I’m reviewing this book even though I first read it a couple of years ago. The author, Mrs. Farnoosh Torabi has had a successful career as a financial reporter, and many have read her work through avenues such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Oprah Magazine, and on her podcast “So Money.” Her most popular work to date is her 2008 book “You’re So Money: Live Rich Even when You’re Not,” and the following is a review of this work which is often recommended as a helpful financial resource for millennials.
Most modern day Americans will run into questions about finance which lead them to a fitness “guru” for help. When we do we may find ourselves reading book after book filled with financial advice which we know deep down doesn’t tickle our fancy, and if followed may actually lead to us being even more unhappy than we are in our financial duress; at least that is what Farnoosh Torabi argues in her book “You’re so Money: Live Rich Even When You’re Not.” Torabi follows in the footsteps of older and wiser fitness gurus; the difference is that she offers financial principles with appeal to the 20 somethings and 30 somethings who may not have much cash flow, but whom love to live in limited and specific ways like the wealthy do. Consider her book as another financial “Do-it-yourself” book, but with the twist that it is actually sort of a cool book insofar as finance can be considered cool.
As I read this particular finance book I couldn’t help but conclude that Torabi is guilty of the financial equivalent to “wanting to have your cake and eat it too.” She says in her introductory chapter, “We overspend when we don’t have to and we neglect to invest in our future. Our day-to-day financial obstacles often hinder our ability to think and act big and beyond. But here’s where my approach is different. I say we can change and we don’t have to get rid of our wants. How about applying our smarts, ambitions, and good looks to getting more for less (Torabi 2008, 4)?” This quote gives a reader all they need to know if they are wondering the purpose for her writing this book. Everything else written from page 4 onward in her book is about how people can be conservative and smart with their finances while at the same time being able to get the things they want most. As vain as it may sound, she does truly go on to explain how a person can use their brain, their goals, and their good looks to get more expensive things for supposedly less cost. From a purely secular worldview Torabi may be onto something, perhaps she may be genius, but for those of us whose view of the world is beyond the here and now philosophy underlying a secular worldview this book can at times be frustrating and is overall shallow.
The content of the book is written in true millennial fashion. To Torabi’s credit she knows her audience and how to get their attention. Just consider her chapter titles which would be acceptable for any top level marketing firm: “Life. Is. Good.”, “Banking in Bed and Scoring,” “Adults Only,” and this is just a few of them. In all, this book contains 14 easy to read chapters each addressing a different topic.
Consider the first chapter: “Life. Is. Good.” This is really the chapter in which all other chapters sprout from. She asks the question which seems to be common for all adults, “What is the good life?” She rightfully points out that “the good life” varies from person to person. She also rightfully notes that our individual view of what “the good life” is changes as we experience life and as society changes its own view on what is “the good life.” Furthermore, she even rightfully argues that individual values over the course of a lifetime don’t actually seem to change all too much for most people, and therefore their financial priorities don’t seem to change all too much either. This is the point where she introduces what most of her critics would object to as she explains what she calls “need-wants.” “But whatever you throw into that good-life equation, make sure you don’t forget the ‘need-wants.’ A need-want is outside Maslow’s hierarchy. That means the stuff outside of our actual survival needs like air, basic food, water, friendship, (sex?). Instead, it’s a want in theory and a need in the reality of your good life (12).” If a critic tried to nuance each point of contention they could have with this sentence it could be a lengthy venture. Most financial gurus have ruled out these so called “need-wants” as being things individuals should cut out now so they can better invest in their future and in the lives of their loved ones. Many will oppose her view arguing she is too narrow-minded when she could think a little more about the big picture. Most of her critics would rather say, “Don’t buy a pair of Oakley sunglasses at all now so that you can buy an entire Oakley store later.” Or better yet, “Don’t buy a pair of Oakley sunglasses now so that your daughter can own an entire Oakley factory in the future.” However, Torabi is undoubtedly an ambitious young woman and even if a person does not agree with her view altogether, there is still a lot of beneficial material to examine.
The chapter “No More Debt Drama” is a very helpful one. Many have become disillusioned with a debt-reduction plan as aggressive as Dave Ramsey’s “Snowball.” These people would love what this book has to offer considering the author holds the view, “That’s the surprising thing about this ugly four-letter word-debt: Sometimes it can actually work in our favor.” In the rest of this chapter she goes on to give practical advice on climbing out of debt, how to use credit-cards to our advantage, and not allowing student loans to cripple us.
The rest of the chapters in the book are a little more specifically based on one topic. Consider chapter 3 which is about how to bank online, or chapter 4 which is all about being a smart shopper, or chapter 5 about how to buy the right technology, or chapter 12 written about health-care, and chapter 13 which teaches people to learn to say “No!” All in all everything written in this book leads back to her thesis about being able to change while not giving up wants, and it provides practical ways to help people achieve financial stability while still being able to have so called “need-wants.”
Torabi’s book has a number of strengths which are quite impressive. Overall, she is a likable writer and a good one too. She tells stories to keep the mood light and applicable, but the best thing she does is she offers very specific insights to help people think through each topic in a specific way. Just consider her topic headings in chapter 7, which is written to help 20 somethings learn to invest in the stock market. “How to buy?” with the subheadings “Scottrade, TD Ameritrade, E-Trade, Zecco.” The chapter is broken down in such an easy to read and applicable way that anybody who wants to know more about how to buy stocks can simply scan through the chapter until they find this section, and then they have 4 specific options given to them on how they could trade. Not only does she offer specific examples, but she offers specific warnings. Consider chapter 9 written about how to buy a car. Besides the to-dos of buying a car she also provides some warnings such as, “Mind the Model,” or “Ask to See the ‘Demonstrator (164-165).’” Again, any person looking to buy a car will be helped by these very easy to read and very insightful warnings which she gives on each topic all the way throughout the book.
There are other things in this book which are praiseworthy. Consider her chapter titled, “Because Life Happens.” In this chapter, Torabi writes about how to save for the unexpected things in life, because they are bound to happen. This shows that she doesn’t always have a here-and-now approach to finance, but there is some thinking about the big-picture. She also provides helpful tips for young people in regards to retirement and saving using funds or savings accounts which build on interest. It is truly commendable the way in which she specifically applies her view that “There are opportunities everywhere to make money, and we, as a young, energetic, and bright crowd, have the highest potential to capitalize on this than any other demographic (228).”
Even though Torabi deserves credit for a lot of “You’re so Money’s” content, I am largely underwhelmed by the book. I will limit my criticisms to the three most important. First of all, this book is extremely self-focused. If all we are trying to do in this life is make ourselves richer and attain the need-wants we have while not being in a huge financial mess then this is a great book. However, I’m willing to suggest there are many, even in the millennial generation, who will object to Torabi’s overall thesis. Perhaps I’m a naïve optimist, but I like to believe many people think beyond their own view of “The Good Life,” when considering their handling of money. I suggest a good change to her thesis may be, “I say we can change and it can be good to get rid of our wants (although we can budget for one maybe 2). How about applying our smarts, ambitions, good looks, and faith to getting more money to make a greater impact for a greater amount of people including (but not limited to) our own families? Secondly, this book has virtually no focus on giving money to other people or to other causes. It would be naïve and absurd of me as a Christian to expect a non-Christian writer to adhere to the biblical doctrine of “stewardship,” however, I don’t think it is too much to ask of any worldview to at least include one chapter out of 14 on giving and caring for the world in which we live; you certainly don’t have to be a person of faith to reckon it a good thing that money be given to things, peoples, and places other than yourself.
The third and final criticism I will give is that this book suggests everyone has something in which they actually desire to spend big on. If a person accepts Torabi’s view of “need-wants” then they are accepting that everyone has at least one thing in which they just must splurge on, but what if that isn’t the case? What if there really is something which can change us to make us content not having anything of any particularly (relatively) high value? I’m not suggesting everyone needs to live poor, I’m simply suggesting it’s possible to be content being poor or being average, and having nothing of particularly high taste! No need for fancy dinners (though there is nothing wrong with them), no need of designer jeans, and no need to vacation to Bora Bora (Florida is much cheaper)! What if I said that something which can change us to make us content not having anything of particularly high value is actually a someone and His name is Jesus? As a Christian, I must say my greatest issue with “You’re so Money” is that it is void of Jesus who brings an eternal view to our finances and allows us to be content with not being rich or having things rich people have. Grace, stewardship, and an eternal perspective on money are all missing in this book. For the millennial, let me suggest skipping this book (and others like it) and consider reading something like “Managing God’s Money” by Randy Alcorn- same idea, and similar number of pages, but Alcorn’s book holds an eternal perspective on how to spend our money while Torabi’s book offers a merely earthly perspective on the whole matter.