Book review: A real girl’s Guide to Money: From Converse to Louboutins

Often, when I see a book title pitched at women about money I cringe.

“Oh no, it’s another one of those books that go on about how women are stupid with money and all they do is overspend money on shoes, like an episode of Sex in the City,” I think to myself.

Yesterday being International Women’s Day, the media was yap, yap, yapping about the gender pay gap (up to $25,717 in case you were wondering) and about how we’ll be left broke and destitute when we retire. And how, even if we have multiple degrees, the guy in the mail room will smash his way through to becoming CEO while we’ll be left making him cups of tea.

It can be a bit depressing.

What’s been missing until now has been a solid book, for the Australian market, that inspires and empowers women financially – in all aspects of their lives.

Enter Effie Zahos’ new book, A real girl’s Guide to Money: From Converse to Louboutins, , which was published this week just in time for IWD.  Zahos, who has spent over 20 years working at Money Magazine, is a seasoned finance professional who knows her stuff.  Comfortable and confident as a writer and media savvy, (and always looking fabulous), she has a strong message for the women of today and of tomorrow.

“My greatest fear is retiring in a polyester outfit and drinking cask wine,” she shares.  “This may sound superficial but, jokes aside, the lack of money women have in retirement is a big issue.”

The book is written as a series of 17 short chapters, with each one reading like an on-line news article.  This is perfect for absorbing chunks as and when you need it.  Which is a good thing because there is a lot of (useful and relevant) technical detail in here that covers everything from getting your first job, buying a house, falling in love, having a baby, separating and retiring. It reads like big sister advice from someone who has been there, done that and knows her stuff.

This is not a glitzy book full of false promises about how you can make a fortune overnight.  Nor is it a book that outlines a simple sure-fire wealth creation sequence. If you want a book that tells you which bank account to open and how to spend your money, this isn’t it.  Instead, this is the thinking girl’s guide to getting what you want, with strategies that can help you get there.

For instance, Zahos doesn’t go out and say a young woman ‘should’ buy a house or that she should buy in a certain area.  “It’s not the end of the world if you decide to rent,” she notes before discussing a range of strategies that someone thinking of buying could consider (including co-buying and rent-vesting).  If you do decide to buy, then in a later chapter she has a whole range of strategies that you could use to pay off your home sooner.

As I was reading this book, I found myself constantly stopping to share parts of what she had written with my husband, Neil.

“See, she also advocates packing lunches AND investing the savings rather than spending them,” I said.  “And she is constantly asking the ‘how can she afford that’ question in relation to people who seem to have it all (but don’t’)”, I went on. (In fact, there is a whole chapter about people who earn $150,000 or more but don’t know where the money has gone. As she says throughout, quoting money mentor Paul Clitheroe, it’s not what you earn but what you save that counts.)

In fact, there was a lot that I agreed with in the book. I liked the way that she encouraged women to take charge of their finances, noting that research showed that women are actually extremely good at investing (in fact, better than men).  I liked the fact that she shared openly, and honestly about where and how she could have done better herself (like having been too busy to make a phone call to reduce her mortgage rate – I can relate to how sometimes you get too busy to see the obvious!)  And I especially liked the solid, well researched way she presented her arguments with detailed figures to back examples up.

“She’s one clever cookie,” my Neil said when I remarked on how detailed her analysis of financial issues is.  And yes, she most certainly knows her stuff.

What I liked about the book was the no-nonsense, honest approach to finances that covered a range of contingencies.  While there was a lot of technical detail, it was easy to break down.  For instance, flick through to the dark blue pages to find simple information that’s formatted to look like a  meme. If all you did was read those bits you would already glean a lot.  And at the back there is a 26-week challenge with a series of choose your own adventure type quests. The challenges combine some tough things with some fun things, so it’s not all work and no play.

While this book covers issues that particularly impact women – such as pregnancy and having a longer life expectancy then men – Zahos’ wisdom should also be relevant for men (not just women).  Don’t let a title that has ‘girl’s guide’ lull you into thinking this is teen-pop, sugar coated advice (it’s not).  Zahos is good enough and smart enough to be relevant to BOTH men and women.  But maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that her advice can help smart young women get the upper hand financially.  With the gender pay gap, women need all the help they can get.

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