money

The Financial Diet | Book Review

32927009I’ve been a devoted subscriber to The Financial Diet (TFD) on YouTube for some time, so I thought I would give the book a try. I’ve been listening to it on audiobook on my commute to and from work. The book is relatively short and incorporates many of the messages and topics covered by the videos, many of them in interview format featuring guest ‘speakers’ who are experts in their field and contribute advice per topic. I admit that as much as I enjoy listening to Chelsea Fagan, I should have gotten the print copy because often she often refers to charts, diagrams, or “the PDF” which comes with the audiobook and the PDF is 84 pages long, and I unfortunately did not have it on hand most of the time.  So if you are thinking of picking this up, I would recommend the eBook, or physical copy.

The two authors and co-founders of “The Financial Diet” brand, Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage, are two young, self-made, organized, and intelligent, business-women. Chelsea went to community college, got her funds in a mess, slowly recovered and gained economic literacy and decided to share her experiences with others who might find themselves in similar situations, particularly young adults in, or freshly out of University, (perhaps even slightly before entering University/College/Certificate Programs). My understanding of “The Financial Diet” as an outside observer is that it is geared at young people (and by young I mean 16-24ish) who have zero understanding of financial matters, and who have been crippled with anxieties and pressures from all angles of social media, and live in the West, particularly USA, Canada, UK. They also address repeatedly that the idea that old white men often appear in mainstream media as being the only secret-holders to the world of “finance.” Both Fagan and Ver Hage relate experiences in this book, as do all the other professional women invited to speak/write. This book, to me, is meant to let you know that you are not alone, that everyone makes mistakes, and to relate experiences and stories that may put things into focus. I also appreciated that most people involved at TFD and the interviewees are women, and the way they approach financial information is in an accessible, non-exclusive, non-intimidating way for young adults who have a hard time even approaching the topic of finance, budgeting, and saving.

After finishing the book and wondering how I feel about it, I came across two Goodreads reviews (on the negative side) stating the following:

“This is not a book that would help a 20- or 30-something gain financial literacy. It’s a lifestyle book, focused on how to get the lifestyle you aspire to on a budget, how to cope with the fact that some aspirational lifestyles will remain out of reach, and how to feel as though you’re doing a good job with your finances…this book is written specifically for Millennials…At its best, the book offers a critique of Instagram and Pinterest-lifestyle aspirations, or why we shouldn’t all be working 80-hours a week…this book that lives in the layer of fixing up thrift store furniture so that it’s Pinterest-worthy, rather than really digging into the nuts and bolts of how to negotiate the confusing experience of being a first-time homebuyer, or by explaining the mechanics of compound interest rather than just mentioning it in passing.”

Another reviewer states:

“how difficult it is to find content that’s geared towards women without being infantilizing…often provides financial advice that probably works for the Carrie Bradshaws of the world (like buying expensive designer bags for your first job) but not for the average millennial on a budget…this book is less about personal finance for young women and more about how to become the sort of young woman I imagine Chelsea and her social circle generally are– largely white, largely affluent, largely living in expensive cities, and taking pride in the fact that they have a “budget” but with no desire to actually take charge of their finances”

I took a step back and thought about a few things: how this book was marketed, what its title is, who is the target audience, and what I have personally gotten from this experience. After synthesizing it all, I am behind TFD.

From the whole TFD experience mixing together all the different media I have consumed their information, I have found both Chelsea and Lauren to be very useful. I also remembered that Chelsea lived in complete poverty for the early stages of her life, and went to community college. She mentions some of this in her video emphasizing the difference between being Broke and being Poor, and how linguistically one ought not to use the two interchangeably. I don’t know if her background is a ‘privileged’ one, though she currently lives in New York after starting and thriving on the TFD business that she has been working on for years. She is, as I mentioned before: self-made. I appreciated anecdotes of failure, and trial/error. I appreciated advice on minimal things like: budgeting apps, and even money-saving cooking tips, or DIY pet food. I don’t know how we’ve become convinced over time that absolutely everything can and must be bought. I also feel inspired seeing so many women together working and collaborating on a project that is really quite successful and has picked up a significant following on online forums. It makes me happy to see them succeed. I don’t know if that is a weird thing to say, but it does! I learned a lot over the last two years from them, and I know I am approaching this book from a privileged position, but I needed someone to tell me that it’s okay not to aim for the ‘Instagrammable’ wedding, lifestyle, house, daily meal etc. It is no more exclusive, elitist, or upper-middle class than the same target audience towards whom other writers like Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen direct their essays–which you may recall from my long post regarding the anxieties raised by Facebook. I know this ties in to what ‘negative reviewer #2’ has stated, and granted, this book is very much speaking to people in a privileged position, but this is the TFD audience. If you have the time and technology to consume videos on YouTube from TFD then you are in the demographic of their target audience. Social media pressures and insecurities created by social media are actually very costly (both mentally and financially). Monthly we make so many purchases (impulsive ones) that stem simply out of our insecurities created by the immediate technological environment around us. The fact that one reviewer mentioned the ‘Carrie Bradshaws’ is just an example, but we often see characters, or people in CEO positions and in various lifestyles and associate the Starbucks Latte, or the designer handbag with the kind of person we’d like to be, and in moments of weakness splurge as an excuse to ‘treat ourselves’ while feeding our insecurities trying to create a bridge between who we are, and who we would like to be. Buying a gym membership doesn’t automatically transform you into a person who goes to the gym. See Chelsea’s video on How Much Your Insecurity Actually Cost You.

The reason TFD mentions how to cook, what utensils you need, etc. is because good budgeting, minimalism, minimal-waste lifestyle, and living ethically are very interconnected. I approached these topics individually and most of the time they bounce off each other. The bottom line is that one should invest in good quality, ethical things, that are good long term for us, and the environment and to stop treating everything in our life as disposable. The Financial Diet approaches this topic from the financial angle, and it is not simply a finance book (nor pretending to be one), but it is a cultural examination, a social critique of the middle class Western lifestyle, and a starting point for the TOTAL beginner.

This book is also available through your public library (Toronto here), and Overdrive for an electronic copy.

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Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

29430716Manjula Martin collected essays by contemporary writers claiming to shed some light on what it means to struggle as an artist. Each writer approaches the topic in a different way. Some, like the more famous Cheryl Strayed, Jonathan Franzen, and Roxanne Gay offer their thoughts in interview format, whereas others take creative liberties to capture their history as a writer, their journey, and relationship with books. The overarching topic is: money. How much money do artists get and what does it mean? For instance, Cheryl Strayed explains that even though she received a large sum of money as an advance for Wild, it was given to her in installments. She had so much credit card debt, student loans to pay, and two small children. The art world is the only case in which sometimes people expect you to work for free in hopes that “the love of the public” and “followers” is enough compensation, as if you owe the gallery and the publishing house for being published, rather than being paid for your labour and hard work. It’s the only time when you could wake up one morning and think: today I could make zero dollars, or get a $50,000 advance, we’ll never know. It’s hard to imagine that while being on book tour, Strayed’s check bounced when trying to pay the rent.

The opening essay by Julia Fierro for instance focused on the ways in which she felt inferior to her classmates in university as well as at the Iowa Writers’ workshop. How she started hoarding and collecting books she couldn’t afford so she could stay in the ranks of her classmates, and how subsequently this resulted in her avoiding reading altogether for a while. She writes:

“My loan money moved from my bank account to my bookshelf, and not once did I stop myself, look around my apartment at the stacks of unread books–several lifetimes’ worth–and think of Jay Gatsby and his library of pristine uncut books. My fear was too loud. Fear that I was inauthentic, undeserving of a place among my mostly Ivy League–educated classmates who, it seemed, were more well-read than even the gray-haired authors who were our professors.”

Colin Dickey wrote a very interesting essay that was more historical and academic in nature. He cites a lot of Karl Marx, but begins his essay with the way in which Charles Dickens’s work got immediately tainted for him the day he found out he was paid by installment. He writes:

“once we’d been introduced to the economy of writing, everything was tainted….how to trust each word from that point on…money taints everything, why not writing too”

Roxanne Gay discusses how she remains in academic circles at universities, and teaches classes, just because they offer her a steady salary and health insurance. When she broke down her income, she discloses that less than 30% of her income comes from her writing.

I also found that this collection poked at a strange can of worms regarding the Jonathan Franzen-Oprah Winfrey conflict, back in 2001. When it comes up in the interview, and reminds readers about the conflict, some women are referenced (like Jennifer Weiner) who used social media to point out that critics rarely pay the same attention to women authors, as they do to Jonathan Franzen back when this conflict was happening. Franzen responds here with:

“well, I am a male animal, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t stop writing and disappear just because someone chooses to project onto me her grievance with a million years of sexist human history”

What I found strange was that Jennifer Weiner is also one of the essays in here, and it’s written in essay/memoir format whereas Franzen’s is in interview format with the editor. The interview is by far the longest and I felt as if the editor was swooning over Franzen whereas Weiner was “left alone” as it were. In her essay, Weiner writes conversations she never thought she would have to have with herself like

“big-name critics will call your work ‘subliterary,’ and big-deal writers will sneer at the notion that your books deserve even a smidgen of attention in the New York Times…History ought to give me some context. Women’s work has always been devalued, seen as less. ‘commercial’ she asks for what she doesn’t deserve, says the privileged white man, who gets both sales and respect–as if privileged white men haven’t always been the ones to make those judgement, and those judgement haven’t always been in their favor.”

It’s an interesting fight/argument (which let’s face it, it’s about posterity), but it wasn’t why I bought this book.

As a reader interested in the “nitty-gritty of the writing profession” which is what I came to this book for, I did not find those answers here. For one Cheryl Strayed, Roxanne Gay,  Jennifer Weiner, and Jonathan Franzen are all best sellers who made money, got film deals, and some reached critical acclaim. The Franzen-Weiner “fight” was kind of central to me when I looked back.

My favourite by far was Colin Dickey. His essay actually focused on the topic. Cheryl Strayed’s article got my attention because of her success, but everyone else kind of fell through the cracks. For one, I didn’t find myself caring about authors I haven’t heard of, but if I did, I would have liked them to discuss the struggle more, rather than the details of biography. This was Spinster all over again, I got biographies I never asked for. I came to this collection looking for financial struggles, what did it mean, how much? What fees did you have to pay? Where did you live? How did you manage? One Goodreads reviewer put it best:

“the essayists tiptoe around pragmatic questions of money to instead navel-gaze about issues of privilege and class. Several of them explicitly repeat the problem this book was supposed to solve: they flatly refuse to discuss specific financial details.” – Amy Rogers 

The Man Who Loved Libraries | Children’s Book | Review

34507448I couldn’t resist—I had to request this book for review because: LIBRARIES. As a librarian and bibliophile I think it’s vital to encourage young children to know more and more about the library world and the important figures in its history, so I am very happy this book exists. The targeted audience for this book is children grades 1-3, and I’m fairly certain it is intended for school libraries or public libraries to purchase and have in their collection—mainly because near the end of the book the author writes:

“Andrew Carnegie built public libraries so that someday someone like you could feel the joy of borrowing a book like this.”

The text is written by Andrew Larsen and it’s accompanied by Katty Maurey’s beautiful illustrations.

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Andrew Carnegie in Colonel Anderson’s private library

The main story is non-fiction and simplified for the targeted age group. The language makes this book very accessible and I found myself rooting for Andrew the whole way through.

The book covers Carnegie’s life: born in Scotland facing extreme poverty, his family’s immigration process to Pittsburgh, U.S.A, and the help he himself received from Colonel Anderson who opened his doors to his own private library so that Andrew may read. Larsen writes:

“Andrew knew that learning was the key to the future.”

After several smart investments Andrew Carnegie became quite wealthy but instead of hoarding his savings he decided to invest in things to help his community and everyone around the world:

“he believed that riches are for sharing.”

sharing

Andrew Carnegie helping worldwide

I loved this story, and I hope they stock many school libraries with it. It’s vital for children to admire philanthropists for their kind work rather than their lavish lifestyle. I also think it’s important to introduce children to a time when libraries and access to information didn’t exist. It’s so hard to imagine now a time when this was true. Also, I’m a big fan of library history being taught early on. The first time I heard of Andrew Carnegie was in the first year of my Masters.

Overall this book is awesome and I think it achieves what it sets out to do for the intended age group. It’s difficult to criticize a book for children that encourages sharing, kindness, and respect for libraries and learning. If anything my only criticism is that it could be longer. Strongly recommend to elementary school libraries.

This book is scheduled to be published by Owlkids Books on August 15.