Money moves – build a happy financial future

February 14th is Valentine’s Day, so let’s show some love to our future selves by building a financially secure future.

This post is about 2 excellent books on managing your money smartly, whether you are just out of college and tackling a mountain of student debt, or a seasoned professional worried about retirement savings, or a parent wondering how to save for your kids’ college fees, or anywhere in between.

Smart Women Love Money

Title – Smart Women Love Money
Author – Alice Finn

REVIEW SCORE – 4/5 ****

About 90% of people have absolutely no clue about how to save or the basics of investing. Colleges sadly don’t teach this important life skill, and young people are thrown unprepared into the adult world. This is a great starter book for anyone (not just women) who want to create financially security for life!

However, if you already have a 401(k) account with index funds and 6 months of emergency funds, then this book will feel very basic. I felt the whole book could be condensed into a simple blog post “list” type article. That said, appreciate that the author provided lists of index funds for various risk appetites, and some good pointers on saving more on taxes.

30-day Money Cleanse

Title – The 30-Day Money Cleanse: Take Control of Your Finances, Manage Your Spending, and De-stress Your Money for Good
Author – Ashley F Gerstley

REVIEW SCORE – 5/5 *****

Love this book because it is practical and actionable! The book has a simple flow and makes it easy to start working on the core principles of saving and investing – understand cash flows, assign budgets to broad segments and automate savings. It doesn’t matter whether you are just out of college or earning a 7-figure income. This book will coax you to get on the right path to a stable financial future, without waiting for retirement to have a fun and enjoyable life!

Unlike many other authors (and financial gurus), this book does not reprimand or guilt you about money mistakes in the past. This book will literally allow you to cleanse away any past money “sins” and get on the right track!

Even if you have good money habits, I suggest the book as an annual exercise, to ensure you are on the right path, and to confirm you don’t have unnecessary subscriptions that are subtly hurting your financial goals. I found myself canceling online magazines that I never read and some unnecessary fees that I had overlooked. These may seem like pennies, but they add up to hundreds over a 3-5-year time frame.

Fantastic book, and I highly recommend.

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FEB = month of love, and amazing romance authors

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, here are the Top 10 Romance authors you should absolutely try as a gift to yourself or your favorite bestie!

Historical romance, contemporary or medieval time travel series or plain old classics – this post presents (in no specific ranking order) a list of romance authors in multiple niches. So you are sure to find something you love!

  1. Stephanie Laurens – Historical Romance. Absolutely love the Cynster series, though you can read them in any order.
  2. Emma V Leech – Historical Romance. Girls Who Dare series starring members of the Peculiar Girls Book Club. Just the book club reference would have attracted me, but the stories are riveting!
  3. Julia Quinn – Historical Romance. I loved the Bridgerton Series, but “The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy” from the Smith-Smythe series will be #1 favorite by this author.
  4. Nora Roberts – contemporary. Almost all her books are fascinating, but “Blithe Images” is the one I adore the best.
  5. Susan Elizabeth Phillips – Romantic Comedy. My favorite book by this author is “It had to be You.”
  6. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice. Countless plays, movies – this book is such a classic that it is even referenced in other historical romance books! Classic Romance.
  7. Nicholas Sparks – “The Notebook” was made into a movie, and my personal favorite – “Safe Haven”. Contemporary Romance.
  8. Jude Deveraux. I read her book “The Summerhouse” as a teenager, and thought it was beautiful! Contemporary Romance and chicklit fiction.
  9. Alyssa Cole – Contemporary Romance. I loved “Duke by Default” because it combines sword designers, social media and Instagram influencer and a realistic way of showing people’s biases and insecurities.
  10. Karen Marie Moning – Normally I don’t read fantasy or paranormal (except Harry Potter as a teen), but her Scottish Highlander series are Time travel romances mixing fantasy, medieval romance and contemporary ideals.
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Good Leaders & Managers

Title – The Truth about Managing People
Author – Stephen P. Robbins

REVIEW SCORE – 5/5 *****

I first bought this book for an MBA class on organizational behavior. Compared to the dry, and sometimes boring texts on management, this book was really unique because of the bite-sized chapter. Very similar to Seth Godin (marketing and consulting) and Avinash Kaushik (web analytics and data visualization) as I am a huge fan of both.

As a new manager, I found this a valuable resource, especially since I don’t have direct reports but supervise a bunch of contractors from our vendor-partners. I also lead a 1000+ member meetup, and inter-disciplinary projects at work, which means I often have to lead without a title and persuade people to agree on conflicting agendas.

However, even early career professionals will benefit from the book because it makes you understand what skills and behaviors will help you accelerate your career. For new and experienced managers, there will be many “A-ha” moments when you finally understand why your colleagues, peers or even executive leadership behave the way they do!

This book essentially summarized the best research on management principles into short, usable strategies. There are sections on motivation, hiring, conflict management, so the book is like an MBA-in-a-box. Similar to “Tools of the Titans”, but shorter and more focused on managerial topics. So you will want to keep a copy handy and refer different chapters at different stages and situations.

Pearls of Wisdom from the Book:

Some gems that resonated with me, and things that you will learn:
[1] People skills matter! Merit, competency and hierarchy are baselines for success, but excellent people skills will propel you like nothing else.
[2] How to conduct realistic job interviews, to hire more efficiently.
[3] Making the most of appraisals, irrespective of which side of the table you are on.
[4] I never heard the term “buddy” system, even though my company has it (called “shadowing”). I definitely attribute my success to the fact that this helped me shorten the learning curve and socialize faster with key stakeholders.
[5] Visionary leadership matters. I think women managers especially get hindered by this, but the fact is that a lofty goal motivates employees to find workarounds and creative solutions for near-impossible goals.

There are many more strategies for being both an efficient manager and a brilliant leader, but I will let you learn those directly from the book!

What I disagree:

The only point I disagreed slightly was the chapter on “mentors”. Like Sally Helgesen (Women who Rise) and Lois Frankel (Nice Girls still Don’t Get the Corner Office), we need “advocates” not mentors to get ahead in the career ladder. Mentors are important, but most corporate programs haven’t morphed these into sponsorship, which to me, defeats the purpose of mentoring. Still, I do agree that mentoring is important, especially early in your career.

Conclusion:

Overall, I love the book! Conversations with my managers and perceptions about me as a worthy leader, have improved since I started applying the principles in this book. In short, a Must read!

Similar authors – Tools of the Titans (Tim Ferris), Seth Godin’s blog , Avinash Kaushik’s blog Occam’s Razor – , Jack Welch, Robin Sharma, Carol Dweck (Mindset), Peter Drucker (Management/ Marketing), Adam Grant (Originals) .
TV shows – Not really applicable, but if you like Boston Legal and Shark Tank, you should test ride this book too!

Happy Reading!

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Title – End Game
Author – David Baldacci

REVIEW SCORE – 4.5/5

What’s to love about the book?

A thrilling, plot twister that will keep you guessing till the end. This is a book in the Will Robie Series, although I personally have never read the other books in the series. However, I am a big Baldacci fan, and his book “The Winner” and “Absolute Power” were my favorites for years in high school! This book reminded me why I was such a die-hard fan! It’s amazing how Baldacci can keep churning out plot after plot, without losing his touch to keep readers engaged and on the edge of their seats.

There are a lot of seemingly side stories, but the author doesn’t let us lose focus of the main story. The middle dragged a bit, but the end ties all the threads together, so the narrative is truly brilliant. You don’t see a lot of stories where the main characters are both assassins and detectives – sort of Jack Reacher meets Sherlock Holmes, so I loved it!

There is a lot of action and violence in the book, but of course the good guys win against all odds, due their brilliant mercenary skills. It also showed a lot of “grey” decisions that law enforcement officials often need to make – some decisions are unethical but necessary for the greater good, and some which seem correct at the time, feel foolish with hindsight. The Doomsday argument conversations felt a bit forced, but it did present some interesting perspectives that I wouldn’t have thought about, not being the uber-rich! 🙂

As always, the action scenes are amazing, I could almost imagine the explosions and raining bullets as if it were a movie. And in all fairness, it would probably make an amazing movie plot like Fast and Furious or Jack Ryan type series.

Finally, big shout out to “BJs”, my local big box retailer which recently started selling bestselling authors at unbelievably low prices. Beats Amazon, Walmart and every other retailer, especially since my book is a mint condition hardcover copy! My bookworm soul and frugal-Indian brain are both ecstatic!

Who should try this book?

If you’ve never heard or tried Baldacci books, then you will love it if you like action or thriller books. Alternatively, folks who love the movies and authors below, will find it entertaining as well.

Similar authors – Daniel Silva, Robert Ludlum, James Patterson and Tom Clancy.
Movies & TV shows – Jack Ryan, Mission Impossible, Rambo, Fast and Furious.

Happy Reading!

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more time, more reading!

Since I posted about my reading goals for 2020, and a new reading list, it feels like I’ve been bombarded with Qs about finding time to truly accomplish that goal. So I wanted to share some tips I use to create time for my life’s top priorities.

Of course, you might want to know why I am qualified to dole out productivity advice and time-saving hacks! After all, TIME is that elusive elixir that we all want to have, but never seem to find! However, in the last year, I’ve been a little more mindful about my time, and found that I was able to accomplish so much more:

  1. Published a book on DataScience jobs, which hit the Amazon bestseller charts for almost 2 months!
  2. Grew my blog from 5k views per month, to 10k views, compared to last year.
  3. Won an all-expenses paid Diversity scholarship to KubeCon San Diego!
  4. Completed my MBA Finance with a 3.4 GPA, while holding a full-time job.
  5. Traveled to Everglades National Park, ticking off a long-listed item off my bucket list.
  6. Took over the reins of a 1500+ member meetup group!
  7. Read 25+ books over the year!

Many of the time-saving hacks that helped me achieve these are also valuable techniques to find chunks of time to read more, even for the most hectic schedules. Here are my Top 15 favorite tips:

Use 2020 wisely – read more books!
  1. READING GOALS – Have a weekly/ monthly goal and decide what you are going to read. Just wanting to read is too vague, and will get drowned by other “firefighting” priorities. With the goal in mind, keep books handy – by either keeping light paperbacks in your bag or on mobile apps like Kindle and BookShout.
  2. Use Waiting Rooms wisely. We all have these “wasted” moments, 10 minutes at the doctor’s clinics, 30+ minutes at airports, 5-10 mins waiting for a kids class to get over or just a serpentine queue at the grocery stores. Most people use it to check social media, or browse clickbait articles or the never-ending stream of office emails. I use it to read books. I have to admit this is harder, and takes willpower. Sometimes its hard to remember, too. I normally go “offline” and force myself to read. TRY IT, you will be surprised how much reading can be integrated into these invisible pockets of time.
  3. Schedule 20 minutes in the morning with coffee / breakfast. Yes, there are a 1001 chores pending, fidgety kids and spouse and 250 emails from work that need your attention. But here is a secret. They will wait another 20 minutes, too! But not spending time on your personal development and expanding your mind (or just down time) is making you less smarter, and decreasing your productivity, joy and creativity far more than you know. If you prefer, do it way early in the morning before others wake up. I was scheduling 45 minutes way early in the morning, when everyone is asleep for my MBA and now that the degree is over, I’ve replaced it with reading, exercise, prayers and other personal priorities.
  4. 20 minutes “offline” time before bed. Seriously, all the “blue light” from electronics devices is not good for health. Reading a physical book before bed forces me to step away from my devices, promotes better sleep and makes me feel amazing about myself.
  5. Use your commute time. Instead of listening to the radio or taking office calls, commit half of your commute (or one way) to audiobooks. Hubby and I have committed 25% of all long-drives and road trips to audiobooks. I hated the thought at first, but he picked some truly interesting titles like “Freakonomics” and “12 rules of life” and now I am hooked!
  6. Listen to Audiobooks at 1.5x or 2x speed. Seriously, this one tip (from my MBA phase) has made me so much more efficient. You will need to work your way up to such high-speeds, but I’ve found the increased speed forces me to focus more. Downside – now I can rarely listen at 1x speeds, even for Youtube videos!
  7. Make chores interesting. Who likes making the bed, or doing dishes or folding clothes? I don’t so I grab my lovely Bose headphones and make them interesting by listening to escaping to the world of audiobooks!
  8. Read faster. It’s amazing that schools teach you to read, but not how to read faster. So try to consciously increase your speed without compromising on retention. There are many tools out there, and reading apps like BookShout calculate it for you automatically. Comes easily with practice, and you’ll get more achieved, at work and your personal goals.
  9. Read more efficiently. You don’t need to read word-by-word. Not every chapter is useful or important, and you won’t remember it in 3 months anyway! Life is too short to waste on bad books, so make sure you read what is truly remarkable, entertaining, valuable in practice, or all of the three!
  10. No monkey behavior. Don’t jump from 1 book to another. Even with my reading speeds, I find myself with a large list of incomplete books. So I stick to two book at a time (one ebook/audio + 1 hardcopy). If you want to do more, make sure they are from different genres, so it is easier to follow the various content tracks.
  11. Use your lunch hour. This was advice from an amazing mentor, who emphasized the importance of using the lunch hour for networking or reading. If I am in office, I force myself to get out of my cube and chat with 1 new person everyday. But since I work remote a lot, I do spend 20 mins on lunch while reading a good book. It’s amazing how this “clean” 20 minutes break from work helps me relax better, complete more pages on my goal, and improves my efficiency when I resume work.
  12. Leverage your smart phones for some good – if you cannot carry physical books, then there are many amazing apps like Kindle, Bookshout or GooglePlayBooks. Audible for audiobooks. Most offer metrics – how many days/weeks you read continuously, cute badges for reading sprints, reading speeds and much more. All these add motivation to help you read more!
  13. Scared of breaking the bank? – visit your library. In the US, all have dedicated mobile apps, which allow you to read ebooks and listen to audiofiles. In India, there are some amazing local libraries that provide vast number of titles at very reasonable rates. Plus, I’ve noticed that the more I read and buy on Google and Amazon, I seem to get more credits to encourage more spending!
  14. Keep a time log. Phantom slots keep slipping away. Don’t schedule every minute, but at least be aware of where your time-sucks are. Chances are, some of these can be used to slip in reading time.
  15. Say NO. The world does NOT hand out Nobel Prizes to super-moms or super-dads. So get off your invisible hamster wheels, and spend time on yourself, in self-development goals and reading time!

Those were my reading hacks. You don’t need to use all 15 techniques, but incorporating even 3-4 will help you reclaim valuable slots of time that might otherwise be frittered away on low priorities, or worse without your knowledge.

Happy Reading! 🙂

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