For the past 8 weeks or so I have been deep in the weeds on writing a draft of the money book. I approach book projects different ways, but for this particular one, I decided to write very rough drafts of chapters first. I anticipate being done with these drafts in another week or so, and then the real work of editing will begin. I find it is much easier to shape and think about something when I have something to work with. You see the holes. This gives research and interviews a clearer target. When I was writing 168 Hours, I did two massive rounds of interviews. The second was largely done after the book was drafted. I felt like the second had such a higher hit rate than the first, but of course that was because I was steering those interviews toward filling in my holes!
Anyway, here is the current chapter outline for the money book. In my mind, I’ve been calling it Plenty: How to Buy Happiness, but that could change.
Intro: You have more money than you think. An overview of the book, opening with some material from the Morocco post I did in early January.
Chapter 1: What else could that ring buy? A framework for the mindful use of money, looking at the opportunity cost of all the things we spend money on. The title comes from the little known fact that the average $5000 engagement ring could pay for 100 nights of babysitting — which would actually make a better marriage? Asks the $10,000 question (how would you spend $10,000 if you knew it had to be memorable)
Chapter 2: The Freedom Fund. The retirement concept is massively oversold. A better reason to build wealth? To give yourself the freedom to find and do work you’d never want to retire from.
Chapter 3: How to Choose a Tax Bracket. The usual personal financial advice is that when you need more cash in your life, you have to cut your spending — one of the reasons coupons are perceived as so virtuous. But I’d argue that it’s often just as doable — and much more pleasant — to try to earn more than to cut back. There’s a limit to how much you can cut. At least in theory, there’s no limit to how much you can grow.
Chapter 4: Help Wanted. Where will the next American jobs come from? The same place they always have — new firms started by entrepreneurs. Centered on my trip to Detroit, this chapter talks about how jobs are created, and touches on happiness by pointing out that creating opportunities for other people is one of the best ways to use money. This is done easiest as a business owner, but we can all choose to use our money in ways that boost opportunities and job creation.
Chapter 5: Laughing at the Joneses. Reconsidering our relationships with our houses (and lawns) and our cars. Spending less on homes and cars creates a lot of space in a budget for things that bring more happiness — this chapter highlights the small house movement, the anti-home ownership movement, the trouble with cars.
Chapter 6: Laura’s Guide To Your Best Weekend Ever. We get the most bang for our buck by spending on experiences. How should we best go about doing this? Told through the lens of one 168 Hours reader who instituted a new “Groundhog Weekend” tradition — creating a weekend you’d love to experience again and again.
Chapter 7: The Marginal Cost of Kids. After 2 (the definite mode in American life) the marginal costs of children decline precipitously. This is for two reasons: economies of scale, and changing expectations. The question is, do those changed expectations matter?
Chapter 8: The Chicken Mystique. In tough times, people get interested in things like farming, foraging, swapping, etc. — all yanked back out of the Great Depression, but celebrated now as much for their green side. None of this actually saves money when you consider the opportunity cost of time, but often the reasons for raising chickens run much deeper, into personal fulfillment, connection with the earth, etc. Hence the “chicken mystique.”
Chapter 9: Microphilanthropy. Giving has gotten a lot more fun in recent years, with small donors able to choose their projects and ask for results. Witness the rise of Donors Choose, GlobalGiving, Modest Needs, etc. This trend raises real questions of efficiency and fairness, but I’d argue that ultimately, charity has to be about the giver to be sustainable.
Chapter 10: The Ziploc Bag. A chapter on the hedonic treadmill, and whether things that once brought us tons of pleasure (in my case, Ziploc bags) can continue to do so. Also, can children raised in fortunate circumstances learn to value money?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all these.