Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover

The Total Money Makeover:
A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Author: Dave Ramsey

Publisher: Nelson Books

ISBN: 0785263268 – Hardcover, 244 pages

Dave Ramsey hates debt.

If I was debt, Dave Ramsey will smite me down where I stand.

Just like the authors of the other book reviews I’ve done, I’ve had no prior experience with Dave Ramsey’s previous work (I was illiterate till recently). The only reason I picked the book up from the library was because I thought the guy on the cover was Steve Jobs (turns out he’s not).

As I’ve mentioned, Dave Ramsey doesn’t seem to be fond of debt. There’s a good reason for that – he use to be in the debt hole himself. In fact, he was bankrupted. He went from fairly rich at 26, to fairly poor within a few years. After declaring bankruptcy, he took a hard look at himself and how he handled his money.

Ramsey started the second chapter of the book discussing the effects of denial on those with debt. He challenges you to take a look at your own financial picture, and examine if you’re in the hole or not. The book continues on with two very important chapter, specifically, the chapter on Debt Myths and Money Myths.

In Debt and Money Myths, Dave Ramsey lays out many of the common myth that can be often associated with debt, or general money matters. The Debt Myth chapter is basically focused on tearing down the often sold debt ideas within our society, while the Money Myth chapter focused on the financial mentality of people.

Here are some noteworthy ones:

Debt Myth: Make sure your teenager gets a credit card so he or she will learn to responsible with money.

Truth: Getting your teen a credit card is an excellent way to teach him or her to be financially irresponsible.

Money Myth: I’ll just file for bankruptcy and start over, it seems so easy.

Truth: Bankruptcy is a gut-wrenching, life-changing event that causes lifelong damage.

Money Myth: I can’t afford insurance.

Truth: Some insurance you can’t afford to be without.

Many of the debt and money myth are pretty solid, although I do question some of his debt myths. Specifically the anti credit card platform. One of the debt myth Dave Ramsey argues against is the fact that debit cards do not have more risk than credit card. I agree with that point, but he also failed to mention the broader protection afforded by credit cards. Of course, the benefits of credit cards can easily be overshadow by irresponsible usage.

Continuing on, the rest of the chapters lays out Dave Ramsey’s plans for attacking debt and building wealth, which he calls the “Baby Steps.”

The Baby Steps can be lay out as this:

  1. Start an emergency fund of $1,000.
  2. Pay off all debt fast using the “debt snowball” method (except mortgage).
  3. Build emergency fund to cover 3-6 months of expenses.
  4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and other pre-tax retirement accounts.
  5. Save for your child’s college fund
  6. Pay off home early
  7. Build wealth and give! (Mutual Funds & Real Estate)

Couple things about the baby steps. They’re pretty solid besides a few things. His college saving suggestions are all pretty dead-on, except for the out of place mention of serving in the National Guard as a means to pay for college. I have nothing against military service, but an important decision such as that should warrant more discussion, instead of a simple one sentence mention, as Dave Ramsey did in the book.

The methods to build wealth (or lack thereof) via mutual funds and real estate is also questionable. I understand that the book centers around debt reduction, so the wealth building portion of the book can be lacking – but suggesting mutual fund without providing more insight can be a bit misleading. If a person is not careful in his selection of funds, he can easily be losing money through fees. Not to mention the fact that many mutual funds have poor track records in beating the market.

The complaints (on Baby Steps) aside, Dave Ramsey’s method of debt reduction, although at times a bit aggressive, can be implementable. Each of the Baby Step he list are important aspect in a person’s financial life, and his emphasis on emergency funds are well appreciated. As you read through each of the chapter on the Baby Steps, Dave Ramsey explains the importance of each step and supplements his points with stories from real life families. This brings me to another problem with the book. Of the 244 pages, many of them are riddled with excerpts of stories after stories. In fact, the last few pages of the book contains even more Total Money Makeover stories. Showcasing result is fine and dandy, but too much of it can become unnecessary fluff.

My beef with the book doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. If you’ve read Dave Ramsey’s previous book Financial Peace before, you really don’t have to bother with this book. While I was reading The Total Money Makeover, I checked out some of his previous work so I can compare and contrast. It didn’t take me long to realize that The Total Money Makeover is simply Financial Peace repackaged, with plenty of fancy products supplementation. The Financial Peace University, My Total Money Makeover website, and the Total Money Makeover Workbook are all clear examples of excessive fluff.

It’s a bit silly to tell people to avoid buying into debt, and then have the last few pages of your book looking like a late night shop-at-home infomercial. The book’s tag-line of “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else” didn’t really help in negating the infomercial feel too.

Still, some of the content in The Total Money Makeover aren’t total crap. Yeah, the extra product placement towards the end is a real turn-off. Sure, repackaging a previous written work as a new work is a bit shoddy, but within all the fluff and the “You can do it!” cheerleading, there are some meat to be found.

If you’ve already read his previous work, then The Total Money Makeover isn’t a necessary read. If you’re wallowing in debt and you haven’t read his work yet, The Total Money Makeover can be a helpful reference in adjusting to the right direction of debt mentality – but be careful to not rely on it (and its supplemental products) as a guide to building wealth.

Pros:

  • Good at dispelling many debt and money myths
  • Works well as a motivational tool in debt repayment
  • A debt reduction method that looks to be solid
  • Places emphasis on the importance of emergency funds

Cons:

  • The anti-credit position is a bit overbearing
  • Way too much stories making up the content
  • Very similar to previous work
  • Too many product placement & supplementing programs
  • Careless mutual fund suggestions
  • Depth-less wealth building content