Worth it: Money lessons from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
A personal finance book co-authored by presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, eh? Makes you wonder if All Your Worth has any worthy advice. But before you go thinking this is some kind of political stunt, two things: One, Warren published the book in 2005, two years after she and her MBA/financial consultant daughter wrote the bestselling The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke and eight years before becoming the first woman to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate in 2013. In her prior career as an attorney, she was a respected bankruptcy expert.
The bigger question might be, was the advice any good? Judge for yourself, not by voting but by checking out this sample of her tips:
Live debt free… mostly
Like Suze Orman and her peers, Warren and her financial consultant offspring warned against the risks of living with a lot of debt. But in the 2005 book that outlined a personal approach to healthy finances, she differentiated between acceptable debt, like borrowing for a home, and something she called “steal-from-tomorrow” debt, including using credit cards for vacation or hitting up a payday loan place with extortionist interest rates.
Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish
Instead of clipping cents-off coupons and leaving inadequate tips and driving all over town to save eight cents per gallon, All Your Worth asked readers to think big. “Savvy money managers don’t spend a lot of time looking for ways to save a few pennies,” the mother-daughter duo wrote. “They charge right ahead to the big-ticket items, looking to make high-impact changes in the shortest period of time. They don’t sweat the small stuff. And neither will we.”
More money is not the end game
Along with noting that bankruptcy was sometimes the only option that could provide hope, Warren advised against becoming a slave to financial advancement. “Money isn’t the objective,” the senator wrote. “The real goal is to get control over your money so you can put it where it belongs, in the background of your life… you aren’t making these changes so that money can become the King of Your Life. You are making these changes so your life can get better.”
Renting might be best, even in the long term
Remember, this book came out just as the rest of the U.S. was enthralled with the idea of borrowing more for bigger and bigger homes. Housing prices peaked in 2006 and the housing bubble burst in 2008. Warren couldn’t have known that would happen, but she did give some pretty radical advice on the subject of home ownership for 2005, namely that you might be better off without it. With Warren being born in 1949 and all, it’s refreshing that she was willing to admit that not everyone should buy into the Wonder Years vision of the nuclear family and the two-garage house with a little picket fence, not in 2005 and not now.
When should you consider buying instead of renting? All Your Worth said to make that move only after paying off life-sucking credit cards, the past medical expense that’s dragging down your credit rating, and any other high-interest, non-sensical debt. Like the millennials of today, the book argued that equating paying rent with throwing money away is silly. No one says that about the water bill, do they? “Rent is no different from food, but no one is suggesting you buy a cow,” she wrote.
Eat some ice cream
The book balanced tough choices like not incurring too much debt with advice to incorporate some money in the budget for fun. Chapter 14, for example, is titled “If You Can’t Afford Fun, You Can’t Afford Your Life.”
If you want to incorporate this balancing tip, note there’s a choice for affordable fun that also involves Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless She Persisted: The Elizabeth Warren Coloring Book by Elsie Dawson. But don’t expect to see Warren herself with colored markers in hand anytime soon. At least through the 2020 presidential primaries, she’ll have other things to keep her busy.