Dave Ramsey is known by many as a household name. Some of you may recognize phrases like “total money makeover” and “act your wage.” The advice he gives via his radio show, eight books, classes, and social media presence has helped over six million people worldwide get their finances under control. That is no small feat in the culture we live in today, where debt is a given and financial stress wreaks havoc on our relationships and our health. As a father of three, Ramsey makes sure to include the whole family in his financial makeover plans. Plenty of callers to his radio show request help for situations like adult children living at home past a reasonable age and circumstance; how to create a will; and how to teach kids to save more wisely.

I relate to those callers, in the sense that teaching my son about money makes me nervous. It’s a daunting task when my relationship with money is more akin to codependency than anything resembling health. I have credit card debt, a mortgage and car payments to make, and the most toxic part of all is that I find spending therapeutic. I’ve grown enough to be aware of this about myself, and I am doing what I can to change. That’s where the Ramsey family comes in.

            My first encounter with Ramsey was through his third book, Smart Money, Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win With Money, co-authored by his daughter Rachel Cruze. Cruze is touted as a “seasoned communicator” on Ramsey’s website, which really means she’s an author, speaker, radio and TV personality in her own right[VK1] . I wasn’t sure what to expect from the powerful father-daughter duo, but this skeptic has to admit, I did take away some great tips in the quest to raise my five-year old son to become a financially responsible adult.

            Part of what makes Ramsey so successful is his down-to-earth, fatherly approach. Smart Money, Smart Kids is an easy read, that is exactly what fans of Ramsey have come to expect, with a wealth of ideas for teaching your children to have a healthy relationship with money. The chapters are dedicated to a different financial topic, such as colleges and budgeting. Each one is discussed with sage advice, tough love, charming Tennessee humor, and Ramsey family anecdotes.

Here are just a few of the tips I am implementing in my household :

  • using debit not credit
  • saving up the cash to buy things without a loan (yes, even college tuition)
  • giving my child responsibility for several chores and paying him on commission
  • not rescuing him from every bad decision he makes
  • make sure I model healthy spending and charity

At times it can read a bit harsh, but that’s why it’s important to know your child and know when a little grace is needed. My favorite quote is the question Cruze poses us: “Is this helping my child become the self-supporting, healthy, mature adult I want them to be?” If the answer is no, then obviously don’t do it. Sometimes a “yes” answer to this question is all it takes for me to lose the guilt and stick to my guns even when it’s a hard lesson for my son to learn in the short-term. It’s so important as a parent to keep an eye on the day-to-day messages we are sending our kids through reflection and self-awareness. This book gives you ways to be more intentional with the financial messages you may not even realize you’re sending.

A strong Christian worldview is the foundation for some of the principles they have to teach, but they never speak exclusively to those who agree with them on religion. It is clear they want their advice to be helpful to any and all people who need it. Let’s face it, a good majority of us could use a financial wake-up call now and then! This father-daughter pair makes it their business, literally, to deliver those calls.

The format of Ramsey writing part of each chapter and his daughter Cruze writing the other is both a blessing and a curse to the work as a whole. On the one hand, it is helpful to see what a child’s perspective is on the principles outlined in the book. Cruze is honest in her experience of being raised by a financial guru, which isn’t always rainbows and sunshine, of course. The story of a very young Rachel eagerly spending her money too fast at a carnival and being refused extra cash the entire visit comes to mind in particular. However, the pair of them end up spending so much time praising one another that there were several pages where my eyes began to glaze over. At times I almost felt like a third wheel.

            To help balance the cheesiness, Dave Ramsey is quick to remind us of his flaws and money mistakes, like his bankruptcy in 1988 after becoming a millionaire. He often writes that there were times he went too far or not far enough. The last chapter is even titled, “I Was That Dad,” in which he reassures us that he was just like us once upon a time. The implication is, if he can take a dreadfully unhealthy relationship with money and turn it around to become a millionaire a second time, then surely we can too. Lucky for us, he learned from those mistakes and went on to share those hard lessons with millions. I personally wish it was delivered in a more concise package, but I’m glad it was delivered at all.

            If time is money, then I found this book a worthy use of both. Not only am I promptly starting my son on a “commission,” not allowance, I am looking for moments in our everyday lives to instill a healthy respect for what money is and is not. Money is not our master, and we do not have to live as slaves to debt. We are taking back our financial power, one step at a time, and showing the next generation how to be financially free.

Ramsey, Dave, and Rachel Cruze. Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the next Generation to Win with Money. Lampo Press, the Lampo Group, Inc., 2014.