Growing up, Dave Ramsey was pretty popular.
I grew up in an ultra-conservative Christian environment, and many Christians promoted Ramsey’s Biblically-based strategies for financial security.
That was 20 years ago. Now, it seems that many of Ramsey’s strategies and similar approaches have permeated American culture.
You can recognize them by their staunch demands: Do everything to get out of debt NOW. Work two jobs. Hell, even three if need be. Stop eating out. Don’t buy anything but essentials.
This approach indirectly teaches that you must hustle, suffer, and sacrifice your way to financial security.
It makes some egregious assumptions and misses key components. It places the blame on individuals instead of the actual cause: systems, institutions, and history.
It assumes that financially poor people are lazy, make poor decisions, and need to work harder.
It doesn’t name the systems that lead to impoverishment (for example, the number one cause of bankruptcy is unpaid medical bills - which is a direct result of our healthcare system).
It doesn’t name the history that led to entire populations of people having less wealth than white people (for example, those with enslaved ancestors).
It doesn’t name how credit card companies trap people (for example, raising rates when someone misses a payment).
It doesn’t name how our education systems fail to educate students on essential financial and life skills (check out this great video on the topic).
It doesn’t name how financial security is harder to obtain for individuals who do not have generational wealth or safety nets to rely on.
Instead, it leaves the blame on the individual.
And then It says they must suffer (overwork themselves and deny themselves pleasure) if they want to get out of it.
The self-denial approach pulls directly from protestant principles: suffering is divine, deny yourself, pleasure is sin, work harder, and black/white thinking.
The self-denial approach relies on modern day interpretations of the Bible (I take no issue with the Bible, only what people have done with it and to it) that say there is no middle ground. You are either hot or cold. Sinner or saved.
The self-denial approach says you must sacrifice your quality of life and live in extreme ways in order to achieve financial security.
Ramsey’s radio shows glorify people who applied his principles, lived in drastic ways, and wiped out their debt.
I’m all for wiping out debt, but not when it relies on a self-denial approach that is harmful to emotional and mental wellbeing.
The self-denial approach assumes that individuals have the privilege of extra time or physical capacity to find another job. Most impoverished people are caring for multiple generations (both elderly parents and children/grandchildren) and are overly taxed in physically demanding jobs.
Privileges aside, self-denial is deeply problematic. It teaches people to deny their feelings (i.e. emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion) and needs (comfort, time with family, etc.) for the sake of financial security as fast as possible.
It reinforces that money is the first priority - and that it is worth sacrificing our wellbeing for.
Second, It reinforces that it is good and righteous for humans to ignore their feelings and needs (“suffering is divine” and “sacrifice as Christ did”).
When any client begins work with me in therapy, one of the first things I do is to help them name and claim their feelings. Feelings are beneficial messengers. They alert us to our basic human needs (love, connection, safety, etc.).
When individuals get in touch with their feelings and needs, they begin to take actions that honor those things.
This is when true soul-nourishing change begins. From this place, individuals can take small, consistent, sustainable actions that help their emotional, mental, and financial well- being.
It will take longer to build financial wealth in a sustainable and healthy manner, but at least a person can enjoy the journey. They can have time for the people that matter, take part in hobbies, and savor life.
I provide art therapy for individuals who want to separate from the harmful impacts of demanding religious environments and beliefs.