For decades, the conventional wisdom about personal finance has rested on a strong message of self-deprivation: if you’re in debt, the narrative goes, it’s because you’re spending on frivolities and neglecting necessities. A bevy of new books posit that this thinking is out of touch in a world where student debt has spiraled out of control and home ownership is out of reach for many, and where valid anxiety about money spurs some to make poor financial decisions.
It’s the system, stupid
The days of personal finance gurus admonishing their acolytes to brew coffee at home are over. “A lot of personal finance books are really frustrating,” says Emily Wunderlich, senior editor at Viking. “They push personal discipline and grit, white-knuckling your way to managing your money, and make assumptions about how much money people make or spend. They leave a lot of people out.” Her acquisition Finance for the People (Penguin Life, Feb. 2022), which Paco de Leon, founder of the financial firm the Hell Yeah Group, wrote for creatives and freelancers, “takes into account a more diverse set of financial circumstances. A lot of the ‘habits’ other books mention are short-term; this is about feelings and beliefs. We’re all weird about money. This is about untangling those weirdnesses to help you live better.”
Several editors PW spoke with for this feature touched on the fact that financial challenges aren’t created in a vacuum; systemic issues have an enormous impact on how we earn, spend, invest, and save. Condescending advice about tracking pennies falls flat in an era when the dollars are out of reach.
“The days of personal finance books offering platitudes that are supposed to work for everybody—the coffee thing—are over,” says Kate Zimmerman, senior editor at Sterling. In Financial First Aid (Apr. 2022), Alyssa Davies, author of The 100-Day Financial Goal Journal, “acknowledges the systemic issues that people are dealing with, the difficulty of finding steady employment, the precarity of the gig economy, the difficulty of finding health insurance if you’re a freelancer, the expense of childcare.”
Many of these systemic problems disproportionately affect women. “There are so many forces in the world that make women feel like they’re not good with money,” says Helen Healey, editor at Portfolio. “Can you really blame people for falling prey to the insane financial system we live in?” Healey acquired Kumiko Love’s My Money, My Way (Feb. 2022), based on the author’s self-published budget planners, which, she notes, have sold more than 100,000 copies each.
Love seeks to help women understand the emotional components of their financial …….