(Note: The author of this book, J. Steve Miller, provided me with two copies to review and give away. I’ve tried not to let that fact influence my review, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I felt it was important to let you know the whole truth. Now, onto the review!)
Enjoy Your Money! is rather different from the average personal finance book. Rather than a dry guide to what you should and shouldn’t do with your money, it’s a story of a diverse group of teenagers (The Counterculture Club), their somewhat eccentric adviser Mrs. Kramer, and how they learned to manage their money and their lives during their teen years. Could their experiences help you to learn how to enjoy your money? Let’s find out!
Given the number of people who come and go in the book, as well as my troubles keeping characters straight without a playbill, I figured I should start things off by listing the people mentioned in the book, along with some defining characteristics. The first four are the members of the Counterculture Club (hereafter called the CC, so I can save some time typing), while the others are the various people they meet with during the course of their club meetings:
James: African-American member of the club, hard working and eager to get ahead. Also, likes cars, a lot.
Antonio: Laid-back Hispanic guy, likes the outdoors and physical fitness. Not a morning person.
Amy: Atypical blonde girl, both smart and into punk and goth fashion. Good at math, and rather flirtatious.
Akashi: Bold, assertive Asian girl who bristles whenever anyone implies that she should be good at math. Would rather play video games than study.
Mrs. Kramer: Adviser to the CC, Social Studies (and Personal Finance) teacher whose thrift and good investing allowed her to accumulate a small fortune while doing what she loved.
Larry: Waiter at the restaurant where the CC met (and had their reunion), his questions led to the flashbacks that make up the book.
Hash Brown: Mrs. Kramer’s old friend and frequent co-investor; owns the restaurant where the club’s meetings took place.
Travis: Country boy and real estate investor. Owns a number of hound dogs and loves working on his trucks.
Carmen: James’ sister and a single mother; loves to save money while shopping using her ‘Blitz Shopping’ technique.
The book starts with a scene of Antonio helping a Down’s syndrome boy mountain climb, then getting such a rush he decides to call a reunion of the CC. They all meet a few months later at Hash Brown’s restaurant, and their chatting and stories of their successes in life caused Larry their waiter to ask about how they all became (in his eyes) so successful in their lives. They all agree to tell them how they learned.
Flashback to high school for the CC members. Amy, Akashi, James, and Antonio are all serving In School Suspension for a variety of offenses, and while waiting for the supervising teacher to arrive, get talking about the subject of money (and the poor money management skills exhibited by the adults in their lives). Asking the coach in charge of watching them for help, he directs them to Mrs. Kramer, who tells them how she accumulated more than half a million dollars toward an early retirement and agrees to teach them over a series of breakfasts (as long as they pay to cover the breakfast costs). Viola, the CC is formed!
The rest of the book is laid out in the series of breakfasts that the club attends, each devoted to a different aspect of money management and personal finance. The first breakfast sets the stage for the group to understand money. Mrs. Kramer passes out a list of facts about Americans and money (mostly emphasizing how sad a state the average American is in, money wise) and shares the story of Oseola McCarty, a washer woman who managed to accumulate more than a quarter million dollars through diligent savings and ended up giving most of it away. The chapter ends (as with every chapter) with discussion questions and a guide to other sources of information.
The second breakfast starts with Akashi and Antonio setting up a date (without Antonio having much say in the matter…) and then discusses the power of compound interest. Starting with the story of Warren Buffet (who better to exemplify the ideal investor?), the group then spends most of the breakfast discovering the power of multiplication when it comes to their finances, and how a relatively small investment can grow to great sizes with enough time. The group reflects on compound interest and its ability to make wealth (or debts) grow.
The third breakfast begins with Akashi and Antonio reflecting on their date, before introducing Hash Brown and having him describe some of the mistakes he’s made with investing in the past. There’s quite a few examples of where you can go wrong investing in stocks (trying to pick the ‘right’ individual stock or investing before building an emergency fund), scaring most of the CC members away from stock investing (and really, investing period).
Breakfast number four starts with problems developing between Akashi and Antonio, with Akashi thinking that Amy is trying to steal Antonio. Mrs. Kramer tells them to leave all the emotions outside, before calling them in. After hearing that the teens are worried about investing, she tells about inflation and how NOT investing will ensure that their money loses value. Hash Brown and Mrs. Kramer then explain how the safest and easiest way to invest their money is through mutual funds, particularly index funds, making sure to hold an array of US stock, foreign stock, and bond funds (after building a sizable emergency fund, of course). Dollar cost averaging and rebalancing are also discussed.
We meet up with Travis during the fifth breakfast. He shares how he started by buying cars and trucks that were in need of repair and fixing them up to resell them, and how he moved from there to doing the same with real estate. He shares some advice on investing and other money management tips to prepare for a recession or depression, and then reluctantly shares his net worth. The chapter ends with Amy flirting with him pretty aggressively.
Breakfast six is a bit different, to say the least. Mrs. Kramer gets abducted by a homeless man (apparently her brother, who had fallen on hard times), the CC follows in a high speed chase with James at the wheel, and after drawing the attention of the cops, manage to get things squared away. The events also led Akashi to a closer connection to Mrs. Kramer, one that helped her get her life squared away.
After all that excitement, the seventh breakfast seems a bit uneventful by comparison. It gets into the importance of saving (and brings Carmen into the group). Mrs. Kramer brings up the point that most millionaires, contrary to popular belief, live fairly modest lifestyles, investing and saving money rather than spending it on the appearance of wealth. The group takes some time to look over James’ spending habits, and finds ways to save a great deal of money by cutting down his fast food and gas spending (to help him save for a spoiler).
Breakfast number eight has Carmen taking the lead, with the CC going on a field trip to the local store and learning how to save on their shopping. Carmen passes on much of her hard-earned saving knowledge, from using generics and comparing the price ‘per ounce’ to get the best deal to stocking up on non-perishable items when there’s a great deal (all part of her ‘Blitz Shopping’ methods). She also manages to tease James quite a bit about stool softeners. Breakfast nine continues the savings spree, this time looking at savings on cars. James, the resident car expert, takes the lead, showing ways to spend little or no money on cars over your lifetime. (The latter methods included walking, public transportation, using company cars, or buying, repairing and using cars before reselling them.) There’s also tips on how to cut down gas expenses and other costs of owning cars, as well.
Breakfast ten covers houses and real estate (after a brief discussion where James shares how much he wants a Porsche). There’s quite a few suggestions that get bandied about by the CC and Mrs. Kramer on how to spend less (up to fifty percent less) when purchasing a house, from getting a bargain on the purchase price to getting a shorter term lease (and paying it off ahead of time, if possible). Breakfast eleven is a rather long one, covering many of the mistakes people make with money that can derail their financial plans. The list includes everything from abusing drugs and alcohol and abusing credit cards to gambling and trying to get rich quick.
Breakfast twelve kicks off the ‘Making Money’ part of the book, focusing on finding your dream job. You start by knowing yourself (what you’re good at and enjoy doing), know the job market, and learn how to get a job (particularly the importance of getting job leads from friends and family). The thirteenth breakfast continues the job thought process, telling you how to excel at your job. It stresses the importance of social and life skills over intelligence and encourages you to work to build a team to compensate for your weaknesses, as well as working on relational skills.
Breakfast fourteen is all about investing in your mind, building your mental repertoire. Most of the lessons are shown through the example of Sam Walton (Wal-Mart Founder), from working around your weaknesses and building on your strengths to learning from every source possible (books, employees, competitors, your mistakes, etc.).
Breakfast fifteen is all about finding happiness in the right places. (Side Note: every chapter begins with a quote, usually related to the material within. This chapter starts with one from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song ‘Everything You Know Is Wrong’, which makes me happy. That is all.) The rest of the breakfast goes through some of the ways to make sure you lead a happy life, including helping others, not envying others, and immersing yourself in something you love. It ends with Mrs. Kramer giving back all the money she collected for the breakfasts (with interest), giving the CC members a head start on saving and investing.
The book’s Epilogue covers where they are now. Larry (our waiter/story instigator) was put in charge of Hash Brown’s restaurant, paid off his credit cards, and settled down with one of the waitresses. Carmen was ‘discovered’ thanks to her Blitz Shopping techniques, and got a spot on the a shopping network. James got a job at a Porsche dealership, made retirement by age of 45 (which, if I understand the time line of this book, would be around the year 2030…), and after a nasty divorce, fell in love with a fellow volunteer at a soup kitchen. Antonio leads extreme wilderness adventures for troubled teens, Akashi started a clothing store that made the Fortune 500 (and married Antonio after popping the question), and Amy does market research for Akashi, counsels troubled teens and plays in a punk bank. She also ended up marrying Travis after he proposed at a Dairy Queen. Mrs. Kramer, after a short stint in an assisted living center, ended up touring the world with Hash Brown, both well over the age of eighty. The book ends with some example budget sheets.
–Good Introduction to Personal Finance: This book is quite thorough in covering the myriad aspects of money management, from investing to giving to charity. It covers much of the math and other tricky aspects of personal finance well, with clear and understandable explanations. It’s easy to understand, even if you’re not a financial wunderkind.
–Excellently Sourced Information: One of the things that I liked most about this book was the amount of supporting material provided. It references some of the masters of financial information, from Warren Buffet to Sam Walton, and provides a healthy list of references at the end for support. Each chapter also ends with a list of sources for further information about the topics covered.
-A Unique Personal Finance Book…: This book stands out from most other personal finance books I’ve read due to the narrative form it takes. Rather than reading like a money text book, it feels more like a fiction book (with a strong personal finance angle). It’s hard not to see some of yourself in the characters included (I especially like Akashi; it’s hard for me to resist a girl whose biggest indulgence is Final Fantasy video games).
-…But Possibly Too Different For Some: If you get a lot out of traditional personal finance books, you probably won’t care for this book. As with anything, different people respond to different methods of learning; perhaps a less narrative method suits you better. Different strokes for different folks, and all that.
–Not Much Depth: As the expression goes, this book is ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. While it provides a decent introduction to investing, saving, and spending smart, there’s a great deal of material about these subjects that doesn’t get covered. It’s a decent introduction, but doesn’t do more than scratch the surface for most of the covered subjects.
–Some Odd Narrative Twists: It’s not often I find myself in a position to critique a book with a plot line, but given the narrative nature of this book, I feel I should address it. There are some aspects of the storyline that seem a bit implausible (see the kidnapping/car chase scene in breakfast six), and everyone’s happy ending seems a bit, well, too easily wrapped up (to say nothing of the fact that, as mentioned, James’ ending seems to take place well into the future, if the time frame presented in the book is accurate). Admittedly, it’s a personal finance book, and the narrative is arguably secondary to the personal finance information, but it’s still weird at times.
Enjoy Your Money! is a pretty solid introduction to personal finance, investing and saving. The narrative style is an interesting change, and might appeal to you (or someone you’d like to know more about money) even if other personal finance books haven’t done the trick. It provides an alternative view on how to share basic personal information, which merits a decent read through, particularly if you’re a teenager trying to get a handle on your personal finances.
Alright, I’ve been talking long enough; now is the time you’ve been waiting for, the giveaway! As mention, J. Steve Miller gave me two copies of this book, and now I’m going to give them away to two lucky readers!
To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment here, telling me which character in the book seems most like you. Think that Amy sounds like your type of girl? Share James’ car addiction (and possible time traveling abilities)? Are you like me and think that Akashi sounds like a fun (albeit gamer nerdy) girl? Let me know what you think, and you’ll get a chance to win a copy of this book.
I’ll choose two respondents at random on June 15th; be sure to put down a choice before then for a chance to win! P.S. To find out more about the book, either check out the Amazon reviews, or see the press page for an author interview, free chapters, reviews, etc.