Dave Ramsey Goes Beyond Credit Card Shredding
It's December 28, two days after the last Sunday of 2010. Dick Giesler has just reviewed the year's financial numbers—three years after the start of the country's worst economic disaster in nearly a century. Giesler, administrative pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Gurnee, Illinois, is fully aware of the challenging financial position of both the church and many of its members.
But Giesler is aware of something else. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Giesler leads the church's two weekly meetings of Financial Peace University, a personal finance course produced by radio and television host Dave Ramsey. More than 800 people have taken the course since the church started offering it three years ago, and at least 250 of them do not attend Immanuel. In those meetings, Giesler has heard the stories of mounting debt and seen struggles with budgeting. But despite the personal challenges, for the third year in a row, giving to the church is up more than 5 percent, placing Immanuel among the minority of congregations that have seen giving rise since the economic downturn.
"I can't attribute it to anything specifically other than Financial Peace University," Giesler said, "and obedience to the Lord's principles about handling money."
Shredding the Debt
Giesler himself is a former Financial Peace student and enthusiastic convert to Ramsey's financial system. Ramsey preaches frugal living, generous savings, and, most of all, avoiding debt. (If you must borrow to buy a house, Ramsey instructs, make it a 15-year mortgage.) Giesler's office displays a clear, cylindrical tower about two-and-a-half feet high. Inside are the remains of 950 credit cards representing millions of borrowed dollars that Financial Peace students have repaid through Ramsey's program. During the 13 weeks of the class, he says, attendees typically pay off $6,000 in debt and save an extra $2,000. Often, members sign up for a second course.
Among the members are Chris and Amy Rupert, who now lead classes with Giesler. Chris, a software engineer, was introduced to Ramsey because of his initial concern about government debt—not his own. A Christian book on economics mentioned Dave Ramsey's 2003 book The Total Money Makeover. Chris bought it and read it in a day.
"I got sick of getting to the end of the month and finding we were spending into a deficit," Chris said. "We make good money and had nothing but a pile of debt to show for it."
The information in Ramsey's curriculum is not new or unique, Chris said, but it is trustworthy and gave them a plan.
"What I like about Ramsey is that it's about behavior modification and small steps," Chris said. "We make the same [amount of] money, but now we spend intentionally, and giving is on the list."
The program had a marital bonus, one that nearly every couple in the class mentions. "Amy bore the bulk of stress with budgeting, because I just did not pay attention," he said. "I was not engaged in my marriage as I should have been."
Thanks for the Ministry
Throughout the course, a series of 12 videos plus one more on tithing, Ramsey returns to a few phrases. Children do whatever feels good, he says, but adults create a plan and follow it through. Another is, "Live like no one else today, so that later you can live like no one else." He rails against a consumer culture that people fail to resist, trapping them with loads of stuff and debt. "It's stooopid!" he shouts.
Ramsey has been giving out this kind of advice for 20 years, born out of stooopid behavior of his own. In his 20s, making $20,000 a month with a real estate portfolio worth several million, Ramsey says his wealth left him dissatisfied. But he didn't have to face the burden of wealth for long: banks called his loans early, and Ramsey was forced to declare bankruptcy.