Book Review: “Debt-Free Living” by Larry Burkett

Recently I went looking for a good book on personal finance, especially an audio book I could listen to on my way to work.  The late Larry Burkett’s book, Debt-Free Living, did not disappoint.  This particular book has been updated to reflect the environment after the “Great Recession” hit about a decade ago.  It reads well and is very easy to understand.

This is one of those books many of us wish we would have read decades ago.  In fact, I think every young couple (especially engaged couples) should read it.  Rather than being boring and overly technical, this book is mostly a series of short stories about people who have endured financial problems and how they found their way out of the proverbial hole.  These stories reflect the decades of experience the author had counseling couples going through various crises.  Toward the end of the book, there is more technical information and counsel regarding how to avoid debt as a way of life.  There’s also an interlude which talks about the history of how modern American society got to be so debt-ridden in the first place.

Everyone has heard of Dave Ramsey and his approach to fighting debt.  Indeed, Ramsey has a lot of good things to say.  Yet Burkett’s book is written for fellow Christians whereas Ramsey is writing for a wider, secular audience.  Throughout Debt-Free Living, Burkett cites Scripture and gives biblical reasoning for his counsel.  He shows how the Word of God applies to our particular financial situations today.  That was a breath of fresh air.  Numerous times, for example, Burkett emphasizes the importance of tithing–even when your financial situation isn’t great.  The necessity of placing one’s trust in the Lord is not something you normally hear from financial counselors.

There are some excellent admonitions in the book against unwise attitudes and decisions regarding money.  Impulse buying and other low self-control behavior patterns are discussed as the debt-traps that they are.  Another example is Burkett’s wise counsel not to buy brand new cars.  He also lays out the importance of finding accountability with others and especially the notion of being transparent with one’s spouse about money matters.  The reader can really tell that Burkett is motivated to help marriages and families.

The original edition of Debt-Free Living was written about 20 years ago.  If there’s any drawback to the book at all, it’s the fact that the 1990s-era complementarianism is communicated throughout the text.  Burkett does indeed acknowledge that the husband is the head of the home, but this isn’t emphasized enough.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a notion of father-rule, especially in terms of household finances.  Both husband and wife are said to complement each other in terms of their respective strengths and weaknesses.  Fair enough, but I don’t recall Burkett saying that the husband should take primary oversight regarding finances and be the ultimate decision-maker.

Overall, Burkett does an excellent job with this book.  The use of narratives to communicate sound financial advice is an excellent approach and helps to put the proverbial flesh on abstract concepts.  Additionally, he’s not afraid to call out the hypocrisy of so many Christians living in tons of debt.  After going though this book, I’m definitely more motivated to improve my role as head of my family’s finances.  I highly recommend this book as it provides a God-centered dose of sanity to our debt-obsessed culture.  I hope more Christians take advantage of it and become better stewards of what the Lord has given us.

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