My library didn't have this book on their new book list, so I made a suggestion for them to grab one and they accepted my request. I only buy books when I can use them as reference, but when I read them once or twice, I borrow from the library. 

Broke is Beautiful: Living and Loving the Cash-Strapped Life by Laura Lee

Her introduction sets a conversational tone for the rest of book as she idealized the Great Depression growing up and the community and that "the poor were subjects of art and literature", while simultaneously living in Madonna's "Material Girl" era while the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" played for multiple seasons on TV.

Ms Lee takes that hopefulness from the Great Depression and blends it nicely with the broke person who isn't living a lifestyle of a material girl even if they wanted to and makes being broke, beautiful.

Her chapters run from "Planning tips for a successful life of poverty" to the last chapter "Still want to feel rich? Ok, you are one of the richest people in the world." And every chapter in between keeps the honesty, humor and conversational tone that I love.

From Chapter 3: A Cash-strapped life is a creative life: The adventure of being broke
When you focus on something bad happening, it tends to go like this: "If I don't finish this report on time my boss is going to fire me, and I won't have enough money to pay the rent, and my wife will leave, and she'll take the kids and marry that Todd guy with the BMW. I'll be so depressed that I'll never be able to work again. I'll get in a fight with a guy in the homeless shelter over whose sleeping bag touched whose, and I'll get kicked out and I'll end up living under a bridge in a cardboard box." That's pretty bad.

Of course, the worse case scenario hardly ever happens. Even when it does, we fail to predict how resilient we'll be.
In Chapter 4: Be a (social) capitalist - I like the anecdotes she adds to the chapters that enhance her ideas
* Americans now spend 6 hours a week Shopping and only forty minutes playing with kids
* Edward Filene, of the Boston department store fame, was totally consumed by business. In this thirties, while he was traveling on a streetcar wit his fiancée, he ran into a business acquaintance. By the end of the ride, he had concluded a deal, but lost his future bride. she has walked out on him without his even noticing it.
She also covers eating socially or out of the dumpster and when you grow it yourself, all with a wonderful sense of humor, realism and hopefulness despite one's brokenness.

She writes about inflation, minimum wage, the lottery and gold in a simple way that gets her point across and yet gives you a new perspective.

From Chapter 9: Gold: The feces of hell!
"According to Freud, money is, well...excrement. In the mythology and fairy tales of ancient times, money is always 'brought into the most intimate relationship with dirt.'

There's something to that. Money is dirty and icky, and you wouldn't want it anyway. Made from organic material, it travels around the country and throughout the world passing from hand to hand, pocket to pocket. It is never washed. The average note circulates for 18 months before it is retired. "
Broke is Beautiful is such a cross section of information about a broke life that she just barely scratches the surface and leaves you wanting more once you have finished with chapter 29.

This isn't your typical personal finance book or social commentary (and I'm glad of that). I found that when I sat down to read it, it brought a moment of calm in my own financially stressful life. And if you are broke like me, it is a beautiful thing to know that libraries exist to check these books out.

More info: Laura Lee has a Broke is Beautiful blog as well.


  1. I am the working poor. // Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:05:00 PM  

    Sounds like a wonderful read. I must find a copy!

  2. Anonymous // Thursday, September 16, 2010 12:08:00 AM  

    bought the book and turned out to be very interesting. easy to read and quite informative.