Julie's Reviews > Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity
by Sarah Ban Breathnach (Goodreads Author)
So was my thought a month ago. Now, after having read this book, I realize I did not need it. Let me start by pointing out the positives about Peace and Plenty. 1.) I got one piece of truth out of it--something I already knew but didn't ever verbalize, but Sarah Ban Breathnach verbalized it for me: "There is no such thing as financial security." 2.) Breathnach draws from many old (1860s-1950s, but especially 1920s-1940s) periodicals, such as Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, The American Lady Magazine, and McCall's. From a historical perspective, these bits were fascinating. 3.) Breathnach is quite open about her own financial woes and personal inadequacies that led to her losing the million plus dollars she got from writing Simple Abundance in 1995.
Now, the negatives (in my opinion) about this book: 1.) Most of the advice in this book comes from those Victorian-, Great Depression-, and World War II-era writers that I found historically fascinating. Breathnach quotes them at great length, to the point that at times she seems more an editor of a compilation or the writer of a college term paper. I think I would have enjoyed just reading some old periodicals more. 2.) You really get a picture of the author as a person through this book, and I have to admit I did not care for her. She seems to have the emotional maturity of a romantic teenager who has no life experience of hardship or introspection, and who is trying to be something other than she is. She seems to have a hole in her sense of self that she desperately tries to fill with extravagant purchases (e.g. Marilyn Monroe's furs, penthouse apartments, flights on the Concorde). [At one point in the book I just *had* to know what this woman looked like to see if she looked at all like I imagined. So, I Googled her; the first photo that came up was from her website, and I almost laughed out loud. She is semi-reclined in a chair, wearing a clearly expensive evening gown and shawl/cape (I have no idea what it is called, as is something I have never worn; it would look more at home on the First Lady). It's a very affected pose and would only be made better by her having her right forearm draped over her forehead.] I digress. As I was saying, she is quite open about her financial foibles, but as I kept reading, it was clear that she didn't really change her worldview of money because of her negative experience. 3.) Poor advice. The author seems to define a “lack of money” as a misuse of money rather than a true lack. For example, she assumes we have enough money for essentials (which she defines as “food, clothing, shelter, childcare, savings, transportation, and insurance”) and can then “have a good idea how much money you can put toward debt reduction” (p. 95). She also assumes we are, “…saddled in credit card debt over designer dresses, shoes, and handbags” (p.287) (she also assumes we don’t pay our bills and that we have a belief in god). There was a disconnect between different pieces of her advice. Since she had a husband who took all her money, part of her solution is to advise readers to have “…a bank account that’s solely in your name and that no one else knows about…your ‘I’m Out of Here’ money” (p. 304). When I read that, I thought, “How about getting smarter at knowing yourself, picking a husband, and learning how to communicate honestly?” I was especially unimpressed with her when, 14 pages later, she states, “Having your own bank account is a statement that you have your own identity, your own dreams, and your own goals” (p. 318). So, why have it be a secret? How authentic does that feel to hide this expression of your identity? She also asks, “How do you talk to your husband (about money)?” and then bets “almost to a reader that most women don’t have an answer because they’ve never really considered the question” (p. 302). Really? Is my relationship with my husband that out of the ordinary because we communicate about money on an almost-daily basis? Perhaps so. I just never considered not talking with my husband about money. 4.) There was often a feeling of the whole “Law of Attraction” theme. It just felt hokey.
Some of the other advice that left me rolling my eyes includes: a.) Advising not to put money in fortune tellers, but in bibliomancy—“One of the oldest forms of divination, bibliomancy is forecasting events by opening the Bible and seeing what message is waiting for you” (p. 125); b.) When talking about tiny indulgences for yourself, she advises, “Label the prettiest file you can find…and fill it up with your inevitable clippings from mail-order catalogs or glossy magazines” (p. 128). She does this a lot—focuses on the prettiness of objects rather than substance of the exercise, so that making things pretty becomes the exercise; c.) She devotes a chapter to a woman’s purse and how you must reorganize yours so it doesn’t weigh so much and doesn’t resemble a trash bag. She then proceeds to list what you should have in your handbag—sixteen things, including a small fold-up umbrella and a small bottle of water. I could not fit half of the things she lists in my pocketbook; d.) She advises getting new curtains to boost your morale (p. 329); e.) She recommends sorting your makeup to calm yourself when you need to put on a brave face (I can’t recall the page number, but it’s in there); f.) She gives the advice of eliminating two nights of take out a week to save money. Honey, we get take out two times a year. There is much more, but for the rest you’ll have to read the book.
Really, this book is not a book about "finding your path to financial serenity" but about her path to getting comfortable with her financial status/fall from wealth. There is no way following her advice would lead me to financial serenity. In fact, I feel like I (or anyone with a German grandmother) could have helped her find financial serenity.
I suppose this would be a good book for someone who has never NOT had money before, someone who has never had to make due with what they have. I imagine the ideal reader of this book to be a late-twenty-something, Sex-and-the-City-watching girlie girl who comes from money (or is at least middle class), but who didn’t have any education in how to handle money nor a role model, so she spent more money (on credit cards) than she actually had and now doesn’t know what to do.
I struggled a lot with feeling judgment while reading this book, but then I finally realized that I don’t judge her for her experience or who she is. I do feel judgment for her thinking that advising others about how to achieve financial serenity was a good idea, because that is when who she is becomes an obstacle to sound advice.