Updated on 12.06.09

Review: Lifelines for Money Misfortunes

Trent Hamm

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

lifelinesA couple years ago, I reviewed Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine’s earlier book Die Broke. I found it really interesting for the first half – which focuses on investing in yourself – and completely faulty in the second half, which talks about specific investment choices. The first half, though, was thought-provoking enough that I actually returned to some of the early chapters of it again in the future.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Pollan and Levine’s latest book, Lifelines for Money Misfortunes and I found it quite enjoyable. It’s composed of a lot of short chapters that focus on how to deal with various money problems, from losing a job to not having enough money for college.

Because there are so many of these short chapters, I won’t review them in detail. Instead, I’m going to focus on the five central principles of the book, ones which Levine and Pollan apply to each of the problems.

Accept the Problem and Own the Solution
When something goes wrong in our lives, it’s easy to try to blame others. Here’s the thing, though: when something is wrong in your life, thinking about blame doesn’t help – at all. Instead, you need to accept that this problem exists in your life and focus your energies not on figuring out who to blame and getting “revenge,” but on actually fixing the problem.

At the same time, you also can’t just sit around and wait for someone to solve the problem for you. You need to step up to the plate yourself and solve the problem. If you don’t, you’re not only vastly increasing the odds of locking yourself in a downward spiral, you’re also denying yourself the chance of building a lot of personal fortitude and skills.

Unburden Yourself
Bottling things up inside – your frustrations, your pain, your anger – is never a good thing. It will either explode at an inopportune time or it’ll fester inside of you.

When you have a money misfortune, talk about it with the people important to you. Tell them about your frustrations, as well as what your plans are for overcoming them.

Not only will this provide a psychic release for you, it will also give your friends an opportunity to give you advice and help as well. You’ll often be surprised at how helpful and insightful the core people in your life can be.

Diagnose the Impact
How bad is it, really? Quite often, when a misfortune hits us, we either radically overestimate or radically underestimate the impact the event has upon us. Step back for a moment and figure out exactly what the impact of the event is in your life.

Does it change your ability to earn revenue in the future? Does it alter the income or revenue of people you care about? Are you losing something of value in your life – or in danger of losing it?

Work through the ramifications of what just happened to you and figure out how it affects the important areas of your life. Know the impact before you start flinging around “solutions.”

Take Your Financial Pulse
What’s your actual financial state right now? What resources do you have available to you to solve the crisis?

Quite often, people look at their situation from too narrow of a viewpoint. They don’t look at nearly all the assets available to them to solve the crisis. Many life misfortunes allow you to use retirement accounts and other assets without penalty, for example.

Look at what you have, then investigate whether those things can be used to fix your problem.

Start Pallative Measures
Pallative measures are things that reduce the immediate pain of your misfortune. What can you do in the ultra short term to minimize the pain?

Maybe you need to take some job – any job – to get some revenue moving in. Maybe you can sell some things. Maybe you can ask for a little bit of help from the people central in your life.

Figure out what can take the edge off the pain in the short term, but don’t make that your long-term solution. Pallative measures just help you to the point where long term plans can be put into place.

Launch Revenue Rehabilitation
Most financial misfortunes result in a serious revenue shortfall. To put it simply, there’s not enough money coming in to cover the money going out – and that can result in a serious downward spiral.

Don’t allow this to happen or the problem will be exacerbated. Do what you need to do to rehabilitate your income quickly. Start applying for jobs now – and while you’re job-hunting, get a night job. File for unemployment. Tap any funds you have to make up for the shortfall. Start living cheaper immediately.

No matter what, try to avoid going into debt because of the loss of revenue.

Cultivate Antibodies
What can you do to ensure you’re not smacked by such money disasters again? Launch antibodies, of course. “Antibodies” are things you can do to ensure that such disasters don’t blindside your life in the future.

Emergency funds are one type of antibody – they provide the funds you need in any kind of pinch. A greater array of personal skills are another type. Knowing how to live cheap – and practicing it – is yet aother type.

The more antibodies you have in your life, the less likely a money misfortune will strike you and take you down.

Is Lifelines for Money Misfortunes Worth Reading?
The advice in Lifelines for Money Misfortunes is accurate and straightforward. The book does a very good job of outlining a plan of attack for a lot of different personal finance situations.

However, most of these plans of attack are very similar. They all more or less follow the structure outlined above with just a few tweaks for each situation. If you’re flexible in your thinking, you really only need to read a few chapters in the book to get the idea.

If you have a specific money misfortune, the advice in this book can be a great guide to you. Once you’ve recovered, though, and reflected on the situation, using this advice in future situations might seem a bit repetitive. It can be a lifesaver once – after that, it might feel like the same old, same old.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. That is so often overlooked, to get a job with more income, instead of trying to somehow open more credit lines, or keep cutting expenses.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  2. NYC reader says:

    Trent, the correct spelling of the word is “palliative.” You misspelled it several times in this post.

    Sorry to sound so picky, but you are now a professional writer, not an itinerant blogger. I think you need to hone the tools of your trade (word choice, grammar, spelling) to reflect your new professional status. As Emeril would say, “Kick it up a notch!”

    I wince whenever I see the typical errors in your writing, such as the following:

    Single vs. plural disagreement. Yes, there’s no good gender-neutral possessive singular word in English. Using “their” is not a substitute for “her/his.” Either use the inclusive terms, e.g. “her/his” instead of “their,” “s/he” instead of “they,” or rewrite your pieces so you don’t run into those grammatical constructions.

    Overuse of words. If I see you overuse the word “strong” or “strongly” again, I will have to buy you a thesaurus. Ditto for “truly.”

    Failure to distinguish between inanimate things vs. humans when using pronouns. Learn when to use “who” vs. “that.”

    It’s not all bad, by the way. You seem to know appropriate usage of apostrophes, one of my pet peeves. And your spelling is usually ok (spell-check, perhaps?).

    I just think that the writing skill level expected of a professional is (rightfully) higher than that of a amateur. There’s more to the writing craft than ideas and story development, the basic mechanics of language usage need to be addressed as well.

    Again, sorry if this comes off as me being picky. It’s intended to be a wakeup call for self-improvement.

  3. AnnJo says:

    @NYC reader, I’m with you all the way and I’m especially delighted to know that there’s at least one other admirer of proper apostrophe use. There’s nothing like a sign on a house announcing “The Jones’es” or “The Baker’s” to ruin the neighborhood.

    Another horror is the swapping of “me” and “I” out of their correct places – “Me and John went to the mall,” for instance, or “He talked to John and I about that.” (Shudder! Trent, I’ve known you to do the latter.) If in doubt, leave John out of the sentence and see how it sounds. Would you say, “Me went to the mall,” or “He talked to I about it”?

    On singular-plural inconsistency: Political correctness now insists that the masculine singular pronoun used generically “privileges” men and ignores women. Doesn’t the alternate construction “privilege” the collective and ignore the individual? After all, we’re not ants or bees, are we? “Nobody likes their dinner, but everybody likes their dessert.” Singular for the verb “to like” and plural for the possessive pronoun? It’s downright painful.

    In most communities, the police are regarded as important members of the community, disliked mostly by those they are hired to keep in check. Why should the Grammar Police not share that respect?

  4. NYC reader says:


    Now I have to grammar-police myself. That should have been “an amateur”, not “a amateur.” Typo. Ouch. $50 fine for me.

    The point of my comment was not to bash Trent over the head, but to make him aware that poor execution of his ideas (grammatical and stylistic errors) detracts from those ideas. The errors make him sound amateurish and not to be taken seriously as a writer.

    A few words about writing…

    One does not have to be a professional writer to use words well. Good writing and language skills are useful regardless of one’s profession. My writing skills have differentiated me from my colleagues and peers, and in more than one instance, helped me secure a job.

    I am an engineering professional by trade. Although my job primarily involves implementation of technology, I find myself writing technical white papers with some regularity. I am often sought out for plain-language explanations of highly technical issues for non-tech managers who have neither the background nor the time to wade through technical documents filled with jargon, diagrams, and obtuse language.

    How do I do it?

    Short declarative sentences. Full word usage, followed by the acronym in parentheses, upon first instance. Clear analogies to everyday things to make complex topics understandable. Logical introduction of topics and issues so as to not overwhelm the reader.

    And above all, proper language, spelling, grammar, and syntax.

  5. Diane says:

    @NYC Reader and @AnnJo,
    Hear, hear! You have hit the nail squarely on the head. Trent is on occasion guilty of the transgressions outlined above. However, would you agree that he’s better than most? So many blogs are rife with errors. Their reader’s comments are often even worse!
    Thank you for reminding us about the importance of good grammar. Three books that have permanent residence on my nightstand are “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, by Lynne Truss, “Woe is I”, by Patricia T. O’Conner and “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies”, by June Casagrande. These books should be required reading for everyone, especially bloggers, whether aspiring or established.
    I’m grateful to have been reasonably well educated. These days it’s my lousy memory that gets me into trouble. Thus the need for the grammar books.

  6. Debbie M says:

    Guys, these sorts of comments should be sent via e-mail. He gets the information, he probably feels less attacked, and other readers can see that there aren’t yet any comments on the content of this post.

    P.S. I do like that most of your comments are very specific and easy to learn from.

  7. NYC reader says:

    @Debbie M.

    Judging from Trent’s latest post, I don’t think he’s read these comments.

    Examples of singular-plural disagreement from Trent’s latest post:

    “Quite often, the criteria doesn’t even involve anything tangible…”

    Criteria is plural, criterion is singular. The verb should be “don’t”, not “doesn’t.”

    “You can pretty quickly tell a frugal person from a non-frugal person by their brand preferences.”

    Back to the “his/her” vs. “their” problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *