By Bobby Ross Jr.
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Cheers filled the Cornerstone Church's arena-style sanctuary as Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey snapped a pair of metal scissors. The crowd squealed with delight as Ramsey sliced a credit card in half.
"It's called plastic surgery," joked Ramsey, whose syndicated radio talk show airs daily on 160 stations.
Ramsey, 42, spent the past decade building a multimillion-dollar business by dispensing to the masses simple financial principles: Live on a budget. Don't spend more than you make. Start an emergency fund. Get out of debt and stay out of debt.
It's advice people crave. His financial how-to books have sold 2 million copies. Financial Peace University, a 13-week video series offered at churches, military bases and offices, will reach an estimated 75,000 people in 2003. And he's written a money management curriculum used at 250 high schools.
TO HEAR THE SHOW
Dave Ramsey's show can be heard Monday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on WBOB-AM (1160) in Cincinnati and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on WULM-AM (1600) in Dayton.
"It's like the male Suze Orman," said Gary Schatsky, a past chairman of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.
"Some people have to scratch their heads and ask themselves, `Why does it sell so much?"' Schatsky said. "Some people would say it's a matter of the KISS - keep it simple, stupid - principle."
At the same time, he said, injecting religion into any discipline "attracts a lot of devotees and certainly causes people to give greater creed to the message."
Recently, nearly 3,000 people came to hear how Ramsey, a one-time bankrupt real estate salesman, turned around his financial life based on biblical principles. An additional 10,000 people watched the "Financial Peace Live!" seminar at 165 satellite locations.
Ramsey's company, Lampo Group Inc. - lampo is the Greek word for "light" as referenced in Matthew 5:15 of the New Testament - started as a financial counseling service in 1988.
His appeal is that he's a Christian who lost money and then figured out how to make it back.
In 1986, Ramsey was 26, driving a Jaguar and carrying a $4 million real estate portfolio. But he also had $1.2 million in 90-day notes from a bank. When the bank was sold, the new owners called all his notes.
That started a chain reaction in which he lost everything except his house and his wife, Sharon.
"We didn't get a divorce," Ramsey said. "We held on to each other - sometimes just to get a better grip."
It took three years to pay his debts.
After hitting bottom, Ramsey said he studied money lessons in the Bible and talked with "old rich people" to find out their secrets. One of his favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 22:7: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."
In Ramsey's world, you wait to buy a car, preferably used, or a washing machine until you can pay cash for it. You also use cash for necessities. You put budgeted amounts in envelopes with labels such as "Food," "Clothing" and "Gas" and stop spending when the money is gone.
"There's so much shame and guilt and hopelessness," he said. "And people's hearts are broken, in a sense. So, a lot of what we do is inspiration."
He admits his message is repetitive, but his followers don't grow tired of hearing it.
Ramsey said it's smart to teach children early about the value of money so they don't repeat the mistakes of their parents.
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