Laura Vanderkam was nice enough to provide me with a copy of her book, All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending. I devoured it in a few hours which is pretty remarkable because I am really not into reading personal finance books. Her writing is crisp and clear and the examples and stories were again relevant and useful, like in her previous book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
What I liked about this book was that it was far more about the *philosophy of money* and what it could do for you, more than tactical tips about budgeting or doing crazy frugal things like washing out Ziploc bags for reuse (which she does talk about but in a different context.)
This book wasn't quite as useful to me as 168 Hours, simply because as a family we are on top of our finances, thanks to my fabulous hubby who actually likes that sort of thing. But it was an enjoyable read, and the exercises at the end were useful to clarify priorities in life, which can then inform how we choose to spend our money.
There were some really interesting ideas in there, too. One was creating the "perfect weekend" full of fun things to do. It was couched in terms of cost, and how "perfect" doesn't automatically mean expensive, but that section resonated with me more on the time management/planning side than the financial side. We often fritter away our weekends doing non-essential stuff, and not planning ahead, and on Sunday night we mourn that we didn't *do* anything with our weekend. This approach means planning activities ahead - not a wall-to-wall packed hourly schedule, but just a couple of activities each day, but still being able to adjust on the fly. I'm intrigued by the idea and will definitely do this in the future - more to maximize happiness than to minimize my spending.
Another idea that resonated with me was her view that finding work you really, truly enjoy means you're not just slogging it out until thankfully it's time to retire and play golf all day. That in fact, if you like your work, you might want to consider doing it *past* retirement age, and then continue to earn more. I interpreted this to mean that we also don't have to postpone our "big dreams" until we retire and have all that supposed free time - that we can pursue them now, and keep working at the same time. Or take breaks from working to pursue them and then go back.
I love her writing because she has opinions and I get a sense of the author's personality, unlike a lot of nonfiction which reads like college term papers, dry and lacking any personal insight. But that quality also made it frustrating to read at times - there were several points in the book where I flat out disagreed with her statements.
For example, in the chapter about how having more kids isn't necessarily a huge financial burden, she posits that it might not be necessary for parents to pay for their kids' college, and that private college tuition may not be "worth it". In some cases that may be true, and if your child is brilliant, they'll figure out a way to get a stellar education even with no college.
But for students like me who were smart but not super-extroverted "go-getters", going to a small private university where I was guaranteed personal attention was exactly what I needed. Quite simply I would have gotten lost in the shuffle at a huge state school and just coasted my way through as I did in my entire school career prior to that. For us, the cost of college (and potentially private school before that) is a huge financial consideration and given that we have the means to pay for college for our kids (if we're careful about our resources), it would be irresponsible of us not to plan for that.
The other chapter that didn't ring true for me was the one on charitable giving and the "selfish joy" it brings to people. I found the examples fascinating, but I just couldn't relate to the idea of getting personal satisfaction or pleasure out of giving to charity. Don't get me wrong, we write lots of checks to organizations we support and I try to research them to find ones that use the money wisely, but by and large I do it because it's just the right thing to do, not because it makes me feel good. I feel neutral about it - I see it as one of those things you do as part of a community, especially as someone who has a lot of blessings in her life. Perhaps that means I'm an unfeeling person.
In this book she definitely toned down her "everyone should do paid work full time" message, for which I was grateful (it was a consistent frustration for me in 168 Hours).
I loved the chapters where she talked about buying less house than you can afford (or the bank thinks you can afford), as well as scaling back the expenses related to the Engagement-Wedding Industrial Complex. This would be a great book for someone in their 20s just starting out in the "real world".
I definitely recommend reading it- even if you're super-responsible with your money, you'll likely come away with some new ideas after reading it. It's more about figuring out your overall life priorities than the nuts and bolts of personal finance, and that kind of introspection is good for everyone, right?