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The Man Behind “The Dave Ramsey Show”

Join Michael Easley in studio for a deeper look into Dave Ramsey, bestselling author and radio host, as they discuss marriage, raising children, financial hardship and more.

About Dave

America’s trusted voice on money and business, Dave Ramsey is a personal money-management expert and extremely popular national radio personality. His four New York Times best-selling books –Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership – have sold more than 7 million copies combined. EntreLeadership, his latest best-seller, released in September 2011 and debuted at number one.

In 1992, Ramsey founded The Lampo Group, Inc. to provide financial counseling, through various means, to anyone who wants to better understand the principles of proper money management. Twenty years later, the company has grown from a card table in his living room to more than 350 team members and has been voted one of the Best Places to Work in Nashville six times. He runs a multi-million dollar company with a nationally recognized brand, but he defines success by the number of lives changed through his message of hope.

Ramsey offers that life-changing message as host of a nationally syndicated radio program, “The Dave Ramsey Show,” which is heard by 6 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations throughout the United States. More than 2 million families have attended FPU classes at their workplace, church, military base, local nonprofit organization, community group or Spanish speaking organization.

Click to read Transcript

EASLEY:  You know if you’ve never heard that on a radio broadcast you’ve missed a lot of fun. From time to time on the Dave Ramsey show, he invites callers to report in on how they’re doing getting out of debt. It perhaps starts by listening to the Dave Ramsey show and they’ll go through Financial Peace University, and then after a period of months or a couple of years, people will get out of debt completely and they’ll on the broadcast and they’ll talk to Dave about how they did it and the reality of they are now debt free and Dave loves to play that clip and they all celebrate in the studio and I’m telling you it is as genuine and as real as you can imagine. There are tears in the studio and I’ve got to confess, I’ve listened to the broadcast in my car welling up going why am I crying about people getting out of debt. This is ridiculous. The power of being debt free is enormous and America is enslaved to debt. They are enslaved to their credit card debt and the American way is just put it on credit. Today we are thrilled to be talking to Dave Ramsey, the founder of The Dave Ramsey Show. Dave is considered a personal money management expert. He’s a very popular broadcast personality. He’s had 4 New York Times best selling books: Financial Peace, More Than Enough, The Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership. In 92, Dave founded the Lampo Group, Lampo being the Greek word for light to provide financial counseling through a lot of different means to help people understand Biblical principles, common sense principles as he says “Gods and Grandmas ways” to know how to live under your income and through a process of very achievable steps not only get out of debt completely, but live as he likes to say “like no one else lives.” Dave does a good job providing almost 400 people with a full time job as well as giving back generously to many different organizations. He’s a friend. It’s a privilege to be with Dave today.

EASLEY:  A lot of people know you from the Financial Peace University, but perhaps they haven’t heard some of the early times, the early days of Dave Ramsey when you first got started and you ran into a couple of hurdles. Give us an overview of before things, as they stand today.

RAMSEY:  Well one of the reasons we know how to do what we do is, we did everything wrong to start with. Got a PHD in DUMB, without a doubt.

Sharon and I got married and like most people we were broke and I actually did everything backward. I met God on the way up. I started buying and selling real estate and I got rich. At least by Tennessee standards, I had about 4 million dollars worth of real estate-a little over a million dollar net worth. I was making about 250,000 a year.

EASLEY:  And you were how old at that point?

RAMSEY: I was in my early twenties.


RAMSEY: So by the time I was twenty-six, all that had happened. When I turned twenty-six, 20,000 bucks a month is coming in, life is good. We’ve got a brand new baby, brand new marriage and everything’s rocking’, life is good. But I had borrowed too much money and the bank called one day. They had gotten sold and some guy in another city looked down and said this kid owes us a lot of money and they called our loans and another bank called our loans, and another bank called our loans and we spent the next two and a half years of our life losing everything we owned. So we met God on the way up, but we definitely got to know Him on the way down. And as we made that journey down that side of that mountain, end of that valley, I found a guy named Larry Burkett, another guy named Ron Blue, another named Howard Dayton, and several other people that were teaching and I started as a baby Christian finding out that the Bible had a lot of things to say about money and so we started applying Biblical financial principles to our lives, studying them because I don’t like pain. I don’t want to go back and I figured if this Jesus stuff is real and that’s the truth, then the Bible is the truth and anything that anyone says that is contrary to that would be known as not the truth, including financial principles. So we started applying them and it takes a while. It’s Grandmas common sense, but we began crawling out and as we started crawling out, we started helping some other people and started showing them and it’s blossomed into a big deal now.

EASLEY: How did this affect yours and Sharon’s relationship?

RAMSEY: We about killed each other.

EASLEY: Just to sum it up.

RAMSEY:   Sharon is from the hills of east Tennessee. Frying pan throwing there, is an Olympic event.  So it was a disaster and again I was a baby Christian. She grew up in church but I had met God as an adult in that setting on the way up and on the way down. I didn’t have the paradigm, the ability to be a decent husband in a crisis. I didn’t even know what that looked like. I’m just trying to hang on and just breath and consequently, she’s sitting there with a brand new baby. By the time we were at the bottom of bankruptcy there were two babies and bless her heart she thought she married Sir Gallegan, turns out I was Goober.

EASLEY: Were you always a reader?

RAMSEY: Yes! I grew up in a real estate household so mama and Daddy had a positive thinking movement and sales movement so I cut my teeth on Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar and those guys. So reading anything that had to do with self-improvement, it was kind of mandatory around our place, but I developed a love of it really quick because it affected my life in a good way. I just found out if there was something I needed to know I could find it in a book and so whether it was being a better Dad, or being a better husband, whether it’s learning about money, whether it was learning about Jesus, whether it’s learning about the Old Testament, the New Testament or whatever concept I wanted to study, I could find a book on it somewhere. Some of them were better written than others and so it opens up the doors to everything. I loved the old saying, the old motivator Charlie Tremendous Jones used to say, “ Five years from today, you’ll be the same person you are today except for the books you read and for the people you meet.”

EASLEY: When you look at your marriage, post the hard years, what are some defining principles, moments for you personally, not necessarily the baby steps that we hear so often from your program-hopefully people are starting to grab more and more. What are some principles that you live and die for now?

RAMSEY: It’s way different than when it was 30 years ago then when we got married. No question about that. Even Sharon would admit that. I learned from some of the best writers in that world and that genre and that space. I learned to serve and I don’t’ always do it well. It’s not perfect but most of the time, when I am doing it right, I’ve learned to serve. And sometimes that means to guide while I’m serving. It means that she’s my girlfriend and I’ve got to keep that first and foremost and in front of everything else and part of that means I have to learn where the mines are in the minefield. I try to stay off of them. Sometimes I’m stupid and I just wonder over there and get blown up. Most of the time I know where they are now. She knows where mine are and we’ve worked on that a lot. We’re far from perfect. The Ramsey’s have not got this figured out. But we have been hanging on for 32 years. We do love each other.

EASLEY: And that’s a good thing. When you think of where you and Sharon are today, with your kids, all but the youngest not married yet, two married, grandchild and another on the way, maybe, sometime in the near future? I haven’t heard. How has your perspective changed when you think of Christ in your life, the things you had to go through that were difficult, the things you learned as you said “got to know Him on the way down” and now you look at your legacy in front of you? What’s the differential between I cant stop them from learning things the hard way, but I want to educate them so they don’t have to suffer too much? It’s that two-edged sword. On the one hand, we want to help our kids but we also want them to fail in a safe environment.

RAMSEY: Well I mean, our kids are grown and out of the house so our ability to tell them what to do now with that is not there. And even to speak into their life you have to be just very very careful to not cross boundaries. It’s not my house anymore. Prior to them getting married and even starting to date and those kinds of things, we were really tough on that, that this is the way you live. This is the way you walk with the Lord and this is what you’re looking for. We don’t do missionary dating and your looking for a man and a man that follows Christ, and a man that knows how to serve and that’s talking to the girls obviously. Daniel, you’re going to be that man-I say to my son. And that includes this financial piece. It includes a career piece and you know how to work. Those that don’t work don’t get to eat. Diligent and prosper. There’s a lot of sowing and reaping and cause and effect in scripture. We were trying to create a track for them to run on and as my friend Dennis Rainey used to say “Take those arrows that are in our quiver and make sure that the shaft is straight and then fix the feathers to the back of the shaft so that it will then fly straight. Once it’s released straight and then you put a really sharp tip on the thing, then it does damage to the other side on behalf of the kingdom.” And you release those things, and when you release them, you don’t get to bring them back. So we’re not fishing, we don’t keep a string attached to it. We release them. Matter of fact, we prefer they not come back, except to visit.

EASLEY: When you listen to people on the radio, I know a lot of it is empathy because you learned the hard way. Sometimes folks that call in, you want-as my friend Dave Gibson says, “you want to give them a spiritual dope slap?” Lighten up here. Wake up a little bit. How do you keep the teacher Dave from becoming the critical Dave in some of these situations with what you’ve heard –it’s like can you make this stuff up?

RAMSEY: Yeah really. Some days I don’t. Some days I goof that up and that’s not good radio and it’s not appealing. It’s not winsome. I sure do a whole lot better at it now then I did.

EASLEY: I think your listeners notice that. I really do. I think your audience sees that side because we’re all saying the same thing “you idiot”. You know, sometimes it’s reflecting our own problems.

RAMSEY: I think the thing is, what I try to do is I try to meet them where they are and then light a fire. And if it’s not burning, I turn up the heat a notch. If it’s still not burning in the conversation I turn up the heat. So about the third time, I go back with the same answer and they come back with yet another question. I’m probably going to bloody their spiritual nose at that point. I’m probably going to get their attention. But it’s for their sake. It’s like your kid is walking towards the interstate and they’re about to get run over and you start off with “honey don’t go over there, and by the time they get closer and closer, you are yelling “ I’m going to kill you. You can’t go over there.” But it’s wise because you don’t want them to get killed. You don’t want them to run out there in the interstate. It’s a bad place and that’s my job is to course correct. That’s what they’re coming to me for, whether they realize it or not. And so the good news is a whole lot of people get help and the other good news is it’s down right entertaining as we do it.

RAMSEY: A marine friend of mine says he’s in the car listening to Freedom Friday broadcast when you do the Financial Freedom Debt Free and call in, he says “Half the time he’s crying when these people tell stories.” He’s a marine for goodness sakes! And what is it about this whole freedom from enslavement and we could put addictions on there-all kinds of things. But what is it about that, which is so liberating for you? You have heard it so many thousands of times and yet you hear another one but what is that?

RAMSEY: It’s the gospel! It’s being set free and it’s being set free from bondage I created with grace, which I didn’t create. And it’s visceral. It reaches down in your soul and it’s something as simple as getting rid of MasterCard and a stupid student loan, but mixed into that is the world’s greatest story. I’m free and there’s peace with freedom. And where there’s slavery, there’s not peace and whether that’s slavery to debt in the old King James, where we are talking about sin or whether we’re talking about debt like a MasterCard. Either way, it’s just –ones a metaphor is all it is. There is a sense of being set free. It ‘s evangelistic in its appeal and it touches that place inside of our hearts. Now I’m not saying that getting out of debt is a Salvation issue. Don’t’ misunderstand me. I’m not doctrinally that shallow, but you’re touching the same place. It’s still the good news and it’s still this idea that I’ve got something I didn’t deserve here and that’s why I’m better than I deserve.

EASLEY:  When you sit back at the end of a week that’s been full of meetings and employee challenges, and products and marketing and all that. When you sit back and look at a week, Friday you are at home, and you think about from your drive from here to your home, do you put this in a context where God is using you and what does that feel like to Dave Ramsey? With ups and downs of the week, but you go home, you put in your five full days for example, what does it feel like to be at rest in what you’re doing?

RAMSEY:  Usually it doesn’t happen on the drive home, honestly. It usually happens when I’m sitting in a situation and I can’t believe a kid from Antioch, Tennessee is here. I look up and there are 12,000 people in an auditorium or I’m sitting with a guy after I’ve done a leadership conference all day long and I get to lead him to the Lord. Or I’m staying in a hotel that is just ridiculous and it humbles you to the point of gratitude. You just stop and say “Wow, Lord” thank you for work that matters and for intersecting my life and for changing the direction and thank you that you have given us the privilege to lead as many people to the Lord as we have, but also to influence their lives in the direction and the privilege to teach them your Word, which when it intersects their life always changes the trajectory.

EASLEY:  When you think back on the hard times, and the challenges and then counterbalancing it with where you are today as you said, “humbled and grateful for what God has done,” how do you keep from going to far with the power, and success and the voice?  You and I’ve seen it. We have seen some people make some poor choices when they get to a place with power.

RAMSEY:  It still remains to be seen if I ever do that. I mean it’s possible I will. I’m not any better than anyone else in that regard. I’ve known people that are smarter than me and more spiritual than me that messed up big time. I have the benefit of having gone broke. That changes your whole look on that, because you don’t look up on third base and feel like you hit a triple. You don’t’ have that sense of it. So that sense of entitlement is one of those things that can lead you to that and I have some of that. I worked my tail off and sometimes I feel that I’ve earned that. And sometimes I did earn it, but that sense of entitlement is a really scary place to go to and then the second thing is the stewardship thing for me. And I taught my kids this, as far as inherited wealth in the future, for them, it’s very very dangerous if you think you own it. If you can remember that all of this power or fame or money or anything that is given to you is simply a tool. You don’t own it. It’s simply a tool to be used for the good of the Kingdom, which includes doing some nice things for your family. For example, take care of your own household. It includes a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. It includes some of those things, but more than anything it’s a tool. But more than anything, why was I given a microphone? Why was I given influence on some of these network shows or why do I have the ability that people trust the message coming off of this brand and those kinds of things? Those privileges that were given to us but they’re are not ours. They are to be stewarded.

EASLEY:  When you look at your kids and now grandchild and more to come, more than likely, God willing, how do you see that generational, not just the information, the technique, the ownership of what you have? Now obviously, God’s used you. Not putting it all on Dave’s Ramsey’s accolades. You’ve come to a place now, how do you entrust (I guess I’m asking) that in a legacy format, that they appreciate, that they appreciate that they didn’t go broke?

RAMSEY:  Well we’ve been teaching since they were one that they don’t own it. They’ve been taught their whole lives that they don’t own it and that they’re managing it. So several years ago when the kids reached adulthood and we sat down and we actually opened up the financial statements. They grew up pretty normal in the sense that they had no idea. I mean they knew we had money but they had no idea what the wealth was and what this place represents with 400 team members and how big the payroll is. They never got their heads around it because they were young adults. When we sat down, we thought (I was so proud of them), maybe we pulled this off because everyone of them looked at us and went that is very heavy. I feel the weight of that. None of them said, whew we won the lotto. We hope you die soon. It was more like; this is a responsibility to manage this for God. Part of the formula is, you know my wife has some nice things and I do too and that’s part of the formula. But it’s a small, small portion of the formula. The biggest part of the formula is that there’s a whole lot of folks need help and it is our job to use these privileges we’ve been given in such a way and to transfer that stewardship philosophy generationally is your only shot at not messing up your kids. And by the way, it’s real clear our family has a family constitution and the title of it is: As for my house and me, we will serve the Lord. If you’re not going to do that, you’re not in the will. That’s not because it’s punitive, it’s because it’s not mine. I’m a manager, and what kind of manager would I be, to leave money to a heroin addict or to leave money to someone who’s running out here not walking with God. It’s not a legalistic thing; it’s a responsibility of mine. Because I’m not going to have someone misbehaving and now they’re well financed and they’re misbehaving. That’s not beneficial to them and it’s certainly not beneficial to the Kingdom and it’s not my money.

EASLEY:  When you look at the entitlement culture we have right now, I’m a bit older than you, but you have been in this far more than I ever will be. What’s happened to the mindset? And lets just talk about the local church, not even America at large. What’s happened to the mindset that entitlement has become so much intracle in their approach to life? Your background and mine are not that different that we had parents that you had to work and I grew up in a lower middle class America, but we didn’t have much. We didn’t take loans. We didn’t borrow money for cars. We had to pay cash for stuff. Part of that was the depression era survival mode. This is how you have to live which in some respects is very good. But we’ve handed our kids an endless stream of consumerism, materialism and it’s kind of frightening.

RAMSEY:  It’s the ism, that’s the problem. Consuming something is not a problem. There’s not a certain amount of money or a certain niceness of a thing that is too nice or too much. It’s the ism of it, the worship of it that becomes the problem. Where the entitlement came in was we defined success poorly and we allowed materialism, consumerism to sneak into our doctrine and into our theology, meaning that we define success as a collection of stuff that is there for the benefit of me. I got to tell you, I made a lot of money over my life –a couple times. You eat enough lobster and it taste like soap. There’s no stuff that is going to fill that void. We’ve done a generation a disservice when we spiritualize the collection of stuff. Now I’m not against stuff. I think you ought to get yourself some stuff. I think you ought to enjoy it, but you ought to own it or manage it for the Kingdom. You should not be saying I’m defined by what I drive and I’m defined by where I live or where I went on vacation and that’s my spiritual identity. Sadly, I’m running into 45 and 55 year olds that are still doing that stuff- the boomers that are out there floating. This next generation, they’ve got –well two generations down, they’ve got this whole twisted thing on wealth and a wrong view of it that has popped up and this wealthy and equality movement and all this other stuff. It’s way outside of Scripture but it’s the reaction to the materialism which is the wrong definition so now we’re have a new group that’s defining themselves by what they don’t have, which is just as evil, and just as much heresy.

EASLEY:  How do you define it? What year model car? What size house? Where do you have to live? To define that you’re being a good steward? I heard a principle years ago by one of my professors that said when you judge someone else for their money, you’re the materialist and you have no place but to look at your own assets and your own how you are to be a steward of what you have, not how someone else lives their life.

RAMSEY:  At what level of car have you lost your salvation? We did detailed research. It’s a 93 Camry.

EASLEY: Ninety-five is too bad, huh?

RAMSEY: You’re gone. That’s it.

EASLEY: You’re toast. Do you find more resistance from the legalistic crowd, the do’s and dont’s followers or those who are wealth is gospel? Wealth is gospel. Wealth, prosperity and success equals gospel?

RAMSEY: Interesting thing is the resistance usually comes from someone who is a thought leader for a particular crowd. That’s where the resistance comes from. People that sit in their churches, they all come to us from every denomination and background, even people that you would define whether or not they are within the orthodox movement. We just help people and it turns out they come in all brands.

EASLEY:  So to differentiate for the critic, you’re saying we’re not here to narrowly market to xyz. We’re trying to bring Christ to them in a different way no matter what their orientation might be?

RAMSEY:  We lead thousands of people to the Lord every year. Some of them thought they knew Him already and some of them did. Some of them were as lost as a bone in tall weeds like I was. We literally do that in a very very direct and very open way. My goal is this. I don’t have time to figure out whether you’ve got me figured out or not. I’m just doing my thing, so if you got me figured out fine. If you don’t’ have me figured out, it’s ok.

EASLEY: When you roll up shop on earth and this is the last chapter and God says “time to come to your real home Dave,” what do you want to leave behind?

RAMSEY: The legacy needs to be a family that gets it and the things that they can do then. I’m amazed when I think about the wealth that King David built, but he was prohibited from building the temple. Solomon builds the temple with his Dads money. What would happen if we could generationally do that through a whole bunch of families? Because you think compound interest works through one lifetime to build wealth for the good of the Kingdom? Watch it through two life times or three life times and see what can happen. We’ve gotten this idea that, and I hear it all the time, that the common mythology is that wealth always runs those families and that’s just mythology. I find lots and lots of families are doing very well and they’re just not on a reality show and they’re not on the front page of the news. They are just doing really good stuff and they’re really quiet about it because they’re not doing it for you-in terms of your accolades. They don’t need your approval and that needs to be the Ramseys-that we love Jesus first and foremost. We love each other second. If we loved our God and we loved our neighbor, we got a pretty good start.

EASLEY:  Well the best way to help you is for you to go to DaveRamsey.com. Hope you’ll join us on the next broadcast. This is Michael Easley InContext.

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