5 Lessons Dave Ramsey Taught Me About Healthy Living

The following guest post is from Lisa Byrne. Lisa is a holistic health coach who teaches busy moms about holistic nutrition and whole person approaches to healthy living at the Well Grounded Campus… when she’s not burping a baby or chasing toddlers around herself, that is!

Many of you may be familiar with Dave Ramsey. Jason has spoken about his financial philosophies, strategies for getting out of debt and establishing wealth here.

I’m also a fan of his work.  And as a health coach, I’ve found that his underlying financial perspectives are true for other areas of your life, most specifically getting out of poor health and into a rich life of sustainable, vibrant health.

Here are the 5 core lessons on financial peace that Dave Ramsey teaches which have clear correlations to healthy living as well.

1. Debt is Slavery

Dave often says that living in financial debt is like slavery. Every minute you work, that money earned is not your own, you’ve already sold it off.

Many moms I work with have the distinct experience of energy debt: the feeling of drain, exhaustion, and depletion throughout their day. They become addicted to energy crutches like too much caffeine or sugar just to get through the day. And these “crutches” actually keep us in a constant state of exhaustion and overwhelm because we are not tapping into true and sustainable sources of energy.

They are like the quick fixes (akin to credit cards) that give us an illusion that we are getting by, but in fact just under the surface we are falling farther and farther into poor health.
Establishing healthy and natural sources of gaining energy is a primary foundation of healthy, vibrant living.

2. Lasting, Permanent Change Takes Time

When you are interested in a monumental, sustainable shift in your lifestyle (whether it is getting out of debt or experiencing whole-person vital health), the truth is that change takes time. Dave’s work encourages making and keeping a budget, which takes a few months of testing things out, tweaking, and refining until a working system is in place that can begin to run smoothly.

And it’s the same with establishing wellness systems in your life. Eating healthy foods, caring for your emotional and mental health, nourishing your spiritual needs and tending to your self care needs must be part of a plan that works within the life you live.
And that wellness plan needs to go through a period of experimenting, testing, refining, and tweaking too. One size does not fit all.

If you want true health with freedom from the yo-yo dieting experience, you’ll have to take the time to come to know your unique needs, read the language of your own body, and creatively put that information into concrete and practical strategies that work in the life you lead right now.

3. You Are the Captain of the Ship

Dave makes it clear you must tell your money what to do in order for your money to work for you.

Likewise, in order to make your health and well being a priority, you’ll have to get used to telling your time what to do.

Trying to “fit in” aspects of health living is just not realistic in most of our lives. We may have good intentions, but it is essential to establish a clear plan for when and how we will do the things that we need in order to stay well.

From the start of your week or day, telling your time what to do, means you won’t be wasting time…which of course shouldn’t be confused with simply having down time. In fact, I’ve found that scheduling in proper down time helps me actually take it and benefit from it, without the sense that time is just slipping by and I’m still left feeling frazzled and scattered.

4. Go for Early Successes

Part of Dave’s program is to hit your debt with a snowball effect, and to start chipping away at the smallest debt you have so you can experience initial success and keep your motivation going. I’ve found the same is true for our health.

When we feel our long term health goals are too lofty and daunting then it is hard to keep motivated. But establishing smaller, short terms goals so you can feel the rush of accomplishment and success is essential to staying steadily on the path you want to be on.

It’s a basic principle I come back to that small, simple, and consistent steps in the right direction yield huge, powerful rewards. The magic bullet claims and quick fixes only serve as distractions that ultimately keep you stuck in the same place over time.

“Small steps, big results” is what my weekly email program called The Ripple is all about–if you aren’t on my list yet, you can get on here for free.

5. Common sense is the new sexy.

The principles of handling your money well that Dave shares are really time tested, traditional principles.

Steady and responsible movement toward real change is the fastest path to producing major rewards and reaching your goals.

Though the common sense banner doesn’t feel as sexy amidst all the glitz and buzz we are flooded with daily…I tend to think what is really sexy is great results that last and make a huge impact in your life.


  1. I love the Dave Ramsey plan! My wife and I are nearly out of debt (will be debt free by the end of March!), and I agree with all of the points outlined above.

    On top of this, we have decided to create a passive income – money that will roll in even if we don’t work at it anymore! This has been a great extra source of income, plus it could easily fund an early retirement! I tell everyone what we are doing on my website. Take a look!

  2. “You must tell your money what to do in order for your money to work for you.”

    This is so true. If you let your creditors tell you what to do with your money before you tell your money what to do for you — you will continually find your accounts depleted and your spirit broken.

    Those who fail to plan how to deploy their money will inevitably plan to fail. Murphy’s law will undo “seat of the pants” accounting 9 out of 10 times. Unless you’re clairvoyant, you need a budget to manage, direct, and save the limited resource that is money.

  3. All good lessons, especially #3. I don’t think enough people realize that no matter how much they have saved or how much they owe, what happens going forward is up to them.

    • The way things go forward is also an issue, KDB. You are indeed the Captain of your Ship, financially at least, if you spend smart. I do most of my shopping online and I use coupon codes frequently.

  4. small steps big results…. Hadn’t thought of applying that to health – but, yep, sounds like a good plan!


    • Avoid them, I have been told. I have, as well as refined sugars. Eating cardboard is not the trick. I do like food to taste good; but I do make the goal of mindlessly eating sugar and by all means sugar substitutes.

  5. Hi Paul–
    Not a fan at all of sugar substitutes– I’d much rather eat a small amount of refined (or preferable whole-food sources) of sugar than mess with those chemicals!

    Thanks for asking– these are exactly the kinds of things we explore on my blog and in my membership site!


  6. Most of the things Dave Ramsey teaches in his FPU course, they are on it. There are 3 major criticisms though I have with his course:

    1) Numbers way outdated.

    The $1,000 is too low cause there are things these days that can be an emergency which would in many cause one to have to take out a new debt. The idea behind the initial baby emergency is so as you don’t have to take out new debt if you should have a such emergency. Example, what would happen if you need to have a roof repair? What would happen if your engine/transmission goes back on your only vehicle used to get to and from work and busing along with walking aren’t viable answers for commuting between work and home? The so called 15% for retirement funds is too low of a percentage. That needs to be 25% now days given the 3 legged stool no longer applies, but rather you now have a bean bag chair analysis for retirement funding. The 15% goes back to the days when you were only allowed to put up to 15% of gross income into retirement funds by IRS rules, but these days, it’s only now just the absolute numbers, no percentages other than for the SEP. The matching from the employer into the retirement funds though can count towards that 25% to retirement funding, but it also must be added to gross income.

    2) Everything must be done on paper by his process.

    For me, I had done thing on paper until it got to the point it was too complex that it was eating up too much time to do on paper anymore for a more detailed financial plan. Instead, I do everything within Excel where calculations are done within a few seconds, not minutes or hours to do by hand on paper. Even the computer version he has online, it’s so tedious, I can do things within Excel from a budget planning process when I do my next 2 year budget planning process every August/September so much faster once it’s all set to be put into the cash flow manage worksheet. The other thing about that worksheet, I can make a few minor chances and instantly see the impact vs on paper, I wouldn’t have that instant visibility. He also doesn’t take into account of technnology that you can use today, so as to be able to use more the rate route in such a manner so as you don’t have to think about your finances everything single day which 10 years ago, you had to think about it every single day under the rate route, but not any more these days given you can schedule your payments in advance of time free of charge.

    3) His plan is too risk adverse and not enough things taken into account.

    First, per his saying, the EF is to be in non-interest bearing accounts. Thank you, but no thank you. That’s cause the EF is suppose to cover 3 things

    A) up to 1 year of cash flow demands (he says 3 to 6 months, but I want it up to 1 year, though no easy thing to reach as it takes years to get there)

    B) The total amount of accumulated depreciation on long-term assets also needs to be in this fund as you know such long-term assets (Except for land as land is land, but it must also include all land improvements into this factor such as the house, paved driveway, and everything else within the home along with any other land improvements on the property) will need to be either restored or replaced down the road. He barely even touched on depreciation, but didn’t really say anything about it. For me, I am a big proponent for using depreciation for (a) Telling me what is the true cost of such long-term assets, (b) telling me how much money to put off to the side to cover such assets, and (c) by doing this, it avoids having to take out debt to repair/replace such long-term assets. However, such money in the EF needs to be in some sort of investments that can still be easily converted to cash, but it does take on additional risks to fend off the risk of inflation as otherwise, inflation will eat away at that money and I don’t like the idea of money sitting idle getting eaten away by inflation. Therefore, I would rather have it subject to market risks than to have it subject to inflation risks.

    C) The EF also needs to cover sudden losses up to a certain point that would be considered reasonable. You know such things happens, but you just don’t know when or by how much. I would think this may be something that should be about $20,000, but each household has to determine this.

    As for being able to meet all 3 items ($34,000 + $33,000 + $20,000 = $87,000 are my current amounts that the EF is technially suppose to be at currently, but we are far from it), it does require major amount of time and significant discipline. We currently can not implement this stuff to the full force, but for what I have been able to implement, it has served this household quite well.

    Not only that, but when I compared his “CASH FLOW” method to the retirement self study I did back in 2001 (when I also had converted everything from paper to Excel as paper no longer worked for me due to the complexity of the financial stuff taking various things into account such as for much greater chance of spotting future financial storms on the horizon, which by doing that, we have avoided a lot of such storms or at least minimized their impacts greatly with minor adjustments to the cash flow well in advance of such financial storms on the horizon), his method didn’t pan out too well. Even my “EQUITY” method fall short, but not nearly as short as his “CASH FLOW” method did when taking into account various risk factors both during employment years and retirement years. Of course, I also took the numbers to see if it would meet at least 98% chance of being financially successful for retirement years (that’s 3 standard deviations out based on a normal bell curve for those that are into statistics). Why did I choose to use 98% or 3 standard deviations when most people use 95% or 2 standard deviations? Given what I been through for the first 29 years including the last 10 of those 29 years it was no picnic by any means, so I want to make it a point to avoid having to be in that boat that was in literally living in survival mode with just $4,000 annual income in the 1990’s. I also seen too many ancestors in both of our families gradually die from lack of proper funds to properly take care of their health. This is one boat I want to avoid as I was in that boat as a young adult with Child SSDI and I don’t ever want to be in it again. As such, based on the self study I did in 2001, I have setup various rules and various trigger points of when such rules kicks into play.

    One such thing, while Dave have a valid point about using the principle route, number of debts dropped is no driving point for me. What’s the driving points for me are the Long-Term Networth number (Our overall financial health), Short-Term Networth number (Are we covering our current expenditures including depreciation on long-term assets, cause if we aren’t, we are headed for trouble), and total investable amount on an after tax basis (how are we doing for reaching those retirement goals?). These are the 3 primary numbers that’s driving me.

    While I also understand about Dave’s point again dealing with human behavior as for going in the order of the baby steps, I again don’t fully agree with it cause things has to be taken into consideration on a household by household. Note, he attempted to make one size fit all, and that just isn’t the case as his stuff doesn’t fit this household. I found, to avoid financial problems overall, one must have some sort of a balanced approach to how to divy up the extra funds between:

    1) Retirement Funds (Note, the IRS has absolute limitations, but you still need to start this up not to mention to take full advantage of employer’s matching policy and the IRS matching policy via the Retirement Saver’s Credit if you qualify for it, which we current go up to the point of maxing both of these amounts out, though this year given the 2% FICA holiday, that same 2% I made as a rule to go into the ROTH IRAs instead)

    2) Debt Elimination (This is a goal that really does need to be tackled and I throw the mortgage into step 2 with it as once again, I go by the rate route, not the principle route, which the mortgage has no tax benefits to me unlike the interest on the student loans. Not only that, but the fixed rate on the mortgage is still significantly higher than the fixed rates on the student loans)

    3) Emergency Fund (As explained earlier in this post, this also has to be regulated to determine if more needs to be put into it or not, which can dampen the effects of the debt elimination process, but so be it. Without taking this into account, if something major was to happen down the road, it could mean having to get into major financial problems, thus this part must be taken into account. As such, it’s not as easy as just following through the baby steps 1 by 1, but rather there must be a balanced approach to it.)

    Maybe too many people don’t know how to do a balanced approach as it could be for various reasons:

    Maybe they don’t understand Accounting (That’s my education background)

    Maybe they aren’t computer savvy (That’s where I am about as advanced of a user as one could possibly be)

    Maybe one hasn’t been through tough times, so they have no idea of the importance of this stuff (I definitely been there and don’t want to be back in it)

    Maybe they don’t know how to break bigger tasks down into smaller stuff and then build it back into a big picture as they solve the problems (This is how I ended up learning to overcome my Learning Disability primarily in Language along with the LD forcing me to learn the art of memorization)

    Maybe they don’t realize how just one small thing can have a major impact on the household’s finances or financial health. Note, I use Excel not just for the cashflow, investments, debts, and retirement stuff, but I also use it to take taxes into account as taxes has a significant impact on the financial strategies, such as before reaching 70.5 years old, one should have 90% of total retirement funds in ROTH IRAs if allowed by law, so as to majorly minimize the impact of the RMD rules so as the other financial rules setup can be followed through.

    To do all of this stuff by hand, not realistic. That’s one such reason why I use Excel quite extensively. But then having learned not to trust anyone and being forced to learn not to even get into any sort of predicament that would have me dependent on someone else (lessons I learned in the 4th grade by means no child should have to learn in such manner), it has forced me to learn as much as I can possibly learn, and it also forced me to do so much stuff my ownself. As such, I have by far become a critical thinker and people don’t like it when I challenge them, but then they also didn’t like it when they attempted to hold me back and put major barriers up against me all cause I had 3 life strikes against me as a child, but yet, I broke through every one of those barriers majorly, they didn’t like it as I wouldn’t fit into their little myths, including attempting to tell me I couldn’t do things when I was already doing them by far. I didn’t like having to deal with such issues with them attempting to hold me back academically and allowing the older bigger kids beat the living tar out of me only to tell me to ignore it or they didn’t want to hear it when I went to let the school officials know about it. To make matters worse, I also didn’t like it when my guardians sided with such school officials including one school (the one I hated the most cause of the major beatings I had recieved daily during recess time) that sent a letter stating I was permanently banned from that school cause “I WAS THE TROUBLE MAKER”. When I was told that, I was jumping up and down in joy, not cause of the reason given, but cause I absolutely hated that school. Out of the 13 schools I went to, only 2 of them treated me with respect, which both of those schools were not your regular public schools. All of the other 11 schools were your public schools and none of them treated me with respect. Well the last one eventually did, but only after I had outwitted them and became #1 at something useful to them, which for me was actually 2 items, one of the top runners in the state of MI for Cross Country running, and no one was able to top me with the software side in the late 1980’s. Even in my senior year, I also topped out all of the other students within Accounting as the teacher later on told me out of the 24 years she taught that course, I was THEE ONLY STUDENT to fully complete the course let alone acing it. Yeah, when they told me they weren’t moving me up back in the 8th grade dealing with math all cause I got a “C” in “GENERAL MATH” as the only reason why I got that “C” instead of the “A” was cause I was so bored of the class given I had already aced in the 7th grade, I did 0 homework, they had no idea what sort of mission they had put me on as I right then and there thought to myself, “I see where this game is going.”

  7. Ronald – interesting thoughts and examples. Except for the roof repair – don’t think that would count as an emergency…. it should be in a maintenance category savings, not under emergency fund item. If a tree fell on it, or a windstorm blew it off, one should have insurance for those, and then yes, the $1000 would cover the deductible.

    Agree that one can use Ramsey as a general guideline, but then ideas must be changed to fit each person’s personal situation, risk adversion, and goals. Each much find the “numbers” that they are comfortable with….
    Good luck!