Black Enterprise Book Review: “Save Wisely, Spend Happily” by Sharon Lechter

Tips for smart money management

piggy bank

A compilation of real-life stories that illustrate the need for financial wisdom, Save Wisely, Spend Happily, by Sharon Lechter will inspire readers to examine their financial goals and consult a financial professional to help reach them.

Written with contributions from 125 certified public accountants, Save Wisely, Spend Happily is filled with sound, actionable advice. The tone throughout stresses the need to acquire practical financial management skills and shows readers that acquiring such skills is completely achievable.

Just about every personal finance topic imaginable is discussed, including:

  • Goal setting
  • Budgeting strategies
  • Tax planning
  • Money and marriage
  • Money and divorce
  • Money and children
  • Paying for college
  • Charity
  • Retirement planning

Author Sharon Lechter describes the book as “a field guide to personal finance. It can be read from cover to cover or… to navigate a specific situation.” She says that saving wisely makes it possible to spend happily: “Saving wisely means paying yourself first. Many people who think they spend happily find that happiness to be short-lived when the bills arrive and they don’t have the money to pay for their purchases.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2012, the nation’s personal savings rate was 3.9%. That’s better than the 1.5% we were saving in 2005, but a far cry from the nearly 11% we saved as recently as 1982. Improving the nation’s financial knowledge is a goal of the American Institute of CPAs, and this book represents another effort toward reaching that goal.

Much of the book’s information is practical and easy to implement. In the preface, readers are advised to undergo an annual financial checkup, similar to a physical checkup, which can target a single issue, such as paying for college, or provide a broad overview.

A great and very practical idea is setting up a separate, “escrow” checking account that’s used solely to pay bills. Do bills arrive out of sync with your paychecks? Divide their payment amounts, according to your paycheck schedule, and “pre-fund” the escrow account. When the bills arrive, the money’s there to pay them.

The book also demystifies the stock market (somewhat) by explaining the rule of 10/3/1—how the market has historically expanded, contracted, and collapsed over every decade, on average.

On the other hand, the book could have explained that using college scholarships requires a nuanced approach. Although most schools include student loans in their financial aid packages, the author doesn’t recommend the approach of using loans to supplement aid.

“Take full advantage of scholarship opportunities,” says Lechter, “and then seek financial aid for the balance of the tuition.” She says this strategy can help minimize the need to take out loans. However, if a student wins some scholarship aid but not enough to cover the full cost of tuition, some schools will decrease the student’s grant aid in the financial aid package, making it still necessary to borrow. But the book doesn’t tell you that.

It also doesn’t offer much about setting up a home record keeping system, although it does highlight the importance of keeping good records. Still, specific advice about how to most effectively do that would have been a plus.

But on the whole, this is a great book that you’ll never really stop reading. Save Wisely, Spend Happily prompts you to examine and improve just about every aspect of your financial life. As a complementary text to the AICPA’s extensive 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website, it’s a helpful and useful guide.

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