Review: Be Thrifty

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

be thriftyA few weeks ago, I stopped at a local business that was having a “going out of business” sale. It was one of those little interesting eclectic gift shops that you randomly find in small towns here or there, the kind that you almost wish wasn’t going out of business but you’re also glad to find at that perfect moment because of the steep discounts on items.

They had a small bookshelf full of miscellaneous books hand-picked by the store’s buyer and I browsed through the selection a bit, knowing that they were all on sale for a fraction of their cover price. There, I found an interesting little hardbacked book entitled Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less, and I picked it up solely to review it here on The Simple Dollar.

The book itself is actually a collection of articles (by many different writers) sorted roughly into chapters on the general theme of frugal living, though I would actually describe the selection as self-sufficient living more than anything else. It reminded me a bit of The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, a book that I deeply enjoyed and have returned to again and again over the years, though with less of a “minimize every cent” bent.

1 | Home, Sweet (Thrifty) Home
Home maintenance is the name of the game here, and the book comes at it from a lot of different angles. From discussing frugal home cleaning materials (baking soda! vinegar!) to step-by-step guides to a few simple home repair projects, like rewiring a lamp and installing a new light fixture (something we need to do in our entryway soon – and something I’m going to document with pictures and post about).

2 | Animal, Vegetable, Budget
The second chapter discusses gardening and pets – something of an odd pairing, but it would have made for two very short chapters otherwise. Since I’m not a pet owner (due to allergies) and I am a gardener (when flood waters aren’t destroying everything), I focused on the first half of the chapter. Quite simply, it’s a very comprehensive 30 page guide to starting a garden for someone who has never had a garden before, focusing heavily on topics like vegetables that are very easy to grow (like radishes and green beans and oregano – I can’t even kill this stuff!) and how to start your own miniature compost bin in a bucket.

3 | Food & the Thrifty Cook
This section is mostly a set of frugal recipes with a few general guidelines for saving money on food. The writers seem to be as enamored with dried beans as I am (I think they’re basically the best bargain in a grocery store) and are big advocates of the whole creating a meal plan with the grocery store flyer in hand and then shopping with a grocery list method. The recipes are pretty basic and easy to follow – the focus really is on “easy” with inexpensive ingredients here. A lot of staples are covered, too, including a making your own bread and making your own pasta (something I’ll cover soon, too).

4 | The Family That Saves Together
Here, the authors just collect a lot of information useful for parents – making your own baby food, diaper guidance (I say just use cloth), buying kid’s clothes (I say use the secondhand store), and craft projects are all included. One big focus that I like is the idea of playing games with your children. I am a huge fan of the idea of a family game night once a week (if not more often). It’s incredibly inexpensive (all you need is a deck of cards) and is a spectacular way to bond with the people you’re playing games with.

5 | Taking Care of You
Clothes (buy used!). Grooming (keep clean!). Exercise (do it at home!). Health (eat better and get plenty of sleep!). These are the topics covered here, as the focus is on making yourself feel better and function better, both in terms of outward appearance and inward energy level and sense of self-confidence. What’s the best free thing a person can do with regards to health? I’d point at two things – taking an uptempo walk every day and getting plenty of sleep.

6 | Living the Life of Leisure
How does a frugal person have social gatherings? The authors offer up tons of ideas here, from potluck dinners and barbecues to wines under $10 (Charles Shaw at Trader Joe’s is the best cheap wine – “two buck Chuck” is better than you’d ever think it would be). There are also a lot of “make it yourself” gift ideas in this chapter, something that’s been on my mind as the gift-giving season approaches (and something I’m going to devote a “theme week” to in a few weeks).

7 | Thrift & Your Wallet
This is the shortest chapter, but perhaps the meatiest from a personal finance perspective. It essentially jams the key parts of personal finance into a dozen or so pages, hitting the big topics like having a cash emergency fund, spending less than you earn, avoiding credit card debt, putting money away for retirement (even if you’re not sure of the “best” investment), and so on. Really basic stuff if you read personal finance blogs.

Is Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less Worth Reading?
Reading this book is much like reading a multi-author blog that focuses on fairly simple do-it-yourself projects with an eye towards self-sufficiency and saving money. If that sounds appealing to you, you’ll get a lot of value out of Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less.

Of course, the argument against books with this type of format is “why not just read the website?” After all, there are blogs out there (this being one) that cover the same ideas with the same format. The big difference is the portable and shareable nature. You can take a book like this easily around the house with you as you try different things, read it in any environment, annotate it to your heart’s content, and share the book easily with friends.

Because of that portability, hand in hand with the do-it-yourself nature of this book, I give it a big thumbs up. I can easily see myself hunting down another few copies of this to give away as gifts this year (Kim, this means you if we get your name in the Christmas drawing).

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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