...two to be taken with an ounce (or more) of salt.
Frugal-themed books have just exploded onto the market in recent years. I just got done reading three of them -- and all three have a different approach.
The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg (DPL Press) is by the author of the blog of the same name. (A very good blog, I might add, which has moved to Wise Bread. See here for more.)
Sharon's book isn't bad. It recycles a lot of hints and tips I've heard before, though she goes into greater detail about dressing fashionably and well on a limited budget. (Not that Ms. Robe and Longjohns - my Sat morning outfit - would ever need this!) And she shares quite a bit about her life and financial decisions, good and bad.
What drives me crazy, though, is her fixation on a nearby luxury house she had a chance to buy decades ago -- and passed on. Many of this book's chapters are built on 'what ifs:' if I owned this house, I would decorate like this, garden like this, etc. etc. At first, the wistful references are amusing. (She visits it regularly during its frequent real estate open houses, so you get lots of them.) But after a while, you want to say, 'Buy the stupid house already -- or just learn to live without it!' If she were honest, she probably couldn't have afforded it back then, either.
I keep thinking of The Princess Bride --
Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Man in Black: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know...
Man in Black: Get used to disappointment.
Book #2 is worse: Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier & Healthier For Less by Leah Ingram (Adams Media). Leah, who made her name in lifestyle articles and books, seems to have gotten herself and family into big financial trouble a few years back. After they dug themselves out, she began preaching the new (to her) gospel of frugal, with herself as senior pastor.
That would be all fine and good, if her actions truly were money-saving. I have a hard time, though, with someone who advocates buying the most expensive/scarce/'green' groceries, with the idea that "hey, who cares how much it costs -- it's your health." (What about coupons, Leah, or buying the same brands at less expensive places? Or just buying them from a local farmer, instead?)
Her "spend-to-save" philosophy is particularly grinding in clothing. For example, she brags about spending $200 on a Eddie Bauer winter coat, reasoning that it's guaranteed for life. Oh yeah, Leah -- will you, the social butterfly, be willing to wear the same coat for the next thirty or so years? Even if you'll put up with that (which I highly doubt, given your butterfly responses to decorating and such), couldn't you have purchased the coat secondhand for much less, and still gotten the same assurance?
Some good tips and ideas from this book, too, but you have to wade through an awful lot of self-satisfied crowing to get to them.
She's got a blog too, which is more helpful.
And finally, Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life Style by Marjorie Harris (Anansi). Marjorie writes:
"I was trained to respect and use money very carefully. Money is partly the subject of this book. But it's more about what smart people do with it: how they use it wisely and make very little go a long way. It's about finding pleasure in small economies and the large ideas that can come to fruition with attention to details."
Sure, there are the usual ideas for saving and cutting down expenses. The vast majority of these, however, are practical ideas, written by someone who lived them -- or knew a friend who did it. Harris grew up in a poor family with a wise mother who taught her to manage well. She continued that practice through periods of low income, and now she's teaching us. I loved the unusual approaches, and the many 'how I did it' stories.
(She also has a blog, but it's devoted to gardening -- Harris made her name as an editor for Fine Gardening, and books. The blog doesn't seem to have regular posts. Some stuff here, though, on the author and her book.)
Of the many frugal-themed books I've read lately, Thrifty is the only one I purchased for my own library. (Bought it secondhand on Amazon.com!) And yep, I used some of its ideas right away. Not so for the other two, who are on library return pile, with very little regret.
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Thanks to blogging buddy Donna Freedman, who shares so generously -- a chart on the best times to buy airline tickets, etc., as well as a mention of Bargain Babe's new (and lucrative) contest. (Don't miss BB's post on being a freezer diva. Ouch - a little too close to yours truly's usual doings.)