Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: The Frugalista Files, by Natalie McNeal

Many, I'm sure, can relate to Natalie McNeal's predicament: When everyone else around you seems to be living the good life, and credit is easy - it's easy to spend too much, and rack up quite a debt, just trying to "keep up."  Why deprive yourself?

When The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life begins, McNeal is a newspaper journalist, unenthusiastically covering local stories that are of very little interest to her. Not surprisingly, she's not making much career progress - but she's comfortable, so she stays. She's also trapped under a mound of debt, much of which she has accumulated by needless spending on credit - for example, taking "networking" trips that sound like a lot of fun but generate little in the way of results. This debt presents her with a very real problem - she cannot afford to take the sort of risks that might lead her to a more rewarding career path, and in circular fashion, she continues to rack up debt making purchases that give her only short-term satisfaction.

Tallying up her debt and realizing that her spending is a prison, rather than the liberation she had previously assumed, McNeal embarks on a program to become, rather than a fashionista, a "Frugalista," and whittle down her debt by adjusting her spending. For McNeal, this means serious adjustments in her lifestyle and giving some real thought to how she manages her money: where does it all go?

The book contains a lot of the usual types of ideas, like doing her own manicures instead of paying salon prices, and finding great items in thrift stores - or, heck, doing a bit of shopping in one's own closet. McNeal starts a blog to track her progress but also as a place for others to exchange money-saving ideas and coupons and so on. She finds energy and enthusiasm for her new outlook on life, and with each successive accounting of her diminishing debt, she is invigorated.

You can pick up money saving tips in women's magazines, so although there's a certain amount of them in Frugalista Files, they aren't really the point of the book. Instead, McNeal discovers that devoting herself to something she is passionate about is far more rewarding personally, and, amusingly enough, financially.  In the midst of trying to rebuild her financial condition, her company announces a series of layoffs, and the writing is clearly on the wall for her newspaper career. Rather than sit around and blame a changing economy for her troubles, McNeal focuses on constructive things she can do. Her blog of money-saving tips, while not paid work, leads her to freelance articles for other newspapers and websites - work which is paid, and increasingly in demand.

While I mostly enjoyed McNeal's breezy style, it could also grate a bit. There are points where the book could have used a good insight or nice turn of phrase, and instead skims the surface with a "Yay me" or  LOL or (insert random text acronym here).  For me, the LOLs became distracting after a while. I was also a little put off by a couple of her money saving tips, one of which seemed to be to mooch off friends when possible.

Overall, though, I liked McNeal's optimism and her message, summed up neatly at the end, "Work harder, smarter, and never be afraid to take an educated risk. It pays off."


  1. I finished reading her book this morning. I don't recall hearing about her blog pre-book but I purchased her book at a Borders sale. The book was upbeat and interesting and I liked that she exposed her career concerns.

  2. I read this book last week after spotting it at the library, and it grated on me a bit. For people who've never really paid attention to their spending habits, I can see how it would be helpful. But I'm someone who's always known how to watch her pennies, so I guess I'm not the target audience. And she desperately needed an editor (or a better one) to tone down the "LOLs" and whip the copy into better shape. (Says the former newspaper copy editor.)


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