Life & Debt: Not your typical self-help book, I swear

A few weeks ago my boss approached me to review a book for Miss Money Bee. Ugh! I’d have to read it cover to cover and do a write-up, I griped in my head. I had not seen it and all I knew was that it was about finance and debt, which is not always the most exhilarating topics, right?

But then my co-worker walked up to my desk with a white box adorned with the prettiest red ribbon I ever did see. Oh my! Now, my curiosity is piqued. I must read this finely packaged finance book.

The holidays got in the way – now that it’s March and I’ve finally grasped my footing for 2017, I decided it’s time to delve in and, boy, do I wish I had done so sooner.

It’s a new book by Leslie Tayne – an attorney and Debt Therapist – titled, “Life and Debt–a fresh approach to achieving financial wellness.”

In today’s world it’s practically impossible to be debt free, Leslie asserts. And, considering my debt load – primarily caused by student loans – which by the way I despise, and which by the way unless I win the lottery or get a windfall isn’t going away anytime soon – I might as well learn to ‘love’ my debt and deal with it.

“Debt is a part of life and most of us cannot get the things we need like homes and cars without it,” Leslie continued. Debt is a good and necessary thing.”  You see Leslie was once drowning in debt. Determined to get out, she embarked on a journey to set herself free from and did so successfully. Now, she shares her strategies to help you (and me) on our journeys to get out of debt.

We often think of debt as a dirty word and we’ve been conditioned to fear debt. But Leslie argues both are untrue.

Sections 1-3 of Life & Debt

In the first three sections of Life & Debt, Leslie covers the foundations of finance and shares tips on how to understand debt so you have the tools to manage it. In the last section she covers ways to reap the benefits of your hard work and how to learn to enjoy your life again without fear of drowning in debt, bills, stress and the pain that comes with it.

She distinguishes between good and bad debt and shares tips to manage them efficiently, like why budgeting is essential and how to create a realistic budget for any scenario. She demystifies credit scores, and shares how to obtain your credit report. And if you have a credit card addiction or are living paycheck to paycheck, she offers tips on how to break these cycles.

Life and debt tips like this one “The secret to managing debt begins with your budget” are scattered throughout the book, adding a nice touch. Another nice touch is the real-life experiences and scenarios that she uses to further illustrate her points and offer tips to save us from falling into the same situation.

On student loans she says make sure you read the terms of the loans before you sign the dotted line and when you do always keep a copy of the original agreement. One of her clients learned this the hard way.

On store credit cards she says, one store credit card for one store only and a general card for other purchases is best. That’s what she advised one of her clients whose wallet consisted of at least 10 credit cards.

She tells the story of Bill who consistently borrowed from his retirement like an ATM. Bad move she says. Never borrow from your 401(k), save it. Leslie was able to help Bill streamline his budget.

Part 2 – the dreaded B word – budget

Speaking of budgets, in Part 2 she talks about this dreaded B word – Budget – and why budgeting is essential. “The single most important tool for resolving bad debt and avoiding its consequences is learning how to budget,” she affirms.

Leslie outlines a step-by-step process on how to create a budget and shares the story of a client who thought she could afford a luxury car based on budgeting in her head. But after putting her budget on paper she later found out she really couldn’t afford that luxury car.

And then there’s a Boot Camp for beginners where she explains 6 common budgeting mistakes people make and offers tips on how to fix them. Not befriending your budget tops the list at Number 1. There you will find specialty sample budgets that Leslie crafted to face the dreaded act of budgeting – from a sample holiday budget to a monthly budget for college students, a new home budget, retirement, pet and a standard budget.

And of course, budgeting and credit monitoring combined is the best way to manage debt and keep track of finances.

Part 3 – Credit

And so Part 2 of Life & Debt which is all about budgeting dovetails nicely into Part 3 – Credit – why it’s important and when it’s needed. Leslie says, “Credit is the single most influential factor in determining how we live today.”  She touches upon the factors that affects one’s credit and advises that we keep track of any credit we apply for. She explains credit scoring and offers tips on how to read a credit report.

When it comes to money and credit there are many financial myths parading as truths.

Numerous myths surrounding credit like this one, “Closing a lot of credit cards will improve my credit score.” Will it?  Another one Leslie debunks is, “I just got divorced and the agreement says my ex has to pay the debts, but they are in my name so I don’t have to worry about my credit.” Wait! What?!

In Part 4, Leslie chronicles the many benefits of Life & Debt to help you, your family and your future and offers debt reduction resources and their benefits. If you’re addicted to credit cards Leslie shares numerous tips and action plans on how to break the dependence.  She says although you will probably always have some form of debt and a credit card, following her advice in Life & Debt will help you manage both successfully.

Final Chapters

In the last few chapters of Life and Debt you will find tips on planning for the unexpected and why it is essential to have a “What If” Fund and perhaps a F***Off Fund like the one of our bees wrote about here. Leslie shares 3 tips on how to start one because “Knowing you have money in a’ what if’ fund is key to seeking the right balance of life and debt,” she says.

Chapter 19 is especially helpful for those who are in over their heads with debt and those with high levels of debt stress. Leslie outlines 6 tips to reduce debt related stress. At number 4 she says, “Do Not Keep Up With The Joneses” Wait, who are the Joneses? And at number 6 she says ‘Be kind to yourself physically.”

And the Appendix, chockful of valuable info too

In the Appendix (I told you I read it cover to cover), Leslie answers numerous burning questions that folks like you and myself ask every day like, “Are there advantages to having a certain amount of debt?’ and “I was late paying my electricity bill a few times, will it affect my credit?’ “How do you determine how much to designate for retirement savings, what if funds, and college savings plus good budgeting tips for someone with variable (non-fixed) income. Do credit scores typically fluctuate a lot? What are some warning signs that a debt resolution organization or person isn’t reputable? What are some ways to recover my credit after bankruptcy?” She answers all of them.

WOW! Life & Debt – chockful of valuable info for every demographic, easy to read and follow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to implement the lessons that I’ve learned here.