After thirteen weeks, Financial Peace University has come to an end. So, was it worth it? Was it something that I would recommend to someone in financial trouble? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. There were many things about the class that I enjoyed, but there were many things that left me shaking my head, too. The easiest conclusion is that Dave is great for some people, but others would be better off following a different program. While I went over the specifics of each lesson in earlier posts, I wanted to take this last opportunity to discuss the overall value and worth of the class.
First, let me address the price of the program. You don’t have to pay the $100 for the class to learn the same material. All of what Dave teaches can be learned for free. If you want to follow Dave, you can buy or borrow his books and do the program on your own. The concepts he teaches are very basic and are commonly available in many other books and on many websites. There are also independent websites devoted to following Dave’s programs. If you are self motivated, you will have no trouble learning his information at your own pace without paying for the class.
That said, $100 isn’t a bad price for the program. You get thirteen weeks of lessons, many materials (although there was nothing special about the website and certainly nothing I would continue to pay for once the class ended), and a fairly entertaining evening. If you have a great small group, you can also make some new friends. It’s far cheaper entertainment than going to the movies every week. I came to regard the Monday night classes as a chance to spend the evening with my spouse and socializing with some other interesting adults. I would say that if you are really strapped for cash you should try to learn the material on your own. Use the $100 to pay a bill or build an
emergency fund. However, if you have the money to spare and think you would enjoy the class, there’s certainly no harm in taking it and you might find it fun.
If you do decide to take the class, you need to think about whether the religious aspects of it will bother you. It is a Christian based program with scripture worked into the lessons and discussions of things like tithing and prayer. Tithing comes up again and again and is the most prevalent religious topic. However, there’s no overt attempt to convert you or force you into a Christ-centered life. It’s pretty mild as religious programs go. However, what happens in your small group may be different. You may get a small group that really delves into religion. Mine only touched on it briefly, but each group/class/church is different. If this sort of thing will bother you, you should find another program. If you’re able to enjoy those topics or ignore them, then you won’t have a problem. Just be aware that religion is a component of the program and decide accordingly.
The class itself is a basic introduction to financial concepts. If you’ve never worked with money before you’ll probably find much of the material valuable. The lessons don’t go into anything very deeply, though. Much of it is in the category of a “quick overview.” However, it may inspire you to look for more information and learn more on your own. If you already know how to budget, are familiar with retirement vehicles, insurance, and property sales, much of this will be repetitive and you might be better off looking for a more advanced program.
Dave can be a good starting point for learning, but you need to be willing to look for additional information. Dave just can’t provide enough information (even in thirteen weeks) to teach you everything there is to know about personal finance. If you do the class and assume you’re set for life, you’re going to fall behind again. The early lessons about getting out of debt and budgeting are pretty comprehensive, but when the class gets to the bigger topics like insurance, investing, retirement, and property the lessons become more superficial. Once you’ve done the class you still need to learn a lot more about insurance, investing, and retirement savings if you really want to have a secure financial future.
If you’re familiar with financial concepts but not good at implementing them, the class can be motivating. You may know the material, but Dave may provide you with a kick in the pants to get on the right track. Dave is good at firing people up and making them want to get their financial house in order. Taking the class does make you more accountable than doing it on your own. You’re expected to contribute to the group discussions and to do the homework. Just the act of showing up each week may make you more accountable and therefore more successful.
Which brings me to the next point: To get the most out of the class you need to participate. If you’re not willing to do the homework or speak up in small group, you might as well go it alone. You won’t get anything out of it if you don’t do the work. Filling out the worksheets and getting to know your financial status is the whole point. If you don’t do that, you’ll be amused by the class but very little about your situation will change. In the busiest weeks the homework took a couple of hours. If you can’t commit to that, don’t waste the money on the class.
Finally (and this is the one thing you can’t really know about beforehand), a good small group makes all the difference. If you’re fortunate enough to get into a group with great leaders who can really direct a discussion and great participants who want to share, that can be worth the price of admission on its own. Those people can be great sources of support and information and may even become long time friends. The group can hold you accountable and push you to a level of success you might not reach if you did the program on your own. On the other hand, if you get a dud of a group with poor leaders and people who won’t talk, it can make for long nights. You can’t control how great your group is but if you get stuck in a bad group, ask your class coordinator if you can switch.
Dave, just like any other financial guru, isn’t for everyone. If you think you might want to take the class but aren’t sure, see if you can find someone who is currently taking it. During the program there were nights that we were allowed to bring guests so you might want to try that and see how you like it. You might also want to read his books first and see if the material interests you. If you don’t like his books, you won’t like the class. In the final analysis I found it to be a good, but not great, program that hits the high points of finance. It can be motivating for some, irritating for others. Some people find it helpful, others find it boring. I hope that over the last fourteen weeks I’ve given you the information you need to decide whether nor not the class would work for you.
This is the final column in 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 — week thirteen