Monday, February 6, 2012

Book review: Pay it down!

Tomorrow I have to return a slew of library books, so I wanted to write up a quick review of one in particular. This book I picked up randomly because it looked interesting and also it doesn't cost money to borrow things from the library.

Jean Chatzky's Pay It Down: From Debt To Wealth On $10 A Day is a good, albeit soft, introduction to Mustachian principles for those starting out in debt. It's an easy read and it's relatively short, and from a purely aesthetic point of view I really like the book's compactness — it reads like a get-out-of-debt handbook.

There is good advice throughout, including for people who aren't drowning in debt (says the guy who is merely wading through it). I particularly found the chapter titled "Know and Manage Your Credit Score" interesting. She laid out basically a dummy's guide to credit scores, including the different components that affect your score, and how to improve each component. While the senior Mustachian would scoff at making a serious effort to improve one's credit score (not least of all because the senior Mustachian likely has a very good credit score to begin with), for people with a significant amount of credit card debt, a better credit score can translate into many saved interest dollars.

The chapter titles do a good job of summarizing the book. For those of you familiar with the teachings of MMM, many of these will look familiar: "Assess the Problem", "Break Your Challenge into Manageable Steps", "Know and Manage Your Credit Score", "Track Your Spending", "Find the Money", "Consolidating Your Debts", "Spending Less", "Making Hard Choices, Selling Assets, Earning More", "Pay It Down — Intelligently", "How to Deal When Things Go Wrong", and "Staying Ahead of the Game". If these seem obvious then Pay It Down! is probably the wrong book for you, but I did find it a reassuring and confidence-boosting read.

I do think "kinder, gentler MMM" is a good characterization of the author. If I had to predict the chapter titles of a future book by Mr. Money Mustache, they would include "IT'S AN EMERGENCY!", "7 Habits to Punch in the Face", and "Hedonic Adaptation is for Sukkas".

By promulgating the "fix your debt problems with only $10 per day" approach Chatzky lays out a formula that should be acceptable to most docile, sedentary Americans. A large benefit is a checklist for "found money", different pieces of a budget that one can trim, and examples of how to trim it. For example, "Cable: Low priority. If you can do without it and still get basic TV, cancel. If not, go to basic." The point is to be palatable to common folk, don't do anything too crazy, that you don't need to be one of those gosh darn frugality freaks to get back on track.

But speaking from experience, I've found that the more drastic changes you can make to your lifestyle, not only will you get to financial independence more quickly (duh), but also you wind up happier faster. It's amazing in retrospect how many of the things I considered comforts were actually shackles. Though now that I'm trying to think of an example, all I can come up with is buying books on Amazon versus borrowing from the library. It takes some getting used to but afterwards you'll most likely feel like you're better off than you were in the first place.

Go read Mr. Money Mustache for some better examples.

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