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Book Review - You Don't Have To Be Rich

Updated on September 21, 2008

I like reading books on money and personal finance. The latest book I have read, You Don't Have to Be Rich by Jean Chatzky, is a different take on money. The front of the book says "Comfort, Happiness, and Financial Security On Your Own Terms". Chatzky goes in depth to find out whether more money will make you happy or not.

Jean Chatzky has found that it really doesn't matter how much money you make. Your happiness really does depend on other things and unless you are extremely poor, how much money you make doesn't factor into your happiness. I found this an interesting concept. We certainly make more money than we did ten years ago, and thinking about it, I am about as happy as I was then. I do have less stress about money, because now I can afford the essentials, which ten years ago was questionable for us some months. But really I don't think I would be any happier with more money at this point.

The keeping up with the Joneses problem that I see in so many people in the United States is the downfall of many. So many people think that if they had more money they would be happier. The reality is, there is always going to be someone that makes more money than you and if you can't be happy with what you have you won't be happy with more money.

Chatzky makes a good argument on page 53 telling us to teach ourselves to compare down, not up. She says that if we really must compare ourselves with others (which really is human nature), then at the very least do it so that you make yourself feel good in the process. I will argue that we should at the very least compare with people that are in comparable situations as us. Which means that I should not compare our situation with that of a two income family working in the corporate world. My husband is a teacher and that is our only income, so I should be looking for other families that are one income or have a teacher's income to live on. Really I still can't compare, because I don't really know their personal finances, but it would make more sense than trying to compare with someone making triple what we do.

In You Don't Have To Be Rich, Chatzky talks about goal setting. How are you going to get where you want to be if you don't have goals. At the very least I imagine it is safe to assume that we all would like to retire some day. But instead of just dreaming of retiring one day, take some time and set some goals for that retirement. Then take the appropriate steps needed to make that happen.

Just the act of writing things down and taking steps in that direction is going to make a person happier. Maybe once you figure it all up, you realize that you need to save $500 a month in order to retire comfortably in twenty years. That is a lot of money if you aren't used to saving anything towards retirement. But you have to start somewhere and if you can only start by putting $200 a month into the retirement account it is better than nothing. You will feel happier because you are working towards your goal.

I think this is true. I have wanted to go to the beach for several years now. It didn't seem possible for me due to many reasons, but about four years ago I decided to start saving money for it anyway. My husband laughed at me, but didn't stop me. It seemed forever away, but just adding money to that account every now and then has kept me happier. And I have a nice little savings account going that will pay for our trip to the beach next summer. We already have a deposit on a house there. You have to start somewhere and do something tangible towards it. If I hadn't ever started saving, then I certainly wouldn't be finally going and I would still be frustrated and wishing we could go to the beach.

Chatzky devotes a whole chapter to Living Within Your Means. I found this chapter very interesting, because she states that four out of five people say they are living within their means, but in reality two of those people are wrong. They think they are living within their means, but they aren't. The reality is that three out of five people can't afford to pay off their credit cards each month, only one-third have enough saved to handle a financial hardship and even less haven't saved enough for college or retirement. We certainly don't have enough saved for college or retirement, so does that mean we aren't living within our means? It was a question I asked myself repeatedly while reading this chapter. It is a question that most of America needs to ask themselves.

Chatzky talks about how to live within your means from page 146 through page 153. First you need to know what is coming in. Then track what is going out. Next plan your future spending. Fourth include money for saving in that plan (this is something most people don't do) and fifth is to eliminate high-interest debt. In a nutshell, make a budget and stick with it. In the process make sure you are paying off your debt and saving money each month. While making and sticking to a budget might not sound like fun, it will help you get control of your money. People who are in control of their money are happier - even if they don't really like the process of doing it.

There are six habits that a person should develop that will help them to feel happier about their money. These habits will help a person to be content with what they have and not constantly long for more.

  • They balance their checkbook at least once a month.
  • They have some sort of filing system in place.
  • They pay their bills as they come in rather than once a month.
  • They don't spend more than they can afford on three or more things (though maybe they bust the budget on one or two).
  • They do not often buy things they don't need.
  • They don't find money evaporating out of their wallets.

This list was found on page 233. How many of these things do you do? If you follow these habits then you will feel more in control of your money, no matter how much you have, and therefore feel happier with what you have.

You Don't Have To Be Rich ends with The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness. If a person can live by Chatzky's ten commandments I believe that they will find that they are happier in general and it doesn't matter if they are rich or not. I thought this book was very well written and it really made me think about how I view personal finance in general and how I handle our money. You Don't Have To Be Rich has caused me to reevaluate our goals and make some decisions based on those goals. We now know more specifically what we want to accomplish financially and have a plan to get there. Thanks Jean Chatzky!


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    • Dottie1 profile image


      10 years ago from MA, USA

      Thanks Jennifer, your answer was helpful and very much appreciated. ~Dottie~

    • Jennifer profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Dottie, I pay bills typically twice a month, because we get paid every 2 weeks and I pay bills when we get paid. I make my budget and pay what is due that pay period. If something isn't in yet, then I will pay it right when it comes in. With our due dates on things scattered throughout the month i could never pay only once a month, or things would be late. So I guess I do a modified version of that.

    • Dottie1 profile image


      10 years ago from MA, USA

      Thanks for this book review Jennifer. It was loaded with many valuable tips. Under the 6 habits you list, I like "they pay their bills as they come in rather than once a month", I like that habit! What's your thoughts on this one? My husband does not see it this way at all.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      10 years ago from The Ozarks

      Jennifer, great hub!

    • Bobbie Haws profile image

      Bobbie Haws 

      10 years ago from Gilbert AZ

      I agree that our society is drowining in debt and is primarily responsible for the resulting distasterous American economy right now. If more people lived by the philosophy that Mrs. Chatzky suggests, America in general would be in a much better global financial positon.

    • vic profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for this book review.


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