In the early 2010s I listened to Dave Ramsey nearly every day. The Nashville based personal finance (personal accountability) radio host is still on the air, holding court. There’s a few things that make Ramsey popular.
First, he’s great on the radio. The content fits the medium, and Ramsey’s basic explanations, stories, and approaches combined with the delivery works.
Second, he gives good advice rather than perfect advice. There’s a difference between precision and accuracy, usually between the world of a model and the real world. It’s why Ramsey suggests beginning with the debt snowball:
“Start by listing all of your debts except for your mortgage. Put them in order by balance from smallest to largest—regardless of interest rate. Pay minimum payments on everything but the little one. Attack that one with a vengeance. Once it’s gone, take that payment and put it toward the second-smallest debt, making minimum payments on the rest.” – Dave Ramsey (link)
A great behavioral angle. We like feelings of progress and by focusing on the smallest balance we get that, especially given the financial conditions we may be in.
A third thing Ramsey does well is filling an answer gap. One time a woman called into his show and asked a question. He answered. She protested that her friends and family wouldn’t understand. He suggested telling them her financial advisor advised it. I don’t have a financial advisor she said. “I’m your financial advisor!!”, Ramsey retorted.
In another instance he told someone it didn’t matter how much their income was, the purchase wasn’t “in the budget”. Could they afford it? Yep. But framing it against the contrived ‘budget’ change the conversation. (I’ve used this one, it works.)
Both “I’m your financial advisor” and “it’s not in the budget” fill in an answer gap. Having ready answers can change our fast thinking. It works for drinking too much, a diet, or any kind of behavior we’re trying to stick with.
The ready answers can be pretty arbitrary too. If you offered “meatless Monday” would anyone actually comment? I’d wager not. So it’s not the validity of an explanation but merely the existence of one.
Some people don’t like Ramsey’s advice but I’m reminded of the Tyler Cowen expression: opposed to what? If not this then what?