Tag Archives: debt

Can’t Buy Me Love

frugalista 2

The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life by Natalie P. McNeal (Harlequin, $14.95, 179 pages)

Natalie McNeal was in her eighth year of working as a reporter for the Miami Herald newspaper when she woke up to find that she was $21,021.24 in debt. The debut was divided among what she owed on her credit card ($9,785.24), car loan ($8,600.00), and student loan ($2,636.00). This is the story of how, over 2 years and 4 months, she worked her way into a debt-free existence.

This might sound like a rather dreary topic to read about, but McNeal makes it an awful lot of fun.

“For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I need nothing. I have everything.”

“I am clothes coasting. My closet has me cruising.”

This is a true account of how McNeal learned to love what she already owned (including learning how to shop inside of her own closet), and place her self-worth above other person’s opinions of her lifestyle or achievements. In a sense, she created a real-life game out of saving money and she wound up a clear winner at the end. McNeal was to gain such self-esteem and self-reliance from this experience that she decided to quit her job at the Herald and work for herself as a featured blogger (K Mart’s smart shopper suite) and freelance writer.

“Frugalista tip: Before you shell out the cash (for such things as hair styling or new clothes), ask yourself if this is something you really need or just something you want. You’d be surprised!”

Living in Miami, McNeal was used to a young professional’s party lifestyle, something she had to put aside in order to begin spending less – and actually saving money, each month. She began to cook – thank goodness for the George Foreman grill, and stay with relatives when she traveled. She also started to file her work-related travel claims right after a business trip, and adopted a “same day deposit” policy for any checks she received. (The old McNeal often misplaced personal checks, and thus forgot to deposit them.)

Yes, the self-titled Frugalista became a serious person who finally applied the lessons learned in her high school Home Economics class.

As one might expect, McNeal offers some real-world advice on how to save money in very practical ways. She explains, for example, what make-up items must be purchased at top-notch prices and which items can be bought at a discount. You might think this would be boring for a male to read, but it was not thanks to McNeal’s positive attitude and ingrained sense of modesty and humor.

This reminds me to share two frugal tips of my own learned by living life. First, when you buy those expensive dryer sheets (what I call “fluffies”), feel free to cut them in half, or even into thirds or quarters. They’ll still get the job done for virtually all wash loads. And, second – as I learned from my dentist – don’t be afraid to buy the cheaper versions of mouthwash that you find at the larger pharmacies and supermarkets. They’re less expensive because they contain more water, which can actually be a benefit to those with sensitive teeth and gums (i.e., you’ll feel less of a burn). Stronger is not always better.

Less is often more – that’s the lesson of The Frugalista Files, a fun read and fun journey through life’s simpler, basic lessons with Natalie McNeal.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Frugalista Files 2

A review of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life by Natalie P. McNeal.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, $14.95, 192 pages)

Robert Reich’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future is sectioned into three parts.   In the first two sections, Reich offers arguments for why America’s growing inequality is bad.   The third offers ideas for fixing it.

Part One argues that growing inequality makes it impossible for America’s middle class to consume as much as they produce without going into debt.   The reason for the 2008 meltdown, he argues, was not that Americans had merely spent beyond their means or that Wall Street speculators had trashed the economy, though these he argues were true.   Rather, “their (middle class Americans) means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them.”   This is the reason behind the economic collapse.

Part one is the best section of the book.   Reich’s analysis is concise, though well supported.   The argumentation is spot on.   He makes strong points, develops them and supports them without wandering too far from his central theme.   He doesn’t simplify things, but manages to explain them well.

Part two argues that growing inequality will have dangerous social implications if nothing is done to change the direction.   This section begins with a thought experiment involving a fictional future party of populist radicals.   The argument Reich makes here is that capitalism has to be saved from itself.   If the middle class can’t achieve the things they used to, radicals will harness their populist anger and the end result will be the destruction of the economy and capitalism.

The specifics of the thought experiment are a little silly, though not entirely implausible.   It’s also a drawback that he lumps all of the populist anger together into one category.   That’s a bit insulting to middle class intellligence, but maybe Reich is right.   In any case, his main point – that capitalism needs to be saved from itself – is poignant.

Part three cobbles together a  lot of small possible situations, notably changes to tax codes, getting money out of politics, and a complete expansion of Medicare.

The drawback to section three is that there aren’t a lot of connections among the small solutions he cobbles together.   None of them are politically viable.   Reich ends by suggesting that the only real way forward is if financial corporations and the financial elite heed his warning and save capitalism from itself.

The Good:  Reich’s analysis of the structural problem under-girding the American economy appears to be accurate.   His argument is well supported by short at only 147 pages.

The Bad:  Sections two and three of the book simply aren’t as good as the first section.   Section two is purely speculative.   The argument is valid, but the specifics are impractical.   Section three disappoints in its presentation of solutions, which are not politically feasible.

The Bottom Line:  Aftershock is required reading for any progressive wanting to understand the structural economic problem behind the economic meltdown and the barriers to fixing it.   Well recommended.

Trevor Kidd

You can read more from Trevor Kidd at http://trevorkidd.com/ .

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Do the Lighten Up

Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less by Peter Walsh (Free Press; $26.00; 304 pages)

This review is of the unabridged audio book version on CDs (Tantor Media; $19.99)

“We’ve lost money but we’ve found a sense of priority in our lives…  We are increasingly conscious of our environment, and no longer have to drive the heftiest SUV on the road.   We don’t care for another 2,000 square feet of living space if we can live comfortably with less.”   Peter Walsh

As was anticipated, Lighten Up is classic Peter Walsh.   Peter is known for taking a patient, thoughtful and respectful stance when approaching his clients’ issues.   Viewers of the many episodes of Clean Sweep, a television show that aired on The Learning Channel, or of his current show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, are familiar with the set up.   Peter answers a request for help from a family with a house full of clutter (also known as junk).   He provides the family with an opportunity to address their underlying issues and at the same time rid themselves of the life-defeating mess that has been robbing them of time, energy and space.

The plan set forth in this latest offer of assistance is specific to the overwhelming problem of debt that has become a world-wide concern.   This is not just a rehash of ideas; rather, Peter frames concepts in the context of digging out from the burden of debt.   A listener living in the USA is the target audience.   The audience includes a full spectrum of folks from those who are buried in debt and the stuff it purchased, to others who’ve got a more manageable financial situation and may desire guidance for keeping on the path of a comfortable, enjoyable life.

The book stays on point using a progression of scenarios and questionnaires to assist the listener in evaluating their own situation.   There are timely cross-references to other books Peter has written.   These books address specific areas of concern and are dealt with in-depth.   The referencing keeps this book focused on the burden of runaway finances.

This reviewer had the audio version of the book and was pleasantly surprised by the use of John Lee as the narrator because Lee’s accent is strongly reminiscent of Peter’s own Australian accent.   Lee gives the listener an easy connection to Peter without being imitative.   This reviewer was surprised to learn that Peter has been a naturalized U.S. citizen for 16 years.   His pride in this fact shows through.

Peter Walsh easily assumes the role of trusted friend and mentor, one who knows how to get an honest response from his client without abusing the trust placed in him.   Lighten Up is enjoyable with both easy-to-absorb concepts and easy-to-use strategies.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the unabridged audiobook was purchased for her.

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A Hazy Shade of Winter

So Much for That: A Novel by Lionel Shriver (Harper; $25.99; 433 pages)

“…the biggest tipoff that she was not in as much denial as she feigned was that Glynis had no interest in the future.   That left everyone pretty much stumped.   When you weren’t interested in the future you weren’t interested in the present either.   Which left the past, and she really wasn’t interested in that.”

This is a fictional tale of two American families in 2005.   They are typical, yet atypical in that they are both being worn and ground down by the twin pressures of a fiscal recession and deadly diseases.   The primary family, the Knackers, is composed of Glynis, sculptress, wife and mother and mesothelioma victim (a form of cancer that is killing her quickly); Shep, the ever dutiful husband who is a millionaire on paper; their absent college age daughter Amelia; and their clueless teenage son Zach.   Their friends, presumably Jewish, are Jackson and Carol Burdina.   Jackson is an angry co-worker of Shep’s who is insecure about being married to the ever-beautiful Carol.   They have two daughters, Flicka, who was born with Familial Dysautonomia (FD) – which will likely kill her by the time she is 30 – and Heather, their healthy overeating daughter who is growing larger by the hour.

Shep Knacker’s longtime dream is to cash in on his home improvement business in order to live what he calls The Afterlife on an island.   However, just as he sells his business for a cool $1 million, Glynis is diagnosed with the cancer that gives her a little over a year to live.   The longer Glynis lives, the more Shep’s Merrill Lynch account will be drawn down.   Shep quickly learns that a million dollars does not last long in a world where an aspirin costs $300 and a regimen of chemotherapy goes for $30,000.

“That had been one revelation, insofar as there was any: everything was equal.   There were no big things and little things anymore.   Aside from pain, which had assumed an elevated position… all matters were of the same importance.   So there was no longer any such thing as importance.”

One of the ironies of this tale is that while 51-year-old Glynis fights to hang on to life to the point where she becomes a near madwoman, young Flicka looks forward to the day – at 18 – when she can end her own.   And while they trouble themselves with such basic issues, Jackson becomes obsessed with penis enlargement surgery – something he presumes will please his attractive spouse.

“(It was) a world where oblivion was nirvana, where one was never allowed the hope of no pain but only of less.”

Glynis eventually becomes angry as her supposed friends either treat her like a woman already dead, or fail to follow through on their original promises to be there for her when the going gets rough.   Yet, she stubbornly refuses to ever accept a fatal diagnosis, even while undergoing a year-long regimen of toxic chemo.   She begins to view herself as a marathon runner who never seems to be able to complete the 26th and final mile.

Shep is a man who has prided himself on being responsible his entire life.   He’s the man who has always paid his own way and played by the rules.   But others tell him that he’s a responsible taxpaying sucker especially when Medicaid won’t buy Glynis even a single aspirin for her pain.   He’s not sure what to do until, surprisingly, his ever raging and thought-to-be-dense friend Jackson sends him a message.

This is a work about human values and morals in the face of impending financial ruin and death.   What would we do – any of us – in order to keep our health and our homes for an extra day, week, month or year?   In this weighty and timely fictional tale you will find an answer.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   So Much for That is also available as an unabridged audio book and as a Kindle Edition download.

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