March 2012

Even more than reading about marriage, I enjoy reading about money.* Actually, if I were to take a census of my personal library, financial books would likely outnumber the marriage ones. I also peruse financial blogs, and I have been reading Crystal Paine’s blog for a long, long time. Since before it was famous. She recently released a book called The Money-Saving Mom’s Budget: Slash Your Spending, Pay Down Your Debt, Streamline Your Life, and Save Thousands a Year, which is a pretty long title. Or at least, a long subtitle. I dithered about whether or not to buy it; I wasn’t sure if it would have information that wasn’t already on the blog. Some of the Amazon reviewers said things like “I’ve been extreme couponing for 13 years and I STILL learned new things!” and others said they felt like it was a compilation of stuff from the blog. I decided to delay buying it in hopes my local library would carry it…and then, a day or two later, I got the chance to review the audiobook. Good choice, Suzanne!

*Maybe in this case, it’s more like, “Those who don’t have, read.”

The Good: First, Crystal is a complete rockstar at couponing and living on a teeny tiny income. Seriously. At some point in the book she says what their monthly income was while her husband was in law school and I quickly did the math – which may be a bit off, math is not my forte, especially the mental kind, plus I was driving – and I think we could pay our rent and utilities on that (except maybe in the summer with the air conditioning), but our ability to eat would be severely compromised. I mean, if we were playing Oregon Trail, we would be on the Bare Bones setting. (P.S. – Everyone dies on that setting.) So when she talks about cutting spending, she knows what she’s talking about. And a lot of what’s in the book can be used even if you don’t coupon, which is nice if you don’t have the time or live in a coupon-less area. She stresses making concrete goals and then breaking those down into doable steps, as well as clearing clutter (so, you know, you don’t lose bills…or forget to use coupons for freebies, like I did this week, oops) so obviously you can do those things anywhere. A lot of her tips are more far-reaching than just groceries, like how to save on eyeglasses and other things you wouldn’t normally find in a budgeting book. Another point for Crystal is that she admits it is nearly impossible to get far in life without some kind of credit score and gives tips on how to make that happen without allowing credit spending to get out of control. Dave Ramsey (and thus many of his followers) claim you don’t need a credit score unless you intend to go further into debt; I see that point, but the odds of me ever buying a house with cash are slim to none. So even if I never accrue another debt in my life, I will need a mortgage if I ever want to live in a house. It’s fine for Dave to have no credit score, he can buy a whole neighborhood with cash if he wants. (For the record, we eschew credit cards; but we have good credit scores from before, or so our apartment complex tells us. Someone just leaving home, without the “boon” of having previously been in debt, would not have the luxury of a leftover credit score.) And the last chapter is about contentment, which is a critical part in money management (or mismanagement, as the case may be). I have actually been working on a post of my own about this topic – or rather, the lack of contentment – so that was timely. Basically Crystal talks about a budget in the context of life, or how your budget affects your whole life – not just your money.

The Caveats: First – and this is a very personal one – I am not an auditory learner. At all. I already knew this but listening to this book reinforced to me that I basically need to read something to learn it. At first I tried to do it while tending to “mindless” tasks, like clearing out our pre-France files, but then I discovered that going over 4-year-old papers isn’t really mindless and I was having a hard time absorbing everything Crystal said. So I switched to listening while I drive – NOT that driving is mindless, I just already have something to occupy my eyes so I could listen to her instead of music. It worked better…but I have to say, I’m not sure audio is a good format for non-fiction. (Now, Jim Dale reading Harry Potter…ahhh, beautiful audiobook masterpieces. I digress.) My sister, on the other hand, is an auditory learner – the kind with a membership to – and she thinks audio for non-fiction is perfectly fine, so others may not have this problem. But for me, there were so many times that Crystal would mention a helpful website but I couldn’t write it down because, you know, I was DRIVING (or cooking, or something else, the whole point of an audiobook is to multitask) and it’s a lot harder to find a reference in an audiobook than a physical one. I really wish they made a list of all the referenced websites for audiobook listeners. And I have to say that I am wildly jealous that she and her husband were able to save and buy a house with cash. I mean, I think it’s awesome that they were able to do that and wish fervently I could do the same, but the fact of the matter is that lawyering typically pays more than a local non-profit. I found myself at times feeling that the author may have a hard time relating with many in her audience who haven’t made super-wise choices with their money from the cradle and didn’t have the same favorable circumstances (you can read about that here) to make it possible. Granted, they did have some very lean years in the beginning…but knew at the time it would be temporary. It’s a lot easier to get discouraged when there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The Verdict: This is a great place to start if you are new to budgeting and want to get control of your finances. Crystal has a lot of great tips, ideas, and techniques to get you started with managing money and clearly explains everything (including how to tell if a strategy isn’t working for you or not worth your time). On the other hand, if you have spent some time perusing the theories of various financial gurus or reading personal finance blogs, you may not run across new material in this one. Still, it’s a good reminder/encouragement to stay on track…and dream big dreams even without a light at the end of the tunnel, because you never know what God will do.

Find links to other reviews here…where you can also enter to win a new iPad! Crystal will be announcing the winner (and giving away more stuff) at her live webcast event on April 5.

This audiobook was provided for review by the LitFuse Publicity Group.


My sister just sent me a link to Half Price Book’s Tournament of Villains. So fun! (Is basketball this much fun for people? I just don’t get it. I even like football, I’m not opposed to organized and/or professional sports or even college sports, basketball is just totally lost on me.)

I think it will come down to Vader vs. Voldemort. What say you?

Today we ran into an old friend while we were out and about, a guy we haven’t seen in several years. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked, “What’s it like to be back?”

That is a really, really hard question to answer. When you live in a different culture you are constantly aware of how much you don’t fit. Don’t get me wrong – there are/were many aspects of French culture that I identified with, that felt natural to me. I love the way they respect privacy. I love the way they take friendship seriously. I love the way they linger over meals and conversations. I love the way they spend they whole day in the park, doing nothing, just enjoying life. I love the way that, as far as I can tell, very few French women ever fix their hair. (Seriously! There are a ton of people there with uber-curly hair and they sort of just let it fro out, huge and poofy. Our French teacher looked very, very similar to Professor Trelawney.) I love that there are so many stores devoted entirely to bread and pastries. I love they way they’re unhurried, un-busy, not over-scheduled. But even among all those things that just felt right, I was always an outsider. And I thought when I came “home” that everything would be fixed.

At first I thought it was. I told Jake that coming back was like coming home from work and changing from your business casual into your favorite jeans. But after a little time passed I realized that wasn’t the case. It was more like trying on some jeans and thinking, “Hey! These make my butt look good” and buying them only to realize later that you can’t sit down in them. “Home” doesn’t feel like it fits anymore, either. The familiar is nice but at the same time it’s not really comforting…and sometimes, it isn’t even nice at all. Maybe that is the sentence you serve for living cross-culturally – you can never truly fit anywhere again.

It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I have the challenge misfortune blessing of sharing a bed with a man who, while sleeping, has no sense of personal space. Mind you, when he’s conscious he is quick to notice that my pinky toe has strayed to the edge of his couch cushion, but once asleep he has this notion that if he can roll there, it’s his space. He also rolls the covers around himself like a burrito, so that I never have enough covers, and if I pull them and thus un-burrito him he accuses me of stealing all the covers. I actually once started a photo essay which was to be entitled, “My Husband Is Literally the Reason I Get Out of Bed in the Morning” as proof that I am the victim in the situation.

Notice that the covers are on the ground on Jake’s side, and don’t even reach the edge on mine. I was forced to rise for the day because he grouched at me for trying to re-distribute them in a more even fashion, and it was freezing.

Now, it’s not all bad. Sometimes I get in bed and Jake is laying diagonally across the bed, with his feet where mine should go. This is nice because after he kicks me for invading his foot space, he rolls over (re-burritoing himself in the process) and leaves me with a nice pre-warmed spot for my feet. Of course I have scant covering for the rest of me, but at least my feet are cozy.

Enter the beauty – and brilliance – of German engineering. In Germany, individual sleeping space is a priority. When we stayed in a hotel in Germany, they had two twin-size mattresses in a king platform. Each mattress had its own flat sheet and duvet. You had the togetherness of sharing a bed with the comfort of your own covers, and a clear boundary line for your bedmate. I don’t think I have ever slept so well in my married life. I determined that as soon as it was financially feasible, we would procure similar sleeping arrangements. You could even use a king mattress and fitted sheet for this, and just get separate duvets. I haven’t executed the plan yet because it’s not financially feasible – king mattresses are expensive! – but I think I may go ahead and do the separate duvets with our queen bed. I mean, we may never be able to afford a king and that way I’ll at least have some covers. (As a side note, I have become convinced that the size of bed directly influences the health of a marriage. Full bed, unhealthy marriage. King bed, you probably really like each other because your sleep is the undisturbed slumber of one whose partner is several feet away.)

I think Germans are brilliant.

Also – this is totally unrelated – they eat ice cream for dinner. Like I said, they’re brilliant. In the summer they go to ice cream shops and order these huge masterpieces and that’s their dinner. This is another tradition we have decided to incorporate into our family.

I found this in a Google image search; my pictures don't turn out this well.