The name Dave Ramsey first entered my consciousness when my family and I were still living in Rochester NY. Our amazing family of Christ-followers, Northridge Church, was offering a class called Financial Peace University prepared by Dave and his team. Sadly, not one of the offered times worked with my weird schedule as a doctoral student/TA/adjunct instructor/etc. I don’t think anything really would’ve convinced me to take the class at the time because I was too ashamed of having built the bulk of my life as a doctoral student on credit. So, I conveniently ignored the name Dave Ramsey.
A few years later, I was appointed Assistant Professor of Voice—my first and only full-time appointment to date—at Oklahoma Baptist University. One day, I remember driving my family on I-40 when I spotted Dave’s name and face on a billboard ad with the quote, “Act Your Wage.” Talk about thought-provoking! At the time, I was still not ready to engage fully with Dave’s message but that quote stuck with me.
Unfortunately, that was to be the extent of my interaction with all things Dave. Debt repayment season had just begun post grad school and I assumed the only thing I could do was simply paying the bills as they came. And that’s pretty much what I did for a much-too-long season of swimming in limiting beliefs.
In August 2017, a financial awakening took place in me. Days of looking, reading, searching, digging, asking, listening led me to a YouTube channel featuring Dave’s 7 Baby Steps to achieve a total money makeover:
- Save and keep $1000 in an emergency fund. The idea is to do this step as quickly as possible (about a month) no matter what it takes.
- Pay off all consumer debts, except the mortgage on the primary home. Dave recommends a belt-tightening budget that would curtail spending to the absolute bare minimum, would halt all other savings and/or investments, and would unbridle cash to help reduce consumer debt as quickly as possible. Additionally, side jobs, garage sales, overtime pay and bonuses, anything and everything extra would continue building further momentum to eradicate debt.
- Build a bona fide emergency fund worth 3-6 months of total expenses. The idea is to apply the same intensity and philosophy used in the debt repayment phase to establish this fund. This fund will then act as insurance against debt when (not if) emergencies come knocking.
- Begin investing 15% of gross income into retirement funds. With the consumer debt gone and the bona fide emergency fund in place, Dave feels it is then time to begin the process of securing a person’s financial future. An individual with a W-2 job would deduct 15% of their pre-taxed income and allocate those dollars to a 401k (corporate), 403b (private or non-profit), 457 (government, public service, etc.) A self-employed person can have other options like a SEP IRA. In addition, anyone can contribute annually a maximum of $5500 to a Roth IRA.
- Save for children’s college expenses. At this point, one can begin saving/investing specifically for education expenses on behalf of their children.
- Pay off mortgage and be completely debt free. Reduce the mortgage balance all the way down to zero.
- Build wealth and give. After all that hard work, your dollars are finally free to build significant wealth through investments and create a strong legacy through generous donations.
I am grateful for the above 7 Baby Steps and I am thankful to Dave Ramsey. He was used as a formidable instrument to open my eyes and to help me receive the grace of seeing my credit card finally reaching a zero balance. I was truly elated when that day came. I will always be indebted to Dave for getting me started on a more solid path toward financial freedom.
But Dave only got me started. The more I listened to him, the more convinced I became the Bible has a lot to say about money management. The more I watched and followed Dave, the more I realized his message is most effective for getting people out of debt completely with a consistent, safe, yet predictable message:
- stay out of debt
- save for later spending
- work hard and retire rich
- build a legacy through giving
Something finally clicked:
I wanted more than getting out of debt and building wealth. I wanted more than what Dave calls “live like no one else now (frugality) so you can live like no one else later (debt-free yet lavish consumption).” His message has helped thousands (perhaps inching toward millions) reach debt-free and wealthy status. But for me, more than consumer debt-free, what the Father has done for me through Dave is providing the realization that the money consistently going through my hands is not mine at all; it all belongs to the Giver of good gifts. It is also made clear to me how important it is for me to rely upon the Spirit to convict my heart of financial priorities and not just what someone else (no matter how devout and conscientious they seem) says.
Therefore, financial freedom can only be achieved when I look beyond what money can do for me (needs, wants, preferences—whether now or later) and as I daily learn what the Father chooses to do with the money entrusted to me for the advancement of His Kingdom.
I will continue to learn and grow as I go to the Word extended freely to me. I will continue to choose freedom as a steward of His resources.