The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life
by Natalie P. McNeal
Published by Harlequin, 2011
Copy purchased from Amazon
What's the book about? Courtesy of Goodreads:
Natalie McNeal opened her bills in January 2008 to find that she was a staggering five figures—$20,000!—in debt. Young, hip and gainfully (if Dilbert-ly) employed, Natalie loved her lifestyle of regular mani/pedis, daily takeout and nights on the town, but clearly something had to give.
And so The Frugalista Files was born. Through her blog, Natalie confessed her spending habits to the world—and it turns out she wasn't the only one having trouble balancing the budget! From the drastic "no-buy" month that kicked it all off to the career gamble that threatened to put her deeper in the hole, The Frugalista Files shares Natalie's personal and professional transformation from cubicle rat to take-charge career girl.
It is possible to get ahead without giving up on the fabulous life. This is personal finance in peep-toe pumps—the empowering true story of one woman's personal and professional transformation and your ultimate guide to living the Frugalista lifestyle, too.
I was instantly drawn to this book. I'm pushing 30 and have a staggering amount of debt. My student loans alone are almost double Natalie P. McNeal's total debt. If this woman could eliminate her debt without completely sacrificing her quality of living or ending up in a cardboard box by a freeway on ramp, I figured she could teach me a thing or two and I could be on my way to being debt free too.
Well, not quite. It turns out that the Frugalista Files is just a diary of McNeal's first year of living the frugalista life. When readers meet her, she is over $20,000 in debt due to her car, student loans, and bi-weekly mani/pedi habit, buys new outfits for every occassion, which includes 'kicking it' on the weekends with lots of dinners out and booze, and spending over $1,300 a year on just her hair alone. Once she starts realizing just how much she is spending, (well, charging to her credit card) and just how deep her debt hole is, McNeal vows to get out of debt.
She decides that February 2008 will be a 'no spend' month. Her only approved expenses were bills, food bought from a grocery store, and gas. She blogs about the experience for the Miami Herald, where she is a city reporter. Because of her job and its connections, she finds herself on CNN and writing freelance articles for major US publications.
And that is where Natalie McNeal's story stopped being so appealing to me. It was no longer an 'average Jane' story. Her life circumstances and connections seriously increased her chances for success with the blog and the extra income helped her to get out of debt. I kept reading though. I wanted to make sure that Natalie McNeal stuck to her frugality and paid off her debts.
I was disappointed that there wasn't more substance to the book regarding how she got debt free. I know that limiting yourself to one drink at a bar, eating before leaving the house (rather than when you're out and about for the night) finding cheap parking, shopping at TJ Maxx, and preparing food at home rather than eating out will save me money. She didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. I'm not sure if my disappointment is because the hype about the book led me to believe that it was something it wasn't or if it was my brain thinking that a memoir about getting out of debt would have some useful, practical tips.
I was also disappointed in some of the writing. When using the number one in a sentence, it is spelled out, not typed as 1. Also, I found the text speak and emoticons rather annoying. The writing should be strong enough that I know when to laugh out loud or smile. I shouldn't need the author to blatantly tell me how or what to feel. I think the reason why these small things bothered me so much is because McNeal is a journalist. I felt like she should know better.
Overall, I wasn't impressed with the book, but I didn't hate it either. I'm definitely going to give her 'no spend' month idea a whirl this spring. I wonder how much extra cash I could add to my credit card bill or student loan payment. If I can save a few hundred dollars by doing a 'no spend' month, reading this book will definitely be worth it.
On a scale of one (I hated it!) to five (I loved it!), I give The Frugalista Files two stars.