Associated Press

Ramsey crusades against debt and overspending


The Associated Press

March 30, 2003, Sunday, BC cycle

Ramsey crusades against debt and overspending

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Business News

LENGTH: 757 words


A chorus of cheers filled the Cornerstone Church’s arena-style sanctuary as Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey snapped a pair of metal scissors.

The crowd squealed with delight as Ramsey sliced a credit card in half.

“It’s called plastic surgery,” joked Ramsey, whose syndicated radio talk show airs daily on 160 stations.

Ramsey, 42, spent the past decade building a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing to the masses simple financial principles: Live on a budget. Don’t spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund. Get out of debt and stay out of debt.

It’s advice people crave. His financial how-to books have sold 2 million copies. “Financial Peace University,” a 13-week video series offered at churches, military bases and offices, will reach an estimated 75,000 people in 2003. And he’s written a money management curriculum used at 250 high schools.

“It’s like the male Suze Orman,” said Gary Schatsky, a past chairman of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers. Orman is the author of several best-sellers on financial planning and hosts her own radio and television talk shows.

“Some people have to scratch their heads and ask themselves, ‘Why does it sell so much?”‘ Schatsky said. “Some people would say it’s a matter of the KISS – keep it simple, stupid – principle.”

At the same time, he said, injecting religion into any discipline “attracts a lot of devotees and certainly causes people to give greater creed to the message.”

On a recent Saturday, nearly 3,000 people came to hear how Ramsey, a one-time bankrupt real estate salesman, turned around his financial life based on biblical principles. An additional 10,000 people watched the “Financial Peace Live!” seminar at 165 satellite locations.

Ramsey’s company, Lampo Group Inc. – lampo is the Greek word for “light” as referenced in Matthew 5:15 of the New Testament – started as a financial counseling service in 1988 but grew into a multimedia enterprise.

His appeal is that he’s a Christian who lost money and then figured out how to make it back.

In 1986, Ramsey was 26, driving a Jaguar and carrying a $4 million real estate portfolio. But he also had $1.2 million in 90-day notes from a bank. When the bank was sold, the new owners called all his notes.

That started a chain reaction in which he lost everything except his house and his wife, Sharon.

“We didn’t get a divorce,” Ramsey said. “We held on to each other – sometimes just to get a better grip.”

It took him three years to pay his debts.

After hitting bottom, Ramsey said he studied money lessons in the Bible and talked with “old rich people” to find out their secrets. One of his favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

In Ramsey’s world, you wait to buy a car, preferably used, or a washing machine until you can pay cash for it. You also use cash for necessities. You put budgeted amounts in envelopes with labels such as “Food,” “Clothing” and “Gas” and stop spending when the money is gone.

“We’re the only culture in the world where you can drive up to somebody’s place and there sits a $32,000 bass boat, a $29,000 Chevy Silverado four-wheel drive decked out, a satellite dish, immaculate landscaping – all in front of a trailer!” he told the Nashville crowd.

But for Ramsey, financial peace is no laughing matter. It’s a crusade.

“There’s so much shame and guilt and hopelessness,” he said. “And people’s hearts are broken, in a sense. So, a lot of what we do is inspiration.”

He admits his message is repetitive, but his followers don’t grow tired of hearing it.

James Gray, 41, a Coca-Cola plant supervisor from Lebanon, Tenn., started listening to Ramsey’s talk show about six years ago.

He and his wife, Connie, said Ramsey’s advice helped them “build some money and keep going up the ladder a little bit.” They even opened a checking account for their 12-year-old son, Nolan.

“Now, I catch Nolan going to the sale racks,” his mother said. “He has more of an appreciation for the dollar.”

“Instead of the $100 shoes, he goes for the $40 shoes,” James Gray said. “He knows that it’s coming out of his budgeted money.”

Ramsey said it’s smart to teach children early about the value of money so they don’t repeat the mistakes of their parents.

“It’s child abuse to turn a kid loose when their only skill is opening a bag of Doritos and running a Nintendo,” he said.

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