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.
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.