Budgets Don’t Work [But This Does] by Melissa Browne

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Melissa Browne is an author, financial educator, accountant, speaker and entrepreneur and in 2016 she was named one of the Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence and therefore is suitably qualified to write a book on this topic.

She believes that for most of us, a ‘homogeneous, one-size-fits-all financial approach just isn’t right’ (ix). She hypothesises that we each have a unique Financial Phenotype – which includes our Money Type (our money personality) and our Money Story – the environmental factors and life experiences we each encounter. Into this mix she introduces the basic nature/nurture argument. She is firmly convinced that understanding our Money Story and discovering our money type are the keys to financial success.

In her introduction, the author addresses the key terms she will later explore in more detail and cleverly explains her concepts in relation to familiar aspects of our lives – food, diet, getting fit. She also clarifies her reason for writing this book. It is her belief that by showing each of us that ‘financially adulting’ is not about constant deprivation; and teaching us to recognise our individual make-up (phenotype), then we will be in a position to take action and create unique sets of financial habits which are right for each of us.

Understanding the Basics, the title for chapter 1, introduces the idea of individuality and the long-debated issue of nature vs nurture, which may have an influence on our behaviour concerning money. She brings greater authenticity to her work by citing past and present academics and their research on this topic. Throughout her whole book she applies the technique of asking questions concerning financial understanding, then sets about explaining her reasoning through the use of examples drawn from research and her own upbringing and understanding. One lovely example she uses to stress a point she has made is the fact that flamingos are born white and obtain their pink colouration as a result of their diet (6). Her style of writing is quite chatty.

The information that follows is divided into three parts and each part concludes with a Worksheet Recap.

Part one explores Nurture and our Environment and, through the use of stories and myths, the author endeavours to motivate the readers to assess their money beliefs in order to understand their own financial behaviour. She takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery. I was fascinated with the Marshmallow Test used to ascertain a person’s self-control and the history behind the piggy bank. To maintain the reader’s interest, she provides stories concerning herself as well as some about well-known media personalities. There is much evidence of academic findings to support what she is saying.

Part Two begins with a quote from Ayr Rand: ‘Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver’ (63). This idea of the driver is continued throughout the rest of the chapter with the analogy of the elephant and its rider. There is a description of how the brain works in relation to self-control then an introduction to four different Money types that the author has created. A questionnaire helps the reader identify their own type and, then, attributes for each are spelled out. She also acknowledges that there may be hybrid types.

Part three, titled Financial Phenotype in Action, looks at Money Habits and Systems, as well as Stressors and Sabotage, Compulsion and Addiction. The Author explains that the reason she has spent the first 140 pages ‘unpacking the elements that make up your Financial Phenotype, … is that true behaviour change begins with identity change’ (140) and we needed this information to recognise our own behaviour. She then goes on to provide and discuss basic financial habits that work for everyone, then great habits for each Money Type.

The final chapter contains what reads like a personal letter to the reader entitled Where to from here? The remainder of the book contains acknowledgements to all those who supported the author in this endeavour and a couple of pages about herself, in which she offers her services for those who may need extra help.

Throughout the book, the author has been very open with the reader concerning her own vulnerabilities and how she managed to set up her personal strategies regarding financial matters. This open and honest approach to her topic has made this book a more interesting and engaging discussion about financial decisions than previous such books have been.

The book is well set-out with each chapter informing the reader what is to come and using repetition and reinforcement through the recap sections. She continues to stress that she doesn’t want ‘this to be a book full of theories, (she wants) you to take action’ (41).

This is not the type of book one can read through from cover to cover in one sitting. There is so much information to absorb but it is all clearly and logically presented with the support of research, analogies and interesting anecdotes. The author, Melissa Browne, believes that money and our financial activities should be talked about more often and not labelled as ‘impolite’ as it seems to have been in the past.

This is an interesting book about finance and a worthwhile read for all, but especially those who believe they have problems organising their money.

Budgets Don’t Work (But This Does)

(2020)

Melissa Browne

Allen&Unwin

ISBN:978-1-76087-781-1

$29.99; 240pp

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