Updated on 10.01.07

Your Money or Your Life: Prologue

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThis is the first part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

Right off the bat, the book asks a series of probing questions that basically demand some degree of introspection. Just try reading through these without reflecting on your life a bit:

Do you have enough money?
Are you spending enough time with family and friends?
Do you come home from your job full of life?
Do you have time to participate in things you believe are worthwhile?
If you were laid off from your job, would you see it as an opportunity?
Are you satisfied with the contributions you have made to the world?
Are you at peace with your money?
Does your job reflect your values?
Do you have enough savings to see you through six months of living expenses?
Is your life whole? Do all the pieces – your job, your expenditures, your relationships, your values – fit together?

The first time I read Your Money or Your Life, I really didn’t want to think about the questions too much because I knew I wouldn’t like most of the answers. I felt pretty content with my job and I felt it matched my values, but most of the other answers were deeply in the negative and it left me with a pretty tight lump in my stomach. These questions all point toward a values-oriented life instead of a money-oriented life. It’s something that a lot of people feel that they should be doing, but somewhere along the line they’re distracted from it – and that was certainly very true for me.

One particular piece of the prologue really jumped out at me. The section entitled The Not-So-Merry Go Round begins with a description of how people spend much more than their normal 40 hours working at their job – transportation, decompression, doctor’s visits from the stress, and so on. This is followed by the additional costs of working – clothing, commuting costs, food costs, maintaining transportation, and so on. The result?

With all that time and money spent on and around our jobs, is it any wonder that we have come to take our identities from them? When asked, “What do you do?” we don’t say, “I do plumbing.” We say, “I am a plumber.”

This is definitely true. When I reflect on this for a bit, I realize how much many of us are tied into our jobs. Here’s an example: I feel internally that I contribute more to the world writing on The Simple Dollar than I contribute in my professional life, but when talking to people face to face, I not only don’t mention that task that makes me feel like I’m making a difference, I identify myself as being defined by my particular profession. When I consider that conflict, it makes me really wonder who I am. What’s the really valuable thing I’m doing with my life?

This leads to a very interesting question about roles. What roles do I regularly fill in my life? When I go to the grocery store, am I going there as a parent? An environmentalist? A consumer? The answer to that question affects greatly what I put into my shopping cart – and also connects directly to the amount of money I spend and the nutritional value I take home. When you start thinking of things in such a fashion, the connections between your money and your life becomes terribly evident.

Most of the rest of the prologue is similar to almost all how-to books – and almost all nonfiction books in general. It mostly talks about how great the system is, which is rather boring to say the least. I generally feel like such sections are mostly for the self-gratification of the author and usually worth skipping over.

Tomorrow, we’ll dig into the first chapter (“The Money Trap: The Old Road Map For Money”) and continue until the subheading “Prosperity and the Planet.” In the paperback version I have (the common one in the United States), this reading is found on pages 1 through 9.

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  1. Gayle says:

    I just returned from my umpteenth high school reunion. Most of the conversations revolved around retirement. Who has retired, how can we afford to retire, and can we ever afford to retire? For myself, I am trying to figure out a way to go from my paid career to what I really love to do, that is an unpaid volunteer position which actually costs me money to participate in but gives me great joy. Totally different orientation.

  2. Mariette says:

    I love this book! In the prologue I was particularly impressed with the section about “The Old Road Map” and how we need to change how we think of economics now that we live in a world that has vastly depleted resources and now we have to create a new road map.

  3. Lana says:

    I have been searching for this book everywhere! My local Barnes and Nobles is out, the library has one copy out and one stolen, and the many small bookstores I checked on my recent vacation turned up empty. I’m going crazy here! I’d love to jump on this bandwagon…must be popular if no one has a copy in stock!

  4. Brent says:

    I’m glad that I had already requested a copy of this book since there is a wait at the library. This will help encourage me to read a little bit everyday since there is discussion about it. I’ve never been a reader so I’m trying to change this habit, my kids are 100 times better than me because we encourage it so much with them at young ages.

  5. Kim says:

    I’m so glad you’re doing this. I started reading this book a couple of months ago, but didn’t have the time for the “homework”. Unfortunately, I didn’t re-read the prologue before this post, so I don’t have anything profound to say. Next section!

  6. Chad says:

    I am in the same boat as Lana. B&N is out. Library is out. Just ordered off Amazon by the time I get it we will have finished the first 5 chapters but I guess we can just participate in comments.

    I think all the great “self-help” books start with a good few questions to get you thinking about what is truly important. Course then you have to have the intestinal fortitude to jump ship and aim for the new goal that is more enriching to your life and to the lives of others.

  7. Beth says:

    I’m excited for this. I did this book by myself a few years ago, and with a group some years ago as well, but I never did each and every step. The timing is great as I just (as of September) started tracking all my spending, and for the first time ever was brave enough to add up the income and outgo. Good news: I’m spending less than I make! Bad news: not by an awful lot! So this should be very useful and interesting. (and heck, maybe even fun)

  8. Leslie says:

    I’m completely onboard with this project. I have not read this book in two years but originally read and worked many of the steps. This allowed me to claw my way out of debt and buy a house. Now I am in a job I like but have a long commute with a car payment. I am questioning a job closer to home as a move is not in my financial interest. I want to work step five for my 101 goals in 1001 days. Thanks for the motivation and the community. I will be thinking about my money, my commute and my time to do so as I join in…

  9. rhbee says:

    I really am travelling in uncharted seas here. I read all the time, all kinds of things, but only lately have I been reading self-help books. I spent most of my life getting my help from my fictional friends. I’d better explain. In fiction, the writer is telling a story. The characters work out their lives and as a reader I get to see their choices, enjoy their attempts at survival and understand why things worked or didn’t work. I can look forward to their growth and change and still like the fact that they stay familiar. I have always liked the fact that my childhood prepared me for helping myself by giving me the desire to read early on.

    But I have a partner in life, T., who never reads fiction. She is just coming to reading as an adult and seriously she wants to find out what people more experienced, more confident, more successful and more wealthy than her have to say about getting those things. I could laugh at her. But I don’t.

    Lately I have been taking the time to read what she’s reading in order to give her a sounding board and to give us another thing to enjoy together besides dancing, working our various businesses, and discussing the movies, plays, museums, and travels we share. Oh yeah, we both played and love basketball.

    But now, through this seed of sharing, I came to the Simple Dollar, and Get Rich Slowly and the world of blogging and I seem to be developing an interest in this stuff for myself.

    Oh and by the way, the prologue made me a little sad because the world, despite this book and its success, has not really gotten the message.

  10. rhbee says:

    Sorry, by the way Amazon had around 40 copies of this book last time I checked.

  11. Cool, I think this will be a fun experiment.

    I agree that the prologue is a bit dull, but here is one part I took note of- the topic of ‘Whole Life Integration’. Getting everything in balance and harmony and not treating your financial life as a separate entity.

    I think what I take away from that is that we can’t fake it with money. You can appear to others to be successful, maybe because you have nice things, but if you only acquired those things with debt or you need those things to feel fulfilled then something has to give. Your life won’t be in harmony and you will suffer the effects in other areas.

    I don’t know. Maybe that was a bit much to read into that, but I’m looking forward to working through the rest of the book anyway. :)

  12. Avlor says:

    (Still waiting to get my grubby hands on a copy of the book. Tapping fingers as I try to wait patiently. /wink)

    They are really good questions to measure where you are with your $ and contentedness. I have a few yet to reconcile. But I’m in a better place than last year regarding those questions.

    It is interesting the relationship between “do and am” regarding jobs. As a stay at home mom, it’s plain odd. Sometimes just to see the reaction I’ll say, “I’m just a mom.” I know I am more than this, but when occupations are discussed its hard to add in a sentence or two on potty training with out getting stared at. It’s also a bit on the odd side for me because being a mom and wife is my priority. I’ve met so many people that think I’m just lucky and they don’t see the sacrifices we’ve made.

    @FinanceandFat: You’re right. I remember reading somewhere about what might happen if we all went around with a net worth figure above our heads. It’s hard to remember sometimes that the rich looking people aren’t always truly rich, and that I’m better off than many people financially.

  13. Kris says:

    Got my copy from the library today, and read the Prologue. Like you, Trent, I found it to be a bit sales-oriented, as if they needed to prove their system worked off the bat.

    However (and this struck me with Dave Ramsey’s book, too), I really liked the emphasis on personal responsibility. I dug that they were saying, “this won’t be easy, but you can do it.” It seems as if a lot of finance books skip over that part and go right to the advice.

    While I found the question section a bit general, it was a hell of hook.

    On to tomorrow.

  14. Ro says:

    I am waiting for my copy to arrive from Amazon. I am a stay-at home mom right now and my husband works many hours for me to be so, but we are moving to a point where hopefully I will be re-entering the work force and he will be able to cut back his hours. Looking foward to getting my copy!

  15. Marsha says:

    Beginning this book and reading the frugality blogs increase my awareness about my spending decisions. I think that increased awareness is “prologue” to making significant life changes.

    I’m sad to hear/read that it’s tough for folks to find this book. (I got mine about 15 years ago.) It’s especially sad when I also consider that “Skinny Bitch” is on the bestseller list merely because Posh Beckham was seen reading it. That’s a sorry commentary on the state of social values.

    Anyway, thanks, Trent, for hosting this book club. I always enjoy your commentary on things.

  16. Arthaey says:

    I had this book on my library queue for months before now; I finally got to the front of the “line” and checked it out! I hope the rest of you without copies can find them soon…

    Reading the introspective questions on what matters in life, I had two conflicting reactions. I felt excited to be thinking about such important things, but I also dread that I won’t find answers or realistic plans to achieve what I really want (whatever that is).

    Looking through the table of contents, though, I think the “9 steps” will probably cover the major concepts I’ve been learning from my interest in personal finances over the last couple years. Hopefully, having everything in one book and having this virtual book club will help me feel happier, more optimistic, and more in control of the aspects of my life touched by finances.

    I look forward to talking about the meatier chapters of the book with you all!

  17. Andrew says:

    Love your site, and am glad I found this long ago. I’ve been working at keeping a strict budget since May and while my debt is reducing, I have some work left to do. I really enjoy reading your advice, and while it is not all 100% applicable to the slight differences in Canada (taxes, investments, etc.), overall I still find myself learning something every day. The book club is a great idea, as I had it on my list to read after your review – this is the perfect impetus, to get through this book with the help of others. I see what you mean about the prologue being a bit entrepreneurial in its attempts to sell you on the program. But I appreciate the candor of the difficulties ahead, rather than proclaiming such things like “buying this book is the hardest step you’ll do, etc…” I did find myself being inspired by the promise of the “FIs” however, and look forward to the secrets in Steps 1 through 9. Thanks for the opportunity.

  18. John Power says:

    Sounds like a good book. I am going to get it.

  19. Daisy says:

    I agree about how the prologue seemed like a sales pitch. It did get me thinking though that before I start the rest of the book, I’d better have a handle on how much money I actually have. :D

    Not that I’m in debt or anything. I take a general inventory but often forget to update it.

    And on to chapter one!

  20. Terri says:

    For years, I wanted to write as you’re doing and one day I bit the bullet and just did it. I’ve earned very few pennies writing, but I show up and do it every day anyway.For years on end, when people would ask and I’d hesitantly say “I write…” the next question was ‘how much do you earn?’ And then their reply was “Oh well you’re not REALLY a writer.’
    When I started stating “I am a writer’ and telling them what I write about, no one made that negative reply. I’m no longer relying on what I ear to reflect who I am. And do you know, I’ve found it does describe WHO I AM better than any job I ever had…I am a writer, and so are you! Why not start saying so and let people know what truly defines who you are?

  21. Christine says:

    I too had trouble finding the book–all out at the libraries, not at second-hand shops (sorry to you writers!) so I had to get mine from B&N. Their last copy. This must be a great book….I liked the observations in the preface almost more than the prologue, concerning the freedom to connect with others when constraints of financial troubles are gone. Money does give more options in life. Trent, you do fantastic reviews, so I’m looking forward to the book club comments from you and the rest of the readers!

  22. D. A. says:

    Read through this book awhile ago, but always wanted to work through it with a group. Glad to be on board!

  23. Beth says:

    Powell’s seems to have a number of copies on hand, both new and used: http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780140286786-0

  24. Lori says:

    I bought and read this book about fourteen years ago when I was expecting my first child. The idea of looking at what I was trading my money for in my life made me rethink my priorities. Maybe living life on automatic pilot by going to work, buying a house, car and investments for retirement weren’t the be all end all. This especially seemed true when both my husband and I wanted to have more time to spend with the child we were about to have. All of a sudden spending a dollar on a vending machine snack that is “just a buck” wasn’t so easy. Maybe that dollar and the time it represented could be spent or saved in a more conscience manner. Maybe that one dollar represented a lot of other dollars that we were earning and spending without any thought or plan. My husband and I have since put a lot more thought into the reasons behind what we spend and earn. While we too have not followed the 9 steps to a tee, we have found it interesting how priorities change over time and yet by keeping spending and earning in line with our values we have been able to follow our own path.

    Perhaps the most difficult idea in this book is finding your own path. On page xxv, Joe and Vicki state that “Until you can think independently, you can’t be independent.” Balancing your wants and needs with those of family, friends, and society is never easy.

  25. rita says:

    good for you terri!
    i can’t seem to find the book either…not surprising since i am not from the US.
    but the questions here were painful ones. i’ve been working only a couple of years but i can already feel the trap of having to work for the money closing in.
    hope this book club helps. and that i can finally find a copy of the book before this discussion ends.

  26. lorax says:

    I had a couple thoughts about this, having read it for the third time or so.

    First off… I like the central themes of the book.

    Now, I’m all for people learning more about how stuff works, so they can repair it, or at least understand it. And I do my own electrical, plumbing, etc… But not everyone can be a modern renaissance man, and there’s a reason the division of labor is a well-established wealth builder. Not everyone has the mechanical aptitude to repair their own car. And cars have become considerably more complex since the book was written.

    On the other hand, we now have internet forums like this one to help us gather information. That’s a big benefit that we can leverage to becoming renaissance men and women. :)

    A small gripe: there is no solution to the nine circles puzzle. At least not in my old paperback version of the book. Yeah, I know the solution and I love the “thinking outside the box” idiom. But I’d have to move my pencil well off the edge of the paper due to the small diameter of the circles.

  27. Jennifer says:

    Well, I am behind on the book club, but I just found it and I just yesterday ordered this book from the library to read again. It was one of my all time personal finance books. This time I am planning to really follow the steps. So, although I am late for the book club, I am looking forward to following along as I re-read the book. Thank you Trent!

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