It seems like one of the largest parts of being an “adult” is properly managing money. Now that I’ve got a college education and started a career, I feel like I should be handling my money better. Investing, saving for retirement, paying off my debt…I’m not really sure what I’m doing, but I’m excited to figure it out. So last week when I made a trip to the library I got three personal finance books. Finance may not be the most exciting topic to read (or write) about, but I’m throwing myself into this new project completely!

The Total Money Makeover

This book, The Total Money Makeover: A proven plan for financial fitness by Dave Ramsey, was recommended by my grandmother. While I usually don’t like to talk money with family, she was so insistent I figured I would give it a shot. Several of the personal finance blogs I read (see, told you I was jumping right into this!) don’t seem to like his advice, but most of that is based on investing advice that I can’t fully understand yet. As far as basic step-by-step guides go to getting out of debt, his plan seems pretty good.

The Total Money Makeover is based on a series of seven baby steps for getting out of debt in only a few years. They are the same steps Ramsey says he and his wife have used, so he knows they work. Yet the actual steps take up only the last half of the book–the first half is dedicated to debunking common money myths and starting the mental/emotional makeover of our relationship with money. While this part was annoyingly repetitive at times, the personal stories (both from Ramsey and from people he’s helped) kept it interesting enough to continue reading. Some of the stories were hard for me to understand or sympathize with–families that managed to rack up thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) in credit card debt, car loans, and general toys/stuff. But others seem like they could easily be me in a few years: graduated college with insane amounts of student loans, married someone with student loans, and suddenly couldn’t do anything but use a credit card because college was so expensive. Either way, all the people featured in the book had a serious need to get out of debt.

The seven baby steps are designed to produce a few “easy wins” at the start, which will hopefully motivate people to continue working on their debt. Step one is about saving a $1,000 emergency fund. Step two is to start the debt snowball, the central theory of his debt reduction plan. To start, you organize all your debt (minus mortgage) from smallest to largest. Many critics disagree with this and would rather organize it by interest rate, but again he’s going for quick wins to keep people motivated. You pay the minimum on every loan but the smallest, and dedicate all your extra money to that one loan. After it’s paid off, you transfer all that money to paying off the second loan, and so on. The third step is to finish creating an emergency fund. Step four is to invest 15% of your income to retirement (setting up a 401(k), Roth IRA, ect). In step five you save for your children’s college education. Step six is for paying off the home mortgage left out of the debt snowball in step two. And finally, step seven is for building wealth.

There were several things I enjoyed about this book. Ramsey’s enthusiasm for educating people on personal finance really comes through, and I think a positive attitude is essential when trying to get people to change. He also provides many stories from people in every stage of life, so readers can relate to the examples. He also included a few worksheets in the back of the book for organizing all your financial information, great for people who don’t know how to make their own documents to track spending/bills/debt. And at the end of the book, in the building wealth stage, he very strongly advocates for donating money to charities and people in need.

But there were two things I didn’t enjoy as much. Ramsey ties money and religion together (part of why my grandmother enjoys his work), but I thought it was forced in some parts and distracted from his overall message. I also slightly question the order of his baby steps, but I’m also not in so much debt that I can’t contribute to my 401(k) up to the employer match while still paying extra on my loans and maintaining a $1,000 emergency fund–I feel very grateful that at 23 my only debt is the loans I took out for college instead of the loans and credit card debt many of my peers have. He advocates to completely ignore future steps while working on the debt snowball unless you’re very close to retirement age, but I don’t think it’s necessary in every situation. My main problem was that his book seems so tailored to people with mountains of debt, not people with minimal debt who want to get a handle of person finance before it becomes a problem.

Overall, it was a quick and enlightening read. I’m not going to commit 100% to his plan, but I certainly took away a few important ideas. If you know someone who is in debt, or are struggling with money yourself, I would recommend this book as a good starting point. The idea of quick wins (using psychology to get motivated instead of pure strength of will) is something I completely understand and have seen work, and the fact remains that taking any step to get out of debt is better than continuing to do nothing.