What is Dave Ramsey thinking?

Posted by Erica Noonan  May 25, 2009 07:46 AM

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After I posted Budgeting is the New Cool last week, several Boston.com Moms readers, plus a few friends, urged me to check out radio financial guru Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover program.

Got it out of the library last week (See! who says I can't bring my Amazon.com habit to heel?) and read much of it out loud to Dave on a long drive to Maine yesterday.

At first, Ramsey made loads of sense -- pay cash, no credit cards, and a relentless focus on quality of life over material junk.

His debt reduction action plan also sounded smart. Pay down debt, establish emergency funds, written budgets, blah, blah, all presented in an engaging, person-of-the-people manner.

Great, I was just about ready to be this guy's zillionth fan. But my preliminary numbers on his budget worksheet just weren't working out right. Several times, I allocated 35 percent to mortgage, 10 percent to utilities, etc., but couldn't make his percentages work.

What's up?

Oh right. It's CHILD CARE, our BIGGEST monthly line item, even BIGGER than the mortgage, that is mysteriously MISSING from his money management worksheet.

Excuse me Mr. Ramsey? Hello? I finally find a child care category on one of his other worksheets -- it's under a category called "personal" -- next to stuff like "cosmetics" and "hair care." You know, that girly stuff.

I take a better look at all the families profiled as success stories in the book -- most of them included a stay-at-home mom.

Oh, I get it now. I knew Ramsey was a cultural conservative, which didn't really matter to me.

But I see he isn't thinking about parents like me at all. This massively best-selling book was updated just a year ago, couldn't he offer an alternative budget where child care is taken seriously?

And not a word about the dangers of one partner having zero professional skills in case the other is abruptly laid-off or gone? Not a word about The Price of Motherhood, the $1 million lost retirement and social security earnings potential from a partner who stays home for several decades?

Ramsey's answer would be that committment to the marriage, an emergency fund and/or good life insurance should be enough security for both partners. And if you want to have kids, stay home with them.

Hmm. I guess we're going to need a bigger book.

Readers, any ideas? What other budgeting systems and books have worked for you? Leave a comment or email me at enoonan@globe.com

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about the author

Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.

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