I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Dave Ramsey-is-insensitive-and-privileged party.
He wrote a ridiculous post about “habits” of rich people in which he showed that he is super out of touch with what it’s like to be poor, and is a subscriber to prosperity gospel stuff, which is a lovely Gnostic sort of plague on American culture, shown most clearly in political discussions in which the word “entitled” is used to reference the assumption that “people who aren’t as well off as us must be lazy.”
Rachel Held Evans and a few others responded to him, on Twitter and through blog posts and made some good points, and now RHE’s post is going nuts on my Facebook feed.
His privilege is clearly an issue. We are right to be angry at his post and the assumptions therein.
Looking at his teachings more broadly, I’ve observed that long-term, Ramsey’s financial ideas are not especially sound. They don’t teach you how to use credit responsibly, they don’t teach you how to invest, they don’t teach you many important financial management principles that one needs to build wealth well in America.
And for someone like me, who grew up without ever going into debt, who didn’t have student loans, and never owned a credit card, it was downright damaging to my financial stability this year. I couldn’t get a small loan to buy a used car, I haven’t got any sort of credit score or history and therefore I haven’t had a “safety net” of a good visa card, etc., etc. I have had to play catch up to just exist in the credit system so I can do basic life things, like: get approved for an apartment on my own. Thanks, Dave Ramsey! I felt like a trope, the helpless, financially dependent female. [And yes, I have been very lucky to have experienced the privilege that later caused me financial complications this year.]
But I did sit through a handful of his seminars and read at least one of his books, and discussed in great detail his principles with various family members who took his courses over the last decade or so.
And I have to say, it’d be “stoopid” (as he says) to write off his teachings completely. Yes, he’s rich, white, and an arrogant dude. It’s silly to teach that debt is “slavery” and sinful. Sure, debt can be “stoopid,” but it’s just bullshit to think that Jesus is going to love you less if you have student loans.
But if you’re middle class, white, averagely financially literate, and born after 1960, it’s likely he’d be good for you. Ramsey is a skilled manipulator and motivator — part of why 1) he has so many blind followers, and 2) part of why I’m really glad he’s not a pastor — and he exercises his very specific abilities to help a very specific set of people.
Not everything he says is sound — I’m not sure cash is more “painful” than a debit card to use — but he helps those who are either in denial or just numb with fear about their debt by shaking them awake and getting them to start practicing some measure of control and awareness about their spending habits and the long-term ramifications of various debts.
His “snowball” method is not the best way to get rid of debt, but it is motivating and helpful if you’re so scared of your loans and the numbers just seem insurmountable. His “gazelle intensity” is silly, but can be effective, like having a workout coach push you for the first six weeks of your New Year’s exercise plan. A tool is a tool is a tool.
So: Dave Ramsey is a privileged bully, yes. His financial advice is bad long-term. And I hate that he uses shame so much. But, he is very useful for those who need a little courage to start to embrace the challenge of America’s favorite daydream, the self-made man. If they can.