Smart Money Conference with Rachel Cruze: Review and Key Takeaways

I attended the Ramsey Smart Money conference in Raleigh, NC. Never having been to a money-related event like this, I was super excited and interested to see what it was all about.


This post is all about Dave Ramsey’s Smart Money Conference and the Baby Steps that he teaches.


Smart Money is an event run by Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze. If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, he’s a huge presence in the personal finance community who has written many books and helped thousands of people become debt free. He also has a radio show, “The Dave Ramsey Show” that millions listen to.

His approach to helping people is one of tough-love, and in his very popular book The Total Money Makeover, he outlines the steps he believes work best for anyone to get out, and stay out, of debt.

But I actually heard about his daughter, Rachel, before I heard about him. I had picked up her book Love Your Life, Not Theirs at an airport years ago. This was one of the first, if not the first, personal finance books I ever read.

Anyway, a few months ago I stumbled across Dave Ramsey (which isn’t hard to do when searching for ways to get out of debt) and ended up listening to his radio show on YouTube, his podcasts on Spotify, and eventually bought his book The Total Money Makeover.

Shortly thereafter, I realized Rachel Cruze was his daughter. Because I enjoyed his book and really just the principles he and his daughter follow in terms of money-management, I decided to buy a ticket to the Smart Money conference.



The doors to the event opened at 6 and upon arrival, I was handed a packet of material; the main item being a booklet for the crowd to use and write in throughout the event.

The show started promptly at 6:30. After a brief introduction, Rachel Cruze appeared on stage to discuss the principles laid out in her father’s book, The Total Money Makeover.


First Thing’s First

The first thing Rachel suggested every one do before they start their debt-free journey is to come up with a written budget. Her philosophy was this: if you have a budget, you know exactly what you can spend which makes making purchases much less stressful.

There’s no inner turmoil over whether or not you can afford something because if it’s in the budget, you know you can buy it.


“A budget does not limit your freedom. A budget gives you freedom” – Rachel Cruze


She also mentioned the importance of actually writing your budget down. Having something “in your head” isn’t good enough – it needs to be visual so you’ll always know exactly where you’re at, and you can’t simply forget.

Rachel recommended an online budget program called It’s free and simple to use. But if you’re like me, pen and paper work just as well.



Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, is comprised of a series of “baby steps” to be tackled one by one (in order!) if you want to become debt free. At this point in the event, Rachel jumped right in to explaining those steps.

Baby Step 1

Baby Step 1 is to save $1,000 in an emergency fund. However, if you make under 24k, you should save $500 for your emergency fund.

Obviously, an emergency fund is for emergencies. It’s important to have a foundation (even if it’s small) in case all else falls through, and this is a great place to start. The key here is to establish your emergency fund as quickly as possible.

As soon as you’ve established your emergency fund, you’re able to take on the next step in your debt free journey: Baby Step 2.


Baby Step 2

This step is probably the toughest and longest of all steps, but is also the most rewarding. Here’s where you pay off all your debt.

Baby Step 2 is to pay off all debt using the debt snowball method. Dave Ramsey made this method popular. Here’s how it works: Simply line up your debts in order from least amount to greatest amount (except your house), and start paying the smallest debt off first, while making minimum payments on all other debts. Aggressively attempt to pay down your smallest debt. Once you’ve paid that off, take the money you used each month for that debt and put it towards your next biggest debt. Continue to do this until all your debts are paid.

It’s called the debt snowball method because as you gain momentum and pay down debt after debt, you roll the money you were paying on the last debt into the next smallest balance (so your debt snowball gets bigger and bigger over time). The purpose behind the debt snowball method is to get a quick-win and gain some motivation. Once you pay off your smallest debt, you feel accomplished and ready to tackle your next larger debt with even more confidence and determination.

In addition to the debt snowball method, Rachel recommended a few key takeaways on how to get out of debt fast:

  1. Quit borrowing money. When you borrow money, you owe money. And when you owe money, Rachel adds, “Someone else’s name is written all over your paycheck”.
  2. Sell something. Maybe that’s your car with a $400 monthly payment, or just things around the house. You’d be surprised how much money you can make just by selling the things you own that you don’t really need or use.
  3. Get a part time job. Dave Ramsey is famous for recommending that everyone deliver pizzas, but it’s true: if you increase your income, you can contribute more to your debt.



Rachel mentioned “focused intensity” is really what Baby Step 2 calls for. In other words, not focusing on anything other than paying down your debt as quickly as possible.

Throughout this portion of the event, Rachel was serious, fun and empathetic about debt. You can tell she truly believes in the freedom paying off your debt can bring.

After you pay off all your debt comes Baby Step 3.


Baby Step 3

For this part of the event, Anthony O’Neal came on stage. This guy has energy, and knows how to make a crowd laugh. He started by telling the crowd of his past financial troubles, and how he was able to overcome them and eventually become debt free.

He then got to talking about Baby Step 3. Baby Step 3 is saving 3-6 months’ worth of expenses.

Anthony recommended saving 3-6 months’ worth of expenses for three reasons:

  1. Things come up and life happens. It’s important to be able to pay cash for when life happens instead of using credit and getting yourself into debt again, if possible.
  2. Imagine buying things out-right, and owning them, all because you paid for them in cash. This could be a new car, phone, furniture, etc. When you pay for things with cash, you have the satisfaction of knowing you own it completely- no strings attached.
  3. Wealth building. We all want to be financially stable and have more than enough money in the bank, especially for retirement. Saving money and investing properly (Anthony recommends Money Market accounts) is the way to do that.


Baby Step 4

Baby Step 4 is investing 15% of your income into IRAs and pretax retirement accounts. Simply: Save lots for retirement!

Saving for retirement is crucial, unless you want to work your entire life. At one point during the discussion of Baby Step 4, Anthony had all the millennials stand. Once they did, he stated “50% of you haven’t started saving for your retirement”. It was pretty mind boggling and a saddening realization.

Even if you put aside $1 a day, that’s far better than doing nothing at all. Time is on your side when you’re young and you’re wasting valuable time for your money to grow exponentially if you neglect to save for your retirement right now.

This is the step I wish I could be on. I honestly can’t wait to be able to put a ton of money toward retirement.


Baby Step 5


Baby Step 5 is to fund college.


This is a pretty cool step in the process – it’s really for your kids (if you have them/wish to have them). This step helps ensure that if they go to college, their student loan debt will be minimal if existent at all.

The price of college has sky-rocketed in recent years – might as well as least try to help your kids so they don’t have to fight a debt battle on their own like you had to (especially since now that if you’re on baby step 5, you’re out of debt with a hefty savings rate).

Anthony did a great job making these points and keeping the audience interested. When he was done, he passed the presentation back over to Rachel to wrap up baby steps 6 and 7.


Baby Step 6

Baby Step 6 is to pay off your home early.

The big thing here was the recommendation that every home buyer should choose a 15 year fixed rate mortgage over a 30 year fixed rate mortgage. Why? Well, it saves you money. LOTS of money.

Here’s the example from the Smart Money booklet that compares a 15 year mortgage and a 30 year mortgage:




You can see that you’d save over $130,000 dollars in this example, just by choosing a 15 year mortgage instead of a 30 year mortgage.

Yes, the payments are larger each month with a 15 year mortgage, but what is a couple hundred extra dollars a month versus hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan? Seems like a 15 year mortgage is the smart choice.

Once you’ve paid off your house, you’re all clear to take on Baby Step 7.


Baby Step 7

Baby Step 7 is to build wealth and give with outrageous generosity. Here, Rachel Cruze emphasized the importance of giving and the amazing power it has to make us all feel really good!


“When you start to give, you go from selfish to selfless” – Rachel Cruze



To conclude the conference, Rachel brought a local couple onstage from Raleigh, NC that just paid off $210,000 in debt. This couple’s story showed that no matter how much debt you have, getting out from under it is possible with a plan and some good old-fashioned hard work.


Final Thoughts

If you are just beginning to take control of your finances, or you want to learn how or why you should, I would recommend the Smart Money event, or just Dave Ramsey’s material in general. Not only did the Smart Money event provide a wealth of insight and actionable, proven steps to help anyone become debt free, but it also provided the audience with motivation. I left the event feeling even more determined to get rid of my student loan debt and build wealth.

Both Rachel Cruze and Anthony O’Neal did a great job of making the material relatable and fun. They were real and honest, and you can tell they truly believe in the baby step process and that every one, no matter where you come from or how bad your financial situation is, can become debt free.



*Full credit given to Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions for the examples and material mentioned in this post.*


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A few years after graduating college, Taylor made it her mission to become debt free. After paying off all $60k of debt, she began to blog about what she's really passionate about: personal development. Nowadays, Taylor blogs about the topics of Mindset, Money, Health, and Career for women. Read more about Taylor here.

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