Bill and Mary Toohey are about as average as a couple can be. They live in Iowa, pull down about $65,000 a year combined, and have three children. What's not average about them is that they have a net worth of about a half-million dollars. They've paid off their mortgage, and they paid cash for their cars. Their oldest daughter graduated from college with no debts and with money in the bank. How did they manage? It takes a book to explain the particulars, but the executive summary is this: They lived on about half their income, and saved and invested the other half. Part of their plan is simply saying no to impulse purchases such as soft drinks and candy bars. (They show how they accumulated $26,733 in eight years by investing the money they didn't spend on junk.) Their strategy involves, in part, shopping around for the best price on their big-ticket purchases. (They take you step by step through a few transactions, from research to purchase, so you can do this yourself.) But the biggest part is living small. They have a modest house (one bathroom). They don't try to keep up with the Joneses. Their investment strategy is very simple, mostly stock index and bond funds. By never trying to be more than average, they made themselves extraordinary.
It's hard to imagine that many people will be able to follow their entire program--that one-bathroom house will probably stop most readers in their tracks--and some of their ideas about cheap entertainment seem a little far-fetched. For example, if you're thinking of taking the children to the circus when it comes to town, they advise, take them instead to watch the circus troupe setting up tents and feeding the animals. Imagine the family fun when the kids go to school and realize all their friends got to see the actual circus. Still, there should be plenty of useful advice in this Guide to Financial Freedom for any family. Most of it is simple and makes intuitive sense, and the Tooheys' breezy, conversational writing style makes you feel as though you were sitting with them in their (small) living room while they shared it. Best of all, their plan clearly works. A half-million in savings on a middle-class income is a pretty good leg to stand on when offering advice. --Lou Schuler
magazine named the Tooheys the "Best Personal Finance Managers in America" in 1994; later they outlined their financial strategy in Money
's April 1997 issue. Now they lay out a comprehensive spending and saving program that focuses on spending less rather than saving more. What will make the Tooheys' advice so appealing to many is that they truly are "average" Americans, not professional money managers. Over the past several years, their annual income has averaged $65,000. Bill is a state vocational rehabilitation counselor; Mary is an office manager. They discuss how family finances affect relationships and how to build a money-saving mind-set, covering home buying and grocery shopping and all the necessary purchases in between. The Tooheys advise simplicity and self-reliance, yet their recommendations are not austere. They also include detailed guidance on investing, retirement planning, and parenting. Their goal is financial independence, and they stress that this does not mean not having to work. The Tooheys make a strong argument for the value of work beyond a paycheck. David Rouse