Where I Disagree with the Total Money Makeover

I recently thumbed through Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book a bit while I was at Kinko’s printing off a large document. I didn’t read a ton, and there are many helpful things in there, to be sure. Further, Dave Ramsey has a very good ministry and is doing a great service.

But here’s something that doesn’t resonate with me. Quite often he would exhort people to save money and avoid debt by appealing to the fact that millionaires are frugal and avoid debt. “Millionaires don’t drive new cars — that’s how they became millionaires.”

The problem is that I don’t want to be a millionaire. That whole concept feels empty to me — “live like no one else now so you can live like no one else then.” I’m just not interested in that. I don’t want to make financially conservative decisions in order to build my own wealth.

What I’m interested in is helping people, seeking to do good, seeking to share, and being “hazardously liberal,” to use a phrase from John Piper, in serving others. Frugality put in the service of generosity — that’s a decent aim.

I’m sure Dave Ramsey would agree. When he refers to millionaires, he isn’t advocating that we should want to be one, but probably appealing to the fact that many people do. He’s not saying it’s good; he’s just acknowledging a desire many in society have, and appealing to it without approving it.

Still, I think it would be better to make clear that the aim in frugality (which I’m not convinced is a biblical virtue) is to serve others. That’s not only a more exciting life; it also keeps us from the trap of superficial frugality where we sacrifice the good of others in the name of financially conservative efficiency.

  • Paul Fundenburg

    I agree with your sentiments, but so does Dave. Part of his “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else” creed is to, once you’ve accumulated wealth enough to “live like no one else” is to “give like no one else”. I can guarantee you he gives much more than 10% to his church plus much more to outside charities. To him 10% is a starting place and when you’ve been a good steward and God’s given you more than you could use, you help others with your wealth.

  • http://dbartosik.com David Bartosik

    I agree with Pauls statement. Live like no one else you you can live like no one else could be interpreted as “live like a world millionaire” which is the feeling I got from your post or live like a biblically centered Christ centered person who “gives like no one else. That is one of the ways you begin to “live like no one else”.

    But I haven’t read the book so cannot fully comment, but that would be the way I would attempt at reconciling your statements in your post and the comment of Paul. I’d be comfortable saying I am living like no one else in that way. Seeking to be financially stable in order to give it away—seems solid. thanks for the thoughts dude….ps stoked for you to be speaking at biola- maybe I will be able to make it out if I am back in the country by then!

  • http://staffaction.blogspot.com staffaction

    I had similar thoughts, Matt, when I went through is Financial Peace University last year. I think most (or all?) of what he recommends just makes common sense though…emergency fund, insurance, avoiding debt, etc. And when he talks about living like no one else later I tend to think, yeah, that’s when everyone his living on the wild side now will be paying for it. Those of us who avoided debt etc. will be living like no one else later because of wise choices earlier.

    All that said, I did wonder why his “baby step” for giving was the last one. Why not incorporate it early on? I did wonder if his stuff is geared towards finding our peace in our finances and not ultimately God. It’d be something I’d enjoy having a conversation with him about anyway.

  • davefan

    I disagree with this article. The whole purpose of the total money makeover is to get people out of debt, save for retirement and give. It isn’t aimed at telling you how to become a millionaire. He does frequently use them as examples, but the point of the book is to help people who are drowning in debt get out.

    Dave Ramsey is saying to “live like no one else now, so later you can give/live like no one else”. @staffaction Dave’s baby step for giving is the last one, but that “giving” is over and beyond the 10% tithe. That is supposed to be put before baby step #1. Remember, the point of the book is to get people out of debt, have an emergency fund, and save for their future and children’s college. It is to make people financially stable, not millionaires. When we are financially stable, then we can give above and beyond to others.

    I have read the book and wish the author of this article would too before jumping to judgements.

  • BIll Walker

    Maybe read the whole book before you post on it?

  • Mark

    Is it possible Ramsey’s appeal to millionaires is simply to suggest them as a standard to judge your money habits by? He isn’t saying you need to BE a millionaire, he’s saying “these people obviously manage their money well and they don’t do this so you shouldn’t either.”

    it’d be like saying “doctors don’t smoke, you shouldn’t either.” that doesn’t imply I want to be a doctor. it just sets a standard: the experts in the field behave in this way.

    I haven’t read Ramsey either but that’s certainly how the quote struck me.

  • Dave Kassner

    Matt, thank you for your comments. They were given in a way that reminds me of the Bereans in Acts 17, who examined even Paul’s teaching in the light of truth that was previously revealed.

  • http://www.CrazyAboutChurch.com Charles Specht

    I haven’t read this book yet but I’m considering taking a look at it.

  • Brent Burckart

    I would second those who rightly point out that Dave’s emphasis is not nearly as self-centered or materialistic as your post could seem to suggest. A primary goal of his is to get Christians to become financially stable so that they can give regularly and generously to God’s work and to those in need.

    That being said, I enjoy and benefit from your website! Keep up the good work.

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  • Chris

    What’s wrong with wanting to become a millionaire? It’s what you do with the money and how you live, right? Is it un-Christian to want to be rich?

  • Hugh

    Has Piper written Don’t Waste Your Poverty for third world saints? They could teach us something.

    This “get all you can & give all you can” is sickening.

    Does anyone in America even want to try to learn to be content in all things?

    Jesus and Paul warned about the allure of riches.

  • Mark

    “When we are financially stable, then we can give above and beyond to others.”

    I don’t think Jesus would agree with this. We are called to live self-sacrificially.

    When we are financially stable, giving over 10% is comfortable for us. How many of us would be willing to give over 10% when we haven’t yet reached a point of financial stability? I’m not saying we should avoid financial stability. We should all be good stewards of our money, and I agree with Ramsey’s principles of avoiding debt and building an emergency fund, but this mentality that we need to make sure we have all our finances in check and be in a good place so we can give above 10% is not Biblical.

    In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus says the poor widow put in more than all the rich men who donated out of their wealth. He isn’t advocating for poverty, but is laying out the principle that we should give generously, and sacrificially, for she gave “everything she had.”

    Giving to God’s Kingdom in the way this widow does would not be considered “financially wise” by modern, American standards. By all means, be wise with your money, but the wisest thing may be to give it away.

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  • Matt

    Great to see all the comments here.

    I should have been more clear that I don’t think Dave Ramsey is encouraging people to be millionaires. I agree that he isn’t.

    Let’s set Dave Ramsey’s approach aside, and here are two things I would just want to say about the path to financial freedom generally. Maybe Dave would agree with these, maybe not, but either way I’m saying these generally, and not in response to The Total Money Makeover:

    First, I think Mark is right that giving generously is something that needs to happen not simply once we are financially stable, but even in the unstable times. 2 Corinthians 8 indicates this. I’m not saying that those who are in a real and dire financial emergency should give (as Edwards points out, that could sometimes actually be a form of pride), but rather that even before we have our ducks all in a row, radical generosity needs to be part of our strategy for financial freedom. You give even in the times of having little and even while you are digging out, assuming that you have at least some income coming in. Lots of texts could be multiplied.

    Second, I actually don’t think that the way millionaires spend is a necessarily a good measure of how we should spend, even if our goal is not to become millionaires. Sure, their spending habits correlate with them being millionaires, in some cases. But the fact that those spending habits _may_ be effective in becoming a millionaire does not mean they are the right habits for other goals–such as the goal of giving generously and fulfilling the creation mandate in other ways (spending a lot on research and development-type tasks and initiatives and learning that have a long-term “ROI” for you, for example).

    In sum, I agree with the importance of financial freedom, and see it as a corollary of 1 Th 4:12. But we should be explicit about generosity being a part of that path the whole time, not simply something that financial freedom enables us to do.

    Generosity is perhaps the best debt reduction strategy of all: “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:24-25). “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4).


  • http://staffaction.blogspot.com staffaction

    Great points, Matt.