Financial Peace

We did our first Financial Peace University (FPU) class this weekend. Dave Ramsey himself (the founder) admits the concepts are little more than common sense, certainly nothing revolutionary. The genius is his repackaging and marketing.

Lest you think I begrudge his piece of the American Pie, let me just say I admire his creativity and think he deserves what the market will bear.

It is unfortunate, however, that those in financial straits — the people who stand to gain the most from his program — have to cough up $89 to participate in a group.  (This doesn’t include the leadership kit at $249 a pop).  If you want to do this on your own, it’s a whopping $399 (but currently $179 on sale) for the homestudy kit.

Among other things, $89  buys you a slick, over packaged “kit” with all the bells and whistles, including a pencil, eraser, and pencil sharpener in a clever slide out drawer.  Also included are an oversized, laminated progress chart and two leatherette snap cases holding budget envelopes and CDs.

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Kit

Given the topic, I can’t help thinking they could’ve done without the excess and maybe charged a little less.

The leader’s guide explains all the financial principles covered in the program. It’s clear and well written, on the level of a 5th grade textbook. A reasonably educated adult could probably absorb the information in an evening or two.

But knowledge and application are two different things.

This is where Dave Ramsey’s program succeeds, at least in the short term. Not everyone has the motivation to read through even a simple text on finance. Fewer have the discipline to put into practice what they’ve learned.

FPU gives you Dave Ramsey live, on DVD, telling you what’s in the book, accompanied by motivational anecdotes, quips, and props. More importantly, FPU’s small group approach provides the handholding and accountability that can mean the difference between success and failure.

I applaud Dave Ramsey for his insight in providing a much needed service. Far too many people are trapped in a debt and spending pattern, and this program gives them hope and a real way out.

FPU is marketed as “God’s way” to manage your finances.  It’s tailored to a church audience, with references to God, and Bible verses sprinkled throughout. But it’s really just basic financial principles in Christian packaging.

And it works. He’s already had over a million takers, including yours truly. (Though as hosts, the cost of our kit was covered by our church).

Without calling into question his motives, (which I’m in no position to discern or judge), I’m sure it hasn’t escaped Ramsey’s notice that the church is a great target market. Once you tap in, the networking potential is unmatched.

To his credit, Ramsey puts charitable giving on the front end. Charity is the first line item on his budget, following the Biblical principle of tithing. Ramsey also emphasizes the hows and whys of living debt free. But beyond this, there’s nothing particularly Biblical about FPU concepts.

So far, I like Ramsey’s program and can see why it has become so popular with its target market. However, I wish he hadn’t slapped the God label on it.

According to Ramsey, the goal of wealth building is charity. The more you have, the more you can afford to give.   A worthwhile and “Christian” goal, to be sure. However, while I can’t argue with the logic, God often asks us to give out of our need, not our abundance. He’s more concerned with our hearts, not the amount. After all, God doesn’t need our money.

In obedience to God, Rees Howells, George Mueller, and many other great men and women of God have lived on less than paycheck to paycheck. While it’s not a prerequisite, it’s not uncommon for those who’ve walked in the miraculous to live with God as their only margin.

I’m not advocating this approach as “God’s way” for everyone.  It’s a lifestyle better appointed than chosen — hearing from God being the difference between faith and foolishness.

However, the premise of “Financial Peace” is financial margin — an emergency stash and funded retirement the source of financial peace. I wouldn’t suggest necessarily that Ramsey’s teaching goes against Jesus’ admonishment not to store up treasures on earth or worry about tomorrow.

But true financial peace is never the result of being in control of your finances or having a back up plan. True financial peace is available to every follower of Christ at any time. It’s not what you have, but who you know.

Your thoughts?