How it started:
Back in the first week of April ’11, a company-wide email was sent out at my workplace advertising a new course that was being offered. The program was Dave Ramsey‘s “Financial Peace University,” a 13-week video based personal finance class that would be moderated by a fellow employee on-campus during lunch. Everyone was open to sign up provided they “covered the cost for materials.” In addition, in return for perfect attendance of all 13 sessions my workplace would reimburse 50% of the cost to the participants.
As a young adult with college loans and dreams of owning my own home in the near future, I was interested. But, I was wary of some kind of scam. I’m fortunate enough to trust my workplace enough to quell the doubts. (Who wouldn’t trust the HR department of a company that has weekly ecumenical prayer time and bible studies?)
I showed up for the introductory session trying to contain my excitement. I was very motivated to get out of debt and to learn exactly how to do that. I needed somebody to hold my hand through the process, and this Dave Ramsey fellow seemed like the guy to do it.
Right off the bat when in the introductory video Ramsey emphasized his love for God, thanksgiving for His blessings, and hopes to share that with us, the silent blinking alarm went off in my mind. As a Catholic, I know not all things Christian, particularly Evangelical Christian, are in line with the teachings of the Magisterium. However, I’m not exactly the canon lawyer amongst my peers either, and am not confident in my ability to defend the teachings of Rome. So whenever that little red light in my mind goes off, I’m a little uneasy.
I had a week to decide but in my heart I felt peace with making the step. I had been praying for this kind of opportunity, so who was I to turn it down and miss out? Plus, the 50% reimbursement meant I didn’t have that much to lose. I prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
About the course:
Now for the technical stuff. The program we did was the Financial Peace University: Workplace Edition. It constituted of 12 two-hour lessons and one bonus lesson, once a week. The cost for the box of materials was $116/ea and inside the box was a
- hardback copy of his book Financial Peace Revisited,
- embossed faux leather-bound workbook,
- all the lessons on CD in a matching leather case,
- matching leather envelope system wallet,
- FPU CD-ROM,
- Zig Ziglar’s “Goals Program” DVD,
- “Best of the Dave Ramsey Talk Show” 3-CD set,
- 15 weeks of full access to FPU Online.
The video lessons recorded in 2008 (which are listed on the FPU site here) revolve around Dave’s 7 Baby Steps:
- Set aside $1000 to start an Emergency Fund
- Pay off all debt utilizing the Debt Snowball
- Bring the Emergency Fund up to 3-6 months expenses
- Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement*
- College funding for children*
- Pay off home early*
- Build wealth and give
*done concurrentlySource: http://www.daveramsey.com/new/baby-steps/
The method of delivery for the lessons was fantastic. Being a southern girl (and more specifically a Texan), I can’t say enough about how great Ramsey’s common sense, no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-while-pointing-out-the-humor teaching style. It’s the kind of learning environment I thrive in and I found myself laughing during every lesson.
Even though the lessons are spread out over 3 months, the pacing felt adequate and the content wasn’t redundant. Actually, it’s intentional. The program is intentionally designed to be over a long span of time with the aim of helping you break bad habits and form new ones. (Something my abhorrence for budgeting needed.)
I have no experience whatsoever when it comes to personal finance so, I was learning this all for the first time. It all made sense to me and if by chance I did get confused or overwhelmed, I had several different ways to review the info (book, audio, online).
The videos averaged about 75 minutes, were preceded by review questions from last week’s lesson, and followed by breakout group discussions moderated by a Counselor who had completed the program previously (and is currently debt-free). If done right, these discussions are the true bread-and-butter of the course. The questions were occasionally so point-blank, I sometimes found being held accountable for my actions was uncomfortable. (My own fault for not doing the homework.)
My frequent disappointment with the course was its use of Scripture. Often, Ramsey would offer tidbits of biblical wisdom in the lessons. I think their intention was to provide weight – that the common sense he was teaching was so common, it was common sense in biblical times. There were a lot of one-line scriptures from Proverbs and Psalms that were used with a kind of authoritative tone that runs counter to say, BXVI’s Verbum Domini [pdf] (reading scripture in its proper context).
What hurt most was when the Gospels were used just a smidgen out of context, when they didn’t quite reach the fullness of truth. Ramsey also occasionally implied salvation through faith alone, especially during the insurance lesson when recounting the story of a friend who passed away from terminal cancer.
With all that said, I don’t hold his theological shortcomings against him per se. I understand that it is because Ramsey speaks from a non-denominational perspective that what he says runs counter to the authority of the church. I shrug it off as a mistake on his part (to which I am fortunate enough to know the correct answer to) and move on. I know to pray for him, that he may come to the church established by Jesus himself, but I’m not going to waste energy being angry about it. It’s out of my hands. Angry letters or slander (some of which I’ve seen in other online reviews) won’t have much effect on the current establishment. I’d much rather put my energies to a more constructive use (such as writing this review for others to learn).
Overall, his intentions are good. The entire 13th lesson is on stewardship and is not about just giving to feel good, but that God truly is Creator and Owner of all. He’s also very clear on making the point that his own personal success is only by the grace of God. This is not to say it somehow makes up for the other theological failings. But it’s a start.
Financially this is a good introduction to personal finance and personal accountability but it’s not for everyone (i.e. those without traditional income like Religious, retirees, or those on disability), and theologically there are a lot of gaps as the program is slanted to “feel good” Christianity.
Personally, I completed the first baby step on week 2 and am $1500 into my debt snowball. I plan to be completely debt-free in two years and will go skydiving to celebrate. Do I feel it was worth the upfront cost? Depends on your personality. I’m not a motivated person when it comes to finances, so I feel the expense was worth the opportunity to grow in that virtue. However, a really motivated person can find all these teachings online or in a library for free and, with enough self-accountability, be just as successful as someone who takes the course.