It happened during Rachel Cruze's first day of college at the University of Tennessee. While sitting at freshman orientation, she met a fellow student – a girl with a BMW. It wasn't the name of the luxury car that stood out to Cruze. "She had a car payment, and her mom co-signed the loan," she says with as much surprise as she felt that day years ago. "At 18 years old, I realized, in that moment, that I had grown up in a financial bubble. I learned that if you don't have the money, you don't buy it. You save up and pay for things. You work to make money. And I thought that's how everyone handled money. But when I met this girl, my little bubble popped. I saw the lack of knowledge on the subject of money when it comes to my generation."
While it may sound like a profound perspective for such a young person, it's all Rachel Cruze has ever known. The daughter of famed financial expert, New York Times bestselling author and successful radio personality Dave Ramsey, she grew up understanding the ins and outs of money and what it really takes to be financially secure. She watched her parents work their way back from bankruptcy – which they filed for the year she was born – to true financial stability. After earning a degree in communications, she embraced what she felt was her professional calling and joined her father's Nashville-based company full time with the intention of helping the next generation take charge of their financial futures. She worked tirelessly to earn the respect of her colleagues and prove that "it's not just because I'm Dave Ramsey's daughter that I'm here." And today, 26-year-old Cruze, a well-known personality in her own right, travels the country speaking to packed audiences of young adults about their own money habits and how they can apply the fiscal principles that have been ingrained in her since childhood. On April 22, she and her father will celebrate the release of their co-authored book, "Smart Money Smart Kids," which gives parents practical steps for raising money-smart kids in a debt-filled world.
"Every parent wants their child to have a better life than they've had. And I think that some parents feel stressed about the topic of money in their own lives. They don't want their kids to experience that, and many are saying, 'I don't want my children to have to struggle or to make the mistakes that I've made. I want to be able to teach them to avoid those things,'" Cruze notes. "That's what this book really does. I think it answers a lot of questions that parents have."
Chock full of information about how to teach children of any age about money basics like working, spending, saving and giving, as well as dealing with debt, paying for college and more, "Smart Money Smart Kids" brings together the perspectives of both father and daughter and offers no-nonsense tips based on their personal experiences of living financially smart in the Ramsey household. "Mom and Dad really do live what they teach. I can recall only a handful of times that we talked about money. We learned just by watching them. More is caught than taught, and the example you set for your children is huge," Cruze explains.
"I was the dad who made big money mistakes and failed early on. But I was also the dad who decided to change my family tree and intentionally raise money-smart kids," says Dave Ramsey, who has helped millions of families learn to manage their money matters over the years. "It gives me great satisfaction to stand back and watch how confident and competent our grown kids are. So watching Rachel write about how the principles we implemented early on impacted her life, and seeing her passion for sharing those with others, has been a great experience."
What Cruze brings to the book is an understanding that children, teenagers and young adults are facing new challenges when it comes to money in today's world. "Today, you can get everything instantly. You can purchase things right now from your smartphone. Young people have to learn to step back, have patience and save," she asserts, adding that while her father is known as the "emergency surgeon" for people with financial troubles, she considers herself to be the "preventative medicine" for tomorrow's generation. If she can encourage parents to start teaching their children about money now, and to have those children listen and follow the advice, then she can help an entire generation grow up like she did and keep them from having to face major financial dilemmas throughout their lives.
"What we teach are basic principles, and they work. They've been proven over 20 years," Cruze says. "When it comes to money, 80 percent is behavior, and 20 percent is knowledge. You know you should live on a budget. But doing it is hard. Changing your behavior is difficult. What parents need to know is that no matter what your financial situation is now, you can implement these principles today. You don't have to have a Ph.D. in finance to do it. You just have to find teachable moments in your day-to-day life, and you can change your family tree."
Of course, Cruze also notes that parents don't have to change who their children are – and she uses herself as an example. "You're either a spender or a saver, and I am the spender of the Ramsey kids," she muses, noting that her older sister Denise and younger brother Daniel, as well as her husband Winston, are savers. "For parents, there are going to be cases when you bail your kids out. There is grace involved. You can let your kids make mistakes, but let them make those small mistakes while they're under your roof. Mom and Dad guided me, but they let me be who I am. I had to learn boundaries. My parents taught me those lessons, and they shaped who I am. I learned early, and it was better for me to learn at 7 years old instead of 27 or 37."
Cruze's passion for spreading a message of hope to young people everywhere is unmistakable. And the lessons she has learned from her parents, Dave and Sharon, and their experiences are going to change lives for years to come if she has anything to do with it. "The older I get, the more appreciative I am of their story," she concludes. "To come alongside my father and promote his message is wonderful. It's where my heart is. I'm a kid who was raised on these principles, and it works. Now I'm able to succeed. And it's really exciting."
Rachel will be signing "Smart Money Smart Kids" on Friday, May 2 at 6 p.m. at the Books-A-Million on Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville. www.rachelcruze.com. For more information about Dave Ramsey, visit www.daveramsey.com.