Crisis Magazine published an article on Friday entitled “Of Dave Ramsey, Babies, and Birth Control” in which contributor Richard Becker asserts that the Dave Ramsey approach to finances “is not for childbearing Catholic couples who take the teaching of the Church seriously.” Basically Becker’s argument, based on a citation from The Dave Ramsey [Radio] Show, is that Catholics who don’t use birth control can’t subscribe to Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps.
Now, I’ve made no secret of the fact that we follow Dave’s advice to the letter; or that it’s enabled Andrew and I, a single/modest-income couple with three small boys (and hoping to be blessed with more), to have financial peace. So naturally, Becker’s article forced me to examine our practices. Are they, is Dave, against Church teaching? No worries, fellow Dave fans – they’re not and he’s not.
Mr. Becker gives an excerpt of transcript from a radio conversation (<–audio clip and transcript) between Dave Ramsey and caller, Karen, who sought advice on adapting the Baby Steps to her and her husband’s family of 9. Becker was bothered by the exchange because Ramsey, on the surface, might seem to chide his caller saying she is “carrying too much” by having 7 children. For context, read the whole transcript or listen to the clip; rest assured that Dave tells Karen that she and her husband are “carrying too much” to be gazelle-intense about dumping debt, specifically, that they won’t be able to move as quickly. Rather, he encourages them to plow through like a Clydesdale, with a plan that will move slowly. “But the Clydesdale wins,” Dave cheers, “They just win in a different fashion than the gazelle wins.”
Twice the article alludes to the idea that if we don’t use birth control, then we can’t plan for family growth. Becker states that because the Catholic Church forbids the use of contraception, “we can’t choose” when babies come, since every instance of the marital act is and should be inclined to the procreation of children (read: open to life). While the statement on Church teaching is true, we can and should choose by using our God-given reason. Yes, “God always gets a say,” in the number of children a couple has and we should always be open to life; but we’re not helpless puppets, dumbfounded every time a baby comes along. Though we don’t use contraception, Catholics are free to employ Natural Family Planning for both achieving and postponing pregnancy, which works with God’s will and His gift of human reason. A couple can plan having children and prayerfully discern whether to postpone pregnancy – by abstinence for just causes – or welcome another little one (CCC 2367-2368). Even if NFP isn’t used, the very fact that Catholics are called to be open to life necessitates a plan if and when a new soul graces their home. But let’s be real here – unexpected pregnancies happen and sometimes seem to come out of the blue. It’s still possible to plan financially at least a little bit in the 9 months before the baby debuts and some prep is better than none. At this point, Becker advises what seems to be thoughtless submission saying:
” …since Catholics—i.e., Catholics who choose to follow the teaching of the Church forbidding contraception—can’t exactly plan ahead anyway, why not throw caution to the wind, and lean heavily on the Providence of God. If He decides to bless you with another child, then it’s His problem to help you make ends meet.”
I’m all for relying on God, but this statement implies a notion of utter helplessness, like we’re just victims to whatever happens happens! “Lean[ing] heavily on the Providence of God” requires active faith and trust. Trust is not sitting on a bench wishing you could run a marathon – it’s an active thing that pursues training and discipline. So goes the adage, “God helps those who help themselves.” If God blesses your family with a surprise baby (or maybe many surprise babies!), live simply to make ends meet; children are always more valuable than material luxury. God will certainly provide, but it’s up to you to stand up and move to receive His blessings. And I think a child qualifies for Dave Ramsey’s famed Emergency Fund for unexpected, big expenses in life.
Becoming debt free and saving up for a fully funded Emergency Fund (a suggested 3-6 months of expenses) is possible with sacrifice and persistence, and it just might take a lot of both. For some it’s taking on a temporary second job, but Becker finds fault with this idea and uses Pope Francis’s advice, “Waste time with your children,” to oppose that particular approach. Pursuit of being debt free and saving up has many faces, however. Sometimes it’s the additional job, dropping credit cards, or cutting Netflix (which we just did) and other discretionary funds from your monthly budget. Simple dinners at the kitchen table versus drive-thrus on the way home, or all of the above at once. And if after all your cutbacks and efforts, debt remains, then keep doing your best! Moving slowly is better than throwing in the towel saying, “I’ll always have debt.” In his conversation with Karen, Dave mentions that the Baby Steps don’t change one bit with a large family; going through each one might more look like a Clydesdale effort, but it’s all worth it for the sake of your family. Debt isn’t a good thing to heft around – “The borrower is slave to the lender” (Prov. 22:7) – and if you can conquer debt to create a home more welcoming to receiving more children, then by all means proceed!
I disagree with Mr. Becker’s assertions and believe his logic to be well-intentioned, yet incomplete. In fact, I wager his understanding of Dave Ramsey’s perspective and principles would change were he to go beyond his read of Total Money Makeover several years back, as he admits. Take the class, borrow the audio CDs from someone who has them, and listen to the show. Dave Ramsey says over and over that in practicing financial prudence, in becoming and staying debt free, you can teach your children responsibility in a million ways and eventually “change your family tree.” It’s all possible, no matter what size family you have. Andrew and I work hard, do the best we can, and we remind ourselves that we’re – to use Dave-speak – “living like no one else” for the sake of stability but more importantly, for our children and future children.