While on vacation I found time to read five personal finance books, each of which was good in its own way. Rather than swamp you with book reviews, I’m going to space them out over the next few weeks. Here’s the first.

One of my goals for the next two years is to write a book about personal finance. I want it to be a practical volume filled with great tips, while also exploring the personal side of money issues. The real trick is that I want it to be a short book — no quizzes, no jargon, no padding — and that’s not something that appeals to most publishers. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Michael Mihalik has already written a book similar to the one I have in mind!

The body of Debt is Slavery (and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money) is just 88 pages packed with sensible advice about money. Like me, Mihalik made some dumb financial choices when he was young, and he spent years struggling to recover from his mistakes. Debt is Slavery is the distillation of all that he has learned about personal finance. If you’ve been reading Get Rich Slowly for a while, Mihalik’s lessons won’t be new, but he does an excellent job of presenting each point.

Here are the ten lessons the author wishes he had learned when he was younger:

  1. Debt is slavery. Mihalik discusses secured debt and unsecured debt, credit cards, mortgages, and more. He explains how working to pay off debt is little more than slavery: you’re working because you have to.
  2. Money is time. Those who have read Your Money or Your Life will be familiar with this concept, the trade-off between work and dollars. Whenever you buy something, you’re not just spending money on it — you’re literally spending time. Money is a representation of hours worked, and when you buy frivolous things, you’re squandering hours of your life.
  3. Possessions are a prison. This is a concept that I’ve only recently begun to understand. Kris and I have been on a de-cluttering kick lately. Slowly, and in stages, we’ve been purging much of what we own. This was painful at first, but has become more liberating with time. Mihalik has a few simple rules for controlling the stuff in your life — they’re excellent.
  4. Don’t let advertising brainwash you. I’ve written before about the insidious power of marketing. (And I have another entry on this subject coming soon.) Mihalik decries the Great Marketing Machine and its drive to hook us on status and fashion.
  5. Money buys freedom. Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy freedom. Money can give you more options. This concept is closely tied to “possessions are a prison”. (This section reminds me of The 4-Hour Workweek, which I will review soon.)
  6. Don’t sell your soul for a salary. Money should not be your primary motive for choosing a career. Consider job fulfillment, educational opportunities, and personal values. Try to find work you love.
  7. Own. Mihalik admits this advice might seem to contradict his previous notion that possessions are a prison. “Income-consuming assets can imprison us, he writes (echoing the good part of Robert Kiyosaki’s advice). “Income-producing assets set us free.” Don’t buy Stuff — instead, invest your money in things like mutual funds and real estate, things that make money and not consume it.
  8. Spend less than you earn. What can I say about this? It’s the fundamental law of wealth. Mihalik explains how to meet this objective by controlling your expenses.
  9. Save 50% of your salary. This is the most ambitious advice in the book, but I like it. Mihalik writes, “Have you ever asked yourself how people who immigrate to the United States can come here, get a low-paying job, and open their own business five years later? How can they do that, making around minimum wage, when you can’t, making more than minimum wage? They save. They save 50 percent or more of their salary. They don’t go into debt, they work hard and make other sacrifices, so they can buy their own business and control their financial destinies.”
  10. Control your money. In the book’s final chapter, Mihalik lays down an approach to making all of these goals workable. He explains how to eliminate debt, minimize expenses, and create a financial plan.

Finally, Mihalik admonishes his readers to start now!

Debt is Slavery is a great personal finance book, one of the best I’ve read. But I’m not the first personal finance blogger to have found it. Here’s what others have said:

This book isn’t meant for those who are already debt-free. It’s meant for people who are in the early stages of their personal finance journey. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, then this book is perfect. I also think it’s a great choice for recent high school or college graduates.

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