Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Trouble With Dave Ramsey

Right as we invited the shimmery gift of adoption into our life, Dave Ramsey moved in, too. (Realizing that you need to quickly save up $28k will do that to you.) We made our budget, the one I swore I'd never make. We put it down "on purpose on paper" and I wrote "Food" and "Clothing" in half-baked ink across the tops of the flimsy Financial Peace envelopes.

It was so different, so new. Nothing could have made me do it except for the dream of an almond-eyed boy, waiting for us somewhere across the ocean.

Well, we liked it. I fell into a rhythm of tracking our expenses and tapping numbers into an Excel spreadsheet before the start of each month. It signaled a new beginning to me. A fresh start. I liked knowing where we were, what we needed, how low our grocery budget really could go. I'd walk out of the bank on the first of the month with a wad of cash stuffed deep in my bag, feeling like a Brinks armored truck sure would be nice.

It was a good system and the longer we used it, the more sense it made.

Then, one day, I rounded the corner to Slightly Crazed. It happened so slowly, I didn't even feel the signs. I listened to his radio talk show when I could have been shaking my fist with Kelly Clarkson. I borrowed podcasts from a friend for a road trip.

Sometimes, I couldn't help but feel just a little smug when the hopeless chaps called in, all despondent over their heaps of money trouble. Good grief, it wasn't rocket science. Earn more. Spend less. Eat beans and rice. Read the darn book.

I wished Dave would talk to them with a little more kindness, sometimes. It helped when he sent them the book for free.

It wasn't much longer before I started crying in my car when someone called in to scream, "We're Debt Freeeeeeeeeeeee!" The Braveheart "Freeeeeeedom!" would overlap their tail-end and the goose bumps came. I believed that they really were free. The hard work had paid off and they were at the start of something new.

Because the truth is, living without debt does mean freedom. The hard work does pay off. 

The more I listened, the more I learned, but most of what I learned started to sound something like this, "Live like no one else so that one day, you can live like no one else." What Dave meant was, eat enough of those beans and you'll retire a millionaire. Buy the car of your dreams, as long as you pay cash for it.

(Oh yeah, and give some of it away, if you want to.)

Imagine my shock when, years later, the scales fell off and I read this:

"Don't store treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:19-21

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Matthew 6:24

I'm sure there are lots of ways around these verses. People have been bending them to fit their lifestyles since the dawning age, myself included. But suddenly, we were faced with the reality that we were working much harder to build our bank account balance than we were serving the needs of those around us.

We used to go on dates and daydream out loud about owning a second home one day - one on a lake. Because Dave told us that we were on track. We would easily retire as millionaires, if we kept our pace. I would shop at Talbots and White House/Black Market. I might do something about my spider veins and shop for lipsticks at the Lancome counter. We'd add on to our already large home. I might like a brand new Nissan.

We'd be those retired people who were busy and tan. The goal was way off in the future, but I secretly loved the idea of a life where I could do what I wanted, buy what I wanted, go where I wanted. I was ready to claim what we had earned.

We resisted what we believed in the pit of our stomachs to be true. We thought we could serve them both. We thought maybe we could be that one rich couple who has a lot of money so that they can give more away. We wanted a piece of the blessing of God's promise, but we hoped it could be without sacrifice. We didn't want the "living like no one else" to be for nothing.

The more we studied and prayed, the harder it got to reconcile a large bank account with a world that dies of starvation while we sleep. Our current life and all of our future didn't put us in the path of people who struggled.

God sensed our wavering, so he shoved us right into the deep end. He started relieving us of our money. (We couldn't be trusted to do it willingly, back then.)

He shoved and we reached and he grabbed and with our hair still dripping down our necks, we realized that he was close enough to touch. And we were still standing. So maybe we could try it his way.

We did all we knew to do, we turned off the radio and we let those old dreams die. It was more painful than it should have been. But while the old roots died, new dreams started to take shape and they looked more like Heaven than a Nissan. We started to think more about the things of Heaven and much less about the things of earth. Life started to feel really long, like maybe we were put here for 80 years to do more than buy crap and feel safe on our own merit.

So I'm conflicted on Dave. I'm thankful for that Excel budget sheet that I look at every month. Being debt free (aside from our mortgage) expedited the start of our new dreams, in which Cory took a job that paid less and we brought home our third child. But he made it harder to "downgrade" our dreams for this life and to re-frame what it might look like to live "like no one else". Dave taught us more about Biblical stewardship. He reaffirmed the importance of living below our means. I just wish he had stopped right there.

Sacrifice was never meant to expire when we hit a certain age or the balance grows tall enough. God's money was never meant to be stock-piled.