Dave Ramsey: Down in the Valley

Anyone who's known me for more than a week knows I'm a Dave Ramsey fan. In 2001, I discovered Dave's book Financial Peace in the bargain bin of a remaindered-book store and bought it for $4. (Appropriate, given Dave says "Never pay retail"!)

At the time, I had an awesome job right out of college and no student loan debt. I had a 2 year note on my yuppie-mobile Volkswagen (but hey, I *deserved* that car, right?) I did pretty much anything I wanted, anytime, by simply swiping a credit card. However, I kept wondering where all my money went. I didn't have a budget, and I had nary a wisp of a financial plan. Money just flowed like water into, then out of, my hands.

Dave set me straight. I got on a budget, still had plenty of money to play with, but I started saving. I paid off the VW, then bought my next car with cash.

* * *

Fast forward 7 years. I see some of the darker, more difficult sides of the Dave Ramsey plan, and I'd like to talk about them. These aren't criticisms, they're just issues you might encounter that you need to understand. This is not a "quick fix" program. Like a proper diet, it's a change in lifestyle, and your old lifestyle may come calling at inopportune times. The big thing is, if you go through any of these, understand you're not alone and you're not abnormal. You can't be rah-rah/woo-hoo all the time. It's work, and it's a journey:

  • You will be ridiculed. Wanted to get this one out of the way right off the bat. Gird your loins--you're going to be attacked. People will happily agree on religion, abortion, and Rap music before they'll agree about money. Money is touchy. Whey you start brown-bagging your lunch or you sell that hot car (GTO) that the bank owned 90% of, the remarks will begin. "What's the point of life if you won't enjoy it?" is a good one. "I use debt as a tool. I buy things with OPM--Other People's Money!" is another. Not a big deal...just prepare for it, and don't feel bad.

  • You will get tired of it. Dave calls it "gazelle intensity"--running away from debt like a gazelle running from a lion trying to devour it. Thing is, a gazelle isn't running a marathon. Financial peace is a marathon, not a sprint!! Just like a diet, it's easy to begin, and hard to follow. After months and months of accounting for every dollar, you'd give anything for a vacation, a shopping spree, or a neat toy. Impulse-buying becomes your secret pleasure. A Candy Bar at K-Mart, a couple of "extra" things at the autoparts store your don't really need. This is just like a diet--you lose control bit-by-bit. I recommend having someone keeping you accountable (a spouse is perfect), and being honest with yourself. If you can save $50 extra a month, or you need to splurge $50 per month to staunch your impulse-buy gremlin, choose the latter.

  • You will feel like it never ends. This nearly got me about a month ago. I stared at the debt we have on our van and it began driving me crazy. Literally, obsessively crazy. It felt like a mountain I'd never climb. This is where it's good to gain some perspective. We've paid-off 1/3rd of the balance in 10 months--not too shabby! Also, when you're feeling like this, express these feelings to your accountability partner, especially if its your spouse. Chances are, they're seeing a different obstacle, and it's just as daunting.

  • You're not going back. Forget your old self; he's history. This is what I never got until this week: Part of what was holding me back was a desire to get back to that footloose & fancy-free mentality I had before I was married. That desire was causing my impatience and impulse buying--I just wasn't satisfied. A key piece for me was realizing once this van debt is "over", and then I do have a 6-month emergency fund, and I am putting 15% in my 401(k), and I am fully-funding my 3 kids' college funds...I'm still not going back to who I was. The journey and changes one must undergo in that crucible change you indelibly. Own that, accept it, and move on.



In summary, like Christianity, some people expect Financial Peace to be easy and perfect. It's just the opposite, in both cases. When that happens, understand you're not a failure. You aren't missing something; instead, you're experiencing the same struggles we all do. As the old hymn goes:


Life is easy when you're up on the mountain
And you've got peace of mind like you've never known.
But then things change and you're down in the valley.
Don't lose faith for you're never alone.

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