A review of Debt free, Ca$hed Up and Laughing by Cath Armstrong and Lea-Anne Brighton

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Debt free, Ca$hed Up and Laughing
The Cheapskates way to living the good life
By Cath Armstrong and Lea-Anne Brighton
ABC Books
April 2007, ISBN 97807333315619, RRP$19.95

Too busy? Stressed? Overworked and worried about bills? Welcome to the 21st Century. Most of us earn a decent amount of money, especially in Australia where wages are well controlled, but getting ahead of bills and living expenses seems like a gargantuan task. Why? According to “Thrift Queens” Cath Armstrong and Lea-Anne Brighton, the problem is with our spending. Put simply, we spend too much. Enter Cheapskates. Armstrong set up her popular website cheapskates.com.au as a source for information on how to live more frugally, simplify your life and get on top of bills. This new book takes the best of the Cheapskates ideas, tips and guides and organises them into a comprehensive manual on frugal living.

The book is divided into two key sections. The first one looks at changing your lifestyle, and is relevant to everyone. It focuses on things like putting together a simple budget, managing your money on a day to day basis, shopping, cleaning, and eating. The focus is always on doing more for less, and on cutting costs, purchasing carefully and increasing, not decreasing, the quality and longevity of what you do buy. Throughout the section are “Super Savings Hints” that provide all sorts of tips for cutting costs like using a “no-frills” shampoo to clean the bathtub (works great, easy on hand and smells great).

The second section looks at specific areas for cost cutting like doing inexpensive crafts with preschoolers, managing to keep costs down and fun up with older children, holidays (I love the house swapping idea), keeping utility costs down, keeping vehicle costs down, pets, Christmas, and birthday parties. Again, throughout the section there are tips, recipes, crafts, and lots of tidbits of wisdom which you may not be aware of. For example, did you know that driving with open windows at high speed can reduce your fuel efficiency by 10% and that it’s cheaper to use the air conditioner than to open windows at high speed? I certainly didn’t.

Part 3 contains four success stories from people who used the ideas in this book to compound their savings for big results – some in the high thousands – paying off debt, and improving their quality of life. Their case studies provide more hints for people looking to emulate their behaviour. The book also contains some blank forms like a budget planner, sample price book and daily time block chart.

The book is easy and fast to read, and is neatly structured so it can be used as an ongoing reference, especially for some of the recipes like cleaning products, home-made cosmetics, and craft items like play-dough and beads. Debt free, Ca$hed up, and Laughing is a fun, enjoyable book to read which could make a real difference in the kind of lifestyle you have. The authors recommend that you try one new idea from the book a week for a year, which is an easy and painless way to recoup a whole lot more than the cost of this book. However, the bigger message is one which could have wide ranging impact – and that is, we don’t need to spend like crazy or get into the advertising generated treadmill of ‘want-buy-pay’. Instead we can ease off the accelerator, slow down a bit and stop trying to keep up with the (rather unhappy) Joneses. Those clothes can be mended or traded. We can buy and cook more fresh food. Spend more time interacting with our children (and less time working to pay for the Nintendos and DVDs you use to keep your children occupied so you can work more) and break the vicious cycle. This is the key message of the book and of Cheapskates in general and it’s a really important one. For more information on Cheapskates visit www.cheapstakes.com.au