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Book Review: 'Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times'
This article reviews Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times, the 2011 edition. There is an earlier version of “Living Large in Lean Times”, but this review is for the latest version of the book.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of “Clark Howard's Living Large for the Lean Times”?
Pros of Clark Howard's Lean Times Book
The book has the sense to point out the danger of time shares, and the common scams of a free weekend at a destination dependent upon spending a day in their high pressure sales pitch to buy a time share. This is one of the few frugal living books with information on how to get out of a time share if you already have it.
“Living Large in Lean Times” has the standard good advice like raising your deductible on your insurance (as long as you save up that deductible amount if you’re in an accident), setting up your own appliance repair fund in lieu of an extended warranty and adjusting withholding on your taxes (neglecting to mention that too many people overpay taxes and then spend the refund like a surprise windfall instead of saving it or paying down debt).
There is some balanced advice such as skipping bottled water followed by information on how to get your tap water tested on the cheap.
There is decent advice that can seriously save someone money, like shopping for an apartment two months before your lease is going to expire. This gives you time to find a good deal on the lease instead of having to sign up with whomever is available or else you don’t have a home to live in at the end of the month.
This is one of the few books I’ve seen warning about viaticals and life estates, the practice of selling your life insurance policy for cash while the payer gets the life insurance proceeds when you die. If you had a life insurance policy to pay off your family’s debts when you died or provide for those left behind, a viatical is the equivalent to a pawn shop, preying on the desperate while risking massive costs to those left behind if you skip out.
One strength of this book is the strong warning against currency trading (Forex) and the risks of buying gold. After all, if you’re worried the government might confiscate your retirement account or money, you should be just as worried about someone stealing your gold from the house safe. If you’re afraid the economy is going to collapse, you shouldn’t be buying gold but lead (bullets), beans, bottled water, gas and generators.
Cons of Clark Howard's Lean Times Book
The author touts credit card rewards and credit cards with low interest rates and lots of points. The author ignores the fact that when you pay with plastic, you tend to spend 20-30% more and risk paying a 10% to 20% interest rate on that inflated purchase amount. Spending an extra $20 up front and $5 in interest on a $100 purchase to get $2.10 back is not a good deal.
Way more space is dedicated to discount travel than most people trying to cut day to day expenses care about. This is part of “living large”, but travel is disproportionately covered relative to other sections.
The book recommends a number of legitimate at home jobs and gives some advice on identifying scams, but it makes the mistake of describing scams to avoid much later in the book, not in the next section after “work in at home jobs to make extra income” section where it is more appropriate.
Observations About Living Large in Lean Times
The 2011 edition of "Living Large in Lean Times" lists sites the prior version of the Living Large book recommended but no longer exists, such as saysme.tv, JetAmercia.com, Spiralfrog.com and Zoots. Yet the heavy reliance on various deal websites and online tools in this book means a number of online crowd-sourcing sites the author recommends have already disappeared, while the existing list is dated because new sites have shown up in its place.
“Living Large in Lean Times” gives decent advice on determining whether something is a good deal as well as a good value, such as checking Consumer Reports, determining the total cost of ownership instead of only looking at the purchase price, and not using no-name websites to buy something where the listing may be a scam. The downside of this advice is that the author engages in frequent name-dropping of no-name deal websites, travel sites, deal of the day sites and so forth. The book is practically littered with lesser known and no-name sites, despite the advice not to use sites like that.
Is There An Updated Version Of This Book?
As of this writing, there wasn’t subsequent edition of “Living Large in Lean Times” though he published a similar book, “Clark Howard's Living Large for the Long Haul”, in 2013.