Don’t judge a book by its cover. Most especially, don’t judge a personal finance book by its cover. Books promising quick riches and sure-fire investment schemes are generally filled with impractical gimmicks, or lead the reader into the land of financial risk, where fortunes are lost more often than they’re made.

Sometimes it’s the most unassuming of books that offers the best advice, that can actively help you on your quest to get rich slowly. Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two-Income Economy by Jonni McCoy is one of these books.

Miserly Moms doesn’t offer advice for the Big Picture. Its focus is helping people save money on the little things. The book is ostensibly a guide for stay-at-home mothers, but is actually filled with useful tips for anyone who is concerned with frugality, especially for parents with young children.

Many books have been written on how to be thrifty. Some are theoretical in their approach, filled with interviews with other frugal people and impersonal statistics. Some are focused on a specific way to save, such as reducing credit card debt or using grocery coupons. Others try to be broad but are too extreme, cutting back in every aspect of life whether it is cost effective or not.

There is nothing theoretical in this book. It is a testimony of our journey. We are a two-income yuppie family that chose to make a lifestyle change. We have lived out all of the advice I suggest here.

At the core of McCoy’s philosophy are her Eleven Miserly Guidelines:

  1. Don’t confuse frugality with depriving yourself.
  2. Remove little wasters of money.
  3. Keep track of food prices.
  4. Don’t buy everything at the same store.
  5. Buy in bulk whenever possible.
  6. Make your own whenever possible.
  7. Eliminate convenience foods.
  8. Cut back on meats.
  9. Waste nothing.
  10. Institute a soup and bread night (or baked potato night).
  11. Cook several meals at once and freeze them.

(Several of these topics have been discussed previously at Get Rich Slowly. See Healthy Food on an Unhealthy Budget and Once-a-Month Cooking.)

The first hundred pages of Miserly Moms explores each of these Eleven Miserly Guidelines in detail. The final half of the book offers an array of techniques for saving money. For example, McCoy offers a chapter of cheap and nutritious recipes, a chapter giving hints on how to save on utilities, a chapter on cheap crafts for kids. She discusses clothing, medical expenses, and baby care. At each step she offers practical tips such as this:

Avoid the so-called sales at the big name department stores. The bigger-name stores have inflated prices and then have 40 to 50 percent off “sales” to lure you in. Compare their prices to the discount department stores.

At the end of every chapter, McCoy lists additional books and resources related to the topic. The cumulative list is compiled in an appendix.

McCoy’s style is clear and engaging. She makes her points quickly and offers scores of first-hand anecdotes as examples of how she has implemented her ideas into her own frugal household.

Though Miserly Moms is a good book, I don’t agree with all of its advice. For example, McCoy recommends that you shop for groceries at several stores to find the best deals. Yet she also argues that one shouldn’t forget the value of time. These ideas seem contradictory. I believe that one should learn one store well, and then shop its bargains. Shopping at multiple stores is a waste of time and gas. (See The True Cost of Car Ownership.)

I also suspect that McCoy exaggerates when she tabulates the cost of having a job. There’s plenty of overhead to maintaining a career, but if it were really as expensive as she claims, there would be more stay-at-home parents.

These complaints are minor, though, and don’t detract from the crux of the book: saving money by being thrifty. Like many personal finance books, Miserly Moms is written from a Christian perspective. Despite this, it would make a fine resource for parents of any faith. Stay-at-home moms (or dads) may want to own this book. Other thrifty folks will probably glean plenty by simply borrowing it from the library, as I did.

Author Jonni McCoy has a website entitled miserlymoms.com which features reader-submitted tips, a question-and-answer section, and more.

(If you find Miserly Moms interesting, you may also want to check out Living Simply with Children, which was recommended by a Get Rich Slowly reader. I have it on hold at the library — I will read it and review it soon.)

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