Review: The Money Saving Mom’s Budget

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.

The Money Saving Mom's BudgetI’ve had the blog Money Saving Mom bookmarked for years. In fact, it’s been a permanent mainstay on the list of 25 blogs I recommend that appears on every page of The Simple Dollar. The blog has a nice mix of couponing content paired with other articles on frugal living.

Unsurprisingly, I was glad when I heard that Crystal Paine (the woman behind Money Saving Mom) had written a personal finance book. Her tone is incredibly friendly and down-to-earth, an approach that appeals to many people and is really welcome among the personal finance books you’d find at the library and at the bookstore.

I knew the book was off to the right start as soon as I flipped past the table of contents. Immediately following that is a feature that should appear in most advice-oriented books: a single page summary of the advice within. Here, it’s a series of seven short paragraphs outlining “Money Saving Mom’s 7 Rules for Financial Success”:

1. Set big goals and break them down into bite-sized pieces
2. Streamline your life and cut the clutter
3. Set up a realistic, workable budget
4. Take the cash-only challenge
5. Use coupons
6. Never pay retail
7. Choose contentment

Each one of those is followed by a paragraph discussing that particular tactic, making it a great way to start the book.

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Train Will Get You There
There are a lot of paths we can follow from where we’re at right now. We can spend like crazy. We can put all of our money into Zynga stock. We can invest very conservatively. We can pay off debt, or we can accumulate it. We can work hard to build a career, or we can count the minutes until “Schlitz o’clock” every day. The real question is where we want to be down the road. A few paths lead to that destination. Most do not. Knowing your destination will help you pick the right path.

Are the Chaos and Clutter in Your Life Keeping You from Financial Success?
It’s hard to be financially successful if you live a cluttered existence. Chaos and clutter make it hard to find the things you need when you need them. This results in things like late bills, missed opportunities, buying things out of convenience, and other financial mistakes. Over time, this adds up to a significant amount of money – and it also adds up to a pattern of living that makes it difficult to succeed.

Give Yourself an Instant Raise Without Increasing Your Take-Home Pay
How do you pull that off? Basically, Crystal Paine’s idea here is to build a basic budget, following more or less the same template that I described in this article about basic budget building. A budget doesn’t magically make you financially responsible, but going through the process of building a real budget often teaches you exactly how you can cut your spending without really altering your life.

Go Totally Plastic-Free – Temporarily
Paine advocates simply dropping all credit card use for a while – and even dropping debit cards for that time frame. Why? Doing that will force you to use cash, and making yourself use cash is a powerful way for you to get deeply in touch with exactly how your cash flows in and out of your life. When you actually see the dollars leaving instead of just swiping a card, each purchase becomes very tangible and very important. Do that enough and you’ve rebuilt (at least in part) your relationship with money.

Coupons Are Not Just For Junk Food
Paine splits the topic of couponing into two chapters (of the nine in the book), which seems to fit since her blog has a strong couponing focus. This chapter really focuses on the basics of couponing, addressing items such as where to find them (the internet, store flyers, etc.), how to organize them (binders, envelopes, etc.), and how to be selective about the coupons you find and use. Simply put, there are coupons for almost anything if you’re willing to look for them and organize what you find.

Beyond the Basics: Advanced Couponing Techniques
From there, Paine goes on to look at how to find a good store to use the coupons you’ve found at (does the store have double couponing? Does it have a customer rewards program?) and how to stack coupons to maximize your savings by finding store coupons, manufacturer coupons, and store sales all on the same item at once. I tend to find that the effort in seeking out such options isn’t worth it, but it’s well worth just keeping your eyes open for these types of bargains.

Twenty-Five Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill Without Clipping Coupons
Don’t be married to your brands. Don’t be married to your store. Buy things in bulk. Make simple meals at home. Freeze meals that you make. Make your own household cleaners. The ideas in this chapter are great basic frugality tips that anyone can use to save money at home. They just simply work.

Going Out on the Town Without Going Broke
What you’re really looking at here is “bang for the buck.” For example, if you want to go out to eat with your family, try to look for restaurants that offer a “kids eat free” night. If you’re going out with just your partner or spouse, use programs like to find steep discounts on a meal eaten out. Look for free or heavily discounted cultural events in your area, like family days or free days at local museums or free concerts in the park. There are a lot of things to do out and about that are quite fun but aren’t expensive if you’re willing to look for them.

Embrace Today
A lot of these tactics are filed away by people for “someday.” If you do that, then you’re just committing yourself to more and more of your life devoted to struggling with debt, tied to your job, and feeling that you’re never going to get ahead in life. Today is the day to start living life with more sensibility when it comes to your money.

Is The Money Saving Mom’s Budget Worth Reading?
The Money Saving Mom’s Budget is an absolutely spot-on introductory book to cutting your spending. It focuses much more on the “spend less” part of the equation than the “earn more” part, but that’s often the part of the equation that people find the most success with when they hit that realization that something needs to change in their life.

The title alone somewhat restricts the readership – I probably wouldn’t give a single guy a book called “The Money Saving Mom’s Budget,” after all. However, this would be the first book I’d give to a mother who is just starting to think about making financial changes – a realization that often comes to parents after having a child.

Great book, Crystal.

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