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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Biblical twist to financial advice

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey has some simple advice: Live on a budget, save money, limit spending, get out of debt.

Simple - but certainly not easy, said Mr. Ramsey, who on Sept. 20 will conduct a one-day seminar beamed by satellite to 500 U.S. churches, including four in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

“Personal finance is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge,” he said in a recent interview from his offices near Nashville.

Knowing how difficult it is to change people's behavior, Mr. Ramsey is as much a motivational speaker and a preacher as he is a financial expert.

His upcoming seminar is based on a new book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness (Thomas Nelson, $24.99), released Thursday, offering a step-by-step plan drawn from his own experiences and those of “tens of thousands of ordinary people who have become debt-free,” Mr. Ramsey said.

Mr. Ramsey, 43, and his wife, Sharon, had acquired more than $4 million worth of real estate by their mid-20s but lost it all when a bank called in a $1.2 million loan.

“We had built a house of cards and it came crashing down,” he said. “It took 21/2 years to lose everything and it was an unbelievably painful wilderness experience. But it also defined who we were and it put us in a place where we can go and do the things we do now, in a way that we couldn't have had if we had not had that experience. Turns out God had a plan. Go figure.”

Mr. Ramsey, who has a business degree from the University of Tennessee, said rebounding from the financial disaster was a slow process but within 10 years he and his wife had regained their millionaire status - only this time it was set on a solid foundation.

“Sharon and I were not smart enough to do the things we teach in this book,” he said. “We did some of them, and we did some in the wrong order. ... We were like the first guinea pigs and we got the most bruises. We didn't know the maze. We bumped into every wall. But we did turn left, turn right, and keep going 'til we made it out.”

Total Money Makeover is based on the experiences of people who used Mr. Ramsey's 1992 book Financial Peace, a New York Times bestseller that sold over a million copies; the 150,000 families who attended one of his 13-week “Financial Peace University” programs, and the thousands of callers to his syndicated radio program airing daily on 180 stations.

“It's not some theory. It's not some strategy that we think will work,” said Mr. Ramsey, who began his Christian financial advice ministry in 1988. “It's real stuff that real people have done. We've even put 50-something stories in there of families that have actually done it. And man, if you can read all those stories and not cry, you don't have a tear in your brain.”

The individuals profiled in the book testify how Mr. Ramsey's strategies - setting up budgets, establishing an emergency fund, performing “plastic surgery” (cutting up credit cards), buying used instead of new vehicles, “snowballing” bills by paying off the lowest ones first - helped them eliminate or reduce thousands of dollars' worth of debt.

Mr. Ramsey acknowledged that, on the surface, his advice is not much different from that of mainstream financial counselors. But the underlying concepts set his ministry apart.

“The interesting thing about biblical finance is that it is very simple to understand and it's very hard to do because it has to do with changing behavior,” he said. “As a Christian teacher, I'm convinced that that's why the Bible has so much to say about it. It's not that God's really concerned with whether you have a big house versus a little house. He's more concerned with you and how you are managing things, because that's a reflection of your character.”

Technology provides a “huge advantage,” he said, by enabling him to broadcast seminars nationwide via satellite.

“It would take me years to travel to all 500 locations, and that's if I traveled all the time,” he said. “And I've got teenage girls; I have to be home giving them hugs.”

Dave Ramsey's “Total Money Makeover” seminar, with a mini-concert by John Tesh, will be presented live via satellite from 12:15 p.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 20 locally at First Church of God, 3016 Collingwood Blvd., Toledo; Calvary Assembly of God, 5025 Glendale Ave., Toledo; Stewart Road Church of God, 1199 Stewart Rd., Monroe, Mich., and Tecumseh Church of the Nazarene, 1001 North Union St., Tecumseh, Mich. Tickets, $25, are available online at www.daveramsey.com or by phone line at 1-888-227-3223.



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