It’s always fun at the end of the year to remind ourselves of the best and worst examples of human creativity and ingenuity. For example, the best internet sensation, Gangnam style. Worst internet sensation, internet milking. (As judged by me.)
The financial website, GoBankingRates.com, has done something similar as part of their 12-days of Christmas. They conducted a poll on the “best” or, more accurately, the most popular Personal Finance personality out there. While I am very distraught that my own name wasn’t on the list, it was very interesting to see how this website’s visitors voted. This is a screenshot from December 28, showing Dave Ramsey in the lead. See their latest poll results here.
According to the website, Robert Kiyosaki, the author of the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” books series and related merchandise, was the 2011 champion, and final poll results show that he is the reigning champion for 2012, with Dave Ramsey a close second. These two popular personalities stole almost 97% of the entire vote. After viewing this poll, I searched the depths of my memory and recalled an article I wrote a few years back, outlining the differences between Kiyosaki and Ramsey’s personal finance philosophies. I dug it up and posted it here for your viewing pleasure: “Dual Personality Finance.”
One thing you might want to know about this poll, however, is that Kiyosaki is an “expert contributor” to the website, so frequent website visitors were already predisposed to vote in his favor, and there was no restriction on repeat voting. In other words, the odds were very much stacked in Kiyosaki’s favor, and his victory is probably a bit overstated. Perhaps what is most interesting to me about the poll is how few votes the remaining 10 personal finance personalities received, and excluding Kiyosaki’s inflated votes, how dominant Dave Ramsey is as a personal finance guru. According to Smark (2012), “Dave Ramsey has 4.5 million listeners to the nearly 500 radio stations that broadcast his three hour weekday broadcasts…and more than 1.5 million families have been through Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) 13 week course”
Smark also indicates in his article that Ramsey has managed to create a “following” that can be scientifically categorized as a “tribe,” defined by previous literature as having members with a shared interest and ways of communicating. This is evident in the fact that many avid Ramsey followers share common beliefs in things like faith in capitalism, God, and self-reliance; and an open differentiation from mainstream culture, for example, followers jokingly calling themselves “weird” when referring to pursuit of activities such as avid avoidance of debt, and cutting up of credit cards. Also, Ramsey followers have a three hour daily Dave Ramsey radio show, a television show, Ramsey podcasts, syndicated columns, a website, New York times best selling books, forums, Facebook and Twitter pages, and even live events with Ramsey himself, all of which are communication resources to “tribal” followers. There are even insider Ramsey phrases like “better than I deserve,” “get a job delivering pizzas,” “baby steps” or “Go out, kill something and drag it home,” that followers identify with Ramsey teachings.
The radio show ranks fourth nationally in terms of numbers of listeners, and is the leading, non-political radio show out there. While Dave Ramsey is only one person, his operation is far more than a one-man show. According to White, (Dec. 28, 2012), Ramsey’s private company, the Lampo Group, has more than 300 employees and revenue of $20 million a year. There is no doubt that Ramsey, himself, is industrious and hardworking, but knowing he’s got a large company behind him, makes his “larger than life” influence more understandable.
For many people, Ramsey’s plan is exactly what is needed: A simplified, no-nonsense approach to positive financial progress. However, the simplicity and unyielding nature of Ramsey’s no-debt, no-way, no-how, philosophy is ultimately a recipe for imperfect financial advice. In my opinion, the best example of his simplified plan leading people astray is the avoidance of credit scores. Ramsey, continues to insist emphatically that if you are not going to be borrowing money (which you will definitely not be doing as a Ramsey follower) then you don’t need a credit score. Unfortunately this advice does a terrible disservice to those seeking certain types of employment, particularly in the military, where credit scores are used as primary screening tools. It will also cost more in insurance premiums, and lead to difficulties in securing apartments, utilities, and even some elective medical procedures. Read more here.
So, given Ramsey’s popularity and the simplicity of his financial plan, should you follow it too? I support his plan, because I have seen it result in positive behavior changes in the lives of many people. But, I don’t consider Ramsey, a one-stop shop for financial advice, and certainly not financial gospel. Like any good plan, it should be backed by research from multiple sources.
Two of my favorite personalities who were on the list, but who did not receive a large share of the vote are Clark Howard, and David Bach. David Bach is like Ramsey in a way, because I think that he has a great big-picture philosophy for managing money and building wealth. Clark Howard, on the other hand, is excellent for providing daily tips and tricks for pinching pennies and getting the most from your paycheck.
And don’t forget, even though your local extension office did not win the popularity contest, we still have a wealth of free and low-cost classes and research-based resources that can help you get on the right financial path!
Erickson is a Personal Finance Educator with University of Idaho Extension, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.