Dave Ramsey and Rich People Habits vs. Poor People Habits

Dave Ramsey recently reposted a list on his website from another blog  http://www.richhabitsinstitute.com/ which seems more like a website selling books than an “institute” of higher learning or thinking. This list includes 20 habits rich people do that poor people do not. This list includes statistics, but offers no citations on the origins of these stats. The list states that wealthy people eat less junk food, exercise more, read more, watch TV less, and on and on. The assumption is that these habits will lead you out of poverty and into wealth, although this is not explicitly stated. It is not a step by step method for creating wealth, but one can assume that Mr. Ramsey posted this list in order as an encouragement for those in his Financial Peace program.

Anyone familiar with science, sociology, psychology, etc  understands the difference between causation and correlation when dealing with statistics. There are some serious questions that this list leaves unanswered. For example, do these habits cause people to become wealthy or are wealthy people more able do perform the habits on this list? In many cases, poorer people simply cannot engage in many of these tasks. Poor people eat more junk food because healthy foods are not readily available in poor, urban settings. These food deserts make it more difficult for poor people to eat as healthy as their rich counterparts. Many poor people do not have automobiles and cannot drive to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to buy healthy foods and healthier foods are more expensive than junk food. Many poor people cannot afford gym memberships and do not live in areas where they can safely walk or run. Certainly, being wealthy offers up more free time to engage in exercise and listening to audio books.

One interesting thing that is not on Mr. Ramsey’s list is giving. A recent study showed that the poor actually give more to charity as a percentage of income 3.2% than rich people 1.3%  and when the rich do give they tend to give to groups and institutions that benefit them like universities, symphonies, and museums. It seems that homeless people cannot throw a black tie banquet for their benefactors like Harvard University. One of the most generous states, Mississippi, is also one of the poorest. I guess that is something that Mr. Ramsey didn’t take into consideration as a good habit.

A couple of other things from this list also struck me as interesting. All of the habits on the list are inwardly focused on either one’s self or one’s immediate family. There is nothing on this list that benefits the larger community, the exception may be #7 that rich people make their children volunteer more than poor people, but that is the rich person’s child and not them. Another aspect of this list that really crawls under my skin is the underlining assumptions that poor people are lazy, they don’t exercise, read, or volunteer and poor people are stupid, they don’t listen to audio books and they watch reality TV. These assumptions are prevalent among a certain demographic, interestingly enough it is the same demographic that listens to Dave Ramsey and buy his books.

Look, I am not naive. We are a product, in part, of the individual choices we make and this list offers some good habits that all of us should work toward. However, we cannot discount the social, cultural, and yes, even racial roadblocks that prevent the poor from breaking out of poverty. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Of course, there are lazy poor people, but their laziness is not necessarily a causation of their poverty. There are also some lazy rich people who offer nothing to society. The majority of poor people in this country struggle to make ends meet. They cannot exercise because they work two or three jobs and still can’t get ahead. They don’t have safe parks or sidewalks to run or jog. They don’t have health food stores in their neighborhoods or the extra money to pay for organic lettuce and carrots.

I just wish Mr. Ramsey would consider these things before posting such a list.

*Quick addendum* I know that some of the people criticizing Dave Ramsey for his post make the claim that he hates the poor. That is not and never has been my position. I do think that Dave doesn’t really understand poverty from a theological and sociological point of view.

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  1. #1 by Tom Horn on November 27, 2013 - 11:11 pm

    Hi, you don’t know me but I’m a pretty big Dave Ramsey fan, and I saw your link to this blog via tweet. I wanted to respond to a couple of things because I’ve seen similar arguments to yours in other tweets and blogs, and I think I might be able to clarify what Dave is trying to say.

    In the list of habits that he recently tweeted, I don’t think that Dave is saying “do these and you will be rich.” However, if there is a serious trend among the wealthy, common sense says that it would be a good idea to put some of these ideas into practice. I also wanted to respond to your comments about a few of the specific habits mentioned in the study:

    You said that “Poor people eat more junk food because healthy foods are not readily available in poor, urban settings.” You then go on to imply that someone needs to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to eat healthy. I say that you can eat healthy in a Walmart or an Aldi. I can walk into Wal Mart and make a choice to purchase a healthy meal (chicken breast and vegetables) for the same price as as an unhealthy meal (frozen/processed dinner and Cheetos). Obviously everyone can’t buy organic food, but that is not what he is trying to say.

    You also imply that poor people can’t afford gym memberships or have time to exercise. I disagree (with the time part). Everyone has time to exercise. If I need to do pushups and situps in my apartment, I can. And it only takes 15 minutes. I even had a season of my life when this was my entire workout regimen, because I couldn’t afford a gym membership…and I hate running. I don’t really see how you can argue that exercising is either a bad idea or not an option for all people. Now, there are definitely people who work two to three jobs just to make ends meet. After the late shift, I understand that some people aren’t going to go work out for an hour because they are exhausted (and rightfully so). As someone who is very familiar with Dave’s works, those people are not who he is referring to in a post such as this. Dave places a lot of value in hard work, and he respects people that work multiple jobs. On his radio show, he regularly recommends that people pick up second or third jobs to make ends meet.

    You also mention that “being wealthy offers up more free time to engage in exercise and listen to audio books.” The study specifically references listening to audio books “during their commute to work.” Therefore, everybody that commutes to work can do this, since audiobooks are free at most libraries.

    In conclusion, many people have responded to this list by saying “Dave hates poor people.” I feel like that is unfair since Dave’s spends such a huge percentage of his time helping poor people get out of debt. Inversely, I don’t think Dave is saying “do these and you will be rich,” but he is asking you to control what you can control, and make good decisions with what you have. The thing that he is openly against is the “victim” mindset. He never promises that if you follow certain principles you will be rich, but if you follow steps A, B, and C and make good decisions, you will be better off tomorrow than you were today (which is the goal, isn’t it?).

    I know that Dave has a tone that can be condescending, but I have read his books and done his Financial Peace classes, and he really does have a heart for the poor. He mentions continually in his books and classes that the best part about having money is that you can give whenever a need arises. If you don’t have any money and someone close to you has a financial need, then there isn’t anything you can do.

    Dave is a sinner just like the rest of us and occasionally he tweets and posts things that I can’t defend, but I think that many have missed his heart in making a post like this. I hope that I am not condescending or rude in my response, because that is not my goal. I appreciate your thoughts and I truly understand where you’re coming from, but as someone who has read many of Dave’s resources and participated in his classes, I wanted to provide my point of view.

    Sorry for the lengthy response, and thanks for taking the time to read this.
    -Tom

    • #2 by bigredscowboy on November 28, 2013 - 8:39 am

      I’m not going to respond to your whole post, lest I too write myself into ambiguity. Your refute of the ability of every poor person’s time for exercise shows your ignorance of the working poor. Many have 2-4 jobs, are single parents because of a partner’s inability to honor commitment and come home to sleep even less than you and I. Meanwhile, they are trying to make the best of their situation so their prodigy will never face the same circumstance of poverty. The problem with lists and stats is that they are impersonal. Go out and meet people. They will surprise you and the statistics.
      -Rev. Drew

  2. #3 by Nick Holt on November 28, 2013 - 10:15 am

    Rev. Drew, the problem with your posts is that they promote the idea that there is no hope. I can’t change my life regardless of the choices I make. So why work 4 jobs? Nothing will change for me or my family. Why don’t I work just two jobs. Nothing I do can change my life. I have to rely on someone else to change my life. Yes, there are incredible forces acting to keep them down. Yes, there are things that need to change within government, charity etc. But focusing on the things that are beyond my control discourages any attempt at making better choices.

  3. #4 by TOM CORLEY: AUTHOR (@RICHHABITS) on November 28, 2013 - 5:43 pm

    I was poor from age 9 to 22. I worked as a janitor during college 20 hours a week, went to college full-time and graduated in 4 years. I understand not having time. Many of the wealthy people in my study started out poor and created their own wealth. I wrote Rich Habits only after I discovered these principles worked on me and several others. Two individuals who achieved their goals and made good money begged me to write this book so other people, who were not rich, could change their lives. So I did. I spent 18 months speaking to over 2,000 high school & college students about these Rich Habits and gave away as many books. Each book cost me $4. You do the math. Only after doing that did I decide to promote my book via the media. This is not about bashing the poor. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. Poverty sucks. You can criticize, my book, you can criticize my data and you can criticize Dave Ramsey for shining a light on this but I ask you, what are you doing to help the poor end their personal poverty?

    • #5 by Brad S on November 28, 2013 - 6:40 pm

      First, Tom thank you for taking the time to read my blog and personally post a comment. I mean that sincerely. I don’t doubt that you and Dave and many others have worked themselves out of poverty and into wealth. Despite what some might think, I don’t have a problem with wealth or with wealthy people. I do believe that as we gain blessings we must also return blessings to others, I am sure that you and Dave both agree with that. My problem with your list and Dave’s posting of the list was that there is no citation of where you got your data. Was it your own survey? The Census? Pew Foundation poll? As you know, a lot of people post numbers on the Internet and in books that do not match up with reality. I also wondered if your list helped people gain wealth or if wealthy people are more able to engage in the activities on your list? I do not think you or Dave Ramsey hate poor people. I would like to see your list in more context of the data. I think most of the things on your list are good habits to engage in.

      As for your last question, what am I doing to help the poor end their personal poverty? I am a pastor. My church locally and my denomination globally gives food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it. We also work to match people with employers so they can make their own money. We have provided people with housing. We have purchased a vehicle for one single mother with 3 kids so she could go to work. I also work with local, state, and federal officials to make it easier for the poor to break out of poverty and establish themselves in the world. I don’t say any of this to brag, because there is so much more work to do. Honestly Tom, I try to do what I believe Jesus taught us to do.

      Again, I appreciate your comments and I hope you understand that my post is not a personal attack on your or Dave Ramsey, but some questions and constructive criticisms of your list.

  4. #6 by TOM CORLEY: AUTHOR (@RICHHABITS) on November 29, 2013 - 6:35 pm

    I will work with anyone who is serious about ending poverty. I’m trying to do that with my book and my research. I will give away as many of my books as I can afford to give away (eBooks BTW do not cost me anything and I will email my eBook to everyone in the country to help them end their personal poverty). It’s beyond money for me. I’m so far in the hole ($65,000) at this point. The media seems more interested in my data than the Rich Habits that I spent so much time formulating to give the poor a shot at the American Dream. Pastor, I Iove people. I especially love the poor. But I am just one average man on a mission. I don’t care about all the criticism. It doesn’t matter to me. I will not stop. I will continue to share these Rich Habits. I have found my purpose in life.

  5. #7 by Michael Vila on November 29, 2013 - 11:54 pm

    Mark 14:7. Poverty will never end. It is either true, or not true. The rest is up to you.

  1. Dave Ramsey Responds To Criticism | Love Radically

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