This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
Last year I wrote about the stereotypes perpetuated by many personal finance books written for women, especially that women like to “shop till they drop.”
As I mentioned in the article, a Consumer Expenditure Survey showed that women and men spend the same amount of money, just on different items. Women spend more on clothing and men spend more on restaurants, gadgets, and transportation. Also, a Stanford University study found that incidents of compulsive shopping were almost the same among men and women (6% for women, 5.5% for men).
But where women are actually falling behind is retirement. Women earn less over their lifetimes and live longer, so I wondered why some of these personal finance books for women were focusing on a stereotype that women have a problem with overspending instead of on serious, documented issues like retirement readiness?
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any good money books for women out there. I fully admit that I haven’t explored genre myself because the cutesy titles and pink cover art on some of the books was enough to put me off of it entirely. But after writing that GRS post, a couple of female authors contacted me to ask if I would be interested in reading their personal finance books. I figured, why not? I’m complaining about the genre, so let’s explore it and see what’s out there.
The Savvy Life Philosophy
The first book to arrive in my mailbox was Living the Savvy Life: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Smart Spending and Rich Living by Melissa Tosetti and Kevin Gibbons, who also run The Savvy Life online magazine.
Living the Savvy Life focuses on finding balance, not becoming a tightwad or cheapskate. The philosophy isn’t anything new for most long time GRS readers: “Save money on the things that aren’t as important to you so you can afford to spend money on the things that are important to you.” The writers break this down into the following six manageable savvy habits:
- Pay yourself first. Save 20% of your income (15% for retirement and 5% for emergency savings) and enjoy the rest.
- Track your spending. The authors use an Excel spreadsheet, but later go into detail about other ways to track spending.
- Pay all of your bills on payday. This ensures you’ll have the money to pay your bills, eliminates late fees, and creates a routine that gives you more control over your finances. They even recommend filling up your car with gas and purchasing your groceries as close to payday as possible.
- Set financial goals. What big-ticket items are in your future? Research the actual cost, create a visual reminder, and open a savings account dedicated to your goal. Set a realistic date for achieving it.
- Know when to invest and when to bargain shop. Before you buy something, consider what you need it for and how long it will last.
- Spend money on the things you truly want. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between what you want and what advertisements tell you you should want. As you approach the checkout counter, no matter what type of store you’re in, take a look at the items in your hand or in your cart and ask yourself if they are things you intended to purchase before you came in the store and whether you really want them.
The next chapter, titled “You Can Afford It”, was one of my favorite parts of the book. Tosetti and Gibbons write:
“Stop saying you ‘can’t afford it.’ The fact is that you can. If you made more money, you could. If you didn’t have a car payment, you could. If your mortgage was lower, you could. There may be caveats, but you can afford anything! Being able to afford what you want is about choices. Whether that choice involves doing something to make more money or lowering your cost of living, you chose to work in a career earning your current salary. You chose to buy the car you drive. You chose to live in your current home. The point is that you are in charge of your money. Money in and money out—you make the decisions.“
The authors go on to give several case studies of people who improved their salary, increased their income in other ways, focused their spending, and changed their attitudes about money.
In the next several chapters they break down spending categories—home, entertainment, wardrobe, beauty, food—to help you decide how important they are in your life (if at all) and offer money-saving ideas. The last eight chapters are dedicated to more personal finance information, such as organizing your finances, ways to pay down debt, an explanation of compound interest, how to use credit responsibly, and other financial rules of thumb. There also is an exercise to help you determine your ultimate goals in life, create a plan to reach them, as well as tips to stay motivated during your journey.
Recommended, with reservations
All in all, I like this book. It presents personal finance in terms of lifestyle decisions, which makes it easier to understand and more practical. Several of the examples from the authors’ own lives sounded familiar to my own financial journey. For example, they write that their trip to Disney World was a powerful lesson on how they could focus their spending to do the things that were really important to them. For me, my trip to Italy was what made me think hard about how I was spending my money—I’d been bitten by the travel bug.
This book is perfect for the woman who is just starting to show an interest in her finances, but might be nervous that being financially savvy means being a miser. Even those who have read a personal finance book or two are likely to pick up new ideas. For example, one of my favorite tips was to create a dedicated area in your home for managing your money and to make the space as inviting as possible. It’s the difference between two scenarios:
- Getting frustrated as you try to hunt down bills, receipts, checks, postage, and envelopes to hurriedly transfer money or get checks in the mail at a crowded kitchen table, or
- Sitting down at a desk with all of those things in their place, a framed photo of your last skiing trip (because you’re saving up for the next one), and a cup of tea.
Too often, my money management “space” is more like the former than the latter.
My one gripe with The Savvy Life is that I wish the authors had placed more emphasis on retirement issues unique to women. While they do cover retirement, I would have liked for them to drive home the importance of it even more. When I learned about the obstacles that women face when it comes to retirement savings, it was eye-opening—almost scary. I think it’s easy for that message to get lost among the examples of more exciting goals, such as houses, cars, travel, etc. Retirement sounds downright boring in comparison.
Nevertheless, The Savvy Life packs in the essential information along with smart tips, and I liked the friendly and conversational tone. I wish I could have read it years ago—like maybe the day I graduated from high school.
This article is about Books
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