If you're not familiar with the name, Dave Ramsey is the host of a radio call-in show that deals with personal finance. He is a loud opponent of credit cards and encourages his listeners to build wealth by eliminating debt.
I love Dave Ramsey for a couple of reasons. I love him because his show is marked by an air of kindness and a desire to help people, which sets it in stark contrast to the political pornography and exploitation that marks the majority of talk radio shows. But I also love him because he changed my life.
I don't mean he changed my life in some kind of Amway sense. I don't walk around trying to foist Ramsey's teachings off on other people. Ramsey literally changed my life. He changed the way I use my money, he changed the way I sleep at night and he changed the way I think about the future.
I used to be really bad with money. I can remember for a couple of years, right after college, I hated going to the mailbox. I hated it because I knew when I opened the box, there would almost certainly be a bill or an overdraft notification from my bank waiting there for me. I also hated going to the ATM to get money out and having to look at that little slip of paper that would tell me what the balance on my bank account was.
It's kind of natural to look at that kind of behavior and see it as a symptom of a bad financial situation. In fact, though, that behavior was the cause of the bad financial system. Think about it - I didn't like going to the ATM because I didn't like finding out what the balance on my account was. Why in the world didn't I already know what the balance on my account was? Why wouldn't I make keeping track of my money a priority, instead of just spending it where I wanted and hoping everything would turn out OK?
I suppose sometimes in life it seems like the easiest way to get past a problem is to ignore it. This is called denial. I used to use denial to deal with my problems. I used to be in denial about my inefficiencies at my job, difficulties in my marriage and my already mentioned inability to handle money. Then, one day, I woke up and I had been fired from my job, my wife had left me and I was broke.
This is really starting to sound like an infomercial, isn't it? Sorry. I promise I'm not selling anything.
I eventually figured out that dealing with my life by ignoring it wasn't getting me anywhere. One of the things that helped me figure this out was Dave Ramsey's radio show. I started listening to it on the recommendation of my old youth minister from high school. The show features people in dire financial straits calling in and getting advice from Ramsey. And his advice is always the same - pay off your debt. Live on beans and rice for a couple of years if you have to, but pay off the debt.
He even tells you how to pay off your debt - by spending less than you make, taking on part-time jobs and selling your stuff. It's obviously not rocket science, but it still feels revolutionary in a culture built on instant gratification and rampant consumerism.
The real inspiring thing about Ramsey's show is when people will call in to tell Ramsey that they've paid off all of their debt. Dave will ask them how much they paid off (it's almost always in the tens of thousands) and how much money they were making when they did it (and it's almost always a middle-class salary). Then, at the end of the call, they get to yell out, "I'm debt free!" as loud as they can. Ramsey treats getting out of debt like a liberation from slavery.
A year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to get out of slavery. I have things I want to do with my money. I want to give it to people who need it. I want to save for my retirement. I want to buy engagement rings and go on honeymoons. I want to sleep at night like a guy without a care in the world. Paying most of my money out on debt wouldn't let me do any of those things.
So a year and a half ago, I started spending less than I make. Then I stared taking on extra work when the opportunity would present itself. Then I started selling stuff. And the big thing I did, the thing that made the most difference, the thing I hadn't been doing for years, was start paying attention to where my money was going.
I don't get nervous about going to the mailbox or the ATM anymore. If you ask me how much money is in my bank account, most days I could tell you.
As I write this, I'm about three months away from being out of debt. Three months! I can't tell you how good it's going to feel to finally be out from under it all.
I don't imagine that I'll be calling Dave Ramsey to shout "I'm debt free!" That's just not my thing. I will, however, celebrate with my girlfriend and some friends over dinner. And maybe later that night, when I'm at home alone and the rest of the world is asleep, I'll walk out into the front yard, look up at the sky and give out a little yell just for me.
And then I'll run back inside really quickly so my neighbors won't know it was me. It would suck to accumulate hospital bills on the same day I finally got out of debt.
Patrick Drury can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patrick recently published his first book, "PatchWorks Volume One," a collection of his columns. To purchase the book, visit http://www.cafepress.com/patchworks.54813581