Book Review, Broke Millennial
Author: Erin Lowry
Copyright date: 2017
Find it at your local library: WorldCat
Content: General foundational personal finance
Style: Conversational and friendly tone, minimal jargon
Intended Market: roughly 21 to 26 year olds who are in or have graduated from college
Overall: Recommended. Good choice for those who: don’t know much about personal finance or fear money, are looking for an easy to read book that touches on a wide variety of foundational personal financial topics to #GYFLT (get your financial life together), you don’t have kids, and about to graduate or graduated from college within the past few years (early to mid twenties).
Review: The author, Erin Lowry, has been active and well known in the personal finance world for a few years. Before reading this book, I’ve followed her on Twitter, seen her YouTube videos, and her blog posts. I have found her to be consistently professional, likable, and most importantly, full of good advice. To have produced so much by her age, I believe she was 27 or so when it came out, without the benefit of money or family connections (that I know of) is truly impressive.
The book jacket claims this is for 20- and 30- somethings but I believe it would be best for those just about to graduate from college or recently out of college who are looking for a place to start with their personal finances. Those who are looking at marriage and kids may find this does not address their needs. This book is a great launching point for those in their early- to mid-twenties as these years are a key time in our lives for absorbing and implementing good financial habits that will set us up for a lifetime of financial well-being; any older and you need to break now-ingrained habits, any younger and you don’t feel the content applies to you. Since the author just went through those years herself, people will be more likely to identify with her and hear what she has to say. The author assumes the reader has attended a 4-year college and much of the advice is tailored around that. Those who have not attended a 4-year college may be put off by this, however most of the content would still be relevant and is worth reading.
The book is formatted so each chapter more or less stands alone, giving the reader leeway to pick and choose what they want to learn about. On page 10, she breaks down the chapters to read by money personality – basically whether you are spender, saver, or somewhere in between. This saves the uninterested reader from giving up before getting to the part that would be most helpful for them. Hopefully they will then realize the importance of the information and read the rest, but even if they only get a few tips, it will still improve their finances.
She begins the book with some anecdotes and a mini biography to build her credentials as an authority on the subject, why she is someone you should listen to. This includes the same Krispy Kreme story as is in the “About” page of her website, telling us when she first learned that Earnings – Expenses = Profit. She follows it with a couple more pages of stories and her professional background. Her credentials mainly come down to her relatively few years of experience and prolific output. As a librarian, I prefer to defer to authorities who have a mix of the following: have a long track record of working with high-quality organizations like journalists Beth Kobliner or Michelle Singletary; studied the topic extensively, like Annamaria Lusardi or Olivia S. Mitchell; or have worked for years, face-to-face, in financial education, like Colin Ryan, and can thus get immediate feedback to gauge whether what they say hits home or not. She states here that she took CFP courses but not that she ever got the accreditation. I wish she had the actual designation, as it would lend her more credibility. She gives short overviews of what’s inside and even includes a reference to “Parks and Rec” – you now have my attention, Ms. Lowry.
The author is skilled at connecting with those in her age range, breaking down walls for readers who have zero understanding of personal finance or fear anything to do with money management. She makes clever analogies throughout the book, helping the reader to understand what they have always considered a complex topic. For example, she compares money to dating, “…you want to take a more long-term view – to look at money like it’s marriage material, not a random Tinder date” (p. 8) She uses cheeky language, like in the chapter about money in relationships, “…financial foreplay isn’t quite as exciting unless you’re both going to whip out well-endowed bank accounts…” (p. 168) It would provide the reader comprehension of complex ideas, not just understanding, if she had included visualizations, especially for ideas like compound interest. She keeps jargon to a minimum and does curse a few times, making her seem more human but risks sounding less professional (speaking as someone who’s been trying – and failing – to clean up her language in professional settings so this is probably more about me than her).
The cache lent to her by being roughly the same age group as her reader, using comparisons with platforms like Tinder, and using terms like “YOLOFOMO” and “cuffing season” – which is a term I’d never heard before and had to google – are now strengths but may give this book a short shelf life as it could look dated in a few years (p. 164). I was just informed by a 20-something that the expression “woot-woot” is very out of fashion and I still make jokes about my milkshake bringing all the boys to the yard – the song didn’t come out THAT long ag… nevermind. My hope is that she passes on the torch like the Dread Pirate Roberts to another smart twenty-something in a few years to release an updated version of this book so that graduates in the years to come will continue to read this useful resource.
Although her relaxed style and friendly tone make the reader comfortable with what are otherwise uncomfortable subjects for most people, this may be a double-edged sword as sometimes the book can read as gussied up blog posts. Like blog posts, there were a few grammatical and typographical errors. They are forgivable in the no-editor, quick to publish, digital format, but they should never be able to make their way to paper. I may sound like a cranky old teacher, but hear me out on this one – you should care about these types of things because they are red flags. If there was not enough oversight and attention given to the text to get rid of these errors, there is an increased likelihood that not enough attention and oversight was given to the content. Some examples:
p. 56 “The first step is to identity…” – should be “identify”
p. 153 “Wouldn’t it be just perfect if you’re were struggling financially…”
p. 216 “Here’s what would happen if you started saving $150 a year from your first job at age 22” – – it should say “month” – not “year” – there’s a BIG difference between the two. $1,650 a year to be precise.
To be persnickety, on page 57 she uses the word “utilize” twice in four lines, incorrectly. It should be “use”. Who is editing this book? Do they even speak the language?! Their job is to catch these errors! I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL! “Utilize” is to put something to good use, especially for a purpose it was not designed for. People use it instead of the almost always more accurate “use” because they think it makes them sound smart or educated but they just sound uneducated and pretentious. Here’s a blog post from an editing company explaining the difference. (Or you could listen to NPR explain it; or Grammar Girl, 2:30; or this random grammar blogger; or StackExchange, I’m not the only one!)
One thing that absolutely sung to me was her use of appropriate and reliable resources. I love good sources! Her endnotes – yes, endnotes! – cite great government sources such as the: CFPB, which she rightfully leans quite heavily on; Social Security Administration; Internal Revenue Service; and Federal Trade Commission. She goes straight to the source when discussing credit score, citing the myFICO credit education resources and Experian. It is a bit of a red flag that she did not include TransUnion and Equifax experts so that she’s covered all her bases; only talking with one of the three companies is incomplete, at best.
She uses some academic work, I would like her to use more. I think when discussing these matters, one should be doing their research from an equal amount private, public, and academic sources to cover as many angles on the topic as possible. The professionals she quotes throughout are well established, like journalist Michelle Singletary, Rod Griffin of Experian, and Paulette Perhach who wrote AN AMAZING post touting the importance of an emergency fund that reframed this concept as integral to the readers’ identity as independent and strong. Go read it. Now. I’ll wait. I was pleased to see a minimum of “studies” put out by journalists/websites which lack the thoroughness of government and academic studies. Overall, the fact that she does cite within her material and she uses good resources, increases her authority as we know she isn’t making this stuff up.
As for the content of the book, she gives a good overview of a wide breadth of topics; including some which are important but too often left out because there is just so much to go over, like negotiation, money in relationships, and the emotional aspects of living at home. A few unique things I loved were that she addresses financial abuse, used the word “heteronormative” (p. 166), and says straight up “Debt is really profitable for banks” (p. 107). YES! Thank you! People need to know that it is in your bank’s best interest for you to be in debt. This kind of candid talk increases my trust that she is looking out for the consumer’s best interests. Sometimes she simplified topics a bit too much for my taste; for example, she glosses over credit unions as an alternative to banks, organizations that many of her readers would probably want to know about and join.
Here is a list of topics covered, in order by chapter: psychological money blocks, evaluating your current situation, budgeting, financial products, credit report and score, credit cards, how to deal with debt, student loans, saving money, money and friends, money and your partner, living with parents as an adult, negotiating salary, investing, retirement, financial planning, and buying a home. All in under 250 pages. I’d love her to write multiple books, going into detail in all these topics. It looks like she may be headed that way as she just released a book about investing. Although I’m only a few books in to my financial book review endeavor, one problem I’ve seen is that there are a ton of general money books, few that really get into the nitty-gritty for a popular audience. Probably because it’s tricky to write a fun-to-read book that does this. The stellar-content academic books I’ve read on finance and investing are as dull as watching matte beige paint dry. And crazy expensive to boot.
Overall, the content of the book is in line with what most personal finance experts recommend. What separates this book from others comes down to these three strengths:
It is is for people in their twenties, written by someone in her twenties
It covers the emotional and interpersonal side of personal finance
It uses reliable sources for its material
To sum up, if you’re looking for a good money book for the new graduate in your life, this is a great option.