Book Review: The Frugalista Files by Natalie P. McNeal

by Natalie MacLellan on April 6, 2011

in educational resources, financial goals

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Fru·gal·is·ta [froo-guh-lee-stuh]

1. A person who lives within her means and saves, but still looks good, eats well and lives fabulous.

When I heard Harlequin was publishing a personal finance book a few months ago, I just had to buy it. I have been looking forward to this read for a while, and while it has just been too busy in the office for any fun reading, I was able to take advantage of some sick-leave last week and read on the comfort of my living room couch.

The Frugalista Files is Natalie’s story of digging her way out of debt and reinventing herself in the process. In 2008, at the age of 31, Natalie was in a go-nowhere job and more than $20,000 in debt. Rather than panic (well, she may have panicked a little at first) she came up with an ambitious and realistic plan to cut spending, increase her income, and pay off her debt.

Written in a diary format, the book follows Natalie through the year: from her “no-spend-month” in February, her frugal Memorial Day weekend plans, right through to limiting her Christmas spending to $140.

I loved that this book was so realistic. It’s not a crazy, “I could never do that” story about someone doubling their income, and paying off mounds of debt in less than a year. It’s a practical story of someone just like the rest of us, who makes a plan, sticks to it, and eventually gets where she wants to be. It was inspiring. She freelanced on the side for an extra $200 here, or $40 there – which all added up to thousands off her credit card debt. She cut shopping dramatically, and made smarter purchases when she needed to. She took a risk and took a buyout from her job at the Miami Herald to become a self-employed journalist and blogger. It worked. It wasn’t instant success – but it worked.

Written as a diary in a casual format, it is not a literary masterpiece, and there were a few too many smiley faces and LOLs for my taste. But that is my taste. On the other hand, it was an enjoyable read. My favourite scene was the trip to the emergency room, when her stress over layoffs at work made her ill:

“Have you been stressed?” Dr. Sexy asked.

“Yes,” I whimpered. “We had layoffs at work. But I wasn’t laid off.”

“I’m sure you’ve had to do more work, because productivity usually goes up when people are laid off,” Dr. Sexy said.

Oh my God! He’s kind and understanding, too. What will we name our children?

Yes, there is a bit of the Harlequin in there. Definitely a fun read, and inspiring. Keep in mind that this is not a “how-to” guide, nor does it hold the “secret” to paying off your bills forever – well, unless that secret is hard work and determination. She certainly had that.

Read more about the fugalista lifestyle at

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