Book Review: 365 Ways to Live Cheap!

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.

More about...Books, Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
28 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alslayer
Alslayer
11 years ago

The book cover looks different than the one at Amazon.

thomas
thomas
11 years ago

way #366 – read this book at B&N 🙂

Cely
Cely
11 years ago

This review is a little hard to follow. When I read, “My colleague Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar has just released his first book, and it’s very similar to Everyday Cheapskate’s Greatest Tips,” I thought J.D. was basically saying that Trent has published a copycat book. But the review is positive, so that’s probably not the intention. Either way you have to tread carefully with that type of comment. This confused me: “Unlike Hunt’s book (which is divided into 20 broad categories), Hamm also includes two chapters of general tips for flexing your frugal muscles. Of the two, I… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Ouch. Good points, Cely. I’m going to edit the post on-the-fly to make a couple of clarifications. Not my best work. 🙁

ms
ms
11 years ago

This book would be great for a certain segment of people. Very practical, which I like a lot. Easy to pick up and put back down. Unfortunately, his blog has gone a bit downhill in the last year or so. Very vague, kind of generic posts. Not a critism of him though, I just think that PF blogs all start to sound the same after a while. It’s hard for the author to sound fresh after a year or two of posts. I found it’s best to find a blogger who is just starting out and discovering frugality. Watching the… Read more »

Another Dave
Another Dave
11 years ago

ms, who are you finding new and fresh these days? I am feeling the staleness in at least one of my usual blog readings too. I stopped reading TSD regularly long ago. Although, I am not sure it was staleness that caused me to stop. With the other, bostongal, the enthusiasm is missing, and I miss the rants when ing (in particular) lowers its interest rate – I want to commiserate. Maybe the economy has everyone a bit less enthusiastic. I still enjoying reading JD regularly.

Jason
Jason
11 years ago

MS and Another Dave – I agree with you both about the staleness of many PF bloggers. Especially with THe Simple Dollar, I am getting the sense that Trent is becoming too ‘uppity’ – he used to comment in response to people who commented on his posts (as JD and Leo both do religiously), but has completely stopped doing that. I think it’s time I took TSD off my regular reading list as well…

Jeremy
Jeremy
11 years ago

Heh, good recovery. I read Cely’s comment and thought, “I wasn’t confused.” then got J.D.’s comment on re-editing. Nice now.

Sounds like a good book to have on a coffee table to read from time to time. I certainly liked the style of the excerpt and found it useful.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I have to come to Trent’s defense here. I like The Simple Dollar. I think it’s interesting and intelligent and provides a unique perspective. I do agree that it (and all blogs, not just pfblogs) can become stale. GRS has wrestled with its own bouts of staleness before. I try to mitigate this with guest posts and reader feedback, but it’s tough. (This site is about to exhibit a little stretching over the next few months, so I’m hoping that staleness won’t actually be an issue for a while.) But Trent is a good guy with a good heart and… Read more »

Eric
Eric
11 years ago

I can definitely identify with encountering staleness from blogs in my reader but it hasn’t pushed me to unsubscribe or anything. Rather, I just now selectively choose which posts or even parts of posts to read and it’s proven to be a good change. I get through posts faster and easier and don’t feel bored.

ms
ms
11 years ago

I think I need to clarify my comments a bit, because I do agree that Trent “is a good guy with a good heart and good information.” I didn’t mean to slight his character or intent. His blog has been one of the best I’ve ever read. I think that the transformation from “normal” spending to living a frugal lifestyle is a very profound realization. It’s so eye-opening in fact, that people start blogs and write books about it. Heck, there’s even TV and radio shows, too. You can call it simplicity, or frugality, or whatever it is… when people… Read more »

JB
JB
11 years ago

I look forward to reading this book. I’m a big fan of The Simple Dollar and Trent’s blog helps me stay motivated about my finances and keeps me connected with others who share similar views on money and frugality.

Andy
Andy
11 years ago

I have to defend Trent here. I read GRS and TSD every day. My wife and I are just starting out on our PF journey and both have valuable information for us. I understand that some of the readers here are further along on their journeys than we are (or are done and can put their money on autopilot) and perhaps don’t have much more to learn. Maybe, then, they need to “graduate” to other blogs, books, etc. But, don’t forget that many many people are searching for, and need, the basics. So, it isn’t stale to the newbies.

guinness416
guinness416
11 years ago

These are constructive criticisms by people who obviously care about the blogs, nobody needs to defend anyone else! I think the “staleness” thing affects people who both run out of steam and just don’t write very well. Either way you can certainly tell when the focus is elsewhere. Our friend JD here won’t have that problem because he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the money blogosphere in terms of writing ability. I agree with the wish above that TSD would respond to comments like he used to, as there’s a lot of substance in them. He is lucky… Read more »

Funny about Money
Funny about Money
11 years ago

Trent’s blog is what inspired me to start writing FaM…not as any sort of competition, but really just to see if I could do it. I’ve always enjoyed TSD, but will agree with some commenters that some days it gets a bit tiresome. So, I’m sure, do I. Unless you have a very distinctive voice — and few PF bloggers do — it’s not easy to maintain anything like freshness. How many ways can you say “pay off debt; stay out of debt; live within your means; and save, save, save”? To my mind, those blogs that manage to stay… Read more »

Kristy
Kristy
11 years ago

I also stopped reading Trent’s blog some time ago. The last straw for me was when he gave unethical and illegal advice. He had a whole posting essentially telling a reader to hide money (by essentially pretending to give it to an uncle) so that her kids qualified for more grants and other assistance. Dozens of people commented about how the advice was unethical and fraudulent. Trent just retrenched and continued to defend his position. He also changed the wording of his original posting (in a sneaky way where the original text was gone, but his readers caught it) to… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

the current — and coming (I’m listening to B. Obama right now warning us) economic crisis is going to provide a lot of context/content for finance blogs. I think one thing that finance bloggers will want to do is look closely at different angles on saving and thriftly living, and how the issues today differ from those of the 1930s (food, for instance, isn’t going to be the same focus, I don’t think, as it was then). I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am, that issues like how best to be thrifty with one’s electronic use (beyond cancelling cable!) aren’t… Read more »

typome
typome
11 years ago

I’ve been noticing the staleness of bloggers for a while now, and it’s not always because I’m not their target audience anymore either. I think it all comes down to writing style. Guiness416 is correct to say that J.D. will probably be better off than most bloggers out there because of his writing talent. I don’t see too many pf bloggers out there with the same talent.. I also found that Trent needs to re-connect with his readers. For instance, readers are always calling JD out on his mistakes, but JD doesn’t get defensive; instead he learns from the readers… Read more »

Bob
Bob
11 years ago

This is a great discussion about The Simple Dollar! I agree that the posts aren’t the same as they used to be, but how sustainable would TSD be if all he did was say the same thing over and over? Like ms says, a lot of us long term TSD readers have been on the journey alongside Trent. We don’t need to read about the basics anymore (or at least on a regular basis, it’s always good to review them occasionally). Since we’re not focused on the fundamentals, the differences in personal taste and ethics, etc become more obvious. That’s… Read more »

Charlotte
Charlotte
11 years ago

I’m not QUITE as thrifty as Thomas 🙂 but I will be putting “365 Ways …” on my Want List at http://www.bookins.com, my favorite book-swapping site (they also swap DVDs, but I prefer books!). They “pay” you to join by offering enough sign-up points to try the service right away and the only cost is $4.49 per item received. No other trading site I’ve seen provides postage, tracks all shipments, or pays to send you replacements if you are unhappy with an item you get. I guess Bookins is MY #366!

Jackie
Jackie
11 years ago

Interesting to see that Leo bothered to respond to some of the comments posted in response to the review of his book, but Trent couldn’t be bothered to do so (JD regularly responds to comments). Really brings out the difference between the 3 top bloggers – JD, Leo and Trent.

Leanne
Leanne
11 years ago

I was disappointed to see your note that the book doesn’t include an index. Even if a book is well-organized, for something that is meant to be a reference, or a book that you dip in and out of, an index is invaluable. Bummer that his publisher didn’t insist on this (and I hope, when you get to doing your own book, that you will be wiser!)

Bill
Bill
11 years ago

The TSD book seems like it should have been a 365 day desk calendar.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Great review. That looks really worth while reading. I am a big fan of leo, but did not realize that you had even written this book. Cheers for sharing!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
11 years ago

I just became aware of this review and wanted to chime in. Most of the criticism of The Simple Dollar above is quite good and seems to revolve around two points that I think are fair to address. One, that I don’t respond to readers. I used to participate quite a bit in comment threads on The Simple Dollar, but I reduced this quite a bit because I constantly felt that I was decimating the conversation whenever I would write anything. I often felt that conversations would wind up centered around ME – and I didn’t like that. As someone… Read more »

Ro
Ro
11 years ago

J.D., thanks for the review! It can’t be easy to be as objective as you are when you and Trent are friends, and I appreciate it.

Trent, I hope you do start participating in the comments again. Frankly, I’d stopped commenting at all, as it seemed to be that you couldn’t be fussed to converse with us anymore. Glad to know that wasn’t your motivation.

brruskaup
brruskaup
11 years ago

I love love love TSD. Actually, I just left comments over there before coming here. I agree as well the PF blogs can somewhat seem generic at times, but I attribute that to MY increased knowledge of the frugal world. TSD and GRS have been vital to my financial turnaround, and just like an old friend, I wouldn’t leave them over a few generic posts. That said, I think Trent just posted one of my favorite posts of all time titled “children, christmas, and the materialism battle” and I would NOT consider it a standard PF post. It was thoughtful,… Read more »

gail Weaver
gail Weaver
11 years ago

I really enjoy this web site. I’m not very computer literate and am just learning how to navigate but it’s been great. So helpful.I’m about 40 years late getting to the frugal living mentality but I cant believe how much I’ve accomplished in the last few years.Being frugal does not mean misery and deprivation. NO! It means I can sleep nights. I dont lay awake worrying about how I’ll pay for the lastest gadget I bought and dont need.The biggest step for me was when the lightbulb finally “clicked” and I just got it. It’s been fun ever since and… Read more »

shares