Book Review: “Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together”

When was the last time you took a hard look at your finances? Last week? Last month? Erin Lowry’s book “Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together” explores all the basics of financial management that you need to know when getting started on your personal finance journey, and Anton shares his thoughts on the book.

Erin Lowry is a personal finance expert who has been living and breathing money management since she was a child. After launching her website Broke Millennial to discuss her experiences with money, she’s become a go-to personal finance expert for the millennial generation and contributes to major outlets such as The Wall Street Journal. 

Lowry’s debut book, Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, acts as an excellent introduction to personal financial management, whether you’re a teenager or well into your career. While the name suggests a target demographic of millennials, the content is accessible to all ages (even if the writing style is very much in the vernacular of the generation). 

Lowry explores many basic aspects of personal finances that a newbie might encounter — from budgeting and debt management to negotiating salaries and investing. She also discusses other issues, such as managing splitting bills with your friends when you go out and discussing finances with your partner. The book is designed for you to hop in and out of chapters and sections depending on your needs, often with helpful instructions on how to start the process of sorting out different aspects of your finances. 

Three of my favorite takeaways

Adapt the budget to your situation

When it comes to budgeting, there is no one size fits all. Personal finance is, by its very nature, personal, so you need to adjust budgeting styles to meet your situation. Think about whether you’re a “track every penny” type of person or a more laid-back type that prefers to allocate their income on a percentage basis. Lowry details budgeting styles such as the Cash Diet, Track Every Penny, the Envelope system, Percentage Budgeting, and Zero Sum budgeting. I identified most with the percentage budgeting method; however, as is made clear in the chapter, these systems are unique to everyone and not rigid. You should adapt the system you use to your situation rather than unsustainably forcing yourself to conform to a budgeting style. 

Capitalize on the financial products you’re using

One of the chapters is labeled “Picking the Right Financial Products (aka The Chapter in Which This Book Pays for Itself).” This seems like a lofty claim — what single piece of advice could be this precise? Lowry provides an excellent real-world example that shows the power of capitalizing on what your financial products and services can offer you. She says to ensure your savings account has the highest APY (annual percentage yield), often as high as 1% compared to the 0.01% that many people have their savings account under (including me). Switching from 0.01% APY to 1% APY, with an annual $2000 per year in savings, gives you $20 in extra interest, paying for the book! 

How to use credit to your advantage

The chapter on credit and credit scores was a really interesting read for me. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m from New Zealand where credit scores are less emphasized than in the US, or if it’s because I never really had a discussion with my parents about credit, but a lot of the information here was new to me. I found the basics, such as what a good vs. bad credit score is, how it’s calculated, and what it’s used for, interesting and valuable. Lowry also discusses how to easily use your credit cards to build your credit without getting over your head in debt you cant handle — namely, making a couple of purchases each month and paying them back in full. Try not to purchase things with your credit card that you wouldn’t normally be able to afford, and don’t pay your bills with it. 

A conversational, if at times simple, read

As a reader, one of the make or breaks for the Broke Millennial book may be Lowry’s writing style. At times, I loved it. The writing often feels like a discussion about finances between friends. Rather than just spouting financial information and rules at us, Lowry injects personal anecdotes and hypotheticals of how one might actually enact the advice. It helps draw you in and engages you to think about how this advice applies to your own situation.

However, although the tone is casual and conversational, it sometimes dates the book to a specific generation of millennials, making it a bit odd to read if you aren’t part of that target group. This isn’t to say that you won’t gain valuable financial information (you will!), but many of the references and slang come from that specific 2010s millennial era and can take you out of the reading experience. 

Some might also take issue with the perspective that Lowry writes from. Although her advice is generally excellent, her personal experience with money is far from the average millennial (or older Gen Z). Lowry starts the book by saying that her family has a “long tradition of my parents teaching us essential lessons about money through the use of real-life examples, which are still fresh in my mind 20 years later”. She later discusses how she graduated from college without any student debt, thanks to a scholarship and the generosity of her parents. Examples like this crop up every so often as you read and can lead to the idea that although she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to personal finance, she lacks the first-hand experience for things that so many of us struggle through.

Lowry’s advice may come across as somewhat basic if you’re already well-versed in personal finance and are looking for advanced ways to supercharge your financial life. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; this book just isn’t targeted toward you. For example, while she does mention investing, it’s very much just the basics of why you should start, some investing terms you should know, index investing, and other fundamentals. When touching on these sorts of topics, Lowry does recommend other sources where you can get a more in-depth understanding. 

Would I recommend the Broke Millennial? 

In short, yes. While it isn’t perfect and is somewhat brief in some subject areas, the Broke Millennial gives you a strong foundation for your financial journey. If you’ve just graduated from college and have a mountain of debt or are a teen about to enter into adulthood and all the financial responsibilities that come with it, I’d highly recommend reading this and taking the financial lessons to heart. 

As Lowry says, “personal finance is nothing if not personal, so the variety of voices and techniques should help you find options for budgeting, paying down debt, building and maintaining a strong credit score, negotiating, and saving for retirement.” Use this book to help build out your financial knowledge and once you’ve read it, read some of Lowry’s other books, because the learning process is continual, and this is just the first step on your journey. 

Book cover used in banner image from Penguin Random House

Anton is PocketSmith’s Marketing Intern and is currently completing his BComSci degree in Marketing and Ecology alongside working at PocketSmith. Anton started his investing journey in high school and hasn’t looked back since. He’s a strong proponent of index investing, although he still likes the thrill of individual stocks on the side.

Related articles

The Barefoot Investor ‘Buckets’ and ‘Accounts’ explained
If you’re looking for a celebrated financial plan to help you take control of your money, we encourage you to read this post, watch videos and to get a copy of the book.
20 Investing Terms That Everyone Should Know
If you’re new to investing, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of jargon that’s thrown at you. While it can seem daunting, it’s important to gain an understanding of some of the basics to help build a strong knowledge foundation. Here are some of the most important investing terms that you should learn.
The Top Five Must-Read Personal Finance Books
Blogs and podcasts are a great resource, but don’t forget about the power of a good book! Ruth The Happy Saver shares her top five personal finances reads that you can turn to for some money management wisdom.