Disappointment with Dave Ramsey

Last week a post popped up on Dave Ramsey’s website that infuriated a lot of people. I was one of those people. I want to point out what I see as problematic in this post from my point of view.

First, had the content of the post been what the title suggests it may be – a simple list of things that the rich do daily, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. It was in the subtitle of the post: “So what do the rich do every day that the poor don’t?” that I began to see red. Wait. A. Minute., I thought: Is this article really going to over-simplify people into these two (never-defined or quantified) groups and then in order to praise the behavior of one group do so by chastising the other? That’s precisely what it proceeded to do.

I feel like it’s only fair for me to say at the outset that I was mostly neutral about Dave Ramsey to begin with (as neutral as I am about anyone). I have always thought it slightly ridiculous that someone charges the amount of money he does in order to teach fiscal responsibility to people that clearly need help with managing their money. That, to me, seems kind of like going after the low-lying fruit. On the whole, though, I haven’t much given him too much thought.

I tend to think of Dave Ramsey more as a finance guy than a Christian but he markets himself as both and for that reason I think I have the right to criticize him when he does things like this that are antithetical to the message of Christianity.

As a point of comparison, I’m a huge fan of Clark Howard. I listen to him all the time. He’s probably a really decent guy in real life, but he doesn’t use his professed faith to sell more books or get speaking engagements. When people do things like that it not only makes insensitive things they endorse or say themselves look bad on them but on all of us. Had Clark Howard posted this on his blog I would be upset. I would be offended at the dichotomy between “the rich” and “the poor.” I would be a little bit dubious about the research (or the lack thereof) and the numbers (again, or the lack thereof). I would have scoffed at the absolute lack of insight necessary to make so many of these assertions. But would I have been SO pissed? Probably not.

Let us now examine three of the 20 “things the rich do every day that the poor do not” that made me angriest and think them through together.

1. 70% of [the] wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of [the] wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.
Clearly the author of this is unaware of the fact that money gives you choices. When you are fortunate enough to get WIC benefits or donations from a food pantry it isn’t often perishable food. It tends to be canned or boxed food. Furthermore, many people experiencing financial hardship face another challenge: they live in food deserts where they could be miles away from access to fresh fruits and vegetables. What’s more, I don’t know what junk food caloric intake has to do with wealth or poverty anyway. I know of a certain demographic that takes in about 50% of their daily caloric requirements from junk food calories. They’re called graduate students.

To his second point, I would like a definition of gambling. Both scratch-off tickets and playing the stock market are legal, and I would posit they are both gambling. They attract different demographics. This is probably at least partly due to the fact that they don’t promote the scratch-off tickets nearly as heavily at the gas stations near the gated communities.

3. 76% of the wealthy exercise aerobically 4 times a week. 23% of the poor do this. I absolutely do not believe this. The only way this is possibly true is if we are only counting exercise as “treadmill time.” If we are counting “walking to the bus station” and other regular activities that are part of the lifestyle of the non-wealthy regular folk then quite a few people get a lot of exercise. I know for a fact that experiencing homelessness requires a lot of walking.

5. 81% of the wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% for the poor. (This one is very related to no. 9 on their list, “67% of the wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% for poor.” My problem with this is the same). Research tells us that when you come from generational poverty you do not tend to utilize future thinking like someone who does not will. This is simply a difference in people. It does not make one better or worse, simply different.

This is where my judgment comes in for Dave Ramsey putting this on his site. Did he write this post? No. A man named Tim Corley did. But in posting it he approved its contents and therefore what it said about not only wealth and the wealthy but also poverty and “the poor.” As a self-proclaimed Christian, I wish that he had thought about the following:

The goal of the Christian life is not to become wealthy. Financially speaking, it is what I call “enough-ness.” Enough to live on. The goal of the Christian life is flourishing. To be fully, joyously alive. I don’t know about you but when I am focused on ascertaining more – more shoes, more love, more money – I am not flourishing. When I am putting other people (individuals or a group) down – again, not flourishing.

Why do we do these things? I think we are both hard wired and also culturally encouraged to fear that there is not enough of anything to go around, be it love, praise, food, knowledge, attention, or financial security. We are resistant to doing the thing we know we should do: sharing what we have. We are constantly asking in the back of our minds, “Will there be enough for me?” What we know as people of faith is our God is not about stinginess but plenty. It is that example we should follow.

I have a huge problem with the way the author of this article implicitly assumed that his definition of “success” should be everyone’s. It isn’t mine. I don’t want to listen to audio recorded books on my way to work (see number 4) as I need those twenty minutes of absolute silence. I really don’t think this has anything to do with my success or failure as a person. What’s more, I understand that I am created in the image of God whether I do so or not, whether I have a job or not, and whether I make $1.25 a year or $125,000.00 a year. I encourage Mr. Ramsey to invite bloggers to his site that want to talk about that.

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