Book Review · Bust · finance · Grandparents · minimalism · thoughts

Flat Broke With Two Goats

61AhZ9U7qaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Hey y’all.  I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book.  I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title.  The power of marketing, right?

Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake.  McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.

Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail.  The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch.  I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals.  While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.

While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating.  As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole.  Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation.  McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.

When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem.  The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat.  But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times?  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.

Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer.  Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets!  And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds.  From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.

While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life.  I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”.  I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills.  Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need.  When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.

Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats.  The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again.  I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.

All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’.  They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.

Until next time,

R-

 

classics · finance · minimalism · Self Help

Wrapping up 2017: The Millionaire Next Door, Madame Bovary and Babbitt

As I finalized my books read list for 2017 the other day, I started reflecting on the year’s book choices and realized many of them were rooted in challenging the status quo, particularly the thoughts and habits built around consumerism and finance.

“The Millionaire Next Door”, was recommended by my mentor as a tool to frame how we were setting our financial goals as a family.  I expected a “get rich quick” theme or endless lecture similar to Dave Ramsey or Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  What I got instead was a life changing paradigm shift.  The Millionaire Next Door really opened my eyes to how we personally and culturally define “success”, how we measure ourselves against a name brands and labels, and most notably how research shows that the “rich” among us are not the ones buying big flashy expensive new things.  Without a doubt, this book changed my life.

While The Millionaire Next Door sat brewing in my brain for several months, I picked up Madame Bovary, a classic French novel written in 1856.  The story follows the beautiful Madame Bovary who drives her family to ruin with her boredom and endless search for meaning in frivolous material pursuits.  Unfortunately for Madame, the unhappiness she finds in her very normal and simple life cannot be cured by her many debt-inducing purchases, the birth of her only child, nor the affairs with handsome interesting young men, leading poor Madame to commit suicide while her husband and child deal with the fallout of her selfish decisions.  While the language can be a bit old fashioned, Madame Bovary is every bit as relevant today as it was 160 years ago.

The universe popped “Babbitt” into my hands shortly after Madame Bovary.  Sinclair Lewis did an amazing job capturing the mind and emotions of a middle aged man who had already achieved significant wealth and success but was caught between his desperation for his youth, more money, further success, his endless lust for acceptance by his peers and being happy.

I absolutely hated Babbitt and his grandiose speeches, his wishy washy nature, his constant need to be loved, admired and respected by his peers.  His constant scheming, planning and ladder climbing left me grossed out and I felt like nothing Babbitt did ever felt genuine or true.   Again, a credit to the author, who created a character so wholly flawed you can’t help but feel sorry for him, even though you hate him.

Until next time, may you find the time to curl up with a good book and a pot of tea!

Cheers!