Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bookmarks – Financial Peace Revisited

I have read Dave Ramsey’s book as part of a class I have been taking at my church, and though I do have some problems with the book, I do think Ramsey’s basics formula and principles are sound, very likely to work. I think I need to say upfront that for what he is trying to accomplish, he is on the right track. I don’t know this for a fact as of this writing, because it takes years to apply all of what he suggests. (That I know this ahead of time is one reason I do respect what is happening. Ramsey isn’t giving me a get rich quick scheme or assuring me I’ll be free of debt in ten easy steps.)

But I feel I must address much of my remarks to the Dave Ramsey disciples, those who have bought into his winning smile and engaging stories and “common sense” so much that they fail to see what I would not call flaws in his system, but problems in delivery.

First, Ramsey uses a great deal of shaming language. Now when a person is foolish or stupid and just plain wrong, shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But Ramsey writes as if each poor decision is evidence of moral decay.

I was very disappointed with the chapter on work and careers. Ramsey’s basic idea here is that if you aren’t making enough money in your present job, you just aren’t working hard enough or need to leave no matter how otherwise satisfying your occupation may be. That alone ought to have every teacher in America ticked off. One could help meet financial goals sooner by getting a second job. He doesn’t, of course, mention that despite his emphasis on “family,” that such a course of action might take one away from family and/or bring about health concerns later that will cost more than money. But back to the point on not working hard enough. Ramsey implies that the man who works hard (this means extra hours or being creative so that your bosses will be compelled to give you a raise), will make more money. That is a gross generalization I find downright insulting. (Thankfully, he is more reasonable in his video lesson on the subject.)

One problem, something that isn’t really major but stuck in my craw anyway, was the addition at the end of each chapter of “Thoughts from Sharon” (Mr. Ramsey’s wife). On the surface the presence of these little asides or addendums seem to make sense. They show the perhaps “softer” side of the Ramsey family and accentuate one of Ramsey’s most significant points (at least to me): that working together to achieve financial goals goes a long way to improving marriage. But most of these are poorly written, don’t add much to the information in the chapters, are sometimes overly perky (“If anybody loves a bargain, it is Dave and I. Fun, fun, fun.”). These sections are not really so much flaws in the book, but they just rubbed me the wrong way.

Mr. Ramsey’s principles of financial management are, from what I can tell, sound.As noted above, Ramsey does not promise that one is going to get rich quick or that there is some sort of magic in his ideas. In fact, probably the biggest draw to his method is that it can be done by any person, at least in theory. One does not have to have special talents, abilities, or resources.

Get past the problem of how he treats some in his audience, and I suspect the reader will benefit in a big way. But, for example, telling people there are certain types of people, that we are just born with certain personalities, and then making fun of those who are not like him, is not good. I am going to have to have more than discipline (something he preaches and which I very much agree with) to get past this. And such treatment is not something to “just get over.”

Mr. Ramsey uses the phrase “common sense” a great deal in his book, in his teaching, and on his program. But he uses the phrase incorrectly. There is a very big difference between common sense and something that makes sense, once it is explained adequately. Most of what Ramsey tells us makes sense after he has explained it, but it is not necessary a matter of common sense. Otherwise, we would not need him or his books.

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