Summer reading lists are heavy on page-turning thrillers or novels with little caloric value. It’s atypical to find money books on the list. I get it. Books about personal finance tend to require a type of concentration that’s in short supply after a day in the sun. But summer is also a good time to regroup and consider new ways of approaching ever-present challenges in our daily lives. Here are two books that re-energized the way I think about my family’s time and stuff. While they may not seem money-related upon first glance, both offer pocketbook insights in addition to the topics their titles suggest.
“I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time,” by Laura Vanderkam
I’ve always found the author’s contrarian but positive outlook on time management inspiring as I’ve juggled jobs, kids and my tendency to overcommit.
Her new book gleans insights from time diaries kept by six-figure-earning professional women with at least one child at home. The book reveals that high-earning moms don’t work around the clock, but they do work flexibly — blending work, family and personal time in a rich mosaic where personal and work time aren’t separated by a rigid divide. For example, 75 percent of women conducted personal activities during typical work hours in the week that they tracked. About the same number conducted work activities during personal hours, logging on after the kids went to bed or checking e-mails in the grocery line. Many women worked remotely, whether by a set number of hours or on rare occasions.
It was fascinating to pore over other women’s time logs and reassuring to see some of my own tried and true strategies reflected on the pages. For example, I think of my calendar the way I think of my budget. I look out several days, if not weeks, to make sure I’ve allocated ample time to complete projects or pick up kids from camp. In recent years, I’ve also been more thoughtful about how much my time is worth, and have realized that cheap or free can come with a high price tag. Paying for a baby sitter or house cleaner can pay dividends.
After reading “I Know How She Does It,” I’m going to try to build more slack in my calendar so that I’m not rushing from one thing to the next — kind of an emergency savings account for time, if you will. I’m also going to try to set aside a day on my next business trip to visit a museum, which has nothing to do with money but will invest in my curiosity about art and history. If you want suggestions for meeting obligations while finding time to meet your life aspirations, Vanderkam has them.
“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by Marie Kondo
You may think clutter has little to do with money, but I think the two are inextricably connected. For one, combing through your collections teaches the tough lesson that interests can be fleeting, but the money spent is forever. It’s also a lesson in the resale value of books, clothes and household goods. After hauling two boxes of books to a used bookstore, it was apparent to me that donating volumes or sticking them in a neighborhood Little Free Library would be better.
I found Kondo’s rule to “discard anything that doesn’t spark joy” to be refreshing, if somewhat unrealistic. Those school lunchboxes spark the opposite of joy every single morning, yet they’re needed. In an AMA (Ask Me Anything) Q&A on Reddit, Kondo said functional items should be thanked for helping your life run smoothly. Come to think of it, that’s how I feel about most of my financial products like credit cards and remote check deposit.
As I went through a pile of clothes dozens of items deep, I fondly remembered the events where I wore certain dresses — dresses that hadn’t fit for years — and then took them to a consignment store. I acquiesced and got rid of nearly all of my unread books. She’s right, tomorrow may as well be never — I’d had some books for more than a decade and never got farther than the blurb on the back.
I was skeptical at first, but I am now convinced that clearing out unappreciated items from your home opens up mental room in addition to space in your house. I’ve been less frustrated about where to store items in our small home, less desirous of a bigger house, and more critical when I’m shopping.
Kondo doesn’t promote donating items to charity for a tax deduction or reselling goods that still have years of life in them. She estimates the sum total of all her clients’ garbage so far amounts to at least 28,000 bags, a figure that comes off in a giddy fashion. And by repeatedly using words like “throw away,” “get rid of” and “discard,” her method once the items leave your house takes on an air of carelessness.
My only other issue: Convincing a 6-year-old to thank old toys for the fun times and chuck them in a garbage bag is a fool’s errand. Any parent knows easily half the clutter in a home comes from children. I tried to incorporate my kids into decluttering in three ways with moderate success. I pointed out the value of money and importance of making sure they’re being thoughtful spenders. Next, I emphasized the joy that can be found when sharing toys with children who have far less. Finally, I made a point to teach them about decluttering responsibly, something Kondo did not emphasize enough.
Kara McGuire is a consumer strategist for CEB and author of “The Teen Money Manual.” Send your favorite financial reads, or books that you think have hidden financial lessons, to firstname.lastname@example.org.