Review: On My Own Two Feet

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

On My Own Two FeetOn My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar is subtitled A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, meaning that it joins a group of personal finance books targeting young(ish) women (such as Smart Women Finish Rich, You’re So Money, and Emotional Currency).

I find this area of personal finance books – ones directly targeting women – to be quite fascinating. Why is that even necessary?

Usually, the content is pretty straight personal finance with a few asides to women’s culture, which I think is a big clue. Many cultures often insert a big wedge between the roles of women and the roles of men, but over the last fifty years in the western world, that wedge has eroded quite a bit. My wife can do anything that a “man” can do, and I see nothing wrong with men enjoying tasks that are traditionally seen as women’s tasks, such as knitting and so on.

I’d love to see a world for my daughter where there’s no expectation of how roles will be defined in her relationships and they can decide those roles for themselves without any criticism from the outside world.

So, having said that, I’m actually glad that personal finance books exist for women that simply give straight-up personal finance advice without modifying it much at all for cultural needs. The asides to women’s culture in this book (and others like it) are minor and, in most cases, are practically an afterthought. It’s all about getting in control of your finances, something that’s useful to both men and women.

So, what’s actually addressed in the book? It’s broken down into three major sections, with each section subdivided into a number of short chapters and sections.

The Tools for Financial Empowerment
The first third of the book is all about getting you to the point where you’re spending less than you earn, you’re halfway secure, and your net worth is going up each month. Start saving now. Use your credit cards wisely. Understand your credit score. Get insurance. Build a basic budget.

This isn’t really a “get out of debt” book, though. It assumes that you may have a bit of credit card debt, but if you’re finding that your debt situation is bone-crushing, you may want to look elsewhere.

Instead, the book focuses on people who are what I would call drifting. They live mostly paycheck to paycheck, but they don’t have a lot of debt built up. They splurge a lot, but not excessively.

If you’re in that category, the best step you can take is saving for yourself first. Open up a savings account and set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account each week. Sit on that account until you actually need the money. This can prevent a lot of debt down the road.

The Path from Saving to Investing
Of course, once your debts are largely cleared and you’re saving a significant amount each month, you’re going to want that money to start working for you. The transition from “saver” to “investor” is covered in this section.

Why invest? Investing simply means that you’re putting your money someplace where it will (ideally) generate more money. If you buy a stock, for example, you hope that it goes up in value and that it issues you dividend payments regularly. Sure, a stock isn’t a fun purchase, but it is an income-generating purchase.

The best steps are baby steps. Start with one type of investment. Learn about it and make an initial small investment that doesn’t sacrifice your cash savings. Make that investment regular.

When you feel more confident, diversify. Invest in something else. The more different kinds of investments you have, the easier it is for you to survive a bad crash in one market.

The Strategies for Real-Life Situations
Your home. Your car. Your income taxes. Your love life. All of these things have enormous impacts on your money, so Manisha and Sharon devote significant parts of the third section to each issue.

In large part, it’s all about saving first and protecting yourself. If you want to buy a house, start saving for a down payment (and live in a modest apartment until you have it). If you’re looking at a car purchase in the future, start saving for that, too. Don’t forget to file your income taxes in April (that’s the biggest piece of the tax advice here, as it seems to encourage the reader to either use software or hire a tax preparer). Protect yourself in a relationship so that, if things go bad, you have a financially stable way to exit that relationship.

It’s all great advice and it all boils down to one thing: plan ahead.

Is On My Own Two Feet Worth Reading?
Like many personal finance books these days, On My Own Two Feet takes really sound personal finance advice and packages it with cultural asides that target a particular audience: college graduates, young professionals, stay-at-home moms.

Who does this book target? Young professional women, perhaps with a slight materialistic bent. If you’re in that group and you want a personal finance book that speaks directly to you, this is the book for you.

The further you are outside of that group, the less impact this book will have on you. While the personal finance facts are quite good, the cultural asides make less and less sense the further you are from being in that target audience.

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