Title: "7 Money Rules for Life: How to Take Control of Your Financial Future"
Author: Mary Hunt
Publisher: Revell, 2012; 208 pages; $17.99
I used to dread almost everything about money except making it, spending it and giving it (charitably). Tracking it, budgeting it, planning around it: That all felt like minutiae I had zero time, energy or interest in, and I told myself the myth that if I simply made enough, the rest would take care of itself.
Suffice it to say, that’s just not how it works. Even Oprah still signs the big checks.
Eventually, after some money dramas and an intense course in self-education, including a course in Conscious Bookkeeping, I came to see things in almost exactly the opposite light. I find the ability to live without money crises and the experience of planning, projecting and even monitoring my money matters to be completely soothing: It’s like the ultimate self-care.
The feeling of having control and mastery of your money matters is a feeling, I’ve realized, that most Americans don’t have. Many feel like their debt and spending and even incomes are entirely out of their control; others feel like they are powerless over money; still others err on the other extreme of the spectrum, being so stingy and obsessive about cash that they experience no enjoyment from what they do have whatsoever.
Enter Mary Hunt, founder and publisher of Debt-Free Living, an organization specializing in personal finance education and tools. Hunt is a former spending addict whose fondness for "buy-now-pay-later" shopping and an encounter with a get-rich business scheme wound her family on the brink of bankruptcy. She and her husband toiled their way back from that brink, eventually processing their experiences and learnings into Debt-Free Living.
Hunt explains that her two most daunting obstacles at the beginning of her financial recovery were (a) her utter financial ignorance, beyond how to kite checks and juggle credit card balances, and (b) the overwhelm she felt at the prospect of trying to unravel a financial catastrophe. Now, to help others who are facing down their own post-recession finance dramas eliminate their own financial illiteracy and overwhelm, Hunt has just published "7 Money Rules of Life: How to Take Control of Your Financial Future."
Here are three of those rules:
1. Spend less than you earn. You might be thinking, as my Millennial friends are wont to say: "Obvi!" (The -ous, apparently, is implied.) But the age-old (and unlikely to change anytime soon) personal finance adage about spending less than you earn is somewhat akin to its personal fitness cousin, eat less and move more: Everyone knows it’s true, but many still fail to do it.
So, Hunt starts at the very beginning with this cardinal rule, and a number of specific strategies for people who are already living paycheck to paycheck, and debting to cover everything else. Nothing here is revolutionary — Hunt’s tips for what she calls "widening the gap between income and expenses" are uber-basics like staying away from the stores, limiting your exposure to ads, living on cash (i.e., no plastic allowed) and even getting a side job.
But that’s very consistent with my own experience of getting into financial integrity: there are no tricks. Sometimes it’s helpful, though, for someone who’s been there to cut through all the financial wizardry and "guru"-dom out there and just spell it out, plain and simple. That’s what Hunt does here.
2. Anticipate your irregular expenses. I know some money gurus advocate strongly for an emergency fund, but I also know that many financially stable people scoff at the notion on grounds that life is nothing but emergencies, so living on less than you make as a rule puts you in good stead. Hunt falls into the former camp, encouraging readers to save enough cash that they could cover all their living expenses for six months with no paycheck in the event of a layoff or medical problem — separate and apart from their retirement savings.
In her discussion of this rule, Hunt exemplifies her general approach, deactivating the overwhelm and common objections at the daunting target dollar amount for this savings by acknowledging them, then tackling them head on with excuse-killing strategies and very clear instructions on how to execute this rule, motivationally and logistically speaking.
3. Tell your money where to go. Hunt confesses her own aversion to the concept of a restrictive budget and educates readers about how she replaced it with the concept of a directional spending plan, which she describes lovingly as being "like strapping on a pair of wings and learning how to fly."
Like every good money maven, Hunt encourages readers to lay out their income and expenses, on paper, and prods them with the power and the purpose of the spending plan they can create as a result. She then walks readers through the process of creating a spending plan in whatever way makes sense for them, on- or offline, and revisiting and tweaking it until it is accurate and functioning to serve its purpose: "not to force you into a life of deprivation but rather to prevent overspending, which will keep you from falling into debt."
Nothing about "7 Money Rules" involves surprising tricks or secret strategies. It’s all basic. But it’s all there. And if you’re struggling with the overwhelm or simply don’t even know where to begin the process of seizing control over your finances, "7 Money Rules" is an uber-approachable, clear and actionable place to begin.