Wednesday, June 06, 2012

All the Money in the World: Book Review

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?


  1. I can't wait for your review on YMoYL! Like oilandgarlic, I think you'll like reading the two in close succession-- even more insight. (They both get at the idea of opportunity costs and compensating differentials, but the authors definitely have different preferences of where they want to be on the labor/leisure trade-off.)

    1. I just ordered YMoYL today - paper copy was $3 cheaper on Amazon so I got that one. I'm looking forward to it - thanks for the reco!

  2. I actually have this book on my coffee table. Its staring at me, begging me to pick it up. I don't necessarily get a "feel good" feeling from donating either. I do it because I want to and I know the money can go to good use somewhere. It never dawned on me that I was supposed to get pleasure out of that. I was just raised to give back.

    As for college and paying for it, I was fortunate to have parents who think like you do. The thing that bothers me are the kids today who assume it's the obligation of the parents to pay for college. Not everyone has the means, or the strength to save for their kids college. But I tell you, your kids will be thrilled that you did.

    1. Jenn - Oh yeah, I get that there are lots of people who CANNOT afford to pay for their kids' college. But we know of some folks who *can* but choose not to, or decide their kids can just work it out on their own. I guess I feel like their priorities aren't in the right place...

      And I'm glad to hear someone else gives to charity because it's the right thing to do. In fact if someone makes too big a deal about it, I get kind of embarassed ;)

      Read the book and tell me what you think!

    2. Fortunately for parents who really cannot afford to pay for their kids' college (really cannot afford... not, we don't want to spend the money we usually spend on annual our vacation to Hawaii for tuition can't afford), there's generally reasonable amounts of financial aid if they get into good enough (endowed enough) schools.

      I give to charity for several reasons:
      1. I'm a soft touch when it comes to stories about hungry kids or kids not getting education or kitties not having homes. Giving money helps the crying stop (is that feeling warm glow?)
      2. Sometimes our donations actually make a difference (see local private school)
      3. Sometimes donating is in our best selfish interest (see: donating to alma mater to get USNews rating up, donating to DC's class to get extra activities)

    3. Good points. I guess I hear a lot of people (esp our age) say things like "Kid will just have to get a scholarship, or State U is cheaper so we'll just save a little bit or (for realz) we'd rather remodel our kitchen" and it drives me nuts. But then again, I guess those people have different priorities. I don't know what kind of education my kid will need - maybe it'll just be 2 years of vocational school, who knows, and we'll have all this extra money left over. But it seems right to plan for the *most expensive* possibility rather than make the decision up front, you know?

      re #3, I don't see that as charity as much as the extra cost of having kids (even if it is tax-deductible in some cases!). #1 is sort of the same for me, but I guess I still don't actively "feel good" about it - just maybe less bad, like you say :)


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