Bestselling author Sarah Ban Breathnach offers 10 tips for finding your financial footing, even in precarious times.
When author Sarah Ban Breathnach decided to write a book about financial serenity two years ago, she had no idea how much she would need the book herself.
Fifteen years ago, Ban Breathnach’s previous book, Simple Abundance, topped the New York Times bestseller list and has since sold nearly 5 million copies. With 365 essays that celebrate finding joy in everyday life and an emphasis on the importance of being grateful,
the book struck a chord with millions of readers.
Ban Breathnach went from being a freelance writer making a meager income to millionaire entrepreneur with a staff of 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. She collected homes, antiques, investments and, of course, Manolo Blahnik shoes. “Crack open the bubbly,” she wrote. Then in 2003 she married her third husband, an Englishman she called her soul mate, who brought little into the marriage besides his personal effects, sports gear, family photos and a car.
In her new book, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity, Ban Breathnach, now 63, cuts to the chase at the get-go. “All the money’s gone,” she writes.
Peace and Plenty is a money memoir, in which Ban Breathnach takes readers along with her as she makes sense of the financial ruin during her nearly five years of marriage. She blames the Englishman. But there’s more to the story. She admits her own whopping mistakes along the way.
When Ban Breathnach finally gets the courage to leave her husband and home in England, she and her aged cat, Mikey, find refuge in her sister’s Southern California home. To help ease the pain, the author digs into money advice offered by a range of voices, from present day Suze Orman to magazine and newspaper articles from the Great Depression. “There are moments when I feel baffled, bewildered, even bereft after nearly a year of this resettling,” she writes. “Writing about money is both an exercise in peeling an onion and an exorcism.”
Although she admits she’s not a financial expert, Ban Breathnach has spent a fair amount of time searching for answers and finding simple ways to take back control of her purse, all the while cultivating peace of mind. The result: A book about women and money.
In an interview with SecondAct, Ban Breathnach shares 10 tips for maintaining peace and plenty at home during financially precarious times.
1. Be calm and carry on.
“My heroine is Mrs. Miniver from the 1942 wartime movie,” Ban Breathnach says. “She showed grace under pressure during World War II. Nothing in her daily round was too insignificant to become an uplifting source of reflection, revelation, reconnection and renewal, even money worries. She reminded us how to be grateful for the small particulars of our everyday epiphanies.” Those might include unread library books to look forward to and choosing beer over wine if you are on a budget.
2. At the end of every day, write down the five things that brought moments of peace or a feeling of plenty.
Sometimes it’s when a friend treats you to lunch or the repair bill is less than you imagined.
3. Don’t cry over the spilled milk or the spent pennies.
This is especially important if you have overspent around the holidays. “Just wipe it up,” she says. “Forgive yourself. Get back on track.”
4. Monitor the money you spend daily.
Keep a little pad and write down what you spend each day. If there isn’t money for going out to the movies, stay in. Know exactly how much money you have and how much you owe. “The amount of money currently in your bank account is a fact,” she says. “The amount you spend today is a choice. And the way you reconcile both is through clarity.”
5. Bring back grandmother’s envelope system.
Allocate cash for all spending. It’s old-fashioned, but Ban Breathnach says this system really works to get you back on the path to solvency. “Go get a new envelope and mark it, â€›Just for Me,'” she recommends. Take your loose cash and change, put it in the envelope and hold it in your hand. “For those of us learning the way to financial serenity and solvency, the envelope system teaches prudence, patience and perseverance. You can only spend what you have. The tangible feel of those envelopes keeps our impulses in check.”
6. Adopt the “Million Dollar Baby” rule.
Protect yourself at all times. That’s the advice Clint Eastwood doles out in the Academy Award-winning movie Million Dollar Baby in his role as a trainer for Hillary Swank’s character, a thirtysomething waitress who dreams of being a professional boxer. Ban Breathnach advises keeping a separate bank account in your own name. “Have a pin money stash at home,” she says. “Pin money stashes grow quickly and will reward you with a growing sense of financial serenity.”
7. Seek well-spent moments.
Money can’t buy a truly well-spent moment. “Keep track of your well-spent moments every day with gratitude,” she says, “and you will accumulate a private numbered account of wealth and wisdom the world cannot take away from you.”
8. Keep a contentment chest.
Cover an ordinary lidded gift box with beautiful fabric and collect what makes you happy, one clipping at a time. “Our sacred passions and wants become secretive and shameful because we believe we can’t afford our dreams now,” she says. “So create a holding place. Inside mine is a travel promotion on cardboard about great train journeys I hope to go on someday (for example, the Art Deco Orient Express from London to Venice), letters I’ve saved, matches from wonderful bars and restaurants.”
9. Take a day and don’t spend.
See how it feels. You might start to feel itchy. “Thrift is a thrill — an art to be enjoyed today, making possible contented tomorrows.”
10. Learn to live by your own purse.
“There is nothing that I ever bought — not art or designer clothing — that feels as good as solvency and having the money for the unexpected,” Ban Breathnach says. “Winter does come. We need a coat. It does rain. We need an umbrella.”
Bio: Sarah Ban Breathnach (pronounced “Bon Brannock”)
Hometown: Born on Long Island; lives south of Los Angeles
Family: One daughter, Kate, 28
Interests: Gardening, horseback riding, rural life
Books: Peace and Plenty (December 2010); Simple Abundance; The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude; Something More; Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions
SecondAct contributor Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job and writes about careers, retirement and personal finance issues for a variety of national publications. She lives in Washington, D.C.