Budget Babble Reviews: The Total Money Makeover

Over the past few decades Dave Ramsey has built an empire based on his inspirational finance advice and his book The Total Money Makeover (TMM) is just that… inspirational. No matter what your financial situation The Total Money Makeover will motivate you to do better. The book lays out the basics of managing your finances, but spends most of its pages trying to motivate its reader to face their financial reality and then react accordingly. As a best selling personal finance book for several years now, it is certainly striking a chord with its readers and tapping into a hunger for a more financially fit life, but as a nuts and bolts finance book, TMM has some noticeable shortcomings.  

TMM starts off  by setting expectations in a defensive tone. It addresses what the book is, and more importantly, what it is not. He claims that it’s not sophisticated or complicated (agreed); it’s not going to mislead you about your investment returns (kind of agree); it’s not wrong (ehhhh… we’ll come back to this). Ramsey makes very clear in this section that he knows some aspects of the book are controversial and he makes no apologies for that. This may honestly be the worst part of TMM, so hang in there, it gets better. The next five chapters are spent discussing a number of items that may or may not add to your life, and more than likely are things you already know, but may need to hear again.  

Finally, nearly 100 pages into a 200+ page book, Ramsey gets to what he calls his “Baby Steps”. These are what he deems to be the seven steps to take in order to achieve financial security.  The steps he lays out here make sense to me. It gives finance beginners a little perspective on where to start and what to think about that’s so important when you’re just trying to get your feet wet. Depending on your financial situation, not all of these steps may apply to you, but they’re a general guide that is worth the read.

The book wraps up with some templates in the back that you may or may not choose to use. They are a good general guide of how to track expenses, debt, etc., but other templates may serve you better. Take a look around the interwebs and see what works for you, or visit our template center for various other options.

MY FAVORITE THINGS

The Total Money Makeover does a few things very well. Specifically, I really love that it starts with prompting you to take a look inward at what your financial picture really looks. It makes a point of snapping its reader out of denial however difficult that process might be. It’s something that is necessary and can make a huge difference moving forward and developing a plan to whip your finances into shape. If you’re still in denial about where your finances stand, you’ll never feel the full motivation needed to make the changes that will really help you.

Additionally, one thing TMM does extremely well is motivating its reader to action. It presents a debt-phobic approach that will leave you feeling inspired to pay down ALL of your debt. Credit card debt, school loans, car payments, mortgage payments… as far as TMM is concerned, you should get rid of all of them ASAP. TMM focusses a lot of time and pages on extinguishing debt. It’s an important topic for the majority of us, and his “Debt Snowball” plan has helped a lot of people get out of debt. I personally felt motivated to throw all of my extra money into paying down my mortgage, but there can be a downside to this as well which I’ll address as one of my least favorite things below. Overall, however, if you’re looking for someone to motivate you to get in gear, this book is a good place to start.

Lastly, Ramsey does a good job of laying out the basics of personal finance that you should be thinking about and moving through in his seven “Baby Steps”. I’m a big fan of giving individuals the tools that they can take and apply to their own unique situation, and Ramsey’s “Baby Steps” serve as a good surface level guide to provide some general direction.

MY LEAST FAVORITE THINGS

Now onto my least favorite parts of The Total Money Makeover...

Overall, my least favorite aspect of TMM is Dave Ramsey’s absolute refusal to acknowledge that his system may not be the best system for everyone. I find this especially frustrating because by ignoring that fact, he’s doing a disservice to his readers. At Budget Babble, we’re huge supporters of understanding yourself and your “Personal Finance Philosophy” (link to blog) before implementing any plan. If you don’t understand what’s important to you and the root of your financial beliefs you may leave yourself running into a wall during your financial journey that you just can seem to break through.

One great example of this is Ramsey’s Debt Snowball. The Debt Snowball approach encourages its users to pay down the smallest loan first and then take the money that was going towards that loan to tackle the next largest loan until all loans have been paid off. The idea is that by seeing loans be paid off in full it will keep you motivated to keep paying off your loans. I agree that for certain people this can be a great motivator, but from a technical perspective, this is not the smartest way to pay off your loans. It will cost you more to pay down your loans this way than if you were to pay off the loans with the highest interest rate first. My wish is that Ramsey would have presented both alternatives and allowed his reader to choose which option works best for them.

Another example of this is Ramsey’s insistence that you don’t need to build a credit score since you should be paying for everything in cash. He encourages his readers not to have a credit score, which is nearly impossible for most people. If you took out even one college loan, you will have some semblance of a credit score by the time you graduate. I found this advice generally unrealistic, and almost dangerous. It’s prudent to have a good credit score in the event that it makes sense to buy something with debt. Ramsey rejects the notion that there may be times where it may make sense to use debt as a tool. When used responsibly, however, debt can help you build wealth and having a good credit score with ensure that you can get the lowest possible interest rate on that debt.

Lastly, the TMM has been widely criticized for its “Christian” undertones. As a non-Christian, I thought this would bother me more than it did, but most of the “Christian” aspects were expressed in semi-relevant Bible verses that weren’t nearly as pervasive as I expected. That being said, the tone can be a little insensitive to the idea that there are non-Christians that may want to read this book, and if this is something you find upsetting this likely isn’t the book for you.

WHO SHOULD BUY THIS BOOK?

Ultimately, I recommend The Total Money Makeover if you are:

  • In debt and looking for a way out.
  • Looking for inspiration to motivate you to take control of your finances.
  • Interested in learning the basic steps to take to get your finances in order.

INTERESTED IN THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER? Click here to buy.


Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook

Lindsay Dell Cook is a CPA, finance writer, and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband and adorable daughter. When she's not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, taking their lovable mutt for walks, or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.