MONEY - A USER'S GUIDE (BOOK REVIEW)
Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley was published in 2018 and aims to educate young people between the ages of 18 and 40 about how to best handle their money.
While this is not a book we have heard of, we have, at a reader’s request, decided to have a look at what is covered and who might benefit from it.
While it provides a good basic overview, the book is not focused on financial independence or investing to create an income. Many readers looking to start investing long-term will find it basic and may need to do further reading.
However, it offers some useful tips on general money management.
Who Should Read This Book?
Personally, I struggled with the tone of this book. The author repeatedly refers to herself and the reader as “bad with money”.
I found this odd, since her main job is writing about finance for The Times.
What’s more, she frequently repeats how difficult and unpleasant saving and investing is and how she would much rather spend her money on consumer goods.
Although the information presented is mainly accurate, this attitude can be counterproductive for people intent on improving their financial situation.
For this reason, I would not recommend this book to anyone looking to go beyond the very basics of personal finance.
Although Whateley states that the target audience is millennials with an average or above-average income, she assumes that the reader has a lot of debt, very little capacity to save, and no self-control.
For people who are indeed “terrible with money”, this book will be a great help.
However, those hoping to go beyond this stage, it is not a good fit.
How to Find Housing
Whateley dedicates the first few chapters to describing how to rent and buy your first home. She is a bit defeatist, repeating that it is very hard for anyone to save a deposit without help from parents.
Nevertheless, she provides the reader with some helpful tips such as carefully reviewing your rights and responsibilities and getting everything in writing.
What’s more, terms such as the LTV number and different kinds of mortgages are explained.
This is a good starting point for young people a few years away from buying their first home.
How to Budget and Spend Smartly
In the next section of the book, Whateley explains the different kinds of debts and how to navigate them.
She is not as anti-debt as many other writers such as JL Collins, but she mentions that avoiding high-interest loans can improve your financial position drastically.
In the “budgeting” category of the book, the 50-30-20 budget is discussed, which advocates spending 50% of your money on necessities, 30% on wants, and saving 20%.
While many in the FI community believe that this is suboptimal, Whateley is of the opposite conviction. She emphasizes how difficult it would be to achieve a 20% savings rate.
There is a helpful section about how ideas from psychology, such as anchoring and overvaluing sales, can impact the way we handle money.
The author explains why we might choose the second most expensive wine on the menu and why we value things more if we’ve had them for a long time.
I would have liked to see hedonistic adaptation in this chapter.
This concept explains that purchasing new things only gives us a temporary high, so we have to keep spending to satisfy our ever-increasing needs.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t speak about this and instead emphasizes with the reader about how difficult saving is.
She calls a frugal life “unnecessarily crap”.
Further along in the book, the topic of spending comes up again, and Whateley explains how you can save money on your energy and other household bills.
This section includes some good tips, especially for those who are reluctant to switch suppliers.
SAVING AND INVESTING
For the beginner, the chapter on saving will be helpful because interest rates, inflation, and a variety of savings accounts are explained.
However, the author calls investing “a bit golf club”, which felt alienating to me as a young woman passionate about the topic.
What’s more, she states that 0.75-1.25% fund management fees are standard, whereas you can achieve a total expense ratio of well below 0.5% with ETFs.
More emphasis on the fact that fees can eat into your returns significantly would have been productive.
Various investment options are explained, and the author states that beginners shouldn’t invest in individual stocks.
This is sensible advice. Index funds are mentioned, but not emphasized.
Whateley provides a very basic overview, so anyone looking to start investing will either need to use a robo advisor or do some further research.
Emotions and Money
I enjoyed the section about emotions and personal finances, which included a chapter about money and relationships and one about money and mental health.
Whateley acknowledges that previous generations had a much more defined structure: the man went to work and paid for life, while the woman stayed at home and looked after the household.
Today, either person can be the main breadwinner, and there are more fluid arrangements.
For this reason, it’s crucial that we speak to our partners about money and have a solid plan for cohabitation. Whateley discusses several scenarios, such as buying a home together, and how to best plan for them.
The next chapter details how the pressures of social media and the difficult job market can often make us feel bad about ourselves.
Undoubtedly, money has a role to play here, and being more open can help us realise that everyone else has similar problems. This can take the pressure off.
Whateley then goes into detail about how to handle money when suffering from a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder.
While interesting to read, this seemed outside the scope of a beginner finance book.
Handling Your Money Ethically
The final chapter of the book deals with handling your money ethically.
Some of the topics include ethical banks, mortgages, investments, and energy companies.
The advice is very basic, so you’ll have to do your own research if you’re interested in applying these concepts.
However, it is good that they are included, since many readers might otherwise not know about them. I personally wasn’t aware that you could get an ethical mortgage or bank.
SHOULD YOU BUY THIS BOOK?
How we rated the book
Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley is a good starting point for people who are well below average when it comes to personal finances.
It caters to a UK audience, so it can be helpful for people hoping to start their career in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, but not for people from EU countries.
The most positive aspect is that it goes beyond pure Financial Freedom aspects and addresses many different financial topics such as finding housing at a reasonable rate, handling debt, and optimizing bills.
However, it is not suitable for anyone looking to learn in-depth about investing. And if you landed on this website, chances are, this book won’t be of great help.
The information is very basic, so you’ll need to do a lot more research before you feel confident about your finances.
What’s more, the tone of the book seemed counterproductive because it is so negative.
Whateley looks at saving as a necessary evil, not something that can enhance your life and encourage you to decouple happiness from spending.
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