Book Review: “Debt-Proof Your Marriage” by Mary Hunt

The subtitle of “Debt-Proof Your Marriage” is “How to achieve financial harmony: become effective money partners; create a get-out-of-debt plan that works, be prepared for unexpected expenses; slash mortgage payback time in half; deal effectively with roller coaster income.” Quite a mouthful, but I’d say it pretty much delivers.

Apparently she wrote a book called “Debt Proof Living” and this is the revamped and remarketed version that throws in marital advice. I think it’s great. With very few exceptions I agreed entirely with all of her prescriptions. I sometimes call things by different names, but she is describing the same organs in this financial body as I see, and solves the same problems in the same way that I solve them.

There were only two or three places where I’d diverge from her, so let me get those out of the way.

First, she writes from (and for) a Christian audience and has a few compartmentalized sections that are aimed at that market. One is about gifting, the other is about trusting in God. To be honest, I do the same functions without God in the mix; I think you need to gift for psychological reasons; if you say “I am too poor, I can’t afford to give” then it becomes true. You’re the one who decides what “too poor” means. If you say “I am well off enough that I can afford to share” then it ALSO becomes true. It’s a binary switch and the person who flips it is you. I tell all my clients to find a charity that reflects their values and then give money in such a way to “make the world a better place because you exist by funding your values.” She says it’s because God wants you to. Whatever, same diff to me.

The trusting in God thing goes like this: just give this system a try. Don’t worry about how it will work out, just do the right/smart/hard thing for a bit and maybe God will rescue you with a lottery winnings or a raise or an inheritance. Because God’s a cool dude and it could happen. I see this as a trick to get you to start rescuing yourself. If you need to feel like the rescuer is just around the corner, that there’s a deux ex machina intervention to this story, that’s fine by me. But, uh, in the meantime how about just getting started. You know, while you wait.

So, yeah, I’d agree with what she says and leave faith out of it, but a great many people have faith as an important central source of power in their lives and it’s fine with me if they want to tap that.

I also thought her insistence on binders and pieces of paper was too old-fashioned, but am fine about giving her the benefit of the doubt on this one. Not everyone has a free app on their smartphone for tracking spending, and I’ve certainly seen how having Quicken just be on my laptop saddles me with being the 100% of the time bill-payer/financial-partner in a marriage. Maybe she’s right on this one.

The only other place I might have differed is on her insistence on closing out credit cards. She has a great section on reading credit reports – very useful. But she also talks about sending certified letters and checking credit reports to make sure they’re closed, etc. I do not see the point in this. She also mentions elsewhere that you can “put your credit on ice” by putting them in a block of water and keeping them in the freezer. I think this is a fine idea for all your credit cards. Closing accounts can actually HARM your credit rating! This is because one of the metrics for how well you handle credit is how much of all your available credit lines are currently used. So if you have a cumulative of $9K in credit card debt and three cards with $10K credit lines, you go from 9/30 ratio from 9/10 ratio if you close two of those cards. Better to have the credit line and not use it! That actually reflects credit maturity, in fact.

But I say this as someone whose roofer wants to do a $10,000 improvement this winter and I do *not* have $10K in my home improvement pot. (Yes, this is the same scenario as this time last year, it’s a reoccurring problem. This house swallows $10K in home improvements a year and I had “decided” I wouldn’t do it for a few years when I had two kids in college but, uh, my “decision” turned out to not be pertinent to the house’s needs.) So here I am needing to come up with $10K again and I’m awfully glad I have a couple of 0% cash advance offers on my credit card. Maybe this reflects that I’m a lousy manager of debt, but I don’t think so; I’d say instead that I’m an advanced user of debt. I’ll pay down that credit card in full before the 0% rate expires. This is a $30,000 home improvement and I’m doing it $10K/year over three years rather than getting a home equity loan of $30K with closing costs and 10 years of repayment. Point is, there are times when having a credit line available with no fees and no requalifying is awfully useful. Her advice is really only useful here for the people who really are rank amateurs.

Which brings me to the other issue: this book pretty much assumes you’re not unemployed, and there’s only a tiny lip service at the end to being self-employed. She makes a good, albeit brief point that you can standardize your cash flow as a self-employed person and this will illuminate if your business is failing, i.e., if you feel you need to get $3,000/month and your business cannot handle paying you $3,000 every single month then you need to go get a better job.

I liked this book quite a lot. I liked it a lot better than Elizabeth Warren’s “All Your Worth”, although Warren had good ideas about how to set up a budget that I haven’t seen elsewhere. It was more useful for people early in the accumulation years or anyone seriously in debt, but I’d prefer Henry Hebeler’s “Getting Started in a Financially Secure Retirement” for anyone really trying to get a budget nailed down in or near retirement. If you are self-employed without marriage problems you can skip this book entirely, though, and go straight to “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Time and the Self-employed”by Denise Kiernan. I liked it a whole hell of a lot better than anything by Suze Orman (I’m not going to bother searching back through my reviews to link to that) and it was similar, but slightly nicer, than Dave Ramsey, and slightly different than Jean Chatsky’s book, although it covered mostly the same things. (Chatsky talked more about insurance.) Fact is, the basic elements of how to have a good financial life don’t really differ that much. It’s like fat loss methods; what ever method of eating less and exercising more works for you is fine. The basic problem with all of these methods is that none of them “work”. YOU have to do all the work.

It’s been a while since I read “Your Money or Your Life” by Dominguez (I can’t find the review? Did I not tag it? Or not review it? Could this pre-date my book reviewsl?!?) but that is a more essential book than this one. You need to really grasp what money *IS* before you can feel sufficiently motivated to bother to manage it, in my opinion.

What really stands out in the Mary Hunt book, though, is the wise and kind and useful marital advice. It’s slapped on the front of a money management book a bit disjointedly, but the chapters don’t have to be long to be right, and they certainly belong here.


Originally published October 5, 2012 at