“You Have More Money Than You Think” — the title of the introduction sets the tone for this upbeat and money-wise book, All the Money in the World, by author Laura Vanderkam.
Vanderkam writes about finding inner peace with your finances, looking at money as a tool to bring joy to your life.
Not so easy. “Money is a powerful thing. It is also complicated,” she writes. You bet.
A journalist by trade, she examines the way we earn and spend money, and how we can all do better, at least in terms of how it makes us feel. She started asking people via her e-mail list: “If you had all the money in the world — not literally, but all you wanted — what would you change about your life?”
The answers were a mixed bag . They ranged from “I would never empty the dishwasher again” to “I would work less and travel more” to “I would buy a couple of networks and cable shows and cancel all reality shows.”
So what will it be for you? Vanderkam gets your mental money wheels spinning. She comes to the conclusion that people who are “happiest about money operate under three premises of wealth, a word that has less to do with quantity than with outlook:”
• I have enough. There are some people in this world who have more, but also plenty who have less.
• If I want more than I have now to achieve big goals, I can figure a way to get it.
• Every dollar is a choice. How I earn it and spend it are up to me.
Her chapters have whimsical tinges: In “What Else Could That Ring Buy?” she discusses the somewhat ludicrous expense some people take on for weddings. The average couple, for example, spends $5,392 on an engagement ring. With that amount of money, “a set of new parents could pay a babysitter $50 a night for 107 nights so they could have time to themselves or go neck in their car like teenagers,” she writes.
Vanderkam’s voice is compelling. She pulls you into her world with kids and the choices she and her husband make in terms of where they live, whether to spend on swim lessons for those kids, or splurge on frozen king crab legs for dinner, and so on.
It’s a refreshing take on money that’s not lecturing or telling you what you must do, but rather exploring out the possibilities of money and how if you change the way you look at it, it can transform your world and those of people around you.
Vanderkam has done a thorough job of reporting both via her own interviews and pulling from a range of studies. She goes the next step to put it all into a friendly, chatty perspective that readers can relate to.
Instead of keeping a money log of what you spend each day, she suggests not just tracking those figures, but writing down what you enjoy and value about those expenditures.
Find ways to generate income apart from, or, in addition to, a regular salary. The culture of moonlighting has taken hold with a vengeance, she writes. And that’s OK if it is something “more flexible or creative or fulfilling, and possibly even an opportunity to explore a new career path if you’re successful.”
Her mantra: Train yourself to think like an entrepreneur.
• What skills do I have or can I learn that I enjoy using? Doing calligraphy, playing an instrument, proofreading?
• Which of these skills will people pay me to use?
• How can I find these people?
“If you start thinking this way, you’re bound to come up with some way of making a little extra on the side, or potentially finding something you’d like to try as a full-time gig,” she advises.
Vanderkam is irreverent when it comes to the keeping up with the Joneses mentality. Let’s take homeownership. She surmises most of us overspend on houses and cars. The difference between spending 33% of one’s income on housing and 25% is 8% to spend on other things. Which in the context of buying happiness can cover a reasonable number of dinners out movie tickets, weekend trips, or even a cleaning service to free up time to enjoy these experiences, she observes.
There’s plenty of positive discussion of parenthood here. In fact, she devotes a chapter to the cost and happiness involved with raising children and another on teaching kids about the value of money.
Not everyone will buy entirely into her thinking. While tips on helping kids get a money sensibility is spot on, other bits may not resonate with everyone. For example, “Parenthood may not make people happy, but looking in the rearview mirror, few people think not having children was the right choice,” she writes.
Her evidence is based on a 2003 Gallup poll that surveyed childless adults over age 41, who found that if they had to do it over again, only 24% would have had no children. She and her husband have three.
A “How to Buy Happiness Handbook,” a series of interactive journaling questions, brings the book to an end. These are meant to focus your mind on your relationship with money, from getting it to spending it to sharing. She asks, for example, looking at your possessions, which do you consider your best purchases ever?
Take the time to answer these, and you might start seeing money is a new way — maybe it really can buy happiness.
Kerry Hannon is a freelance writer and the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job