This is avowedly aimed at people for whom Suze Orman and Charles Schwab are too heavy going--for people who are just starting out with financial self-help and need a workbook they can digest in a weekend. On those terms, it's a very useful book.
Laura recognizes that one of the biggest stumbling blocks in typical personal finance books is estimating expenses and creating a budget. It's time-consuming, usually inaccurate, and becomes a source of discouragement when the inevitable unexpected expenses creep in. I've read a ton of financial self-help books and that has always been a problem for me. To this day I've never had a budget that really worked, and the only way I've found to get a real handle on our expenses is to use software to track them and analyze them after the fact. (Now that we've been using Quicken for 14 years, we've got a lot of data--and STILL patterns can be difficult to discern, because of those "unexpected" differences.) So Laura's approach is very refreshing. He tells us to focus on the financial decisions we make and to start changing the direction of our "financial karma" by trying to line up our expenditures with our values and goals.
Laura assigns one big, time-consuming exercise related to expenses, but instead of an estimate of amounts, it's a worksheet to identify which are basic needs versus lifestyle choices, which match values or goals, and which are in excess. The other exercises and examples in the book are pleasingly brief and simple.
There are some great concepts here. For example, this is one of those obvious-once-you-think-about-it insights that I don't remember hearing anywhere else: "Just as you buy a house, a car, or groceries, you must also buy financial security." And he distills an interesting idea from a life-insurance salesperson's talk, The Common Denominator of Success: the habits of financially successful people did not come naturally to them, and they don't like doing those things any more than regular people do! That's a very liberating thought.
Financial Karma has a number of features that would work for beginners in frugality, but are essentially useless for those of us who have been serious about saving money for years. My late friend Valerie and I used to compare notes on all the "500 Money-Saving Tips" books which we'd check out when they came through the library, and we hardly ever found anything helpful because the recommendations involved stopping things we would never dream of doing in the first place. Laura's example of getting money at the office ATM ($2 charge) to buy an afternoon coffee reminded me of those books. I've only used a for-fee ATM a couple of times in my life, in emergencies, and I kicked myself for lack of foresight. If you're looking for ways to save money, read something by Amy Dacyczyn. Similarly, I've been lucky enough never to "get" the difference between cash, checks, and credit cards, a common pitfall which Laura tries to combat. (It's all money--to me it feels the same to charge a $20 purchase as to fork over a bill. If it feels different to you, getting over that may be helpful to you.) So if you are like me, parts of this book will seem obvious or even silly. But for someone who's had difficulties realizing where their money goes, it should very helpful.