I find Dave Ramsey simply fascinating. When I follow someone as closely as I follow Dave, I like to get into their biography and find out a bit about their journey. Today I present you a video as well as written transcription of the Dave Ramsey Story.
If you want to follow other content on Dave, check out these videos and audio transcriptions I’ve posted in other areas of the website:
Live Like No One Else – Dave Ramsey’s Story
Dave Ramsey: “Most really big things start with a pretty simple story.” Ramsey’s our workers. I’ve worked it feels like my whole life and I’ve never complained about it, I’m not whining about it. I remember when I was 12 years old I came in and asked my dad, I was going to ride my bicycle, I used to ride my bike down to the local Quick Sack. It was about a about a mile down the road from us and came and asked my dad for some money to get an Icee at the Quick Sack.
He says, “How old are you?” I said, “I’m your son, I’m 12” you know these things. He said, “That means you need a job. You don’t need money because that’s where money comes from.” He said, “What could you do to earn some money?” I said, “Well, some of my buddies are cutting grass. I guess I could cut grass.” He went, “Good, get in the car.” True story, he took me down on Nolensville Road in the Woodbine area there in old Nashville to a print shop.
The old-fashioned print shop that used to do letterheads and business cards, they printed up 500 business cards that said Dave’s Lawns. When we got home he said, “You go knock on the closest 50 doors in the neighborhood and you ask them if you can have the opportunity to provide their lawn care needs,” and I did it and it worked. I got 27 yards to cut at 12 years old. I learned customer service and I learned keeping your word, and I remember having all kinds of little businesses all the way through school.
Little leather bracelets that you would stamp people’s names on and paint them and sell them out there hulking them by the lockers. I’ve just always worked. When I graduated from high school at 18 years old, I sat for and passed my real estate exam. Mom and dad owned a real estate company and so I started selling real estate while I was in school. Then I took off the other end of the state, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and took my license over there.
I worked for a guy over there and I worked 40 to 60 hours a week while I was going through school, and I graduated from school basically broke but not deeply in debt because I’d been working. My wife Sharon Ramsey. She is a central element. A proverbs 31 woman who can find a virtuous wife, for her worth is far above rubies, the heart of her husband safely trusts her and he will have no lack of gain.
Sharon and I got married and started literally with nothing. I remember when we first got married, we were so broke, it was unbelievable. We bought our first two pieces of furniture, an old couch, and this oak pedestal table. If it could talk, wow, the stories it would tell. Eventually, after selling real estate for a builder, I started buying and selling real estate in my very early 20s.
It’s just a couple of years after getting married and it worked, a little bit of family connection with some bankers and stuff that knew me and trusted me. I don’t know why, I was 22 years old, 23 years old. They started loaning me money and I got rich. I ended up with about $4 million worth of real estate, about $3 million worth of debt so that difference is a million-dollar net worth.
At 25, 26 years old, I was making $250,000 a year, cash taxable income. That was amazing. In the neighborhood I grew up in 20,000 bucks a month, that’s rich. I was rich. We did all the stuff we had dreamed of doing. I’d always wanted a Jaguar, that was my car. I’d dreamed of having a Jaguar, set that goal back when I was in college and so I got my Jaguar, man, and everything seemed to be going right, it was incredible.
Our first baby was born, Denise, and we’re cooking along and about the time we start going to church, and I met God in the process and weird thing happened. It was right about that time that everything started falling apart. September 22nd, 1988, I remember that. The banks got sold. The main bank we were dealing with, we had 1.2 million with them in 90-day notes because we were buying property and flipping it and that bank got sold to another bank.
The guys in another state, in another city, looked down and said, “There’s a kid, 26 years old here owes us $1.2 million. This is ridiculous. Let’s limit this relationship which is banker talk for call his notes and screw up his life, so they call their notes, gave me 90 days to come up with a million bucks, there was no way. I started to crash, I couldn’t stop and word got out on the street that I was in trouble and I was in trouble.
Our second-largest lender, we had 800,000 out with them, they called our notes about 60 days later, after the first one. We had less than six months to come up with $2 million and it’s all in real estate. You can’t sell real estate fast enough to pay that bill. We’d never lost money on a deal, we’d never been late a minute on a note ever. That didn’t matter, though. They just decided that they were going to limit their relationship.
They were in freakout mode in the economy that we were in right then, and those two hits started a crash that we fought for two and a half years. No one wins without paying a price. The Scripture says no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. We sold everything as fast as we could, and it doesn’t matter what you do. When you pile up stupid as high as I piled it, it’s going to fall down and you can’t catch it all, so no matter how hard I fought, no matter how smart I was, no matter how much I kept my word, no matter how much I was going to do the right thing and pay everybody, it didn’t matter.
I couldn’t control the outside variables. I remember being so scared. Sharon and I, there was a lot of separation between us. She was pretty freaked out and scared. Pretty ticked at her husband. I didn’t have any answers. I was the guy that had had all the answers. The weird thing was we paid the $4 million down all the way to 378,000. It was unbelievable but some of the little ones, we have been sued hundreds of times, it felt like I don’t know exactly how many it was, it was close to a hundred easy.
One of those little lawsuits decided on that they were going to execute on the judgment and they arranged for the sheriff’s department to come to take furniture out of our house on Friday morning. September 22nd of 1988, we met with a bankruptcy attorney. That night we signed the bankruptcy papers. I’ll never forget that. He filed them on a Friday morning, so we file bankruptcy on the 23rd to keep the sheriff out of our house and keep them from taking the baby bed.
I was out of gas, I didn’t have enough emotional energy to fight anymore. We were just beat up and beat down. Right after that, we started finding out God’s word had something to say about money and this really wasn’t the end of the story. I met God on the way up but I got to know him on the way down, without a doubt. I started studying biblical finance and comparing what the Bible and common sense has to say about money.
Comparing that with what I had learned in academia because I’ve got all these letters and licenses after my name that says I’m supposed to know something about money, but they’re I sat broke. I started applying new ideas, like a budget and an emergency fund and getting out of debt and staying out of debt. We had a guy at church come up to me, not long after and said, “Hey, can we have a cup of coffee with you and your wife, we’re going through financial garbage and it’s about to tear our marriage apart and it looks like y’all made it, how did you make it?”
We’re like, “No, we barely did so we’ll talk to you then.” We had a cup of coffee with him, I guess it was my first financial counseling session, probably. I got a budget out, I remember getting a yellow pad out saying, “Dude, you got to do a budget, tell me–” I’m sitting there trying to look at his numbers and I thought, “Man, I can really work.” I can really show people how to win with this and I could see it instantly in other people’s situations.
I guess because we had been there. I’ve got a friend of mine that says “Having a testimony is a great idea but getting one’s a pain.” The Scripture says no discipline seems pleasant at the time. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. We’ve spent a lot of our time and effort in not only being educational but being aspirational, to lift and to make people believe because when you believe, you can do a lot of things that really don’t even make sense.
It’s crazy what people can pull off when they believe they can and it’s crazy what they can’t pull off when they don’t believe they can. I’ve watched a lot of people file bankruptcy that were not bankrupt, they were just scared. The light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train for them. They didn’t believe that there was anything out there that was real, that they could turn the corner. They were hopeless, and that broken spirit, there’s almost nothing that can overcome it but the fuel is the hope. When we did the class, we cut up the credit cards. I took them and ground them all up. I looked at this thing every day. I shook my fist at it. You’re going down, you are going down.
Caller: I lost my job. I’m so behind on everything.
Dave: Pretty freaking scary, isn’t it?
Caller: Oh my God, you have no idea.
Dave: [laughs] Yes, I do. I’ve been there. I think you’re going to have 100% of it paid in less than a year that’s what I predict.
Caller 2: Not having a future plan for our kids really was a big, big motivator to us to say, “Hey, we can do it, look at all these people that are doing it.”
Caller 3: The thing that kept us going is the support group that the radio station really is and what you’re doing.
Dave: I’m glad we were able to help you. If you need some more help, you call me anytime. That’s what we’re here for. It doesn’t make sense in our story that we were able to pay down from $3 million in debt all the way to $378,000 in debt. In two and a half years and I was 26 years old, that doesn’t even make sense, it’s not logical. We still didn’t make it but the fact that we got that far into it was because we really believed we were going to make it. When it ended was when we didn’t believe anymore. That sense of hopelessness, I’ve got a barometer, I’ve got a meter, I can smell that on people, I can feel it on a call that’s coming in, when I’m sitting in a book line, I can look up see in somebody’s eyes and I just stop a second and talk to him and pray with him and give him a couple of little pointers or hook him up with one of our counselors because they came in there, and they weren’t looking for a book, they were looking to believe again. Our mission statement Lampo Group says Lampo Group provides biblically based common sense education and empowerment, which provides hope to everyone in all walks of life. That has been our guide. It’s not a brochure or filler, it is who we are, it is our mission. That’s what that says.
We realized really quickly that people whose numbers would work, they couldn’t turn it around because they didn’t believe they could turn it around. Zig Ziglar used to say, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” That’s hope. When I was a kid, we would build campfires by the lake, we’d go camping with our families and everything, they’d make the kids get up all the driftwood and then we’d be ready to light the fire and it was always wet and we couldn’t get it light and everything else. One of the old redneck guys would always have a can of gasoline, and he’d throw some gasoline on there and we’d light gas, boom, instant fire.
That’s what hope is. It’s like the gasoline on there. It sets you on fire and allows you to go do things that you never dreamed you could do. We opened a little counseling office, Russ Carroll joined me and we taught our very first class in March of 1994 called Life After Death with a bad suit and an overhead projector. I thought, “Well, I’ll teach this financial stuff I’ve learned the hard way.” The little class had 37 people in it and when I finished teaching in a few years later, there were 350 in it. Obviously, we touched a nerve, we’d found a need.
Pastor came by, one of my associate pastors and said, “You need to write your story in a book because God gave you the story and it’s different than other people’s stories. It gives people hope.” I came home that night and I wrote what was I thought the opening chapter to Financial Peace ended up being the forward. We’re just living hand-to-mouth doing real estate and yet I got this bug about this financial stuff. At night I’m over at the church doing a counseling session or at night I’m sitting at my computer typing. That little blue financial piece book was born. We took it to a printer and printed up to the first thousand.
Oddly enough, I’d been on a radio show as a guest and this guy was doing this show. We used to laughingly call it the bad financial hour like a Saturday Night Live skit. Nobody listened to this station so we went on there. He and I talked about that for a little while. He had gone broke in real estate too. We just started having this conversation about going broke and I said, “I’m actually helping people over my church sometimes that are in foreclosure and stuff.” The phone started ringing and we took some calls and he goes, “That was pretty cool. You ought to come back. Let’s do that again.”
Then, the guy quit and a buddy of mine called me, in the mutual friends business and he says, “Hey, we need to go down there do that radio show that guy quit.” He goes, “Listen, it’ll be fun. I’ll do it a couple of days a week, you do it a couple of days a week, and you can look at it as a ministry.” He knew about the book I had just written and he said, “Who knows you might even sell some of that stupid little book you wrote.” You got to get this cleaned up for the sake of your child.
Caller 4: Right.
Caller 5: It’s been worth it, though.
Dave: Well, good for you. When you keep doing smart stuff for five days, you have a good result. You do smart stuff for five years, you really start to see a thing take on a life of its own, you’re making good progress, kiddo.
Caller 4: Yes, we’re trying.
Dave: There was immediately gravitational pull because we were offering instruction which gave hope, or even answers of the stuff nobody talked about out loud. It was like the secret that nobody discusses, the dirty little secret that everybody looks good but it’s broke. We opened that can of worms and it just blossomed. Weird thing is that we went on the air June 25th of 1992. That same week the phone rang, the printer was on the line and he said that your books are ready. I drove out and got my books and we filled up the car with them and put them in the trunk and strapped the trunk down with a big piece of rope and the car is driving like this and I’m driving home.
I remembered in my prayer time that God had told me he was going to give me a way to sell the book, and it’s going to be so unusual that I wouldn’t be able to take credit for my marketing genius. I’m driving home and I suddenly made the connection, that little radio show was going to be how God was going to sell this book. I just became overwhelmed. I had to pull over side of the road, I just sat there and cried for a minute. It was amazing. To this day I don’t take that for granted. All of this stuff started from primitive, humble beginnings that would give you no indication any of it was going to succeed. I want to challenge you, live like no one else so that later you get the opportunity to live and to give like no one else.
I look back and go this radio show, one of the largest talk radio shows in all of North America right now. The book, Financial Peace and how it took off as a result and it’s now had literally millions of families go through it over the last several decades. There’s no way I could take credit for it. I’ve worked hard but when I look at the way that stuff lined up, that was just God’s gift, it was just what’s called a blessing. We’re just regular people from Antioch Tennessee, we’re not anything super special. We just did the stuff I’ve been teaching you and tried to figure out what God’s telling us to do and doing it on a regular basis.
We’re just Joe every guy. I started with nothing, did stupid stuff, the failure part and the belief that I can still go out there and win. Everyone’s story has an arc to it, everyone’s story has a problem and the opportunity to overcome the problem and then a resolution. Sometimes it’s more or less zeroes, sometimes it’s someone from a little different culture where they started from a different mindset, a different family upbringing but they still have that same story arc and it’s still a story arc of hope.
We unashamedly used our story to help people to make them believe that they can win, sharing a story or handing off a story or connecting to a story. In our case, you would do it because it’s someone that needs hope. I can hand this Total Money Makeover book, I can hand this Financial Peace book, I can hand this class or tickets to a live event or just a link to the radio show. I can connect this hurting person with this story of resolution.
We’re all intertwined that way because it turns out our story is always your story. They connect and that connects to another one and that connects to another one and that’s how this whole thing has happened. There’s nothing about the story we would change. We would have changed it while we were in it but looking back on it, there’s nothing about the story we would change.