In a microwave society, Dave Ramsey recommends patience. For a material world, he advocates modest living to build wealth and then giving...

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — In a microwave society, Dave Ramsey recommends patience.

For a material world, he advocates modest living to build wealth and then giving a lot of it away.

“We’re not going to advocate something that doesn’t work just to sell a book,” Ramsey says. “Sacrifice and being intentional with your money is what works.”

For cutting against the grain and defying convention, the Nashville, Tenn.-based financial adviser has earned two appearances on The New York Times’ best-seller list, profiles on “60 Minutes” and in Guideposts magazine, and a radio show now heard on more than 200 stations across the country.

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On the show, Ramsey advocates debt-free life and fields calls from listeners who’ve made five-figure and even six-figure mistakes.

He knows how they feel.

“I’ve done stupid, and I know what stupid looks like, and paid stupid tax,” Ramsey says.

What he did, specifically, was become a millionaire by age 26 by buying real estate. But he did it by going $4 million into debt.

When the loans were called in after the bank was sold, he lost everything by age 30. In a vignette in his second Times best seller, “The Total Money Makeover,” Ramsey recalls having a Jaguar in his driveway that wouldn’t run because he couldn’t afford to fix it.

Going too deep into debt is something Ramsey says most people are doing today, and while he doesn’t forecast a national financial upheaval, he does see families enduring their own “Great Depressions.”

“When Joe and Suzie Wal-Mart are [within] 30 days of a job layoff from being repo’ed, 90 days from being foreclosed on and their best hope for retirement is Social Insecurity, hey, this isn’t a plan,” Ramsey says.

“The Total Money Makeover” is Ramsey’s step-by-step prescription for financial health and wealth.

“Debt is the most aggressively marketed product in our culture,” Ramsey says. “There were 5.2 billion credit-card offers in mailboxes last year; 78 percent of the cars that leave the lot will be ‘fleeced,’ ” Ramsey’s term for leased.

One of the first steps in Ramsey’s money makeover is cutting up credit cards. Well, you could also shoot them, purée them or run them over with a lawn mower. Ramsey regularly gets calls from people who want to do an on-air “plastectomy” in a variety of ways.

He tells people to go to a cash-based lifestyle, so as not to live beyond their means.

The makeover includes steps that involve building up cash reserves for emergencies, paying off debts ranging from credit cards to home mortgages and making investments such as mutual funds.

“Debt ties up your greatest wealth-building tool, which is your money,” Ramsey says.

People who have succeeded in freeing themselves from debt by following the plan get to celebrate on air yelling, “I’m free!” as Ramsey plays Mel Gibson’s William Wallace shouting “Freedom!” in “Braveheart.”

In addition to the money makeover, Ramsey has also created Financial Peace University, a course used by many groups, particularly churches.

There’s a strong Christian undercurrent to Ramsey’s show, including bumper music from Christian pop acts such as Jars of Clay and the daily exhortation, “The only way to financial peace is to walk daily with the Prince of Peace.”

“It’s part of who I am,” Ramsey says of the Christian content of his work. “It’s not because I want to be a televangelist and wish I had more hair. It’s simple: Personal finance is 80 percent behavior, it’s only 20 percent head knowledge. To ignore the spiritual in a behavior problem is very naive.”

Ramsey also regularly says debt is not biblical.

“It’s not a sin, it’s not, ‘You’re going to hell because you use a MasterCard,’ ” he says. “But every time it’s mentioned in the Bible, it’s a negative mention — you’re a slave, it’s a curse, you’re stupid.”

While it’s not marketed like “Get rich in 30 days” schemes, Ramsey’s prescription has wealth as its endgame. And one of the greatest things about wealth, he says, is giving money away.

“There’s only so much stuff you can gather up,” Ramsey says. “The most fun you can have with money is giving it. It’s a blast.”

He cites a friend who is a multimillionaire who annually goes to a toy store at Christmas with his kids, buys a tractor-trailer load of bicycles and gives them to children in a poor neighborhood.

“That’s the most fun they have all year,” Ramsey says.

Another friend, he says, gave four-figure checks to workers heading off to help victims of the Asian tsunami so they could buy supplies.

Of course, Ramsey gives away a lot of advice, which he finds deeply gratifying.

“I’ll get people who call in and say things like, ‘You saved my marriage,’ ” Ramsey says. “Well, I didn’t save your marriage — the information did.

“I’m just able to present the information in a fun, entertaining way, and it’s rewarding.”