In her new book, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity(Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 426 pages), Sarah Ban Breathnach, exorcises her own “tawdry money secrets” and reveals what she calls “a feminine cannon of cautionary tales.”
Ban Breathnach has written a money book for women that unravels her own personal story of money mayhem and navigates her cathartic passage to redemption, and, hopefully, new riches.
Fifteen years ago, Ban Breathnach (pronounced “Bon Brannock”) had a bona fide bestseller on her hands:Simple Abundance. It topped The New York Timesbestseller list for months and has since sold nearly 5 million copies.
That book, a compilation of 365 essays that homes in on ways to be joyful and grateful each day, gathered followers quickly after Oprah Winfrey sang its praises. The royalty checks starting rolling in like clockwork.
Ban Breathnach, now 63, went from a freelance writer without a comma in her checking account to a millionaire, as she tells it.
She bought homes, paintings, antiques and Manolo Blahnik shoes. And she married her third husband, an Englishman, her “soul mate” in 2003. He brought nothing into the marriage except his personal effects, sports gear, family photos and a car, according to her account.
Less than five years later, she was tapped out. “Yes, I’ll come clean,” she writes. “All the money’s gone. But when it’s back — and it will be — I’ll know better, and so will you.”
She blames the Englishman, calling him a “freeloader,” but takes responsibility for her lack of willpower and good judgment for her mismanaged money.
Virtually homeless, she holes up in her sister’s home in Southern California to lick her wounds, end her marriage and sort through her debts. In the process, she writes Peace and Plenty.
Ban Breathnach is not a financial writer, which is refreshing. She’s a successful woman, who made a spectacular sum of money, lost it, and is trying to get a fresh start. It helps, of course, that she has an uncanny ability to communicate in short, evocative passages that strike a chord with women. “To write the truth about women and money is to write about fear, loneliness, abandonment, and shame,” she writes.
To educate herself about personal finance and to understand why women whip themselves into a frenzy about it, she turns to some modern day money gurus such asSuze Orman, but also to Miss Piggy, Mae West, Scarlett O’Hara, Auntie Mame and some good old-fashioned bon mots plucked from magazine and newspaper articles written during the Great Depression.
“I am passionately committed to my financial recovery,” she writes. And this book is her heart-to-heart. “We’re going to talk about money,” she writes. “Not yours — at least, not at first. We’ll start with mine, or the lack thereof. You have no idea how terrifying it is to rerun the reel in my mind of the money I wasted, opportunities I didn’t take …”
Delicious. Who doesn’t love to read about someone else’s world exploding?
The result is a useful book that’s simple and sweet and doused with “spoon-fed optimism to accompany those hard digested life lessons.”
You’ll find her favorite homemade remedy for soothing red faces and swollen eyes after having a good cry about your money woes, but there’s also a primer on getting out of debt.
Here are some of her action steps:
•At the end of every day, write down five things that got you through it and brought moments of peace or a feeling of plenty. This will shift your focus from worrying about “financial security” to an appreciation of today’s “financial serenity.” These might be well-spent moments that are priceless — moments of connection, kindness, laughter, encouragement and inspiration.
•Keep a contentment chest filled with things that make you happy — photographs, letters and objects that help you visualize something you want to bring into your life. The power of gazing consistently at something is amazing.
•Practice forensic accounting. Order your free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com.
•Call your creditors and negotiate a payment plan before it goes to the collecting agency. She provides a sample script to follow.
•Track daily spending, and do a budget. Look at it as an instrument of possibility. Know exactly how much money you have and how much you owe. The amount of money currently in your bank account is a fact. The amount you spend today is your choice.
•If you’re married or have a partner, open a bank account that’s solely in your name, and that no one else knows about. It’s a statement that you have your own identity, your own dreams and your own goals. It’s important protection for your well-being.
•Hold tight to your dreams. They are yours to keep. No matter what has gone before, how much money you spent or saw squandered by another, nobody can take away what you don’t have yet.