Book Review
Title: "How to Be Richer, Smarter and Better-Looking Than Your Parents"
Author: Zac Bissonnette
Publisher: Portfolio/Penguin; 2012; 256 pages; $17

Zac Bissonnette is this generation’s uber-contrarian. He’s spent his college and post-college years building an explosive platform teaching his peers the ins and outs of securing a college education, without racking up the debt that seems to be its inescapable companion in modern-day America.

But Zac’s no longer in college, nor are his peers. So at the ripe old age of 23, Zac is back with a new mission: to provide detours around the many financial traps that ensnare so many newly-minted college grads as they embark upon life as "grown-ups."

As I peruse the dozens of smiling high-school and college graduation photos flooding my Facebook timeline, it strikes me that there’s no time like the present for these young adults to trade their caps and gowns in for a primer on living a debt-free lifestyle. The time to learn these lessons is before they hit college or the job market, and start making the money mistakes so many Americans see as a rite of passage.

Parents, grandparents and others who wish these grads well would do them a lifelong financial favor to give them the graduation gift of Bissonnette’s latest book, "How to Be Richer, Smarter and Better-Looking Than Your Parents," in which they will find such insights as these new adult gems:

1. Thrift, not Money, Makes You Happier. Bissonnette cites sheer laziness, inattention and lack of self-control as the source of the most common money woes, and the emotional distress they create. And, on the flip side, he points to data showing that the thrifty among us have higher happiness, self-esteem, health and just about everything else young adults hope to have and create in their lives.

Bissonnette knows his audience, so he takes care to redefine thrift not as stinginess or cheapness, but as "the condition of one who thrives" or is "endowed with good luck, good fortune, wealth and health." He calls his peers out on the entitlement and "I deserve it" attitude for which they are so frequently criticized, pointing out that, "Everyone on the planet deserves food, but there are plenty of people in Third World countries who don’t have it because they can’t afford it. If there is no universal life force that entitles people to food, there certainly isn’t one that entitles you to an iPad or hardwood floors."

Bissonnette then uses his call to thrift as the foundation for a framework of minimizing financial misery and boosting happiness with a "secure financial platform" based on self-control.

2. Competitive Consumption Kills. Bissonnette surfaces the fact that the urge to keep up with the Joneses is still alive and well within his peer group, and offers readers a variety of strategies for managing this compulsion. These range from encouraging them to actually visualize the invisible financial truths of status symbols (i.e., the car payments and low savings account balances that might correspond with a peer’s new BMW) to surfacing the true emotional void excessive spending might be an effort to fill. Doing the math on exactly how many hours of work it will take to pay for a desired luxury purchase is another trick Bissonnette advises readers to add to their arsenal of mindset management tools to kill overspending.

3. Doing the work and the math leads to smart buys. Bissonnette knows the reality of a new adult’s priorities, and so offers smart strategies for buying cars, tech gadgets, homes and even food, wisely. Instead of taking out a loan to buy a new car, for example, he suggests buying a beater, then saving up and trading up to a better ride. Similarly, he instructs readers to save on electronics by buying them used or refurbished, and to go lower-tech on digital content purchases like music and books, so that they can have the hard copy CD or book to give away or resell when they’re done reading or downloading it.

Every new adult won’t be ready for Bissonnette’s book, but the smart ones will. Many others will find themselves scrounging for it on the shelf in a couple of years, after their first encounter with burdensome credit card debt or other financial calamity.

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