Reading Roundup One

For frugal hobbies, it’s hard to beat reading.  Public libraries enable access to a wide variety of reading material, including audiobooks–all for free!  I love to read so much that I became an English teacher to share the power of reading and writing with the next generation.  Since becoming a mother, helping my children become enthusiastic readers has been an important value.  I read a wide variety of texts, so I thought I’d try to feature a book that I enjoyed recently from each of four major categories: Adult Fiction, Adult Nonfiction, Frugality/Money, and Kid Read Aloud.  I’m planning to make this a regular feature on the blog.  Enjoy!

Adult Fiction: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s debut novel is an epic historical fiction, told in heart-wrenchingly beautiful short stories, that follows the descendants of two sisters born in the African Gold Coast during the time of slavery.  This is the book I would wish for every one of my students. It is incredible in scope and power. Quite heartbreaking and still quite beautiful in the optimism of the ending.

It wasn’t what I expected… it was so much better.

Adult Nonfiction: Bloodsworth by Tim Junkin

This year’s One Maryland, One Book selection was the story of an innocent man, convicted twice through shocking errors in police and judicial procedures, and eventually set free through persistence in the truth combined with scientific innovation.  Although it’s not my usual first choice, I was drawn in by details like jury selection: in Maryland, anyone who is unwilling to apply the death penalty in cases where that is a possibility is automatically excluded.  A whole group of openly identified people with compassion are excluded from participating–that’s hardly a fair representation of the general population!

I had the pleasure of attending the talk Junkin gave in Boonsboro as part of the OMOB programming.  I am impressed by his writing and by the life and anti-death-penalty advocacy of Kirk Bloodsworth since his release.

Frugality/Money: The Financial Diet by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage (design)

I enjoy Fagan and Ver Hage’s website, The Financial Diet, which features mostly female writers focusing on a variety of financial and lifestyle topics.  I have a secret love of the “chick slick” style of writing found in women’s magazines like Elle and Fagan’s work captures that style while offering some solid financial advice for young women. This book won’t change your life with life-altering advice or promise you easy results from simple changes, but instead is about building up confidence in lifestyle choices that are not based in what advertisers and cultural pressures tell you will “fix” you (i.e. conform to a narrow set of acceptable behaviors and appearances for women).  The book is beautifully designed by Ver Hage and full of practical, supportive advice.

Kid Read Aloud: Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts

My children adore this story-in-verse of a gifted young builder whose passion is stifled by a school teacher whose past makes her blind to the joys of architecture.  They have begged for this book just about every night for the last month, and we all have it memorized in parts.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review–The Year of Less

While traveling, I’ve set up a few posts to publish automatically in case I can’t always write from Korea.  Enjoy!

Ever since I moved to another country 7,000 miles from home with two suitcases and a cat, I have been intrigued with minimalism.  I really am happiest owning less stuff, doing fewer things, and consuming more mindfully.  However, I have a complex relationship with minimalism in practice, for more reasons than just the obvious: living with two children + husband makes minimalism quite challenging.  I’ll have to write a post about that someday.

Cait Flanders’s beautiful memoir, The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, documenting her year-long shopping ban spoke to a deep, hidden, almost-forgotten part of my soul.  I have been following Cait as a blogger off and on over the years.  Her writing has always spoken to me for its honest, raw vulnerability and the purity of her blog as a space for sharing her thoughts and documenting her progress through life (rather than a creation to make money–as so many blogs are these days).  She has always been in this blogging thing because she is a writer.  Her craft is strong and this book was about much, much more than owning less stuff.

What was so powerful for me in Cait’s book was what I have noticed in my own work on gaining financial control of my life: the similarities between consumerism and addiction (hers: alcohol and food, mine: mostly just food, though I do have addictive tendencies in several aspects of my life) as ways to cope with emotions and problems that are uncomfortable, rather than addressing the source of the discomfort.  During Cait’s year long ban on shopping, she faces some intense challenges in her personal life that test her resolve in ways she had not anticipated.  Without the crutch of shopping, she has to sit with the feelings of loss and grief.

In fact, her book made me reflect profoundly enough on my own life that one of my personal “commandments” is inspired by this book and my pursuit of debt freedom and health: Satisfy the real need.  I am most vulnerable to eating something unhealthy or purchasing something I don’t really need or want when I have an unmet need that feels unbearable in the moment.  I often don’t need chocolate–I need to eat.  I don’t need to purchase new clothes–I need to feel confident in my new job.  I don’t need to pay lots of money for someone to fix my broken window screen–I need to trust that I can learn the skills to make that simple repair myself.

Note: Cait’s latest post indicates that she is stepping away from blogging for a moment.  I wish her the best and can’t wait to see what comes from her writing next!  In the meantime, I highly recommend her memoir!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review: Broke Millennial

While traveling, I’ve set up a few posts to publish automatically in case I can’t always write from Korea.  Enjoy!

I can’t believe it took me this long to read Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry!  It’s a great book–especially for people who are just starting to put together their financial know-how.

This is the book about personal finance I will give my younger sister for Christmas.

Unlike me, she does not find personal finance very exciting to read about, but she is at a point in her life she is interested in learning how to get better with money.  Lowry breaks it down in fun (though occasionally gimmicky), clear ways.  She has tons of research sources (both from published books and interviews) and honors the reality that everyone’s situation and goals are different.  Many other personal finance books with her same audience (people in their 20s and early 30s) do not do as complete a job of addressing the details of credit cars, students loans, and budgeting strategies (along with other topics).  It’s a great book by a great writer!

My only minor negative?  The title.  It kept me from reading the book/website for a long time because I’m just outside of the “millennial” age range (and have a lot of #feelings about the characteristics attributed to that group and media directed specifically for their consumption).  But to be fair, I’m not a millennial, so I’m not really qualified to comment on the appeal of this book.

Every time I have come across Erin Lowry’s writing or video advice through another financial website, I admired her ability to frame complex financial steps in clear, palatable ways without diminishing or flattening the content. So while the name of her blog, Broke Millennial, made me hesitate, I couldn’t ignore the high quality of her work.  Eventually, I gave the book a shot, and I’m so glad I did!

Lowry’s book reminds me in tone and comprehensiveness to my own first educational text about personal finance, The Motley Fool: You Have More Than You Think – The Foolish Guide to Personal Finance, which I wrote about in my Reading Recommendations page.

If you feel like you want to know more about personal finance for young adults or have a millennial in your life that you love (looking at you parents of teens, teachers, etc.), read this book.  Heck, even if you just love a good story or two, Lowry’s vignettes from her childhood and discussions of merging her finances with her partner are worth it!  I even learned a bit about some of the more recent info about student loans and post-recession-recovery banking regulations.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Challenge Day Twelve: My “Commandments”

I’m more than halfway through my 21 Day Challenge now.  I find that I am accomplishing much of what I hoped to accomplish with the challenge–I’m writing more on this blog, I’m having interesting insights about how I spend my time and how I want to spend my time, and I’m saving money (Hello, $18 electric bill this month!).

One of my big goals with this project is to live in better alignment with my values.  An important step for that, is to clarify exactly what my values are.  I finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (whose strange literary interests, comfortingly self-indulgent writing style, and esoteric research pursuits I have admired for years).  Before embarking on her year-long project to improve her happiness (in an already contented, full, and happy life), she spent some time planning what her resolutions would be and clarifying her values.  Her method of clarifying her values was to create a list of personal commandments, or “the overarching principles by which I try to live my life.” I thought I’d try it out for fun.  Here is what I came up with:

My Ten Commandments:

  1. Bless the Inner Geek.
  2. Choose love.
  3. Respect resources.
  4. Satisfy the real need.
  5. See the work.
  6. Empower, not influence.
  7. Build connections.
  8. Honor the difference.
  9. Ask important questions.
  10. Kunjunghee maum (“positive heart” in Korean).

It was interesting to really think through my values in this way.  I have a lot to say about each of these personal values I hold dear.  Perhaps another month, I will challenge myself to explain each commandment in its own post, since some may not be clear on just the surface, but each hold significance for how I try to live my life.  There were a few I included originally (such as “Understand first” and “Preparation + Perspiration = Success”) that I eliminated because while these are essential core values, I don’t need to remind myself about them regularly, so they need not be commandments.

I recommend this exercise.  I wonder if I’ll feel good about this work when I look at it again in a few months.  I believe that will help me refine this list even more.

Tomorrow’s Challenge: Hiking Old Rag Mountain

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Challenge Day Three: Read a Whole Book in a Day

I love reading more than just about any other hobby in the world.  When I was little, I would sneak a flashlight and book under my covers when I was supposed to be sleeping and read for hours.  However, since becoming a mom, much of my reading time has been spent reading aloud to my children.  I rarely get the indulgence of reading a book on my own for pleasure and without interruption.  The last time I read a book cover to cover in a single day was probably when I lived alone in Korea.  So today, I allowed myself the pleasure of slipping back into the wonderful world of Harry Potter.

I bought Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two awhile ago, but had not yet picked it up to read. I realized it would be the perfect all-in-one day book because it was a series I loved already, and I find play scripts to be quite easy for me to read (theater geek). I was delighted! It was like reconnecting with old friends and with my younger self (and discovering new friends–Scorpious is a fascinating character). I thoroughly enjoyed the laziness of reading the book while it rained outside.

Lesson learned: sometimes you need to take a break.

Tomorrow’s challenge: Exercise Class Streak!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Challenge Day One: Netflix Deleted

Like many busy parents, when I’m permitted a moment or two alone in my regular life, I’ll catch up on an episode of TV that I enjoy through a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.  Since I rarely have more than 30-60 minutes of “alone time” (such as when H is napping and Min has taken J to soccer practice), this indulgence is not particularly harmful.  However, I’ve often thought that there is a part of me that would rather NOT watch TV during these times; if I actively chose a leisure activity, I would rather read a book, write, exercise, cook, or even clean/organize.  And while I do enjoy some shows for entertainment, I’m too easily sucked into addiction and feel like I’m watching a lot of shows just because I’ve already invested in the characters and “should” continue to watch.  It’s very dangerous for me to start a show after the kids go to bed because it so often turns into a “one-more-episode” bingefest until dawn.  For me, television is not a “hobby”–it’s a habit.  But it’s not one that enhances my life and connects me to my core values.

I’m reading Gretchin Rubin‘s Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life on audiobook.  I enjoy her style of writing and the meticulous way she analyzes so many aspects of habit formation.  When I was reading her passage about convenience, I realized that Netflix simply makes television watching too convenient for me.  I know that if I didn’t have access to television, I wouldn’t miss it, but the access makes it impossible to cut back or quit.  During my 21 Day Challenge, I have canceled internet service to my house to save money (we will reconnect it when we return from Korea), so it is the perfect time to say goodbye to the $7.99/month subscription to Netflix.

I feel like I’ve been freed from an obligation–which is ridiculous–but there it is!  I’ve been blaming the kids wanting to watch some kid shows for why I haven’t canceled before, but really, they don’t need to watch those particular shows.  Lesson learned: if something is a healthy choice for me, do it! My family will learn to adjust.

Other accomplishments today:

  1. Extra gym classes (yes–plural!)
  2. Homemade salsa (yum!)
  3. Day two of resuming a food journal
  4. No caffeine after 3 p.m.
  5. Deep clean upstairs bathroom

Plan for Day 2: Attack the Clutter!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review: The Millionaire Next Door

Ever since I’ve been interested in personal finance (which we all can acknowledge has been a long time), I’ve had Thomas Stanley and William Danko’s classic research on American wealth, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, recommended as a “must read.”  I started it a few times, but the text never grabbed me. The main concepts are quite basic principles of personal finance: spend significantly less than you earn, save and invest the difference well, and avoid lifestyle inflation.

Don’t be a conspicuous consumer; what Stanley calls having a “big hat, no cattle,” quoting a Texas business owner about how easily Americans misunderstand wealth.

My review:  3 / 5 stars

Best for: Research nerds, people fascinated by wealth and perceptions of wealth in the U.S., people with high incomes who can’t seem to accumulate any wealth, people interested in marketing to the wealthy

I appreciate the groundbreaking nature of this research from the mid-90s. The classifications of people based on their ability to accumulate wealth in relationship to their incomes were very interesting. Thinking about income taxes as a percentage of wealth rather than of income is very different. I can see why the cars thing would be big example for lots of Americans, but I would really rather see a frank discussion of home purchases.

Since I had already rejected cars, homes, and most luxury goods as worthwhile status objects when I chose to become a teacher, I found the first half of the book to be a bit tough to get through.  I enjoyed some of the descriptions of research methodologies and case studies (I’m such a nerd), but the message just wasn’t hitting home for the “personal” part of personal finance.  Until I got to the chapter on Economic Outpatient Care.  I felt that one like a punch in the gut.

Economic Outpatient Care is what Stanley describes as the money/gifts/tuition/cars/etc. wealthy parents give to their children.  While the book doesn’t What he found is that (ironically), adult children who received more money from their parents had lower accumulation of wealth compared with other people earning similar incomes.  I will have to write more about this, but let’s just say this section made me realize that many of my most difficult financial periods were when I received some kind of monetary “help” from my mother or father.  I don’t mean to imply I am ungrateful for their help (there are ways in which my family can live a much nicer lifestyle because of their contributions, not the least of which is starting a college fund for J).  However, those gifts have often led to other purchases/decisions that were outside of our income range and changed our spending habits in a way that ultimately lessened our financial progress or didn’t sit with our true values.  I’m taking more ownership of my own role in this dynamic and being more mindful of how I discuss my finances with my mother.

Other parts of the books were meh and/or dated for me–too much focus on estate taxes and private schools while emphasizing the “frugality” of only spending $60,000/year of your $120,000 salary. Yes, I appreciate the 50% savings rate, but $60,000 is more than the average person earns in 2018 and WAY more than the average person earned in the mid-90s. I don’t think I’d call that “frugal,” but to each his own.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review: Meet the Frugalwoods

I enjoy reading books by bloggers I admire because it makes me hopeful that this practice in writing that I enjoy so much could be one way to make the hobby I love a profession.  I have read a bit of Elizabeth Willard Thames’s Frugalwoods blog on and off since she started it back in 2014.  Her eschewing of the dangerous, unhealthy consumerist culture in the U.S. (while still functioning within that society) is something I have struggled in reaching my own personal goals.  I enjoyed reading even more when she became a mom and achieved her dream of homesteading, which is also when her blog picked up in popularity.  However, I was delighted to see that her first book was published in March–right when I began to get serious about my return to blogging!

Thames and her husband have achieved financial independence at an early age through a combination of hard work, frugality, and vision. Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living is the story behind the blog posts. I loved the story! I enjoyed parts of the book that rounded out the story–the details from her time as an Americorps VISTA volunteer and the process of buying the homestead and then settling into it were particularly interesting.

Thames is aware (and acknowledges) that she was in a privileged position to reach her goal, which some people have criticized, but I think she is quite sincere about her awareness of this privilege and appreciation for it. I admire how positive she stays, even when sharing some incidents that were undoubtedly painful and emotionally fraught (her depression while living in DC, her anxiety about work as a high-achieving liberal arts major after graduating from college, her daughter’s week and a bit in the ICU). I think this ability to focus on the positive and remain grateful for what opportunities and resources she has been given allows her to make the best use of those resources.

It would be easy to read this book and nitpick. I’ve read a lot of reviews of it that do so (the most common complaint seems to be that both Frugalwoods had extremely high salaries which she almost never mentions, and that Thames’s husband is still working full time in his well-paid, location-independent job; I don’t think that lessens the work, planning, and research they did to achieve their dream life). I hope Thames does not take these comments too much to heart.

I really do think the best thing Thames offers in her work is an understanding that long term financial goal achievement is only possible through positive perseverance and clarity in values alignment. While my family is currently restrained by some limitations she and her husband were not during their hyper-focus on their goal to purchase a homestead, I think she sets out a clear path to follow that could lead to whatever goals a person wanted to achieve, even if they take longer than she did.

Live the best life you can–the Frugalwoods do and encourage others to do so as well.  Thanks for writing, Liz!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review: The 10 Commandments of Money

I developed an interest in personal finance from a very young age.  When I was 9 or 10, I subscribed to a Consumer Reports kids-zine called Zillions and it was the greatest ever; I was so sad to find out it folded in 2000 so my own children cannot experience its wonders.  One of the writers about money matters who has been a voice of reason and clarity throughout my adulthood has been Liz Weston.  I loved everything she ever wrote at MSN, so I was happy when I found The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy at my library!

I appreciated the concept of this book because it focuses on demystifying standard financial advice offered to consumers during some extremely unusual economic situations.  She labels these concepts “old school” (reflecting the fears associated with people who were strapped financially during the high-interest, high-inflation period of the 70s, and even with Depression-era echoes) and “new school” the strange growth in both stocks and real estate leading up to the Great Recession).  She covers ten different financial topics, including debt, home ownership, and consumer issues.

Her prose is no-nonsense and her ideas are sensitive to the complexities of different financial situations and lifestyles. She offers sound, practical advice for individuals at every age and income bracket. This book did not disappoint. I did find her reliance on the 50-30-20 rule was depressing for my current situation (as a single income family with very young children and consumer debt, our “necessities” are quite a bit over 50% right now).  However, her chapters reminded me that some of the extreme financial advice I’d follow (early retirement/minimalist/ascetic-type spending) if I were living alone doesn’t work as well for a family.  The chapters about debt and retirement savings helped me view my own situation more realistically and reaffirmed the positive steps I’m taking in those areas. The chapter on marriage as a financial partnership was AWESOME and appreciated.

As usual, Weston’s advice is clear, thoughtful, nuanced, and yet accessible to the average reader.  She covers many different financial scenarios and realities for individuals to set their own goals.  I highly recommend her work for people who are just beginning to learn about personal finance.  This book in particular offers a lot of insights about the ways consumers are duped and how individuals can protect themselves and their money.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

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