This final lesson was about Baby Step 7, Build Wealth and Give. Everything has been leading up to this. We’ve been taught how to get out of debt, save money, and invest so that we can build wealth, not only for ourselves but so that we can give some away. I’ve mentioned the religious nature of the class before and be forewarned: If discussions of theology, scripture, and doctrine make you nervous, this is not the lesson for you. Dave teaches this lesson from the Christian perspective of giving, which means tithes and offerings to the church. While he does mention some non-Christian giving anecdotes, the majority of the lesson is about scripturally-based giving. If this offends or bothers you, skip the last lesson.
The idea behind this final lesson is that, even if you do everything Dave has taught up until now, you will never have true financial peace unless you understand the value of giving. When you build significant wealth, there’s only so much you can do with money. You only need so many cars, or houses; only so many pairs of shoes or TV’s. Stuff reaches a point where it isn’t enough anymore and you have to find fulfillment in other ways. The most significant of those is to give to others.
Many people mistakenly believe that the only way to have more is to hold onto your money tightly. This is what Dave calls the Great Misunderstanding. However, Dave contends that relaxing that grip and giving your money freely is the way to bring true abundance into your life. Your blessings may not always take the form of money, but you will be blessed in other ways, including with personal joy and happiness.
The lesson delves deeply into the scripture and doctrine of tithing from here on and I won’t get too deeply into that. Everyone has their own opinion about tithing. Suffice it to say that Dave comes at it from an evangelical Christian point of view. His basic contention is that we are only stewards of the Lord’s money, so it’s not ours in the first place. We need to give it away to fulfill God’s plans for us and to make us into more mature Christians. (You can separate the Christian teaching from some of this and take Dave’s points that giving simply makes you less selfish, more fulfilled, and more likely to “win” at life and money.) Dave makes the point that we can argue over theology and doctrine all we want, but basically you can’t be a “winner” in life unless you give to something bigger than yourself.
If tithing isn’t your thing or you don’t have a church to support then giving to any organization or person you feel is worthy will achieve the same result. If you’re inclined to give according to the Christian tradition then that’s great. But if you’re not, it’s still important to give. Giving makes you feel better and it is a great thing to do. Personally, I believe that giving makes me a better person and that it does reflect back in my own life. I think people are wired to help others and that doing so makes you appreciate your own life so much more. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to give to churches, homeless shelters, environmental groups, or children’s charities. Whatever moves you is what you should give to. And you should do it with an open heart and without the expectation of a return.
At the conclusion of this lesson Dave talks about the four areas of your life that need to be working well and in harmony if you want to win with money and in life.
The physical: Take care of your body because it’s the only one you’re going to get. Without a healthy body, your options are limited.
The mental: Dave argues that you need to take care of your mind so that you are able to make good, informed decisions. He notes that the average millionaire reads one non-fiction book per month. If you want to succeed, you need to read.
The emotional: Dave wants us to “unpack our baggage.” If you have issues that you need to deal with, do so. If you need to talk to a counselor, do it. Don’t go through life burdened by emotional junk.
The spiritual: Dave believes that this means having a relationship with Jesus Christ but if this doesn’t work for you, then get in touch with whatever spiritual being/entity that’s bigger than you that you choose. Nurture the spiritual side of yourself.
He then urges us to get involved by helping others. Give of your money, your time and your knowledge to make the world a better place.
The highlight of small group this week was a little “graduation” party. Since this was the last class, it was a chance to say goodbye to our classmates over some cake and soda. We talked a little bit about the lesson (we all agreed that we need to give more, if not to the church than to something) but mostly we talked about the class overall. Our group leader asked us what was the most important less we learned in FPU. The answers included how to save money, how important it is to take care of your estate, how to find a better job, that retirement is coming sooner than we think, and that debt is neither necessary or a great idea. All stuff that you would expect to hear. However, one man said that the most important thing he learned was how to use the Internet. It sounds silly, but this is an older gentleman who never had much use for computers. He said that taking this class forced him to learn how to get online. At first he wanted to get on just so he could use the online tools at Dave’s site. But once he got online, he discovered the ease of managing his bills and accounts online and the money saving things we talked about so often like coupons, codes for online retailers, online savings accounts that pay more interest and on and on. He got a copy of Quicken, too, so he could track his spending and accounts better. He said that in each class he wrote down websites and ideas he encountered in small group and went home and looked them up. He discovered all of the money saving things on the Internet that I and many others take for granted for the first time because of this class. In that sense the class opened up a whole new world for him.
Personally, the biggest lesson I learned was how money management is not the slam dunk for many people that I sometimes believe it is (or should be). Because I spend my days dealing with this stuff, it often seems to me like everyone should know it. It’s like someone who can speak four languages just taking for granted that everyone can understand them no matter which language they use. However, this class reminded me that money management has to be learned and that many people never had the opportunity to learn it, or if they did it didn’t “stick.” Weeks of watching people gasp in revelation at ideas like couponing, compound interest, and the need to save for an emergency showed me that it’s just not simple for many. The things that I think are basic are advanced to many people. I think this class will make me more tolerant and sensitive toward others when it comes to teaching money concepts.
Many people shared stories of how their life and outlook has changed since starting this class. We have three people who are now debt free with the exception of their mortgage, and we have a few more who are almost there. We have some who have a couple of thousand dollars in the bank for the first time ever. There are a few who are more aggressively saving for retirement, or beefing up emergency funds that were small when class started.
There are a few, too, who I don’t think got too much out of the class. The family with the motorcycle and all the other toys still have them and have no plans to get rid of them. They’re trying to pay off the debts, but without much enthusiasm. It means sacrifice and hard work and they just aren’t ready to make that leap yet. Maybe someday. There is another couple who never participated and never did the homework who pronounced the class pretty useless on the last day. The wife basically said that they just didn’t think it was that important at this time to take care of their finances because they had so much else going on. Dave was interesting, she said, but ultimately not for them. That’s okay. Some things resonate with some and not all; maybe they’ll find their way to financial security some other way. However, I was happy to see that most of my fellow group members got something out of the class and, in many cases, that something was life changing. I wish them well.
Homework roundup: None! We’re finished! However, next week I will have one final entry in this series where I take a look at the overall value of the class, the pros and cons, and how, if you choose to take it, you can get the most benefit out of it.
This is a series of posts about what you will find in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. You can find the previous posts here: week one — week two — week three — week four — week five — week six — week seven — week eight — week nine — week ten — week eleven — week twelve