Book Review: “Stop Working…Start Living: How I Retired at 36 Without Winning the Lottery”

Book Review: “Stop Working…Start Living: How I Retired at 36 Without Winning the Lottery”
Book Review: “Stop Working…Start Living: How I Retired at 36 Without Winning the Lottery”
Book Review: “Stop Working…Start Living: How I Retired at 36 Without Winning the Lottery”

As you can tell from my (arguably generous) “three-and-a-half-star” rating of this book, I do “like” it. Indeed, I deem it a somewhat more engaging read than many (but not all) other, comparable “early retirement” books I’ve encountered.

In fact, being myself (at age 54) an “early/frugal retiree” for six years already, I can personally relate to many commonsense things the lovely Diane Nahirny advocates throughout her narrative [the earliest portions of which comprise largely autobiographical content (regarding the phases of Ms. Nahirny’s own gradual emergence from “wage slavery” to “early retirement”) that just might inspire you to yawn rather than cheer]. Just as Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (in their 1993 bestseller Your Money or Your Life [ISBN: 0140167153]) generally advocated distinguishing between your actual requirements and your fleeting desires, Ms. Nahirny makes clear her belief that needs and wants aren’t always synonymous. Analogously, she stresses what most of us already know (but don’t necessarily practice): continual “comparison shopping” and “frugal living” are equally important for stretching–and living within–one’s budget.

I appreciate how Ms. Nahirny enthusiastically cites examples of her having maximized the use of such things as freebies and credit-card perks, not to mention consumer-product rebates, special offers, or coupons. Believe me, I can relate; indeed, in the current economic climate, many folks could do worse than to review the assortment of consumer tips to be gleaned from a patiently attentive reading of this book (not that Ms. Nahirny’s collective advice in that vein even remotely approaches the breadth of what Amy Dacyczyn had already compiled three years earlier in The Complete Tightwad Gazette [0375752250])

However, in the spirit of providing a “reality check”, I feel inclined to point out several cold facts to prospective readers of Ms. Nahirny’s book.

First, “American” (i.e., U.S.) readers should bear in mind that Ms. Nahirny is a Canadian, and therefore her routine health-care expenditures are surely only a fraction of what they’d be were she to purchase the typical American’s level of health insurance. (We’ve all heard of the “free” national health care available to all Canadian citizens.) Mind you, I myself spend only about $90 monthly for my American health insurance, but that only buys a rather bare-bones, “$5,000-deductible” policy. Hence, even though I’m in good health (knock on wood!) and generally only require a tiny handful of visits to the doctor yearly, between those inescapable, ever-rising insurance premiums and the rare office visits, I still end up spending at least a “noteworthy” sum for health care annually. [I dread to think about the sum that any comparably frugal American having major, chronic health issues must spend! And, in this election year, I can’t fathom how obdurate many fellow Americans–including more than a few having only modest and precarious sources of income–remain regarding the very notion of a significant revision of the fundamentally “for-profit” nature of this nation’s health care system. Many ordinary folks seemingly have had fewer and less strenuous objections to being heavily taxed to fund an ill-advised, unwarranted, destructive, protracted invasion of a “harmless” nation than being taxed to fund sensible health care coverage for themselves and their fellow citizens… but that controversial topic is fodder for another day, another post.]

Furthermore, U.S. readers should bear in mind the modest-yet-noteworthy monetary difference between Canadian and American dollars. On pages 98 through 101, Ms. Nahirny discusses her net worth, and she states that, as of 2000, it had risen to $300,000, which, in American dollars (as of this writing) would actually be roughly equivalent to “only” $293,333.90. Furthermore, she makes clear that her equity in her house (amounting to $170,000) made up the largest portion of her net worth. In other words, the REST of her assets amounted to only $130,000 (Canadian), which would be equivalent to only $127,094.49 (American). [Note that these monetary discrepancies were substantially greater a mere year or so ago, before the U.S. dollar’s newsworthy plummeting.] In any case, “do the math” (not omitting inflation and taxation, and factoring a realistic, safe rate of return on assets), and you’ll quickly perceive that that amount of money (starting in the year 2000) wasn’t likely to finance genuine retirement for any “middleclass” citizen in Canada–much less the USA–for another three decades or longer. [If I’m missing something here, somebody please bring it to my attention.] Of course, Ms. Nahirny could always sell her house and thereby derive more interest income per year; but she doesn’t sound inclined to do so any time soon. Therefore, take her touted claim of being literally “retired” with the proverbial grain of salt. “Semi-retired” would seem more accurate. I suspect she’ll be continuing to engage in some part-time employment for years to come–unless, that is, she’s received an inheritance (or other windfall) since her book was published in 2001. (Nothing wrong with that!)

On an admittedly much less significant note sounds as though she (much like certain other “middleclass” folks I know personally) simply has a bit of a (purely psychological/emotional) problem with being seen on a bicycle! Yet, ironically, she conveys elsewhere in her book that she (supposedly) doesn’t much care what other people think about various (unconventional) money-saving schemes she (generally wisely) employs! In this vein, if you know much about the aforementioned (late) Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, then you know that they, approaching their sixties, still were making considerable use of their bicycles for getting around “hilly, rainy Seattle”. Ms. Nahirny goes to considerable lengths to save several bucks a year by using, for example, old newspapers (instead of paper towels) to wipe her countertops–or even by reusing some of her household water–yet she thinks little of continually funding a “chauffeur” to drive her around town. Shoot, by the time she’s called (and patiently awaited the arrival of) her “convenient” limousine, she might as well have pedaled halfway–or maybe all the way–to her destination, not to mention the obvious budgetary and bodily benefits.

Despite my qualifying remarks above, I repeat that I do “like” Ms. Nahirny’s book. Its virtues include a respectable (albeit not exhaustive) collection of the aforementioned (commonsense) money-saving tips for readers wanting to squeeze every last bit of value from their dollars–be the latter Canadian or “American”. And then there’s the author’s (generally) captivating tone of enthusiasm and (understandable) pride in having achieved a level of financial (semi-)independence that fairly few thirty-something people ever match.

But here’s a case where I also can’t help (admittedly imperfectly) recalling an episode of the original Leave it to Beaver TV series wherein “the Beave” presented his dad with a how-to-get-rich-quick book featuring a photo of its “wealthy” author. To paraphrase, out of his young son’s earshot Ward Cleaver skeptically (and perceptively) observed that he found it curious that anybody who’d already actually achieved complete financial independence would take the considerable time and trouble to pen a tedious “how-to” book about it. ??