Book Club

Book Review: The Total Money Makeover

Total Money Makeover

After years of hearing and reading about The Total Money Makeover, I finally grabbed myself a copy and read the whole thing in one night. While I would not call myself a Dave Ramsey fan, there was definitely value in the book. He has 7 steps he suggests moving through:

1. Save $1000

Pretty straight forward. You need a bumper for the small emergencies. Shit happens.

2. Debt Snowball

The debt snowball approach is something quite valuable that took reading about in this book to fully grasp and get behind. It’s quite simple in its brilliance actually. You make a list of your debts from smallest to biggest (excluding mortgage) and focus all of your financial effort on one debt at a time (making only the minimum payment on all others), working your way down. Once you cross one off, you divert all the money you were paying on that debt to the next, with the payment size growing at each step. We only had 2 debts (1 car loan and the consolidated student loans) so it wasn’t too complicated. Still, it was helpful. I had been focusing on building the savings but diverted my attention and resources to stamping out the car loan instead. I can see how this technique could be life-saving for people who are overwhelmed with debtors.

A main tenet of his book is that we can and should all be debt-free. There is a lot that resonates with me about living a debt-free life and this is a message I hope more people hear and get inspired by. Minimalism and debt-free are very good friends. Though I’m not dogmatic or militant about it. There are times when debt has been advantageous in my life but we don’t take it lightly, only entering into it consciously, with eyes wide open and a clear plan.

3. 3-6 Months Expenses in Savings

Building up and maintaining a savings of 3-6 months expenses is the next focus only after all debts are paid. Companies go under. Employees get laid off. Freelance work experiences a drought. People get sick. Life happens. You need an emergency fund to get you through the hard times. In today’s professional climate, this is even more essential than in the past because the old working model of clocking in at 20 and retiring from the same company at 55 is dead. (I recently read The End of Jobs, which I recommend if you want to read more about that.) 3 years is actually the sweet spot in terms of job satisfaction and performance for being at a company. If you’re changing jobs every few years, the transitions can be sticky. You need a buffer.

4. 15% to Retirement (401K, ROTHIRA, Mutual Funds Investing)

There is one line he hammers throughout the entire book over and over again: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” He means that if you live a shitty life in your prime, you might enjoy a nice life when you are old and retired. Most of his examples throughout the book glorify families in which the parents work 3 jobs and rarely see their kids but by golly, they might have a nice savings if they make it to old age running themselves ragged. This is the heart of his philosophy and it’s one I completely disagree with. My philosophy is definitely more in line with Tim Ferris in that regard who urges you not to sacrifice your present for a future that may never come in the 4-hour work week (Ramsey actually even throws shade at Tim’s approach in this book). Particularly when there are children involved. My kids would rather have us present and be happy, healthy, rested, and homeschooling with a student loan floating out there than have us be absent working 3 jobs while they are in school and daycare with no student loan. These years are so important and while being debt free and financially healthy is a priority (we don’t use credit, we snowball, we budget, we save, we contribute to retirement), it is not the priority.

5. College Fund (ESA funded in growth stock mutual funds)

I appreciate that he does include a bit about college not being a golden ticket. If you want to read more about our approach to college for our 3 kids, check out Sage Homeschooling: Wild and Free.

6. Pay off Mortgage

This is where I hop off the Dave Ramsey train entirely. I know someone who had 3 houses paid off and then the real estate market crashed and they lost everything. I don’t plan to stay in the same house my entire life and I am happy to purchase a property with a mortgage, fix it up with a tight budget and lots of elbow grease, and sell it several years later when we are ready to move on to a new adventure (freedom of mobility). Also, the nation’s average income ($50K) paired with the cost of housing in a major city ($710K in Seattle), don’t line up for buying a house all cash. Again, his mindset around this is painfully outdated. The person he is talking to gets hired by Blockbuster out of college, works there 35 years, then retires and dies in their rocking chair on the porch. Norman Rockwell called and he wants his financial advice back. That is just not the world we live in anymore.

7. Build Wealth (invest)

He claims the only way to get rich is to invest in the stock market.

Overall, it’s a book worth reading. The first 3 steps alone should be knowledge every teenager launches knowing. The philosophy is not my jam and I could certainly do without the patriarchal overtones and bible verses, but a quick and easy read that adds value nonetheless.

I was hoping for some budgeting inspiration but found none in this book. I’m presently trying You Need a Budget. We’ll see . . .

Any more modern approaches that resonate with you? Head on over to the Sage Parenting Tribe and comment under the Total Money Makeover post!

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