Personal finance for the math-challenged

Book Review: 'The Real Cost of Living'

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Book Review: 'The Real Cost of Living'

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News™

Book Review
Title: "The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life and Your Money"
Author: Carmen Wong Ulrich
Publisher: Perigree, 2010; 288 pages; $14.95 paperback, $9.99 e-book.

Cost-benefit analyses sound pretty boring, don't they? Yet they endure because they are actually pretty sound as an approach to making decisions in a variety of contexts, from business to personal.

Personal finance maven Carmen Wong Ulrich applies the model of cost-benefit analyses to a variety of personal and financial decisions -- your personal business, if you will -- in her latest book, "The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life and Your Money."

And boring, this book is not! Wong Ulrich's approach explodes the age-old tradition of looking at the dollars and cents cost of personal finance decisions, and looks at both the personal (i.e., psychological, emotional, lifestyle and other) and financial costs of all sorts of personal decisions that have financial implications, from getting married to maintaining your bad habits, to becoming your own boss and deciding whether to work or stay home with your children.

Her goal? To explore the myriad personal and financial factors that should be calculated for during our daily life decision-making, which sometimes even validates decisions that are not the smartest money move per se, but do further personal values and priorities that outrank the bottom line.

For example, Wong Ulrich surfaces a number of instances in which personal priorities can and often should outrank the financials of a fact scenario, in terms of their impact on our decision-making. Like paying off your mortgage -- a move that the financial experts have long pooh-poohed, but which has the vast emotional advantage of stability and security for those who are able to pull it off.

Similarly, she argues, the concept of a "motherhood penalty" ("wage discrepancies between moms who work and moms who don't") is absurd. Wong Ulrich's advice to moms agonizing over a choice whether or not to go back to work out of concern about this so-called penalty? "Screw the math ... The cost to being a mother who misses work to take care of children ... may be a cost you 're happily willing to swallow in honor of your choice to stay home."

"The Real cost of Living" covers the real life, personal and financial costs of homeownership, having children and a family, marriage and divorce, bad habits, working for yourself, using (and abusing) credit cards, saving and investing.

Each chapter offers a brief exploration of the various decisions faced, relatable scenarios and relevant viewer questions Wong Ulrich has addressed in her numerous media finance expert appearances and user-friendly sidebars like "Foreclosure FYI," "How to Lower Your Education Costs," and "Add 'Em Up ... New Baby Costs."

Then, Wong Ulrich offers a bullet-point breakdown of the real personal costs and benefits vs. the real money costs and benefits of both sides of the issue being treated, like the cost and benefits of getting divorced compared with the costs and benefits of staying married.

If you are facing some major life-decision-making and are not even sure of how to approach and weigh the competing personal and financial implications of the various ways you could go on an issue, "The Real Cost of Living" is a very nonintimidating, friendly, largely math-free guide to understanding the basic factors you should take into account.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,

Contact Tara-Nicholle Nelson:
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