I, Madison, love New Year’s resolutions. I know, I won’t harp on it for long because people who love New Year’s resolutions are very annoying, but all of this is to say that coming into 2018, I knew one of my goals was to learn about personal finance. I’m 24, have a salary, and want to know what to do with it, dammit. I was comfortable with budgeting, but sometimes friends would bring up things like “Roth IRAs” and “mutual funds” and I’d feel myself shrinking inside, mad at my own lack of knowledge.
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So when I heard The Financial Diet, the finance website and YouTube channel, was being turned into an Instagram-worthy, informative book, I knew it had to be my first read. And now, having come out the other side, I can confidently say that if you know nothing about personal finance and are scared to admit it, this book is for you.
The Financial Diet offers a holistic overview of finance. There are interviews with experts (and non-experts, aka the author’s mom), downloadable budget guides, and real advice that’s practical without being cheesy. Chelsea Fagan, the author and co-founder of TFD, is deliberate and personal when she writes—she’s very in touch with her days as a financially reckless youth—but she’s never condescending. She highlights musts—budget! have emergency savings! set up your 401(k)!—in a way that feels like it’s coming from your DGAF best friend instead of your helicopter parent. And she has a pretty unique perspective: There’s a list of must-have kitchen items so you can cook for yourself and save money, a set of household skills you should learn so you don’t have to call a handyman and checklist of budget decorating rules, like how sticking to a strict color palette assures you’re not buying weird, one-off things that don’t match. (Hey magenta chevron pouf, here’s looking at you!)
There was one point that I found particularly moving. J. Money, the founder of Budgets Are Sexy, is quoted saying, “Money is nice, but there has to be a point to it or you’ll ever have enough.” I realized I had no end game with my dollar dollar bills. At the risk of sounding like a scrapbooking teenager, after reading Money’s words, I created an entire journal for my personal finance “journey” and mapped out a five-year(ish) career plan, a new budget, and future financial goals. With those written down, I had a better idea of where my savings will one day (hopefully!!) progress, and stopped feeling like I was saving simply for the fun (?) of it. I also automated my credit card payments and called someone at HR to triple-check I was getting the most out of my 401(k). Baby steps, guys.
And while you might have read this far thinking, “What about my student loans? My small salary?” know that Fagan does a good job of addressing anyone’s financial situation instead of assuming that everyone has $40 to drop on dinner three times a week.
Because, really, one of the best parts about the book is Fagan herself. A lone female author in the world of finance writing, her voice stands out. “To speak totally frankly, if you look at the personal finance category on Amazon, every other book in the top ten is probably written by a white man over 40, and half of the books are by the same two men,” Fagan told ELLE.com. “That’s a pretty closed environment. Keeping things jargon-y is kind of another way to keep the conversation closed. Women want to talk about these things, but there’s not a whole lot out there speaking to them in their language and to their life.”
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Fagan purposefully approached her book in a way that accounted for a 360 look at one’s life, not just a laser focus on the bottom line.”The better question for most people is ‘How do you live the life you want with whatever amount of money you have?’ Pursuing wealth is meaningless because money for the sake of money is neither good or bad. It totally depends on what you do with it. I think the much healthier goal is: What does your ideal life look like and based on that, how do you live in the most cost-effective way while still putting away for your future?”