I will be doing some book reviews – primarily financial, but potentially other tangential topics. With all of my reviews, unless I specify otherwise, I have no connection to the author or publisher, and have not been paid.

I will be doing some longer writing projects myself, but there are tons of financial books out there already so there’s no point in me duplicating someone else’s work. When I find useful books I want to let you know about them. Suggestions for future reviews are welcomed.

Today I review Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover.

Notes: This, like many of the books I’ll be reading is US-oriented so certain parts will be less useful to Canadians.
I’m reviewing the book only – not the website, course, or other Dave Ramsey offerings.

Background:
As you likely know Dave Ramsey is well-known as a motivational speaker and financial adviser. I had limited knowledge about his actual techniques and advice prior to reading this book. I was aware that he’s debt averse, and popular with the mass audience.

Content: 
I found the majority of his advice to be at least reasonable, though perhaps a bit simplistic. Mr. Ramsey has very strong opinions and a specific plan of attack and this is emphasized repeatedly. One thing I felt was missing was that there wasn’t much of a big picture, psychological, or philosophical focus. I wanted more questions such as:

  • Why did you get into debt?
  • Why do you even care about getting out of it?

I need to know the why behind any suggestion. Don’t just tell me what to do — convince me why your way is better. But I’m obstinate that way.

My thoughts on a few of his points:
Debt
I do agree with most of his opinions, especially the “don’t loan money or co-sign” advice. I only loan money if I’d be fine gifting it, and then only to people who actually need it and aren’t just being irresponsible. However I disagree with his stance on credit cards. I believe debt and credit cards can be part of a reasonable money management system. But I would never tell someone to start using credit cards if they preferred to be without.

Saving and Retirement
I disagree with the save 15% recommendation. I recommend you save as much as you can without ruining your current life. Other than good health and good relationships nothing else is as useful as having money reserves.

My thoughts on the writing style and general impressions:
My biggest problem with this book was that it reads like an infomercial for itself – I’ve already bought/borrowed your book; please stop trying to sell it to me. To this point there were numerous case studies throughout; normally I like case studies but I want them to serve a purpose. There were just too many and they became repetitive. I can only handle so many: “We followed Dave Ramsey’s program and now we’re doing great!”

Additionally, I don’t identify with Ramsey at all. He gets a degree in finance, but in his younger years was financially clueless personally and unethical professionally (as he readily admits at least). And then he makes this big turnaround, happens to luck out giving financial advice, and now is probably very wealthy. I’m neither of those types of people and will likely never be.

I know a lot of money experts have had similar transformations but those stories usually irk me. Sure it makes a better story, but do you really want advice from someone who was so lacking in common sense? Also the rags to riches isn’t a realistic situation for the majority of people. Most people don’t have such wild swings in their situation. We are good or bad with money to varying degrees and maybe get a bit worse, or hopefully a bit better. We’re never filthy rich, but also don’t have to declare bankruptcy.

I felt like he was writing to addicts – the whole “need to hit rock bottom” thing. I don’t think finances necessarily are comparable to addiction. You shouldn’t have to make a remarkable transformation. I don’t want you to need this type of advice, which is why it’s so important to get on the financial responsibility bandwagon as a young person.

I did not like the writing tone and style — it came across as arrogant and rigid. Honestly I couldn’t force myself to read every word of this book.

Final Thoughts:
Would I recommend this book? Not particularly. But I’ve certainly read worse. If you have a lot of problems with debt there’s no harm in getting this book from the library first, but I wouldn’t run out and buy it. I’ll consider it a 2.5/5.

If you do get this book I recommend flipping to the worksheet sections asap. This is the most structured and potentially useful part of the book.

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