Title: "Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance"
Author: Lisa Desjardins and Rick Emerson
Publisher: Avery, 2011; 304 pages; $18 paperback, $9.99 eBook
Zombie films are not exactly my first choice in entertainment. I find it difficult to suspend disbelief to the extent necessary to really be on the edge of my seat in suspense to see whether the living person gets overtaken by the dead, or rather, undead one. (Seems to be something’s wrong if you can’t outrun or take on someone dead. Just saying.)
However, there is one zombie film that I find to be completely entertaining and, in fact, hilarious. "Zombieland," which features Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson — with an extremely funny cameo by Bill Murray — seeks to brief viewers on the 32 rules the living should observe when trying to battle their way through hordes of the undead.
For example, Rule No. 1 in "Zombieland" is cardio — "Zombies lead a very active lifestyle. So should you." This references all the heavy folks who get taken out by very energetic zombies in the movies — in this way, "Zombieland" makes an entire movie by making tongue-in-cheek fun of basically every zombie movie that came before it.
In the same vein, though with less comedy and more utility, authors Lisa Desjardins and Rick Emerson use the zombie film genre and its formulaic elements to generate a stripped-down, financial survival guide in "Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance" (Avery, 2011).
I’m not a huge fan of gimmicks for gimmicks’ sake, or of fearmongering, in money books. But notwithstanding the silly blood-spattered images of currency with zombie forms of Abe Lincoln and zombie Ben Franklin featured on the cover of "Zombie Economics," I actually found the zombie gimmick to be a little more substantive than it seemed at first bite … I mean glance. (Pardon the cheese-ball zombie pun — I couldn’t help myself.)
Fact is, the premise of a zombie film is that the characters try to survive an apocalyptic scenario on a totally tweaked set of rules from those of our normal world by any means necessary (of course, most of the entertainment value comes from watching the demise of those who don’t make it, but that’s a different point).
The premise of "Zombie Economics" is similar. The authors declare that "a Zombie Economy is any financial situation that puts your stability and future in jeopardy," from a global recession to a personal job loss, credit card debt or other life events that pose a serious threat to your financial survival. I buy that. Many Americans have or still are facing down serious financial "zombies."
And from this premise, the rest of "Zombie Economics" unfolds with a sequence of actions that Desjardins and Emerson insist readers take immediately — not after reading the rest of the book, but right as they read them — to defend and protect their personal economies from encroaching threats.
The authors simply use the campy absurdity of the zombie film world to organize and sequence a sound financial survival plan, making it more entertaining (and less dull and scary) than it would otherwise be.
Fortunately, instead of fomenting panic and fear, the authors choose to take a no-nonsense, forceful, you-can-and-will-survive tone, messaging that readers absolutely can prevail in taking on their financial zombies if they proceed, quickly and logically.
Throughout, they use the zombie theme as a hook, incorporating sidebar tips with "biohazard," "head shot" and "brain food" icons, and starting and ending each chapter with a zombie scenario that sets the stage for the personal financial actions they recommend, even insist, that readers take.
First, Desjardins and Emerson demand that readers shore up the doors and windows and collect all their personal financial weapons by stopping right where they are in the book to prepare a few square feet of space for a hard-core, immediate audit (opening every envelope, listing off every bill; getting clear on every single cent of income they have, from salary to tips to side jobs; understand where their money goes every month, and shoring up any cash flow leakage) from excessive monthly tax withholdings to late fees and penalties, to other monthly expenses that can be slashed.
They then offer more tips on stockpiling ammo in a section on saving, including some fairly counterintuitive advice to start saving now — even before bills are paid off — both because of the habit it creates and the survival power that cash carries in the event of a financial worst-case scenario.
"Zombie Economy" goes on to advise readers facing their own zombie economies to stay out of the graveyard by not quitting their jobs — no matter how much they hate them — unless certain circumstances exist that make it advisable, and even offer some 21st-century options for finding fulfillment in life in spite of having to work a day job they dislike.
Next, mirroring Rule No. 1 of "Zombieland," comes a chapter entitled "They’ll Eat the Fat Ones First: Fitness as a Financial Asset," which offers a set of financial advice around the intersections of physical wellness and wealth, from how managing your weight saves you money in the short and long term, to health insurance issues and other lifestyle tips that protect your body and your bank account.
Virtually every personal finance book offers advice for people who have jobs and money to save or invest; few give the more urgently needed advice for those who are currently unemployed or without health insurance. "Zombie Economics" answers this need, offering advice on both how to prevent worst-case scenarios and how people should operate in the midst of their financial bottoms — this, some will find especially useful.
One example in the book follows the "Fitness" chapter — a section on how to live, not just financially, but how to manage your time, fitness and interpersonal relationships and more while you are unemployed, with the ultimate aim of getting employed and preventing your life from falling apart in the process.
Relationships with the financially infected — which can be contagious through co-signing, commingling and lending them money, among other things — become the bull’s-eye for aim in the next chapter, provocatively titled "Shooting Dad in the Head."
The authors’ advice on creating an automated financial defense system, avoiding fraud, understanding when to declare bankruptcy (i.e., burn down the house, in zombie-speak), and maintaining the motivation it takes to survive a long-term personal zombie economy round out the rest of the book.
Assuming that readers will, in fact, prevail over their own zombie economies, the authors conclude the book with a set of strategies for zombie-proofing your recovered finances for the long haul.
"Zombie Economics" may not be for everybody, but if you are facing your own personal financial apocalypse — or you’ve been in one for months or years now, with no end in sight — it might be for you, no matter how much (or how little) you think you’d dislike the zombie theme.
The fact is, the advice provided in the book and the voice, tone and simplicity with which it is presented hold the potential to educate and motivate readers to tackle and implement a do-it-yourself financial salvation in the midst of their darkest economic seasons.