Customer Reviews: The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life
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VINE VOICEon December 30, 2010
Miami Herald reporter Natalie McNeal was enjoying the lifestyle of the young and hip when she realized that she was [...] in debt. To make matters worse, she had no idea how she got there. Her mani/pedis, regular take outs and shopping sprees ballooned her credit card balance, and Natalie had nothing tangible to show for it.

Desperate to make a change, Natalie confessed to be a "spending slut" and began a blog titled The Frugalista Files to chronicle her journey out of debt. Initially, she committed to a month of no spending. Before long, she had a following and a month-long experiment evolved into a new lifestyle and an occupation.

The Frugalista Files is written in a diary format, with Natalie's shrinking debt balance preceding each chapter, or month. Natalie does not preach complete abstinence from spending, but rather a fashionable lifestyle on a budget. For example, she took to styling her own hair, while still visiting a salon for more complicated treatments. She attended social events, but often limited herself to one drink to save money and to prevent alcohol-induced food binges.

Living frugally is all the rage these days, and new books on the topic are popping up all the time. While I appreciated Natalie's message, her book lacked in substance and offered little guidance to someone wanting to follow her example.

Although I expected informal writing due to the diary format, the abundance of exclamation marks, LOLs and other cutesy remarks was distracting. In addition, while The Frugalista Files is touted as "your ultimate guide to living the Frugalista lifestlye", it should not be mistaken for a how-to book. In reality, the frugal tips that Natalie does provide are few and far between, and will be common sense for most readers.
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on February 8, 2011
I have read quite a lot of these types of books and I usually find them great. In fact, I have reread Saving Karyn a few times because I enjoyed it so much.

I was, therefore, thrilled to discover this book. On the surface, this book is okay. I like the breezy style with which the author created her book and I did find the book entertaining.

However, having said that, I also found it annoying at times. Firstly, as many people have mentioned, the "how to" part of the frugal lifestyle is sorely lacking. Secondly, the author often glides right over some of the more important aspects of the entire process. She starts to describe something and then shortens it to the point where it feels as though there is something missing. Thirdly, I found some of the writing (some of the terms) she used kind of immature and silly. Using the words "sista" and "vibing" kind of diluted the point of the book in my eyes.

Finally, I think I missed some of the points in this book - because it seems to me that this Frugalista managed to pay off her debts in part because her retired mother sponsored most of her trips, her friends and acquaintances paid for most of her drinks and other friends managed to throw business her way - it felt as though the author just kind of sat there and let everyone else do all the hard work.

To use one of the author's own terms - this book was meh!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 16, 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
I waited eagerly to read this book since I normally savor accounts which reveal how someone in financial trouble turns things around. I also liked the concept of avoiding extremes and leading a somewhat fashionable life on a budget.

Unfortunately, this book never quite clicked for me, even though others such as .Save Karyn: One Shopaholic's Journey to Debt and Back did. The diary form did lend an appealing immediacy but I still had the déjà vu sense of having traveled down this familiar path far too many times before.

Part of my difficulty may have been with the choices made by the author - or perhaps I'm just not the target audience. Yes, she started going to salons less often but some of her expenses still seemed like luxuries rather than small discretionary choices or absolute necessities.

I realize that the author's blog struck a chord and became quite popular so I am willing to admit I may be missing something here. I just ddn't learn anything new and could take only so much info about going to snazzy social events while trying to cut expenses. I was looking for both a new perspective and unique tips on saving money without feeling too deprived. This book fell short of my expectations.
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VINE VOICEon March 31, 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The key to reading and appreciating 'The Frugalista Files' is to understand that this is not a self help book, or even a personal finance book. It's pretty much a personal finance memoir where we the reader, get to experience the author's journey towards financial independence.The book is written in first person, and set up as a monthly diary entry, and at the beginning of each chapter, we see a tally of her debts.

I enjoyed reading this book because I felt that I can relate to Ms McNeal.We are in the same age group, and while we may not have the same expenses (my car is paid off, and I didn't have student loans), I can see myself in some of her fickleness. This is not a book where the author has a grand 'come to Jesus' finance moment, eschews everything about her old life and makes perfect decisions going forward. She makes mistakes, she mooches (yes ma'am you did!) and she still wants to have the 'fabulous' life within a budget.

The writing style the author uses makes you feel like your best friend is telling you about her life. So yes, there are LOLs and smiley faces, however I think it work in the overall structure of the book. The Frugalista Files will not provide a step by step plan on how to get out of debt. The reader can definitely glean pointers from her story (keep educating yourself in your field, find a side job, etc )however I think the strength of the book is seeing the the year come full circle and how the author's mindset towards finance has changed.

With regard to actual finance part of the book though, I thought that Ms McNeal relied a bit too much on gettnig drinks and meals from other people to make it through her journey. Granted I am sure that since most of her co workers and friends read her blog and wanted to help her out, that's not feasible for the rest of America. Don't get me wrong, there are definite instances where you see her buy meals for her friends, however I felt a bit turned off by the freebies she got.

But you know, all in all I think that's the purpose of this book, and why you should give it a try. We are able to see Natalie McNeals financial journey under a microscope and critique it and choose what behaviors that we want to emulate, and what we should not do.
I think this would be an excellent read for a book club, or a gift for a person graduating college.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I couldn't relate to the author's struggles to give up fancy nights out, hairdos, and mani-pedis, so her debt reduction and frugal living story wasn't one I connected with.

At the beginning of the book, she didn't know how to cook or do some things for herself that I consider very basic, so a lot of the book was taken up with her learning how to saute a chicken with a vegetable and exclaiming over how it was OK, but what she really wanted was a particular "out" food that she wasn't going to buy. It made my mind bleed. These are things that we all sometimes think, but reading the blow-by-blow was like listening to a long-winded person talk about their breakfast - just move on, already. It's not interesting enough to record.

The fluffy tone, chick-lit style, and boyfriend drama was fun for a few minutes until I realized that was all there was. Then I had to take the book in very small doses to get through it.

There was no real narrative arc to this either, it felt like a lot of pasted-together blog posts or diary entries. I'd find this mildly interesting if she was my best friend, but even then I'd wonder - why am I reading this? Is it going somewhere?

I think it was well-done for what it was, which is why I'm giving it two stars. The writing was of good quality and was easy to sink into - the problem for me was the subject matter and depth, or lack of it. I read frugal living stories for inspiration on my own path, and I couldn't relate to the author's struggles to give up her $50 a month toenail-painting habit or learn how to like her own cooking.
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VINE VOICEon June 26, 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a book culled from Natalie McNeal's "Frugalista Files" blog about her efforts to control her debt and examine her spending habits. As a journalist and college grad, thirtysomething and single McNeal was facing $20,000 in debt from student and car loans and credit card debt. A familiar story as America's number-one industry seems to be collecting interest from debts. McNeal provides a breezy, likeable voice, with a stream-of consciousness style that can be grating or cute depending on your mood.
We are taken through approximately a calendar year with McNeal, who kicks off the debt-busting with no spending for a month (other than rent, utilities, and standard expenses). Her forays into the kitchen, attempts to get free dinners, and withdrawal from retail therapy are achingly real; as the months wear on we are treated to mini-breakdowns of her good/bad results for the month and hear her relationship highs and lows and how in a larger sense, money impacts lifestyle, what friends you have, etc. It is a charming little book but feels like another product from Frugalista Inc. ; there is not enough serious advice on debt management and reduction to provide a framework for readers in a similar predicament. My chief complaint is that he casual patois of a blog does not translate well to book format; it feels like a dialogue cross between a cheerleading manual and an 80's sitcom.
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VINE VOICEon June 28, 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was also very surprised by the format used for the book. Her style of writing was both irritating and distracting at times. It seemed so much like a blog that anyone with a decent blog should be able to get a book deal. I am not a huge fan of blogs, so that was a turn off for me. There was some helpful information, but most of it wasn't new to me. A lot of it was common sense and some of it was still wrong. I bet Suze Orman would cringe if she read this! She claims that this book shows you how to get out of debt with out giving up the fabulous life and I just don't see it. First of all, how fabulous can a life that causes you stress and a ton of debt be? That sounds foolish. Most of what she claims to teach are lessons that most of us learn from our parents or the hard way when we are in our early 20s. If you don't know more about managing money and you're broke, then why are you worried about some so-called fabulous life anyway? I found myself wanting to slap her and say grow up. I would not recommend this book, but if you are curious, be frugal and check it out at the library.
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VINE VOICEon May 3, 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My wife openly admits that if things went her way ("the way her parents did it", for one), we'd be spending up to our last dollar on car payments, the nicest possible house, etc.

However, reality bounced us on our heads four years ago when we were saddled with a tremendous amount of very unexpected debt. However, it turned out to be a HUGE blessing for us, and I would not trade the experience for the world.

Our head-bounce started with wedding expenses we had to pay at the very last minute (which we were expecting a family member to pay) and the other from an accident one of us had in an uninsured vehicle (DON'T EVER LET YOUR CAR INSURANCE LAPSE!! Mine did while we were on our in an accident the day after returning to the tune of over ten thousand dollars of damage to both my and his car that I had to put on a credit card.)

Since then, though, while we are not completely out of debt, we have been led to, seen and learned MAGICAL things about ourselves, our respective psychologies and our money, and are now paying off huge chunks of debt every month.

I was very interested in this book because it purported to fix one thing that my wife and I spent a lot of time "working through" (and finally recently solved very satisfactorily), which was her ability to go out and spend, while I was being a money-commando (or "psycho" to hear her tell it) and trying to save and scrimp every last cent to get out of debt. My method is easy for me, because my mind fills with "the bigger picture," but for her, it is difficult to not have anything, ever (her words).

That is why this book that purports to retain the "fabulous" appealed to see if I could either recognize successful things we have done or to perhaps extract another tip here or there of value.

After our wedding, we found (to my great delight) the advice of Dave Ramsey, which I believe completely saved us from slavery or doom of the Average-American path...phoney assets, massive debt and zero true disposable income.

The big challenge (and I will not bore you with much detail) was this: we would give ourselves "blow money" each month, but it wasn't enough. We weren't cooking much (buying convenience foods at the grocery store, which led down a slippery slope to buying convenience foods at fast food the tune of 300 and 400 a month, some months). The problem was not the beginning of the month, but the end: the blow money would dry up, it was too little for too many things, we'd start getting fast food to plug the holes in our (too scant) grocery purchasing and cooking, and it would lead down a slippery slope of getting used to whipping out that debit card. Pretty soon it was Bye Bye, Benjamins.

We made adjustments to groceries (the best thing I learned was SPEND enough on groceries, and on good enough recipes, that you WANT to eat at home...find delicious recipes that sing to you, immediately discard boredom, go GET the occasional bottle of "truffle oil" or buy all those fresh meats if it makes you CRAVE eating at home...the point is you will save money because you will never be lured to eat out from frustration or being sickened by boring, tasteless soccer-mom food. Our secret weapon is five-star recipes from are a magic money-saver, because they fulfill your "restaurant cravings" and make you WANT to take leftovers to work!) The other things was that INCREASING the "blow money" actually made us spend less...the system never broke down because we always felt reasonably satisfied. This was just our behavior and pattern, yours may be different, but the important bit is that you start to become a scientist of your own tendencies.

We ended up with - like Dave Ramsey - a cash envelope system. First, cash in envelopes is MAGIC. Forget the iPhone apps (we tried them...they "work" but don't WORK), there is NOTHING like pulling paper money out and asking yourself "do I really want this when this is what I have for the month?" right there in front of you.

Conversely, the same question, when the answer is "yes", makes that purchase SO gratifying and SO delightful that it makes up for a hundred too-easy retail-therapy card swipes. Trust me, this was HUGE for us! DO IT... you will never look back. (SECOND HUGE HINT: Happiness with conditions in your life is about QUALITY, not quantity!! Reasonable doses of self-denial can make huge fireworks go off for more bit of psychological magic you can use to pay down debt while feeling HAPPIER with your conditions in life than ever.)

We found using "virtual" envelopes or just seat-of-the-pants allotment (and using our debit cards all the time), we would end up with NO disposable (i.e. debt-paydown) money at the end of the month. It was just more of the same Swipe, Swipe, Swipe the Debit Card habit...more enlightened than the Swipe The Credit Card habit, but not much less wasteful and needless!

By allotting ACTUAL cash in ACTUAL envelopes (we went and got cute little bill-sized accordion folders made of stiff cardstock at Office Depot...$5 and a great purchase), we revolutionized our habits and FINALLY got a grip on our own psychology.

Not only that, but the tension I used to feel purchasing that or eating there or buying that has melted away. I can be a happy husband in the moment (instead of dreading the bill and where it fits in to our ever-shrinking picture "this month"). We have our "breakfast date money" and we go and FULLY enjoy it...the money is there, in black and white....set, budgeted and we know we will still have X-amount at the end of the month. We finally started fully enjoying each other on these outings, which are so important to a relationship (I think).

We accomplished our "perfect" numbers by looking at past habits over a couple of months. We saw we were spending X on dessert dates, Y on dinner dates, Z on hobbies, etc. and split it up accordingly. The difference now is the structure that cash gives leaves us plenty of money left over each month.

Prior to all this, though, my wife has kept a stiff upper lip through our getting-out-of-debt process and she was largely my inspiration for reading this book...namely, could I either recognize any successful thing we had done, or could I extract successful behaviors from this book that applied to her.

This is a bit of a loosey-goosey version of Dave Ramsey (he'd advocate a harder line), but in the context of a marriage of unique people with unique needs (my wife works a stressful job, but having nothing to show for it...not a handbag, gladrag or other bauble, bangle or bead she adores kills her), so we gave her clothing money each month. "Blow" money...for anything: fast food, impulse buys, etc...but when it's gone, it's gone. Then we have a third envelope of "us" money - date nights, pizza nights, etc.

I think this book COULD be useful to some people, although I would certainly start with something more structured like a Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey) first...get the "fundamentalist" version, then see if anything in here salves some of it's rougher edges.

For example, the author picking up a $13 dress...big deal, will hurt nothing.

But we kept finding that the "$13 no-harm dress" would be repeated over and over in a given month (even thought it TOTALLY didn't feel like it) and chew up a bunch of money, sadly.

This book gets four stars, because by itself it is no great method. It's a good overlay to a more disciplined system like that of Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman. I also think it could be slightly deleterious to people in bad enough financial shape, because sometimes you really do need to "give up the fabulous." Changing behavior takes a lot of focus and a lot of honesty. Sometimes purging completely is the way to go, at least for a while to stabilize things. So, this is not really a go-to book with a complete system, although it is somewhat entertaining and does have some ways to be reasonable with yourself and your mindset, without slipping back into old ways.

So with a little smarts, a little psychology, a little structure and a little free-reign-with-boundaries ("free-range chicken coop," anyone?), we have perfected our system for paying off debt. Hope this helps someone somewhere.

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on November 17, 2011
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I know there is a trend of taking popular blogs and turning them into books, and I typically expect those that are self-published to be a little clunky and to be an almost exact reprint of those blog posts -- but I would have thought the editors of a traditional publishing house like Harlequin would have done a better service to their author. This book reads too much like a series blog posts (complete with "LOLs" and other slang you would expect online, but would also expect to be edited out of a novelization of the material.) The material itself was pretty average, but might be helpful to some. I'd recommend reading other blogs on getting your finances in order before I'd recommend this book based on a blog about the same material.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
The author has written a somewhat entertaining and engaging read about finding herself buried in debt. Decent job, but way too many bills. Bad decisions, student loans, car note....and way too much living beyond her means. A good book for those in their early 20s and late teens, it offers a cautionary look at her mistakes and missteps.

However, if you are in a position similar to the author's, you won't really find a way out here. Some good ideas, living a more thoughtful and thrifty life, but not enough real information. Another reviewer stated too much fluff, which was pretty much on target. I would have liked to see the book take a more serious look at how she got to that point, and more real world work at solving the problem. If you have a problem with finances, read Suze Orman or the book "Your Money or Your Life". For an entertaining read, pick up this book.
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