Editor’s Note: Rachel Ramsey Cruze has a daunting calling—since she was 15 years old, she’s been challenging large audiences to make hard financial choices as part of her dad’s ongoing mission to renovate a culture that’s money-sick. Her dad’s name is Dave Ramsey, bestselling author and radio host. And after she graduated from college she joined his team full time. Today she travels the country speaking about the dangers of credit cards and debt at high schools, colleges, and youth conferences. We talked to her from her office in Nashville (DaveRamsey.com).
Rick:What was life like growing up in the Ramsey household? There was a pretty big nuclear bomb that dropped on you—bankruptcy is a shattering thing.
Rachel:My life was very normal. This whole persona of Dave Ramsey never played a part in us growing up. I mean Mom and Dad are very grounded people, and so that just translated into how they raised us. Their story started out pretty rough. When I was about five months old they had to declare bankruptcy. And so that kind of took them on a journey to figure out how money works. Obviously, they did it completely wrong, but how do you do this stuff right? That colored our upbringing.
Mom and Dad definitely were not obsessed with money—we didn’t have family meetings every Tuesday night just to talk about money. But we learned how to work—we had to save up and pay for things when we were teenagers, but Mom and Dad would match how much could we save. That’s how I bought my first car. And in the neighborhood I grew up in that was very strange, because everyone would just get a car when they turned 16.
Actions speak louder than words. Mom and Dad did teach us a lot, but a lot of it was just us watching them—giving was a huge part of what they did, and they included us kids in their giving. And that’s a powerful thing to learn as a 12-year-old.
Rick:Some kids, growing up in an environment like that, would rebel against what people might call a very conservative approach to handling money, a very counter-cultural approach. Or some kids could have an over-focus on money—that money is everything in our life. How did you deal with these competing tensions?
Rachel:I’ve been asked if I’ve ever been tempted to take out a credit card. Honestly, no I never have—for a couple of reasons. One, saving up and paying for things just worked for me. I believe it’s how God teaches us to live. Second, because of being Dave Ramsey’s kid, I heard many stories of people who’d done it wrong and then turned their life around by doing it right. I got to see so many transformations in real people, not just my parents telling me about it. Budgeting and saving meant we were able to do some fun stuff. There is a faith center to all of this—you become wealthy so that you can give like no one else, not so you can feed your own desires.
Rick:The life that you live now involves a lot of traveling, speaking to large groups of young people about financial health. What are you learning as you’re out there talking to teenagers and young adults?
Rachel:I feel like I grew up in a financial bubble. And when I went to college, that bubble was popped. I realized there was such a lack of knowledge out there about how to handle your finances. So now, on the other side of college, I’m seeing firsthand that the things that were so normal for me are completely weird to other people. A college student will ask me, “What’s the difference between a credit card and a debit card?” It’s simple things like that that they’ve never learned.
Rick:Why are these “simple” issues pertinent to a teenager’s life with Christ?
Rachel:Well, our money is not ours, it’s God’s—we’re to be stewards of it. We’re the managers, so we don’t own anything. It’s all God’s. And when you don’t know how to handle God’s money, that’s dangerous. When you’re a teenager you’re forming habits in your life that are going to affect you in 20 years when you’re going to have more money, or more of God’s tools. So they have to learn to handle these tools responsibly—you have to be able to budget, understand the borrowing cycle, and the perils of going into debt. If you learn these things at 16 can you imagine how that will impact your life when you’re 36?
Rick:That thought that my money is not my own is so biblical, but our actions show that we totally don’t believe that truth. Instead, we act as though it’s our money to do with what we want. How do you address this idea with teenagers?
Rachel:I think the message is really about contentment. The problem with my generation is that we grew up with Facebook and Twitter and MTV Cribs telling us what we need to have for a happy life. I tell kids in my generation that they’re going to struggle with things their parents didn’t struggle with because of the intense pressure to have more than they have. I’m always challenging them to be content with what they have—stuff is not going to make them happy.
Rick:A lot of your message to young people is that “this is hard”—not exactly a populist message. Dr. David Walsh of the Center for Media and Families says four words define the “new norm” in our culture: “more, fast, easy, and fun.” When you live in that kind of culture, contentment will mean not just running uphill, it’ll mean running up Mt. Everest. You’re advocating what seems like a nuclear option—no debt at all, except for maybe your mortgage.
Rachel:For sure. But I think there’s power in speaking boldly: “You guys, this is the truth—I don’t care if you like it or not. The borrower is slave to the lender.” How many teenagers know that Scripture passage? So speaking it boldly is huge. I teach teenagers that they can become wealthy—that wealth is not a negative thing. Yes, it can ruin you if you’re not mature spiritually, but wealth is not a negative thing. You’re going to be able to bless your family and bless others. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
Rick:Why should this whole issue be of higher importance to youth workers than it is now?
Rachel:I think that this can change the course of a person’s life. And their parents don’t teach their kids this stuff—either because they don’t know it’s a big issue or they’re intimidated by it because they’ve failed in this area. So as a youth pastor there’s a huge responsibility to step in and develop habits that will affect them for the next 40 years. There are lots of 40-year-olds who have a student loan. It’s a trap for them. God gave us thousands of Scriptures on money—he talks about this so much. You’re setting them up to be a generation that’s not going to be in bondage. They can go and dig wells in Africa or care for orphans in China or build a kindergarten in Vietnam. You can have the money to do it if you’re not paying for a car loan.
Rick:You’re framing this as a dichotomy between freedom and slavery—a bondage that keeps you from giving the way that you’re called to give.
Rachel:I was speaking at a college close to Chicago, and this guy came up to me after I spoke and he told me he wanted to be a missionary in Africa—that’s what he felt called to do. But he had $120,000 in student-loan debt, so he was forced to get a job for the next 10 years to pay it off before he could live out what God was calling him to do. That’s a perfect example—debt limits you in what God is calling you to do.
Rick:Let’s shift gears here and talk about youth pastors—they’re living in a crazy world when it comes to finances. Money has a huge impact on their lives, but they don’t always feel comfortable talking about it. They know the worker is worthy of his wages, but they also know they’re expected to be servants. How do they deal with the tension between healthy financial practices and just trusting God to give them what they need? What happens if they’re trusting God but their family is really struggling?
Rachel:It’s a shame that they’re not compensated for all the ways they give. They could take those same skill sets and probably be making three times what they’re making at the church. So one big thing is to have realistic expectations going in. I would say this to a teacher as well—there’s going to be a standard of living that comes with this calling, which is a selfless act of obedience.
Rick:They’re floating in a river that has a strong current, and that current is not the biblical truths and principles you’re talking about. In our latest Youth Ministry Salary Survey, about half of them say that they can’t live the average lifestyle of an average member of their congregation. They’re surrounded by a different standard, and that can put some real pressure on them. So how do they live going against the flow of the current?
Rachel:They’ll have to lean into the truths of Scripture, and accept that it’s going to be hard. I’d love to pull the finances of the average congregation member and see how much debt they’re paying—they’re probably not as well off as they look. But you just have to know that this stuff works. It’s going to work every time. Being on a plan, being on a budget, means you’re in control. It works because it’s the truth.
Rick:What are a few best practices for moving away from slavery and toward freedom?
Rachel:The first thing is they need to be on a plan. It needs to written down before the month begins. They need to have a dollar amount next to each of their expenses—every dollar should have a name before the month begins. Second, they need to have an emergency fund. So if a tire goes out or the kids need new clothes for school they don’t go charge it on a credit card. Next, start paying off your debt—pay off the smallest debts to the largest, regardless of interest rates. Then, start a nest egg for your kids’ college. Then work on saving up for a bigger emergency fund—six months of expenses in case something happens. And then you can start saving up for college. Start doing some investing and try to pay off your house. When your house is paid for and the kids’ college is funded, you’re able to hold wealth and give a bunch of it away. ◊