Today I am reviewing new books written by two colleagues: Trent from The Simple Dollar and Leo from Zen Habits. As you read these reviews, please remember that I am friends with both authors.

Mary Hunt bills herself as America’s favorite cheapskate. In 2005, she published a little volume entitled Everyday Cheapskate’s Greatest Tips, which contained “500 simple strategies for smart living”. Hunt’s book didn’t offer any sort of narrative or broad overview of money — for that you would need to read her other books. Greatest Tips was just a collection of 500 one-paragraph money-saving ideas.

My colleague Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar has just released his first book, and its approach is similar to Everyday Cheapskate’s Greatest Tips. In 365 Ways to Live Cheap!, Hamm offers a year’s worth of one-paragraph “tactics” for saving money. (Hunt calls them “strategies” and Hamm calls them “tactics” — what they really are is “tips”.) I like Hamm’s tips better than Hunt’s: they generally seem more useful — and certainly more motivational.

If you’re familiar with Hamm’s writing at The Simple Dollar, you know what to expect here: solid, down-to-earth advice with an emphasis on the useful and the practical. Hamm divides the book into 19 chapters offering tips on topics like:

  • Appliances
  • Banking and investing
  • Clutter
  • Energy use
  • Love and marriage

Unlike Hunt’s book (which is divided into 20 broad categories), Hamm also includes two chapters of general tips for flexing your frugal muscles. Hunt’s tips are much more detailed. She offers tips like how to store paint, how to thicken gravy, and how to clean up soda pop. Hamm’s tips are more general: plan ahead for car replacement, install a programmable thermostat, exercise more frequently. Both books are useful, but I think Hamm’s is more applicable to my own life.

Books like these don’t lend themselves to easy review. They’re not meant to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, they should be used as resources, as pools of ideas. Looking for ways to save on electronics? Pull out 365 Ways to Live Cheap! for tips like this:

136. Know the features you need before you shop
If you’re about to sink some money into a new electronic item, know what features you actually need before even beginning to shop. List exactly what you’re looking for before you even start looking at research materials. This is much the same psychology as preparing a shopping list before you go to the grocery store. It keeps you focused on exactly what you need instead of being distracted by something else that might come along. Before you even begin to research your purchase, know exactly what you want.

For a book like this to be useful, you have to be able to find the information you want. Fortunately, 365 Ways to Live Cheap! is well-organized. There’s no index, but each section has its own table of contents. As a bonus, Hamm’s book is beautifully designed. And it’s cheap! (Only eight bucks.)

Hamm’s book isn’t for everyone. It’s not trying to be The Tightwad Gazette or Your Money or Your Life. This is a compendium of tips (or “tactics”), and as such, it succeeds admirably.

For another review of this book, check out Random Ramblings.