice, once for ourselves and then coming back later to help encourage others. We also just recently finished “The Legacy Journey” and I listen to his online show at least every other day. The man is a giver, pure and simple. If you miss that part, go back and study again or listen to his radio shows. FPU Lesson # 9 (of the new version) emphasizes giving and Biblical stewardship so strongly that it’s almost like being hit in the head with a hammer.

    Another thing I really enjoy about Dave is he does emphasize how backa$$wards our culture has become about money and wealth. On the one hand, we (and I mean the American consumer culture in general) view money, a “good job” and status symbols such as a nice car or house as a sign that someone is highly successful and–ironically–most of us work towards those things. But then when you insert the phase so-n-so is a rich guy and a Christian, the Pharisees leap out of the wood works and criticize folks who have achieve phenomenal financial success.

    The other funny thing is how we define “nice” in terms of material possessions. A “nice” house or car tends to be one that’s just a bit better than where I live or what I drive. Ironic that this measure changes as people move up the runs of financial ladder.

    I won’t lie. I want to be financially successful. I’d like to trade in my 1999 Camaro with 167,000 miles on it that I’ve driven for 14 years in for a nicer car someday. And I wouldn’t mind if it were a late-model Corvette convertible. But I’m not going to follow the ways of this world to get it. Let me give an example: some folks would sign an 84-month loan and stress their family budget to the breaking point to achieve a “dream car” like this. Or a “dream whatever”…fill in the blank with house, boat, car, motor cycle, resort property, vacation, etc. The difference between God’s way and the worldly way is I won’t buy that Vette until it is a relatively small portion of my world financially. And I will pay for it all in cash. And I will enjoy the blessing as God intends me too. And it will increase my joy in the Lord and his bounty instead of stress me out over the next car payment.

    No, I did not just say I only find happiness in Corvettes. If you think I’m a crass materialist because I’d have a good time driving a hot car, read that last sentence again carefully before tearing me a new one, okay? 😉

    That’s where I find Dave’s “live like no one else so you can live like no one else” such a fresh insight into wealth. It’s OKAY for Christians to be wealthy, live in “nice” houses, go on “fun” vacations….it really is! As long as you achieve those things and consume in moderation and work according to biblical stewardship principles.

    Face it, my fellow Americans, on a scale of 1 (totally broke) to 100 (Bill Gates), we Americans are already in the low to mid 90s compared to the rest of the world in terms of wealth, even those of us deemed “poor” by our neighbors and the Jonses. So if you are reading this on the Internet in your home that you own or in a Starbucks cafe, chance are you’re wealthy by any standard of this world. So to say Christians should only live in 1 bedroom, dirt floor hovels is stupid, unbiblical, and it denies that God our heavenly Father sometimes chooses to bless his children with phenomenal gifts.

    And like most daddies who give their kids gifts and blessing, I’m of the view that he wants us to enjoy some of them in ways that are pleasing to him.

    Would we ever say bad things about a piano virtuoso who could move you to tears? Or an incredible Olympic athlete, or a person who sings very well from using their gifts to their fullest and enjoying the successes obtained thereby? I certain hope we would not.

    Here’s a fun exercise:

    What percentage of your income does YOUR car represent? If you make $100,000 / year and drive a $30,000 with payments on it, your car represents 30% of your yearly paycheck. More actually considering interest. And if you got 0%, that doesn’t mean you were smart and beat the dealer at his game; it just means you overpaid for the car because they don’t negotiate down the sticker prices when you get 0% financing. If a Christian earns $1 million / year and buys a $100,000 Corvette for cash, that’s 10% of his paycheck. Which person is more “spiritual”, the one who spends 30% of their wealth or 10%? Answer: neither….more on that below.

    What percentage of your financial wealth does your house represent? Dave lives in a 5 million $ house her purchased for cash. His estimated net worth is around $54 million. So he lives in a house that is 10% of his wealth. Contrast that with the “typical” American who signs up for a mortgage that is 2-3 times (yes, you read that right 200% – 300%) their household income. 10% of 200 – 300%. Who is really outliving their means? Who has the power to give more? Who is probably really giving more, the guy who has $40 million left over or the typical American who lives paycheck to paycheck after mortgaging their income for the next 30 years?

    Can Jesus, our Lord who died once for all (all is a BIG word!), save someone who drives a Corvette and wears snappy clothing, or does the love of Jesus only apply to folks who shop at consignment stores and drive 5+ year old Hondas? Can I say that without offending someone? I hope so.

    The point here is: watch out for that “beam in my eye, speck in my neighbor’s eye” dilemma before getting on the all-wealth-is-to-be-used-for-feeding-starving-children-in-Africa and Christians-shouldn’t-try-to-become-wealthy soapbox spewed forth in our culture. Those are the argument of the Pharisees and the Gnostics.

    I think Christians SHOULD try to become wealthy by practicing biblical stewardship. Let’s face it: SOMEONE is going to be wealthy. Would you rather Christians be wealth or non-Christians? 😉 I know who probably will do a better job stewarding the wealth, so I’m going to go on a limb and say it would be better overall for the world if all Christians were wealthy.

    Bottom line is Dave is not teaching any sort of prosperity Gospel, nor is he saying we should get rich for the sake of getting rich. Often times, riches are just the byproduct of someone who is very, very skilled and disciplined. To use a small portion of that wealth for personal enjoyment is totally cool.

    I don’t think God would have considered Job–at one point one of the richest men in the world–as a righteous man if using a reasonable portion one’s wealth for personal enjoyment were a sin. Remember, he had a house with 14 kids as well as servants and was able to give inheritances to his sons and his daughters, and it was highly unusual for anyone but the eldest son to receive anything in ancient cultures. So we know the guy was rich, and he blessed his family with it. Yes, I think he probably drove a late model chariot on occasion, top down, and wind in the hair.

    And I think God was totally cool with that considering he was the one who abundantly blessed Job that way.

    • Erik says: “FPU Lesson # 9 (of the new version) emphasizes giving and Biblical stewardship so strongly that it’s almost like being hit in the head with a hammer.”

      I think that’s the biggest difference in Larry Burkette’s teachings and Dave Ramsey’s: Larry always started out hard with the Biblical standard and Dave Ramsey waits until he has them hooked into the desire to be financially secure before he hits them in the head with a hammer. My and my husband’s motivation, as Christians, was to follow the Lord’s standards. So, Larry’s approach was best for our family. But, sadly, that’s not always going to get everybody else on board and on the right track. I’m thankful for both of them.

  9. I used to hear Larry Burkett on the radio and one thing struck me when I heard him. He had a great heart for God’s people. He reminded me of the hymm that has a chorus that ends “I will hold Your people in my heart.” He was far more concerned about people’s problems and bringing them God’s relief than about “just” money.

  10. I have coordinated Biblical Financial studies at our church since 2000, and have personally led groups using the older Crown Small Group Study (authored by Howard Dayton), the follow-up Compass Finances God’s Way small group study (also authored by Howard Dayton), and Ramsey’s FPU. I personally love the Crown/Compass study – it really deals with our heart attitudes towards our Lord and the financial resources He provides. And so many graduates of that study have told me that it changed their lives. However, being a Bible Study, in many cases it is not well-received by non-believers, and the volume of daily homework can be overwhelming to households with two wage-earners and children. I suspect this is the reason why we have had a high attrition rate in our most recent Crown/Compass studies. In contrast, the FPU videos are very entertaining and the homework load is not as heavy – because you never have to crack open a bible in this study. Ramsey’s teachings are based on biblical principles, and he does emphasize giving in the last study, but if you miss that last week you might think the overall goal is to make the accumulation of wealth your idol. We have been presenting FPU for the last few years with fairly good retention of students, and then attempting to add biblical content as optional extra material. The one area where FPU is superior to the other two is addressing head-on the issue of spouses who have different financial personalities, and does so in a very positive, inclusive manner. Ideally, people would gain huge benefits from taking both studies. I would encourage believers to seek out the Crown or Compass studies, and encourage seekers or non-believers to take Financial Peace University. Hopefully all these studies will encourage participants to “seek first His Kingdom”.

  11. You will love Dave’s Legacy Journey. As a person who has reached the land of Financial Freedm with both Larry and Dave’s help, I guarantee you will see the other side of Dave’s philosophy. The Total Money Makeover is the first half of Dave’s message, “You have to live like noone else,” the Legacy Journey is the second half, “So you can Live and Give like no one else!”

  12. hello brothers greets the jaime heredia frias pastor, hope is Pacaipampa the address 454 santa rosa Piura peru , if they could send materials in Spanish literature and Bibles, the brothers hope their prayers always reply hope the answer

  13. After reading through many of these comments I understand how some people are put off by Dave Ramsey. Having taken and taught FPU and read Total Money Makeover I can tell you first hand his program had a significant impact on the financial stewardship of my wife and I. We give more generously after the FPU program while paying down debt and becoming better financial stewards. My limited experience shows this to be the norm rather than the exception. Dave is comfortable in his own skin and confident, but would a true egotist accept responsibility for losing everything financially? The only thing I can say about Larry Burkett is that Dave mentions him with high regard more than once in the FPU videos. I think Dave’s point is that it’s possible and even acceptable to enjoy the money God entrusts to you while being a good, faithful, and generous steward.

  14. Thank you for this article and for your story!! I had followed Larry’s financial plan years ago and quite successfully but have over the years slipped. Partly because of lazyness and then life got complicated and then it was survival mode, so basically living paycheck to paycheck. We are about to change course in our lives and know that we need to buckle down. Your article has encouraged me to give Larry another try and knowing that he is the real deal as you call him, encourages me to step up to the plate and give it my best. In the very least i will be honouring God and that alone is a good place to start! Thank You! Oh and yes i hear good things about Dave R as my kids follow him!

  15. Nice story but I do not believe you ever worked with Larry Burkett — as I did for 15 years.

    Your comment about him wearing the same clothes every day is a lie. Your comment about him driving a car with a bumper duct-taped on is a lie. If you knew him, as I did, you would know that.

    You have no idea where he lived, but I visited with him during his last days on Earth.

    You are a fraud and a liar.

    Robert J. Sutherland

  16. Thank you for this. Our church is promoting Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and something just didn’t sit right with me. My husband and I used Larry Burkett’s principles to ditch our debt 20 years ago, and Ramsey’s principals seemed so similar. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was different. I appreciate your insight.

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