plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

December 31, 2008

looking for good personal finance books

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , — plonkee @ 11:10 am

What do you look for in a personal finance book?

There’s been a discussion on Christian personal finance books on The Simple Dollar.

As a matter of interest, Trent, who writes the Simple Dollar ,happens to be a Christian, if pushed I’d guess he was a liberal to conservative Christian. Of course, since that’s fairly mainstream American (especially in Iowa) as far as I’m concerned it’s the fringes that are having the polite and well-mannered interesting discussion on that particular post And the fringes are me (the atheist), glblguy and mbhunter (born again Christians – I think, and great bloggers).

is there something wrong with Christian personal finance books?

The issue at hand was why I don’t like Christian personal finance books, and my original statement is that I would like them a lot better if they didn’t:

1 assume that I was a Christian

2 assume that Christianity was self-evident

Actually, I think this about all religions (because I am a non-believer) and all media. I think it’s interesting that none of the Christian personal finance bloggers write stuff that I despise. None of them assume that the casual passer by on their blog *is* Christian – although they may state that only Christians are likely to be interested in a specific post – and as a result, they don’t generally assume that Christianity is self-evident. Once you’ve admitted that there are non-Christians, you have to admit that the whole thing doesn’t make sense to some people (even if you then think that they are misguided).

what makes a personal finance book good?

Now, broadening it out away from matters of religion, it got me thinking about what I look for in a personal finance book. I’ve found that where the worldview is completely at odds with mine, and it’s one that I can have problems respecting, I don’t find the book helpful. If it’s not helpful, then for me that defeats the object of a personal finance book. This rules out The Secret, amongst other contenders.

Another thing that I look for when I’m browsing in a bookshop are a good writing style. If it’s not easy to follow, then frankly I haven’t got the time. There are plenty of sources of information on personal finance that are a pleasure to read; I see no reason to waste my time on something filled with poor English.

At this point in my personal finance thinking, I don’t really need a book on the basics. I’m (strictly in a personal finance sense) well read enough that I know how to find any information that I’m looking for on the internet. What engages me more, is the sort of extended riff on a theme or idea. Books like Your Money or Your Life appeal because they are coherent, and different presentations on what money means in the personal context.

I also don’t need books primarily aimed at someone who is at a different life stage to me. Books of frugal money saving tips may be very useful, but if the majority of advice is aimed at people with spare time on their hands, or with children, then it’s not going to appeal to this family of one.

Overall I want a personal finance book that changes me – by altering my views, or perceptions or calling me to action. I don’t need my existing ideas confirmed unaltered – not that the book would be wrong, you understand, just that it would be waste of time reading it.

On the other hand I have to start from where I am, and so, to an extent, does the book. If it disagrees with my strongly held core personal finance assumptions then it had better have a stellar argument for that. If it disagrees with my strongly held core personal values of tolerance, fairness and equality, then it’s going to be kicked to the curb.

tell me about your favourite personal finance books

My requirements are vague and woolly – I know exactly what I’m looking for but struggle to describe it. What do you think about personal finance books? Where do they fit when there’s so much information readily available on the web, tv or radio? Do you have any suggested personal finance books that fit my requirements? Do you have any other books that maybe aren’t what I’m looking for, but could be just the thing for someone else? Let us all know in the comments.

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody

Filed under: OT — Tags: , — plonkee @ 12:01 am

Happy Christmas Everyone.

I’m enjoying a fairly traditional Christmas at my dad’s house this year. One of my brothers wakes everyone up much earlier than is necessary (except me, I’m the eldest child therefore I sleep in or they’re all dead). We all, including my dad, have Christmas stockings plus my dad hides small gifts round the house and makes clues for my youngest brother to find – in return my youngest brother does exactly the same for my dad, but the clues are fiendishly difficult.

Present opening takes place with a glass of bubbly (or more than one glass) whilst listening to Slade, Wizzard and The Pogues.

For lunch we’ll be having turkey with all the trimmings – roast potatoes, mini sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing, sprouts, parsnips and other veg. There will be Christmas crackers, so the wearing of silly hats and the reading of not funny jokes will be compulsory. Christmas pudding is followed by mints and coffee.

In the afternoon we skip the Queens speech and watch a film or play a board game. Any more food is of the help yourself out of the fridge variety.

Whatever you’re doing, hope you have a great Christmas.

December 23, 2008

saving money: conventionally or unconventionally?

Filed under: philosophical — Tags: , — plonkee @ 8:54 pm

There’s a thread in the GRS forums where some nice seeming dude is asking for suggestions as to what he should do with his finances. He has a reasonable amount of consumer debt (including $3k on wedding bands), and wants to save for a wedding and a house deposit plus he has good cashflow. As usual on the forums lots of people have chimed in with good suggestions (including me!).

Also, as usual on any personal finance blog or forum when the topic is ever mentioned, a few people have made frugal wedding-y type suggestions. Typically people say something like “you don’t have to have a big fancy party to get married, you can just go to a Justice of the Peace and do it small and quiet”. Methinks that in this particular example someone who has spent $3k on wedding bands might actually really want the big wedding.

the wedding example

Weddings are amazing things. They are important rites of passage and are always connected both to the couple getting married and the culture around them. I am middle class and English and there are certain things that I expect from a traditional or conventional wedding, including special invitations, bride in a white dress, attractive location, sit down meal with alcohol. I’ve previously worked out that a traditional English wedding costs in the region of £13k and up.

You might come from a different background to me and have a different view of what a conventional wedding looks like, but I bet there’s still something that you can judge every wedding against as more, or less conventional.

When it comes to getting married frugally, tips essentially fall into two categories:

  1. ways to be conventional more cheaply
  2. ways to not be conventional that save money

Naturally, where you place a particular tip depends on your idea of what conventional is. For example, I would say that having a fork buffet would be within conventional but possibly cheaper, whereas (for me) self-catering a wedding is not  conventional. Similarly, for me eloping or having a very small wedding are not traditional, having one bridesmaid* would be traditional but cheaper.

*In England it is legal requirement to have two witnesses at a marriage ceremony, traditionally one is the bridesmaid and the other the best man – even if they’re not dressed in fancy clothes, that’s basically who the witnesses are going to be.

There’s nothing wrong with either way of saving money, but which one you pick for the most part will depend on a lot of things about you and your family that have nothing to do with your budget. If I was getting married, I could be deeply unconventional about say, the colour of my dress (which clearly would be purple), but a wedding is all about the ceremony and the big party – there would have to be really unusual circumstances for me to consider a quick registry office thing.

things other than weddings

What’s true about weddings is true about lots of things. Whenever you’re looking to cut costs, there are two ways of approaching things:

  1. do what everyone else does, but cheaper
  2. be different, in a way that saves money

Both are equally valid and acceptable but have completely different results and require different mindsets.

I use both where I can – or at least I try to consider both – but in this sort of thing I can be fairly conventional. I tend to trim money from the standard expenses wherever I can rather than really going for the jugular and asking if I should reconsider more fundamentally.

An example of this, is probably my phone and internet use. I have a phone line, a mobile phone and a broadband internet package. I shop around to get the best deal on these, but I rarely really revisit whether I need all three, or whether or not there might be a completely different solution to the problems of staying in contact with people important to me, and blogging. Most of my purchasing decisions are like this.

The only one thing I’m doing at the moment where I think I really am being different, is in my lack of a car. The transport problems I face on a regular basis are getting to and from work, running errands, and travelling to see friends and family. Since I can do all of those without a car (although it is more hassle) I just don’t own a car. A fundamentally different attitude is required.

What about you? Where do you think you are being unconventional in a way that saves money? Where do you just do the standard stuff but cheaper? Let me know in the comments.

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