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Thoughts on Ken Rockwell’s How To Afford Anything

Posted by on Friday 20 August 2010 in frugal | 2 comments

Already respecting his views on photography, John was interested to find an old article by Ken Rockwell called “How to Afford Anything” a few weeks ago.

Reading it in parallel, we quickly noted that while there wasn’t anything completely mindblowing for us, it was a mostly excellent article, we agreed with most of it and I would highly recommended reading it regularly. But there are a few points that I disagreed with though and I want to discuss them here. (I’ve quoted random bits of the article so it seems very disjointed but I’ve tried for each quote to make sense within itself.)

Don’t eat out: unless you’re eating off the dollar menu at fast food (as I have always done), cook your own food!

I like food too much to never eat out. We ate out more in the past than we do now but we still eat out once or twice a week. We don’t go to the most expensive restaurants but not the cheapest either: we rarely choose where we’re going based on price.

One thing though: we don’t spend a lot of money on drinks. I don’t drink alcohol and John doesn’t drink wine so we might have a soft drink/beer respectively when we arrive but will then switch onto tap water. We also invariably have better tea & coffee at home than the restaurant can offer so that’s another saving. Not having a restaurant-cheap bottle of wine and after dinner coffees saves us at least £20 a meal – and when the food bill is only £30, that’s quite a “saving”. (Ken does touch on this later.)

I’d class enjoying food as a hobby – I would never spend £2000 on a camera like Ken would, I’d spend it on 200+ curries instead.

Everyone has their own luxuries. Speaking of which:

“A luxury, once sampled, becomes a necessity.”

I personally both agree and disagree with this. Yes, some “luxuries” become necessities (the day I upgraded to a decent bra from budget ones was a special, special day indeed: my perky boobs never looked back) but it’s not always the case – we went on a really expensive (for us) holiday a few years ago but I’ve equally loved holidays since then which have been considerably less glamorous & far-flung – and have cost a tenth of the price. I’m also happy to eat frugal homemade food the rest of the time to pay for those two meals out a week – mostly because our frugal homemade food can be super tasty, but I think I’d feel the same way if it was more humdrum. Well placed luxuries provide variety in life.

Go Dutch: This isn’t the way to win favor among women…”

Depends on the woman ;) I’d be offended if a man assumed he was paying for me on a date. I’d also be confused why I was on a date when I have a lovely boyfriend at home but I think that’s a whole other issue. Similarly, I suspect John would be annoyed if a woman assumed he was paying for her. Gender stereotype assumptions suck.

(John and I usually take it in turns to buy meals or either whoever suggested the meal in the first place, pays. It all works out in the end.)

Don’t Worry About What You Own. Rule one: How rich you are is determined by how much money you have, not by what you own.

Nah, I don’t think it’s necessarily either of those things. I agree with the “don’t buy junk” sentiment but worry that “how much money you have” is distracting and makes people focus on attaining a random bank balance. Being rich isn’t static or the same for everyone: you’re rich if you’ve got more than you need.

I very much agree with the idea that there are two ways to be rich: have a lot of money so you can fulfil all your wants & desires, or reduce/change your wants & desires so you can afford them no matter how much or little you earn, or how much money you have in the bank.

Watching television makes you stupid. More serious than long-term stupidity is that you fall behind when you waste your time watching TV or playing video games. For every second that one person wastes watching TV, another person is using that same time learning or doing something productive. In a free economy, life is a race. If you’re not moving, you’re falling behind.

If he’d left it at TV, I probably wouldn’t be offended but he had to invoke my precious video games, didn’t he? ;)

I like video/computer games. I’ve played them all my life. Never the latest game which costs £40 and requires the latest hardware/console, but ones that are free software versions of old school commercial games (eg, puzzle games and more complex ones like OpenTTD and FreeCiv), the old school games themselves which can be picked up cheaply if I’ve not already got them (eg Age of Empires/Kings and I’ve just finished a stint of Theme Hospital) or, sometimes, just sometimes, a monthly subscription MMORPG (World of Warcraft). When I get in the zone, I lose a couple of weeks to them – playing them whenever I don’t have something more pressing to do (usually in the winter, when I want to sit under a duvet and hibernate).

Playing video games isn’t wasting time for me: as contradictory as it might sounds, they both relax and stimulate me. I have a lot of very productive interests and hobbies (too many probably) and sometimes I need some downtime. Aside from a good book, nothing relaxes me – takes me away from my stresses – as much as a good gaming session. But at the same time, while my conscious mind is distracted aligning cards or dots, or running an elf around Azeroth, my unconscious comes up with all sorts of ideas.

It’s easy to slate video games or TV but everyone needs downtime. The people that are learning/producing while I’m gaming will have downtime elsewhere. And as a downtime option, it’s pretty cheap – electricity aside, the most expensive option is World of Warcraft – but my £9 monthly subs (which I only pay when I’m in the zone) is about the same price as it would cost to go to the cinema and get a bag of sweets. Or it’s 4 pints of beer in a pub.

The Poor Man Pays Twice. If you really want something, buy it, or wait until you can. Don’t buy something that isn’t what you really want. If you do, you’ll keep dreaming about what you really wanted, and eventually get it. When you do, you’ve just paid twice.

This is actually something I completely agree with – I agree with it so much I HAVE to highlight it here ;)

Marry Smart: Your woman is always in charge. If she’s as silly with her money as most people, after you’re married, you can forget about having any money ever again.

Another annoying blanket stereotype of women. Pah. If it was “Marry smart: if your partner is as silly with his or her money as most people…”, I would completely agree with it though.

A woman’s job is to spend your money.


In America today, unless you’re running your own business and really good at it, a minimum of a four-year college degree is mandatory if you plan on working for anyone else and making decent money. Do whatever you have to to get it. Never give up!

Ok, it might be a little different in the US but I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this for the UK and I don’t think the US is that different. First up, I should probably say I’m very pro-education, I love learning and I love helping others learn. I have a degree, I have post-graduate qualifications, I worked at a university for six years and part of my job now is teaching. But still, I don’t think a degree is the be all and end all. Yes, in some fields it’s useful, in others essential – but not all.

I work part time for a small-but-growing IT company and part of my role is recruitment. We’ll notice if someone’s qualifications include a degree but way, way, way more important is relevant experience and enthusiasm. In the professional world, having a degree is nothing exceptional now, even masters degrees are pretty commonplace – that doesn’t set you apart. At our company, I suspect we’d be considerably more likely to interview someone who had spent four years doing interesting stuff off their own back, contributing to projects and learning of their own accord, rather than someone who just passed some modules and got a piece of paper at the end of it. Perhaps we’re not conventional, we’re certainly not a big corporation with a big HR department and a recruitment process including personality tests and box ticking – but there are more small companies than big mega corps so I don’t think we can be unique.

I think there are a lot of good reasons to go to university but it’s not for everyone and it’s not essential for everyone, but it’s expensive for everyone ;)

To finish though, I’d like to repeat that ‘How To Afford Anything’ is a great article about frugal living and well worth reading over and over again until it sinks in. Just ignore the generalisations about women and the slandering of video games ;)


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  1. Farrukh

    Nice review, Louisa! I enjoyed reading it and getting a second perspective.

  2. Robert Nicholson

    My learning abilities are so meager as to be non-existant. I could (did) not make it in college because all I wanted to do was work on the railroad, eventually ending up in my dream job as a locomotive engineer. Later on, I wished to become a writer and photographer, but had only limited success. Ken’s writings are a great influence on me, and while I may not agree with everyhing he says (his wife is a real esate maven, after all), most of his commnents are “on the money”, and I wish I had had this type of advice 50 years ago.

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