Book Review
Title: "The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams"
Author: Trent Hamm
Publisher: FT Press, 2010; 272 pages; $19.99

When it comes to personal financial advice, the field of books and blogs and gurus is cluttered.

And when it comes to changing human behavior — especially ingrained money patterns around indebtedness, spending and saving — it takes a very special touch to move the needle.

Book Review
Title: "The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams"
Author: Trent Hamm
Publisher: FT Press, 2010; 272 pages; $19.99

When it comes to personal financial advice, the field of books and blogs and gurus is cluttered.

And when it comes to changing human behavior — especially ingrained money patterns around indebtedness, spending and saving — it takes a very special touch to move the needle.

This genre is somewhat formulaic: tell a relatable story of inspiration, throw some action steps in and wrap it in a catchy brand — fini.

But what’s not so simple is truly capturing the heart and mind of a debt-ridden reader and striking upon the precise mix of words that flick their mental and behavioral switches so that they do something, and eventually many things, differently today, tomorrow, next week and next year than they did before they opened your book.

Paradoxically, blogger and author Trent Hamm’s book,"The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams," manages to achieve this not-so-simple, but very worthy aim.

Every word, action item and story told in this book, the literary manifestation of Hamm’s stripped-back brand, blog and message, is fully infused with a tone of straightforward, profound simplicity.

"Debt is a prison you choose." "Life is more unpredictable than you think … and almost all planning ignores that fact." "Focused debt repayment changed our lives." Hamm shares his (sometimes unconventional) epiphanies, the story of how he arrived at them, and then provides very immediate, powerful tips.

Here’s his story, in (very brief). Hamm was saddled with debt so large he feared opening the mail when his lovely wife found that — surprise! — she was pregnant.

A tearful breakdown at the sight of his infant son and the thought of how his debt would impact his child’s life served also as the breakthrough that propelled Hamm to begin a systematic program of slashing expenses, rethinking his family’s above-its-means lifestyle and selling stuff to reduce his debt, an exercise he eventually began to blog about.

In the long-term, Hamm ended up with zero debt and the resulting freedom to become a full-time writer and family man.

It is Hamm’s utterly relatable, everyman-turned-extraordinary story; his willingness to share the action steps he gleaned along his path that make "The Simple Dollar" interesting, readable and actionable.

Hamm is just a regular guy, like you and me, whose love for his son inspired him to get out of the debt hamster wheel and the resulting career rat race trap.

But it is his tone and voice that place his advice in that small slice of money advisories that simply make you want to follow it. Super simple. No perspective on the finance industry to push or investment theory to espouse.

Just: Here’s what I did, why I did it, and why it will work for you. And here’s how to get started, and how to stay inspired. You literally read it and just want to do some of this stuff, stat.

Another strength of Hamm’s advice: it is immediate. Every chapter concludes with five steps to achieve the top-level aim discussed in the chapter, and many of the steps can be executed or started that very day.

Momentum-builders? Check. Some steps speak directly to the challenges of maintaining that momentum, staying the course — probably the toughest part of this type of major behavior change.

Finally, Hamm thinks about and writes about his money, his debt and his life in a very real-world way that many financial advisers ignore. So many pundits assume that debt reduction is a worthy goal in and of itself, and that no additional motivation for taking the challenge of eliminating debt is necessary. Not so.

Hamm’s tack is much more reality-based, especially for Generations X, Y and Z: debt traps you. It limits your options. It forces you to do work of a particular type, for a particular amount of time, in a particular location and for a particular employer that is very likely not what you would choose if you could choose freely.

The potential freedom from these traps is a source of virtually endless motivation for a sustained debt-elimination regimen.

"The Simple Dollar" offers real-world advice for real people looking to free themselves from their debt and the limitations it places on the rest of their lives.

Appropriately, the advice contained therein does relate to, but is certainly not limited to financial advice.

There is much in "The Simple Dollar" about shifts in the way you view yourself, your life, your time, your family and your future, as well as the way you approach topics ranging from the grand, like your life goals and your relationship with your partner, to the petit, like cooking, eating, buying books and shopping for clothes.

For it’s uber-applicable steps, I would recommend "The Simple Dollar" strongly to anyone who struggles with debt, or spending less than they make. But I would go further and insist that you read this book if you are interested in creating an alternative, sustainable lifestyle without necessarily having a 9-to-5 job.

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