How to Worry Less About Money by John Armstrong

I realize that this is an odd choice for my first book review–my first “real” blog post, even–but there’s a very good reason for it. I chose this book because it’s summer. A very sodden, grey, sunless, chilly summer here in the deep South, where it was a blinding 107 degrees this time last year. And if there is anything I want to do when it’s rainy, it’s read. And in order to read, I buy books.

I buy a LOT of books. Kindle Daily Deals are my kryptonite. What’s $2.99, right? I gave away seven or eight boxes of books when I moved last year. And I still hoard them and buy them in electronic and paper formats. Even though I finally got a library card where I now live, I still can’t stop spending money on books. And film. And thread. But mostly books. My middle name? It’s Erasmus.

And with all my spending on books, like this very book I’m writing about, which I brought in paperback from Amazon, I worry that I’m fiscally irresponsible, that I can’t manage money, that I need to save more, that I need a better job, that my student loan debt is too great, my mortgage is too great, my debt is suffocating me and I should never buy anything ever again except Ramen noodles and oh-my-god-what-have-I-done Ican’tbelieveIboughtanotherbook when I need to spend $800 to fix my car and the real world is going to come and revoke my adulthood status and I feel vaguely guilty every time I drive into the parking deck at work because I have to open my car door to swipe my parking pass because my window no longer rolls down and. . .

And I clearly needed this book.

It’s a bargain, actually, not only because the price is low for a paperbook book (it’s not available in e-book formats), and not only because its value is high (to me, anyway. And value is not the same as cost, I learned), but ALSO because it is wonderfully, delightfully written. Yes, it’s about money. And yes, it’s a pleasure to read: clear, inviting, insightful, thought-provoking, and short. John Armstrong uses literary references, which I deeply appreciated, and anecdotes to make his points. And his points are really quite excellent.

Probably the most important point, for me, was about flourishing. Money, he contends, should be used to flourish, to enrich your life, to give you the things you need to be the person you are/want to be. (I should note that he says that money worries and troubles are very different, and that this book is for worries. He is quite clear about this. Troubles are far more dire.) Money itself is actually neutral (something I used to know, but had forgotten); it’s how we think about money and make money have meaning that determines our relationships to money. How I view money, in other words, determines how I worry about money.

Armstrong gives an example about his car that described my own car conundrums as thoroughly as a passage in a Victorian novel describes the heroine. I worry about my car, but the truth of the matter is, I don’t really care about my car. I feel that I should want to have a reasonably nice, grown-up car, but I just want a car that drives, preferably for several hours at a time if I want to travel somewhere. If the repairs my car needed were necessary, I would have made them. My aging car makes me feel guilty, because not caring about my car makes me feel like I’m still a teenager. I’m an adult, so don’t I need to have a nice car that I maintain and wash more than once every two or three years?

The answer, of course, is nah. Fuck that. I just need a car that works. And I should possibly clean it more, since I rather like clean things and general tidiness. But buying things like books and film are needs, too. Remember Maslow? I’m getting stuck in the middle of the pyramid, and no wonder it makes me anxious. The middle of the pyramid isn’t exactly what we shoot for.

So while How to Worry Less About Money is not the most typical summer reading, it’s probably been one of the most valuable books I’ve read so far. I’ve bought quite a few more books to read, stopped tormenting over NOT buying things, and soon I will be adding sewing to my hobbies (because crafting flourishes me). My summer, and probably my fall, winter, and spring, have all been made better. And that’s because I’ll be spending less time worrying, and far, far more time with a hot cup of coffee, reading a good book.


5 thoughts on “How to Worry Less About Money by John Armstrong

  1. Yes! Finally buying your “grown up” car! Don’t bother until a necessity! I was only compelled into getting one when I had Teddy. And that was due to not having air conditioning in my old car and moving to North Carolina. I loved my jeep; it was red & I never had to worry about cleaning it, because it was already so beat up. Also, I have a book-buying compulsion. If I go a couple weeks without buying a book, I congratulate myself for having wrestled my addiction to the ground.

    • Sound advice! A better and safer machine would definitely be in order for kids–but until then, I’m just going to drive my Honda into the ground. But I might wash it. Haha! Do you have a Kindle? Or Amazon Prime?

      • We have a Kindle — Jeff uses it. We had Prime in the past but not anymore. Amazon is addictive.

      • Wise, very wise. I don’t *quite* buy a book a day, but there are weeks, oh, there are weeks when it comes pretty damn close. Hahahahaha!

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