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Money Can Buy Happiness: How to Spend to Get the Life You Want Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
By highlighting the "personal" in personal finance, New York Times and MSN Money columnist Dunleavey offers advice as easily understood as it is implemented. Dunleavy focuses her program on conquering the behavioral impulses that keep people from getting the bigger things they really want from life-whether that means packing in a jetset lifestyle, buying an alpaca farm or ditching the newly-purchased suburban dream home to return to the city to be near friends. By emphasizing the quality over quantity of spending and providing quick exercises to help prioritize what matters, she produces a holistic and realistic method of financial planning. Though she does not shy away from the obvious cure for under-saving, overworked, financially-stressed consumers-that being to buy less stuff-she does provide the framework for doing so, along with easy strategies for saving for retirement and erasing debt. Her advice is as solid as it is sympathetic and encouraging.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Not another how-to-manage-your-money book of advice?! Well, yes and no. New York Times business columnist Dunleavey does resort to the pay-down-debt, save-more-money spiel. It is accompanied, however, by some smart-aleck quotes (for instance, Quentin Crisp's "Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level. It's cheaper"); more than enough thoughtful exercises (including "your money or your life," asking readers to rate a 4,000-square-foot home and one-week vacation and a 2,000-square-foot home and three weeks of vacation, among others); and a make-sure-that-fun-matters philosophy. She advocates spending for convenience and saving time; after all, it is false economy to spend $60 on two pairs of shoes that wear out in 90 days. There's much good discussion, too, on boosting fun yields and gaining by giving; the elements of happiness, for most, involve relationships of all sorts and paying rent for the spaces we occupy on this earth. Worth a second and third read. Jacobs, Barbara
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This is really the next step after all the recent books on research regarding happiness (such as The Science of Happiness) - applied happiness. Dunleavey uses an investment motif which helps get across the point that it is important to get parts of all happiness areas (like diversifying your portfolio) and also it makes seem less selfish.
This book is not just about spending money. Some things don't always cost money, such as building good friendships and family relationships though when it does (such as traveling to see family) it is money well spent. And the book makes clear that saving money so that you don't lose sleep at night worrying about debt or retirement is very important.
Much of the same ground is covered in Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well from the happiness in retirement angle. And the book recommends Your Money or Your Life for the savings angle.
If you have not already read all these books, then get this one. It is an easy read with lots of real-life examples. It'll help re-orient your spending of both money and time to that which will maximize your enjoyment of life.
I am a recovering debt addict and I am always on the look out for resources that help me develop better habits. The author M.P. Dunleavey takes a I'm-one-of-you/we're-in-this-together approach to personal finance, therefore I thought this book might be useful, but I was wrong.
In retrospect, where this book began to go wrong was in the title. The author claims she is going to guide you on "how to spend". For example in chapter 6 called "Put Your Money Where Your Health Is", you'd think this advice would be the most thoughtful, yet I found most of these tips empty, useless, wasteful, and out of touch. A couple are:
* "Sometimes it's a better investment to spend out of pocket to see a doctor whom you like and trust and who spends time with you."
*"It's worth investing in a more deluxe gym..."
The suggestion about paying out of pocket to find a doctor you "like", though well meaning, ignores the realities of the average American. The sad fact is that we have a national health care crisis and millions of Americans lack fundamental access to health care services, let alone the ability to "shop" around for a doctor. If you can afford paying out of pocket every time you visit your physician, good for you!
Also, I don't know what "more deluxe gym" means, other than MORE EXPENSIVE. Unfortunately, this is how the whole book reads, less about making tough choices and more about justifying excess and waste as long as it's "convenient" or makes you "happy".
Even the so-called "60% solution" that is supposed to pave the way for you to start buying "happiness" is ill conceived. You need to divide your gross income (pretax) into 5 categories:
60% - Should only be used to cover "basic living costs"
10% - Retirement
10% - Long term savings
10% - Short term savings
10% - "fun, frivolous, spontaneous expenses" she says don't even bother keeping track of this cause it's suppose to be "guilt-free"
Using the author's own figures and estimates this plan sounds like a disaster. Dunleavey says, that if you make about $48,000 a year (pretax of course) your basic living costs should be 60% of an average $4,000 a month, which would be $2,400. She also estimates that federal, state, and local taxes will be about 1/3 to 1/2 of $2,400.
Ultimately leaving you about $1,200 to $1,600 to provide for your basic living costs which she lists as:
Taxes (which I already covered)
Mortgage/rent (don't forget property taxes, home owner's insurance)
Health care costs (premiums, co-pays, prescriptions, don't forget the out of pocket cost for a doctor you "like")
Other (assuming you have any money left)
I believe by her own standards this is a pretty crappy system. She is advocating meeting your basic needs by living at about the federal poverty level for a household of 2 which is about $14,570 in 2009. An improbable feat for an individual, impossible challenge if you threw a spouse and a child into the mix. I really doubt that on such a plan anyone would feel "happiness" or "guilt-free" to have spent $4,800 (10% of 48k) unaccounted for "frivolous" money at the end of the year.
Obviously, I felt this book was awful before our current economic crisis and I certainly don't think you should waste your money now. If you are like me you don't have 20 bucks of "frivolous" money. This author is completely oblivious.
In conclusion, Dunleavey's "buy happiness" theory lacks substance and is just another gimmick. I am a working mother and I strongly feel you don't have to be an MBA or PhD to wrangle your personal finances. It is accurate to say that this author's main audience is women and I frequently found this book too dumbed down on the subject of personal finance that it will leave you falling back on excuses and justifying excess instead of feeling empowered or challenged to do better.