There are many personal finance books out there, useful to people in all stages of personal finance. I have a lot to learn before reaching financial independence, and the editorial elves thought it would be useful if I shared some of what I learn with you.
In the past, I have reviewed “All Your Worth,” “Debt is Slavery,” and “Change Your Life in 7 Days.” This week, I'm reviewing “More Money, Please: The Financial Secrets You Never Learned in School” by Scott Gamm.
Scott Gamm is the brains behind the website HelpSaveMyDollars.com, a financial website focused on helping consumers save and learn about money. Like the website, the book is primarily aimed at a college-aged audience, because he's still in college himself. He's 21 years old!
Philosophy behind the book
Gamm became interested in personal finance because he came of age during the Great Recession. His parents split up at least in part because of financial concerns, and he wanted to do everything possible to make sure that didn't happen to him. He launched Help Save My Dollars in 2009, and his book came out in April of this year.
Because the book is aimed at a younger demographic, Gamm assumes that the majority of his audience doesn't have credit card debt. This is mostly because they might not even have credit cards! The Credit CARD Act of 2009 put restrictions on how credit card companies can interact with the under-21 set.
Namely, people under 21 must either provide proof of income or a co-signer in order to get a credit card at all. There are also restrictions on credit card providers' ability to advertise on college campuses and give out free gifts. While most people kind of remember hearing about that at the time the CARD act was in the news, it's easy to forget unless it applies to you.
Similarly, Gamm assumes that for the most part his readers haven't taken out student loans, had a full-time job, or begun saving for retirement. In other words, they're blank slates! By targeting folks before they've made any financial mistakes, Gamm hopes that an entire generation can mostly avoid them. For those who don't follow his advice upon first read, or those who are slightly older when they discover the book, he does cover various debt payoff strategies. However, they're not the main focus of the book.
What I didn't like
I can't help but notice that there's a bit of class privilege going on in this book. Gamm says he grew up in “a middle-class town on Long Island,” where the median household income is about $90,000 per year. Currently, Gamm attends NYU's Stern School of Business, one of the oldest and most prestigious business schools in the world.
It's obvious that his parents' divorce was traumatic and had a lasting impact on him. And hey, it was the impetus behind him wanting to pay it forward via his website and book, which I totally applaud. However, the book mostly assumes that readers plan to go to college. Further, it assumes that their academic preparation and family obligations don't preclude this as an option. In my opinion, there are large swaths of people that live a different reality.
This is a relatively minor criticism, though. After all, he's writing a book based largely on his own experience. It's impossible to write a book that will pertain to everyone, and all of Gamm's advice is pretty solid. I just wished that he would at least acknowledge that there are millions of people out there facing additional obstacles to financial security. Hard work isn't always enough.
What I loved
Because the book is intended for those who are just starting out, the advice is a bit different than traditional personal finance literature. For example, Gamm encourages readers to get a credit card if they don't have one, even if they have to start out with a secured credit card. This way, they can begin to build a good credit history. Similarly, Gamm operates under the assumption that the majority of his readers will accrue some student loan debt in order to help fund their education.
It's been observed in the comments of GRS posts about teenagers and personal finance that forbidding people from doing something practically ensures that they will do it. Additionally, the idea that it's possible to forbid something is kind of condescending and designed to rob people of agency. Gamm isn't a parent and doesn't have that authority, anyway.
Instead, he's someone near in age to his reader who is also learning as he goes. The hope is that by pointing out some strategies to keep in mind, credit card debt can be avoided and student loan debt can be minimized. Gamm also doesn't hesitate to use himself as an object lesson, telling anecdotes throughout the book of times where he made financial mistakes, even after he knew better.
I also really enjoyed that Gamm touched on other related aspects of the personal-finance process. There are sections on:
Why internships are important, including a timeline for applying
How to create a résumé
What should be included in a cover letter
How to ace an interview
Why a humble attitude is important when you're just starting out
This combination of maintaining a budget while still in school and planning your university experience strategically is a powerful one, and one of my favorite things about the book.
Who should read “More Money, Please”
This book really functions best as a primer for young adults who are just beginning to make major life decisions. I think it would be most appropriate for high school juniors or seniors, since it covers topics like deciding which institution of higher education to attend and how to apply for financial aid. However, those who are still in college would get a lot out of it, too.
Parents of teenagers might also appreciate the book. It might give them new ways to think about these issues, and new ways to approach them in conversation with their child(ren). Even though I in no way resemble Scott Gamm's ideal reader, I thought this book was excellent.
A note about swag: While I was provided with a free copy of this book for review purposes, I am not affiliated in any way with Scott Gamm or his publisher, and my opinions are entirely my own.
Do you have children in high school or college? How do you approach financial topics with them, particularly when they are facing decisions with long-term consequences?
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.