Thursday, May 30, 2013

On why Dave Ramsey is ruining my life



Not familiar with Dave Ramsey?  He has a three-hour radio show about personal finance, urging listeners to follow his baby steps to financial freedom1, most notably by getting—and staying—out of debt.

I got hooked on his show while I worked long library shifts in college with nothing else to do, and I was itching to throw everything I had at my student loans so that the Professor and I could move onward and upward.

And then the Professor decided to go to graduate school.

In a different state.

Where we’d live on his livable-but-not-roomy stipend2.

And then we made tiny people who like to eat and wear clothes and expensive things like that.

And all of my debt-reduction schemes were reduced to so many abandoned Excel spreadsheets.

We’ve been faithful to pay on my student loans and are determined to avoid going into further debt during grad school, but my debt-reduction fervor faded and with it my penchant for listening to Uncle Dave on the radio…until recently.

For the past month, I’ve spent all of naptime listening to Dave give out advice and rail against credit cards.  I’ve made new charts.  I’ve made new goals and promises to myself.  Professor even agreed to a budget meeting before the end of the month.

A budget meeting!  With spreadsheets!   And pie charts!

But then things sort of soured:

  •  Because it seemed all too easy for people making $100K to wipe up $25K of mess.
  • Or it would be so nice to climb out of a million dollar hole…by selling a McMansion.
  • Or who wouldn’t be debt-free if they were left a six-figure inheritance from a long-lost relative?


I became bitter.  And bitter is ugly.  I coveted what others have and that’s not only sinful…it’s petty.  And small.

So, I write all of this to say…we’re nowhere near debt-free, and I’m nowhere near perfect—our life is nowhere near perfect3, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful.  And now, more for my benefit than yours, are a few things I know we’ve done right in this still-weighed-down-by-student-loans-and-academic-poverty life we lead…

{1} Even if progress is slow, we’re winning.  We’re making good choices: we don’t do credit cards and we do pay above and beyond our student loan payment every month.  I wish I could move the needle on our debt-o-meter a lot faster, but it’s moving in the right direction, and it’s never going the other way again4.

{2} Not having money means lots of time for reading.  I had so much time on my hands when Professor was working and I wasn’t (first before I had a job, then after I came home).  I spent hours reading online about frugality, the drug store game, how to save on everything.  The library has been my second home and led me to subjects beyond just straight up frugality, which leads me to…

{3} Living frugally has given me lifelong, life-changing habits and outlooks.  I started out doing crunchy-granola, hippie things—like cloth diapering and line-drying clothes—to save money.  But a lot of reading (see #2 above) has really changed my thinking on a lot of things in this world and the impact little changes can make.  I don’t think we’ll stop being “crunchy” even when if the money starts rolling in.

{4} The want machine has slowed waaaaaaaaay down.  We don’t have the money to buy everything we want on a whim, so you can bet we think long and hard about things before we plunk down cash for them.  And you know what?  Other than a bike for me5 and a backpack for Professor, this year our “fun” money has gone almost entirely to clothes and beyond-the-basics, just-for-fun food.  “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content”—so saith the King James and we’re finding it to be so very true.

And so very good.


So, yes, we don’t have a lot, and my student loan debt bothers me like an itchy sweater I can’t take off, but I wouldn’t trade the lessons we’ve learned about money, stuff, and values for anything.

P.S.  I still love Dave Ramsey to pieces…I just might need to take a break from his show again until I can get my heart in line.




1 When I read that, it sounds super cultish, but I promise it’s not.  Dave Ramsey has never hawked any Kool-Aid and there are so many ways to glean his advice without spending a dime.  Still, people love or hate the guy, so feel free to find out where you fall by visiting daveramsey.com to see what he’s all about.
2 So technically, we didn’t always live on just that, but since we got married in 2009 when you were more likely to get bitten by a shark (in Minnesota) than get a job, we budgeted as if his stipend was our only income.
3 If I say that I used #iliveintheghetto the other day, does that explain it well enough?
A house being the only exception, and even then, we’re super picky: 15-year fixed rate, more than 20% down, no more than $100K worth of loan, and we need to be able to pay it off in ten years or less.  But we’d love to see if we could save up and pay cash…it will all depend on the feels-forever-away future.
5 I lurve that hubby of mine. :D

44 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. It is so hard to get debt free when you are living on pennies hoping the student loan office doesn't call 20 times this month. We have all been there from time to time. Start small work your way up and move forward doing the best you can do.

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    1. Yes! The "light at the end of the tunnel" for us is that (Lord willing) a higher salary awaits after grad school, it's just tough to look that far ahead sometimes. Thank you for the reminder, Andy.

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  2. Love this. I know I should be grateful that I "only" have student loan debt, but those numbers are huge... cough, cough... over 120k and it feels like I will be on step 2 forever! It's disheartening to hear when my friends brag about getting x bills paid off, when I feel like I am still attacking the same one. It takes discipline to stay focused on the fact that even if it is going down slowly, it is still going down, and in the last 3 years I haven't added anything new to it. It's great to know that other people are on this slower moving journey with me! I rarely look at my total debt balance now, because when it is that big and your payments are already 40% of your income,every extra dime goes to paying them down,and seems so small in comparison to the total amount, it really hinders my motivation. But I am happy to report that it less then 70k right now. My gazelle intensity is more like a snail's pace, but slowly and steadily it will still happen!

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    1. That's about the same amount I have in student loans! It's not pretty to look at and I actually avoid looking at the sum total. Not out of 'ignorance is bliss', but because it tends to leave me feeling overwhelmed, defeated, and in a state of panic.

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    2. "My gazelle intensity is more like a snail's pace, but slowly and steadily it will still happen!"

      I'm so stealing that phrase to motivate myself. We'll be snails together, love. :D

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    3. Just remember what Dave said in the debt lesson of FPU - "The tortoise always wins!" :)

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  3. Thanks for your heart and for considering your heart in the matter. My husband and I have chatted about this with Dave Ramsey..... where are the stories of people living on incomes like ours paying off debt? Do they even happen? I know they do and it will take some time, but with God's grace we'll get there. Thanks for sharing your burden!

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    1. Below the poverty line, housing 75% of your income, a 75% paycut, and paying off debt?

      I know that story; I have lived that story. Our debt was caused by no income for 8 months, and hospital bills.

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    2. So true, Abigail. On the My Total Money Makeover forums (I'm not a paying member, but I do the occasional lurking for motivation), there's a thread dedicated to those who will take more than three years to be through baby step 2. So while the snails don't get the spotlight, that doesn't mean we're alone! :D

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  4. Great Post! While his advice is good, it can't help everyone. We are in 6 figure student loan debt...yup like a third of a house here in NY. It's crazy. There's four of us living in a one bedroom apt. Some days I don't like Mr. Ramsey either! lol. But I look at the good parts of my life. I refuse to get dragged down in my fears and things I do not have.

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    1. Amen, Shauna! Four in a one-bedroom? I feel like the walls are closing in sometimes with a whopping second bedroom--you are a rock star!

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  5. Oh man, I hear ya. I listen to Dave while in the car running errands, and usually I'm nodding and thumping my steering wheel in agreement. And I have had my jaw drop every time some couple does the debt free call-in and they casually say that they make 100k+. What the what?!?!
    My husband cringes when Dave's name is mentioned in this house. :)
    But we are throwing what we have at debt and choosing to take Dave's advice while not letting him be our God. KnowwhatImean?
    Love this post.

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    1. I've heard those amounts, too, and thought, that would be nice!

      Instead, we're living below the poverty line, we buy our rice and beans in bulk, I feed nine people for $3 a day, and we know lots of ways to cook potatoes :)

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    2. Brandy, just have to say your website has been such a lifesaver for me: it's how I learned to like beans! :D

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    3. Betty, I know exactly what you mean. Keep up the good fight! :D

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  6. Thanks for this. We took the Dave Ramsey class and I agreed with a lot of it, but with 3 kids I didn't agree with everything we were taught. For example, working multiple jobs (often for both spouses) and taking whatever odd job you can get in order to pay off your debt. We tried to do that, then quickly realized it was killing our marriage. My husband I never saw each other. We both felt the strain of basically being single parents. We quickly realized that my husband would be missing out on the lives of our children and his time as a father if we kept it up. While getting out of debt is important to us, in the end it wasn't more important than being present in the lives of our children. We are okay with that, but we've had others imply (or outright say) that we are making bad choices by choosing family time over more income to get out of debt.

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    1. Those "others" are trying to justify to themselves their lack of involvement in their kids lives. Kids are only little once and you can't get that time back. Good going, making your family a priority. My husband and I used to have people criticize us for the time we spent with out kids (instead of whatever activity they were trying to recruit us for). Over the years, though, that changed. Instead we get comments about how wonderful our children are, how well behaved they are, how much they admire our family and wish there were more like us. The middle school basketball coach told me that whatever we're doing, it'd be nice to bottle it and sell it to get more kids like mine. I hope that doesn't sound like I'm trying to brag (I take it all with a grain of salt, because I live with those kids and know they're normal kids), but that's really the kinds of comments we get now, and it's largely because we spend time with our kids instead of chasing after things. God made families, not money. Hang in there. You won't regret making your marriage and family a priority.

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    2. Heather, I'm so glad you prioritized your family over your finances; it helps reinforce our decision to have me home and not pursue other jobs. Choosing a responsible and family-friendly path is never a bad choice.

      WarmSocks, it doesn't sound like bragging at all, it sounds like exactly what I hope to hear about my own kids someday; thank you for such encouraging words!

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    3. Thank you. We've been looked down on by many people who judge us as 'lazy' for not 'working harder' or 'making better financial decisions'. We have also felt led for me to stay home with our children. If we hadn't really felt God leading us to do this, we wouldn't be doing it, but I think that ignoring what God told us to do would be a worse decision than not paying off our debt as fast.

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  8. Sorry, typo above

    I'm so glad to see somebody else say this! I really like listening to DR but it's really, really hard hearing household incomes at $80k and above when I live off half of that. As a single mom and living on a single income with no assistance and some large student loans I feel like I'm never getting anywhere. I'm happy for the people calling in but I rarely hear people with my debt to income ratio and/or single parent households screaming "debt-free" and it sometimes stresses me out more to listen to it.

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    1. Shelley, you're not alone in that stress; it's okay to turn down the dial for a time if it's too much. Also, single mom with her head on straight about money? Even if your debt-free scream is forever away, you're battling in the right direction and that's what matters.

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  9. I can totally relate except that our single income is so low we're not making any payments on our student loans. I do the same thing you do though when I get discouraged over our lack of progress. I remind myself of how far we've come. When we first heard of Dave Ramsey, we had so much debt depsite having no kids and two incomes. After I quit working full time to stay home with our kids, we still have managed to pay off over 15k in debt and have 3 children without going into any medical debt. God has been good. And so we press on.

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    1. Risha, He is so good. We'll both get there in His time. :D

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  10. I feel like you got into my head with this post. I feel exactly the same way. I love the podcast as I love hearing success stories and it gives me motivation to keep chugging away at our debt ($61,000 to start out with, about half paid off after 4 years). We started his program after my husband got laid off. Then he joined the Army, and I quit my full-time job to move to live with him, and since then I haven't made even a third of my salary when I was teaching. It's hella frustrating, and I feel like by now we should be out of debt. But we don't have credit cards anymore, no car payments, and we do not live beyond our means. We save up for big things like a TV or piece of furniture. Basically, we're still winning, just like you said.

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    1. The little wins aren't as shiny, but they're still wins; keep up the good work!

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  11. We love Dave and we do not make a lot. We are above poverty level but not by much and we did do Dave's principals and it worked.... I can't speak for everyone but we got rid of the credit cards and started paying cash for everything we could and we ended up paying $25,000 off over 1 1/2 years- how did we do it you ask, we cut cable, dropped our cells phones to the lowest plan (we had a contract) and put whatever money we could find on debt. Hubby worked extra hours at work when they allowed him too and we literally sold what we could. It can happen... it make take you longer but if you work his plan, it does work. You also have to change your mindset. The problem is that most people expect the same results as what is on those podcast... Stop trying to be those people; sit down with your own budget and your realistic goals. Not everyone is going to do it with lightening speed... but it can happen.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Jennifer; so glad to hear your success story!

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    2. I think that's the hard part, is when you feel like people expect that what works for them will work for everyone (not you, because you clearly show that people have to do it in a way that works for them). I can't count how many people have told us to just 'cut back on expenses' and then list things like cable, cell phones, clothes shopping, movies, etc. We don't have cable, we are on a family plan with my parents for cell phones (so we don't have to pay for it), the only clothes we buy (other than when I was pregnant and obviously had to get some clothes) are for our kids, because kids grow and you can't really help that, and we got to maybe three movies a year, once for each of our birthdays, and once for our anniversary. The 'typical' ways to cut budgets don't work for us, because we've already cut those things.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this and being so real. You are not alone in your approach! You have to approach debt reduction and living on less in a way that works for you--- otherwise, you won't stick with it.

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    1. Absolutely, Joy! Glad to know we're not alone. :D

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  14. Thanks so much for sharing! I too struggle with feeling overwhelmed with our debt. I feel very strongly though that God has called me to be a SAHM, and while its extremely difficult on a "less than 200% poverty level" income, it is doable. I've had to learn a lot of ways to make it doable like you said (I LOVE my cloth diapers!) I don't read a lot of Dave Ramsey stuff personally, but I'm very familiar with his work. I like a lot of what Larry Burkett at crown.org has to say - and I know he supports living on one income, so mom can be home :-)

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    1. Dave Ramsey is a big Larry Burkett fan himself; I think a lot of his stuff is actually based on Mr. Burkett's work. And I'm all about mamas coming home if they want to :D

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  15. We are right there with you! I felt like we were living on rice and beans (not literally--but pretty close) before we got "Dave-Ramsey-ed". I felt like we didn't have much left to pinch! BUT we did get rid of all credit cards. And we plan (Lord-willing) to be debt free within the next year. "Murphy" has been throwing all kinds of things our way since we paid off our car in Feb. We had to get a new computer, printer, hot-water heater, DH got a speeding ticket, my daughter needs a cavity filling, and a $250 air-conditioning fix. Oh and our desk broke, but we propped it up until we can afford a new one! LOL Our savings has dwindled a little, but we didn't use any credit on those things! And we are not really going at it like a gazelle or cheetah, but we're getting there! Hang in there! And thanks for the post! It's nice to know we're not alone!

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    1. I try to think of it that way, too: yeah, we're not getting ahead as fast as I'd like, but we're not going backward. I think just learning how to handle money well enough to cash flow Murphy and life in general is so worth it. Thanks for stopping by, Lori!

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  16. I learned much from Dave Ramsey that jump started my path to being debt free. But it wasn't until I invested in You Need a Budget that things started to turn around. Why? Because YNAB has a built budget that's attached to my record books and you can import from your bank. Think of it as Dave Ramsey meets Quicken, except a whole lot simpler. I tried Dave Ramsey's budget tool for about a year and still have it if I want, but YNAB is super. The owner seems like a great guy who invented this system and it works because it's not complicated. He has tons of support on the website and NO, I'm not being paid to sell it. I just love it.

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    1. I admit that we haven't been very good about budgeting: we pay all our bills on the first of the month and just kind of watch the balance after that. But tonight is our first budget meeting in a long while, and I'm super excited! If it goes well, maybe I'll even be looking at YNAB down the road--thanks for the suggestion! :D

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  17. I want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. We were where you are now.... many years ago. We found that by tithing first on what ever we made, that everything else fell into line. We decided to hand build our house, and have it paid off in 5 years.... and it worked. We were willing to just live in a shell and gradually finish it, but that saved us so much money. We determined to drive our cars 10-12 years or more. We bought used clothing, didn't eat out, and gave ourselves $5 bucks a month as our personal spend money. And then one day we suddenly realized..... we have no debt! Jeepers Creepers! WE HAD NO DEBT!!!!! And at the time we were a one income family.... and a teacher's income at that. God is faithful, and don't give up.

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    1. Wow, what a testimony! I've always kind of dreamed of building a house from scratch and living in it (or a tent) as we went, but we'll see what happens for us down the road...we've got a long way to get there. Thanks so much for the encouraging words!

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  18. I like how Dave is ruining our lives too.

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  19. Ha! Too funny. (Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my What I Read post btw!). I understand a lot of your feelings. I was a big fan of Dave years ago, and was able to pay off my debt while a single mom of 4. But I was also living with my parents at the time! Things improved and I moved out on my own which was all kinds of awesome. Then I met a wonderful man who happened to be in major debt. We added 3 kids, and are paying off his debts... it will be another two years, but they're going down each month.

    It's funny how almost every person/couple who calls to do a debt free scream took around 2 years to pay off their debts. Maybe people who take longer just don't call? That's silly. I agree with some of the comments above - we aren't willing to sacrifice all family time, nor did I go out to work (just upped my efforts to earn from home). Kids grow up so fast.

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    1. I saw your article about paying off your debt while you were a single mom; good for you! I'm sure that discipline is coming in handy for you now. :)

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  20. We have a bunch of debt we are trying to pay off. Mostly credit cards and overdue bills. We have 6 six people living on less than 30k so it is hard. People don't understand sometimes that we have no extra and expect gifts ect... It can be exhausting sometimes. God is blessing us as we work to be debt free. God bless.

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