This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.
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.
My recent reviews include “The Money Book for the Young Fabulous and Broke” and “The Smartest Investment Book You'll Ever Read.” This week, I'm reviewing “Soldier of Finance: Take Charge of Your Money and Invest in Your Future” by Jeff Rose.
Jeff Rose recently guest posted on GRS, posing the time-honored question, Could you say no to your mom? He also runs the blog Good Financial Cents. Currently he's a CFP (certified financial planner) who helps people get their financial lives back on track. Before that, he was in the army — he's an Iraq veteran. Thanks for your service to our country, Jeff!
Philosophy behind the book
Rose believes that the majority of financial struggles can be attributed to two main causes: The first is lack of information, and the second is lack of initiative. The good news is that if you're reading the book, you're taking initiative, and the book contains the information you need to effect positive change in your financial life.
The book is relatively short at about 200 pages. It's also very action-oriented — Rose wants you to be a doer, not a talker. Each chapter ends with a checklist of things you should have accomplished as well as a bulleted summary. You always have a pretty good idea of where you stand.
As the name and Rose's service record implies, this book is structured with a “boot camp” mentality toward tackling your debt and getting your finances under control. With that in mind, Part I of the book becomes “Discovery Phase: What's Your Why?” and parts two, three, and four are the “Initial Training Phase,” the “Campaign Phase,” and the “Consolidation Phase.” Each part is further broken down into chapters like “The Army Physical — Measure Your Debt” or “Land Mines — Your Credit Report.” You get the idea.
Rose says that the best way to read the book is straight through the first time. That way, you can get a sense of the big picture. After that, you can think of the book as a reference guide and refer to whatever parts are most useful for you at the time. Need to repair your credit? Flip open Chapter 6. Getting ready to invest for the first time? Bookmark Chapter 13.
What I didn't like
Rose is asking a lot of the soldier/military metaphor. Two hundred pages is a long time for a sustained comparison! As a result, the writing feels a bit forced at times and some of the comparisons are more apt than others. Additionally, the way that the chapters were ordered seemed to be dictated by the structure of the army's basic training rather than the order you would take action in your financial life.
Another structuring detail that I didn't quite grasp was why the chapter names included weeks. For example, “Week 7: Destroying the Enemy — Paying off Debt,” is followed by “Week 9: Sensitive Items Report — Tactical Budgeting.” There are fourteen of these chapters, am I missing something? Is basic training 14 weeks long? I don't remember the book saying so explicitly, but that's my best guess. Certainly, most of the financial steps covered in each chapter would take more than a week to accomplish.
This also had the effect of the “Weeks” not matching up to the chapters. Week 7 was Chapter 9 and so on. All those numbers made it hard for me to remember where I read what. Call me an English major, I guess, but I think he could have dropped the “Week #” portion of each chapter title without losing anything central to his mission.
What I loved
The facts of personal finance remain more or less the same. Spend less than you earn, pay off debt, save, invest. I think being able to explain the same old stuff in a new and compelling way is about the best that you can hope for when it comes to personal finance literature.
See, if you can find a metaphor that speaks to you, then I think you internalize the action steps much more easily. I am sure that it is possible to write a book that compares personal finance to raising a child, or doing yard work, or learning how to play the piano. What you are comparing personal finance to has a huge impact on the insights that are revealed about it.
In Rose's comparison, we learn that financial independence is really hard work. It takes consistent practice. There aren't any shortcuts, and it's not always exciting (and exciting does not necessarily equal good). Additionally, you're not the only one standing in the financial line of fire. Just as soldiers have to be able to count on each other during battle, your “Battle Buddies,” i.e. your spouse and children, may be counting on your ability to manage your finances.
I really enjoyed the moments where he shared specific stories from his time in the armed forces. The time he had to strip down to his underwear for the initial physical exam, and how important it was to know exactly where he stood even if it was embarrassing. The time his squad gofit lost in Baghdad and he learned the difference between having an end goal and knowing how to reach it was another gem. The time he got a stress fracture during basic training and hobbled around the firing range in a cast, making progress on the things that he could instead of letting one setback totally derail his forward momentum has wisdom for everyone. Aren't the parallels with personal finance beautifully obvious?
Who should read “Soldier of Finance”
As Rose says, you don't have to have been an actual soldier to be a soldier of finance. This book is a solid primer on the basics, and while it's not unique in that way, I think the metaphor gives “Soldier of Finance” something special.
But a metaphor should do more than appeal to you — it should inspire you to take action. If a disciplined, no-nonsense, no excuses approach to personal finance sounds motivating to you, then this book is probably right up your alley.
A note about swag: While I was provided with a free copy of this book for review purposes, my opinions about this book are entirely my own.
What's your favorite personal finance metaphor? Have some fun with it by completing the following sentence: “Getting your personal finances in order is likeâ€¦”