Disclaimer first: Dave Ramsey is a millionaire. I am not. He is a nationally known financial expert. I once taught his stuff in watered-down form to an adult Sunday-school class. So there is no doubt in my mind that his plan is better than my modifications, nor that I would be better off if I would just follow his tried-and-true format to the letter. That said, I don't. Here are a couple of reasons why:
First, I began the program in a different position than many people. I have been very fortunate to ride up a pretty good period in the real estate market, and was able to dump some debt that way before I discovered Dave. If I had been dragging around $800 a month in debt service, then naturally freeing that cash up in the budget would have given me a really big tool with which to build wealth. But with minimal debt, I was only able to make minimal change to my budget. When you have a tiny shovel, it takes longer to fill a big bucket.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, I live in arguably the worst school district in the state which is 49th out of our 50 in education (thank heaven for Mississippi). I also teach at arguably the best (and also most expensive) private school in our area. Having my three kids safely in school where I work rather than in some of the other choices in this town is simply non-negotiable. It is more important to me even than making wise financial decisions for the long-term. Therefore, I do some things differently than I would otherwise.
Finally, I'm not quite as willing to "live now like no one else" so that sometime in the far future I can then "live like no one else." I don't mind being a good bit more frugal, saving more than average, driving less car, living in less house, etc. But I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to do SOME things NOW, rather than when I am retired. I admit, I borrowed a little money so I could take a $10,000 trip to Rome for only $1500. I want to travel to the islands with my wife while she still looks great in a bathing suit. And I don't want to do Disney with my kids when they are in their 30's. If that means fudging on the baby steps a bit, I'm fine with that.
There's one more consideration, too. My "job" is not just a vocation, but an avocation. I work for my alma mater, coaching my old team, teaching my favorite subject. My employer contributes a good chunk to a good retirement plan on my behalf, and I get 10 weeks off every summer. And if, heaven forbid, something bad were to happen to my school, there's always a market for teachers. So my goal is not exactly to zip through to the point where I can chuck my job and travel. I can travel now, and I may teach till I'm 70+. I'd like the OPTION of not doing so, but for now, I'd be fine if we can make ends meet comfortably, take good vacations, and make solid progress toward eventual retirement (and all that entails, including a paid-off house, etc.)
Later I'll post some specific things we do, or don't do, based on these factors.