Book Review: Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach

By The Banker | Book Reviews
6 Feb 2014
  • Sumo


Peace and Plenty – Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity by Sarah Ban Breathnach is the worst personal finance book I’ve ever read.

I have written several personal-finance book reviews in the past year and have found quite a bit positive to say about most of the books, especially emphasizing their usefulness for a particular audience.

For those burdened with high-interest debt, for example, I recommend The Money Mentor.

For people with a significant net worth wondering whether they can find a low-cost, simple, and sophisticated style, I endorse Investing Demystified: How to Invest without Speculation and Sleepless Nights.

For a funny and sensible guide that’s stood the test of time, try The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need.

For a Zen-like approach to growing wealthy slowly over a lifetime, I loved Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth.

Now it’s time to go in a different direction: The Hater’s Guide 2014 Prize for a Horrible Personal Finance book.[1]

So far in 2014, the far and away leading contender for this prestigious Hater’s Guide Prize is Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Peace and Plenty.

Oh My God this is terrible.  Where to begin?

The narrative

If you haven’t heard of SBB[2] before, here’s the short version, as Prologue to my review of Peace and Plenty:  SBB career rocketed upward from penniless, struggling author to fame and fortune as the best selling author of Simple Abundance in the mid-1990s.

Oprah Winfrey endorsed her Martha-Stewart-of-the-soul approach, combining meditative scrapbooking and deeply inhaling peppermint herbal tea as a way to cultivate everyday gratitude. As I learned to say in that gentle, smarmy, voice when I moved to the South – Bless her heart.

Fast forward to 2010.  SBB writes in her Introduction to Peace and Plenty that not only is the money all gone, but so is the new British husband (ex-husband #3) – and the English country manor she adores more than anything else in the world.  Since she shares her financial/spiritual crisis at the same time everyone else on the planet is suffering, surely this rags-to-riches-to-rags story will resonate with many?

Signs of trouble

Even in the opening pages of Peace and Plenty, however, we sense something deeply wrong with this book. And with this author.

Let me provide a few examples.

She has lately endured annoying collection calls from the celebrity limousine service to which she’s not paid her bills.

She is upset by the court case suing her for other unpaid bills, especially when she’s staying at a “lovely Long Beach hotel[3]” about to give a public talk to the “California Women’s Conference.” This organization, she is quick to point out, has featured her photograph on the conference program between Bono and Cherie Blair.

SBB cannot stop talking about her English country manor, at one time owned by Sir Isaac Newton.  At the time of her writing she was about to lose her Sir Isaac Newton manor to foreclosure.

isaac_newton_fantasy

Sir Isaac Newton as fantasy character. SBB and he are close

She’s considering a fire sale on eBay of her extensive Manolo Blahnik footwear collection, but can’t yet bring herself to do it.

After the success of her Simple Abundance message she became a millionaire entrepreneur with – in her own words – “10 personal assistants on both sides of The Atlantic.  A journalist at the time pointedly asked her “What’s simple about having 10 assistants?”  She does not have an answer.

While I have not read Simple Abundance – the book that made SBB’s reputation – I have a sense from Amazon reviews that this book made a huge impact on millions of women. I endorse her central ideas – cultivating daily gratitude, enjoying simple pleasures, appreciating our blessings every day.  Most of us need more of this. I practice Yoga for exactly this reason.  This is a good thing.

In the first few pages we begin to wonder…who are you to teach us about “Simple Abundance?” She is the opposite of someone who appreciates “Simple Abundance” in her own life.

Celebrity limousines you can’t pay for, name-dropping your speaking engagements, $100K+ annual rent on a CPW apartment you don’t even live in, blaming your ex-husband for your self-inflicted financial wounds?  Hello?  Hello?

The problem with Peace and Plenty is that it exposes the author of Simple Abundance as a narcissistic fraud, an out-of-control materialistic shopaholic – a celebrity wannabe with a deep emptiness.

Her personal story

OK, so we notice a few warning signs in SBB’s life about personal finance habits.  Is it fair to judge SBB by her personal story, rather than by the strength of her ideas?

Yes of course it is fair. Her personal story is all that SBB has to sell. We do not want to judge the book on her personal finance suggestions, because those are horrible.

Making terrible personal finance choices does not disqualify her from writing a valuable personal finance book – as past mistakes could make present reflections even more powerful.  The entire foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous[4] is based on this, but it requires a “searching and fearless moral inventory – step 4 – early on.

SBB lacks any realistic reflection on her personal finance habits.

Two examples should help illustrate this absence of reflection.

After she divorces her second husband in 1997, SBB moved into a Central Park West apartment that costs more to rent per month than she paid annually to rent her previous apartment.  She acknowledges the extravagance.  And she acknowledges that, with her extensive travel schedule, she probably spent 6 weeks out of that year actually living there.

Ok, so what did she learn?

In the end she concludes that it was all worth it because – in the weeks following 9/11 – it meant a lot to her and her daughter that she had an apartment on Central Park West to feel better in.  Okayyyyyy.

SBB has a little problem with real estate, as we learn later in the book.  While living in the US, she found the Sir Isaac Newton country manor listing online and made arrangements to visit. She’s always admired Sir Isaac Newton. You should know he’s a kind of historic soul mate – they are close, people, trust her.[5] Without consulting anybody[6] – not her best friend, not her daughter – she made an offer to purchase the country manor on the spot.

Again, that personal finance mistake might lead to helpful reflections for the rest of us real-estate buyers out there.  Nope.  In Peace and Plenty she simply mourns for that soon-to-be-foreclosed-on country manor.  Touching the stone wall of Sir Isaac Newton’s country manor that first time made her feel “home.”  Okayyyyyy.

Her advice

This is easy to sum up.

  1. When you experience some stress about your finances, the first thing to do[7] is start a scrapbook of financial ideas. Make sure that scrapbook has an attractive cover to add some flair. I’m not kidding.
  2. Have a good cry, and then follow that up with her “Sweet Mercy Medicinal,” consisting of ½ cucumber, peeled and seeded; ¼ cup hot, prepared green tea; ¼ cup hot, prepared chamomile tea; all blended, refrigerated, and applied to the face to lessen the puffiness.[8]  This is all real financial advice from SBB.
  3. The next thing is you go and purchase her Peace and Plenty Journal of Well-Spent Moments for only $15.99 on Amazon now!  And then record some well-spent moments in it.  Also, I’m still not kidding.
  4. Blame your 3rd ex-husband for ‘taking all the money.’

At this point, you might be thinking I’m exaggerating.  Surely I’m leaving out some of SBB’s practical budgeting ideas, or money saving ideas, or at least ideas about how to duck the bill collector?

Nope.  You’re welcome to scrapbook some of your financial ideas (step one) but frankly, SBB finds that too much budgeting requires a reapplication of the Sweet Mercy Medicinal.

The writing

Do you like a lot of Capitalized Words about Breathy Moments to make you feel like you’re reading a Childhood Classic, such as Winnie the Pooh?

Do you enjoy the Absence of Narrative – or Absence of Organization in writing?

Are you a devotee of Quotable Women’s Journal Writing from the 1930s?

Was everything just Better in the 1930s when Women Brewed a Lot of Tea in their Kitchen and Didn’t Worry So MuCh AbOuT AlL ThiS CoMpliCaTEd MonEY TalK?

If you say yes to all of these, you’ll enjoy the Peace and Plenty writing quite a bit.

Ok, now you’re just being mean.

No, I’m not.  There’s a serious point to be made here.

I actually read this whole book, searching for something, anything, that would explain how it came into print.  Something, anything to explain how an author with these ideas could possibly write a personal finance book.

If Peace and Plenty is so bad, you might be wondering, why not just ignore it?

Why not let it remain obscure and unknown?

Thanks for asking.  Here’s why.

She’s not unknown.

chopra_and_winfrey

These 2 really like SBB’s ideas.

Sarah Ban Breathnach is a best-selling author[9] who has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra,[10] has been named as one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things[11], and has been on Oprah’s show 9 times.  She’s probably received more mainstream media exposure than any of the other authors I’ve ever reviewed. She’s clearly getting her message in front of more people than the authors who actually provide something useful. As a result, millions of people (in her case, 100% of them women) are at risk of taking her seriously when it comes to personal finance.

And the advice she gives and the personal example she lives by are horrible.

So that’s why I need to call attention to it.

Final Note

I already know her leading competitor for the 2014 Hater’s Guide Award, although I have yet to read the book.

The Millionaire Fast Lane by MJ DeMarco[12] appears to be the front-running competitor to Peace and Plenty, based on this awesome review on Amazon.

What I love anticipating is that The Millionaire Fast Lane bookends nicely with SBB’s book as laughably gendered garbage, only from the other extreme.  Just as tea cozies and colorful finance scrapbooks are the central image of Peace and Plenty, a Lamborghini is the central image of The Millionaire Fast Lane.  The insecure overcompensation of this DeMarco guy is just too delicious.  I can’t wait!

Financial calamity attaches to both authors and to anyone who tries to follow their advice.

Please see related post All Bankers Anonymous Review in One Place

 


[1] I’d like to call this the First Annual Donald Trump Award for Terrible Financial Advice, but I suspect The Donald would actually welcome the additional free publicity and I really do not wish to support him.  This footnote is all he gets from me.

[2] Sarah Ban Breathnach frequently refers to herself in the third person as SBB, so I’ve decided to do the same.

[3] I assume she means Shutters, but she mercifully does not say.

[4] And therefore, by extension, the global network of 12-step Bankers Anonymous programs.

[5] And did I mention she believes in reincarnation?  Because SBB mentions it.  Along with believing in divination.  In fact, a divination expert she consulted about the Sir Isaac Newton country major found the house to be full of good spirits.  So she had that going for her.

[6] Except the divination expert.

[7] Actually, even before scrapbooking, you should put a pot of tea on the stove.  I swear to God as my witness she mentions this specific advice half a dozen times.

[8] Later SBB goes into detail about the financially therapeutic affect of arranging ones make-up counter.  You can’t put a price on keeping up appearances. Lipsticks all in a row, priceless…You get the idea.

[9] Simple Abundance, following Oprah’s endorsement, reportedly sold 7 million copies.

[10] Chopra calls SBB “a one-woman’s movement…just the subversively cosmic voice society needs” to help America “re-evaluate our values…”  And so that’s how you know Deepak Chopra is a fraud.

[11] Whatever that means.  I give up.

[12] The Millionaire Fast Lane is listed as #8 on the “Top Ten Best Personal Finance Books Of All Time” according to this Inc. article. That article itself is the #1 link when you Google search for “Top Personal Finance Books.” Such rankings indicate, mostly, that the Internet is broken and that Evil wins, always.

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14 Comments

  1. Bob Mrotek says:

    Michael, Good for you! Negative criticism is okay when it is justified by the truth. There is a lot of this kind of thing going on. Shameless self promoters write a book (or pay someone else to write one for them) and then try to cash in on their B/S. There is very little sicerity involved. People like this author prey on the gullibility and desperation of others. It is sad but true. Thanks for exposing SBB.

  2. Mark Hankins says:

    At the risk of incurring a scathing review, I’ll recommend my own book to her. Debt Hope: Down and Dirty Survival Strategies contains industrial strength countermeasures.

  3. Dawna says:

    I enjoyed your review! It was spot on.

    I enjoyed the book too. I bought it at the .99 store.

    I have been making my scrapbook. It is not about finances though, it is just doodles and quotes I like. I did make a pretty cover for it.

    I have slowly gone over my relationship with money and mistakes I have made.

    I do not have the money for the journal. I do not feel the need to buy it any way.

    Sarah’s book, her misspent money and bad decisions made me feel better about our families reversal of fortunes due to unemployment and then under employment. Our woes are no where near her scale of woe!

    I did find a few pep talk type quotes that have kept me sane such as pg 352 – “Not forever, but for now. We can do anything for now.”

    We have no shoes to sell off, but the selling of household goods at yard sales to be able to buy food, and making due with the clothes we have for now, as long as it is not forever I can do. Although our 4 girls have an issue with this!

    Her book is not for everyone, but I knew I was not buying a hardcore financial book. I needed some light entertainment to feed my weary soul.

    I am going to go make myself some tea now.

    • The Banker says:

      ok, good to know it helped you!

      • Diana says:

        Dawna,

        What a kind reply! I wish you luck. I’ve had some hard tines due to unemployment and underemployment also in the past year. It’s difficult, and similar SBB quotes helped me.

        Perhaps the reviewer has misclassified this book. I’d call it self help, not financial. I would expect to find it in the self-help section of a bookstore.

        I think a big part of the problem is SBB wrote the book while in the midst of her own financial storm. A later time might have yielded deeper reflection. Did she contribute to her problems? Yes. Was she also stolen from? Courts seem to think so. She probably wasn’t ready yet to dig down deep and examine herself more. I hope she does someday. And I hope then she sells those ridiculously-priced shoes.

  4. To the Banker,
    having read Peace and Plenty to me it was about all the sad Stories of Women passed and their failures about how to look after the Money they earnt with their talents.
    Perhaps this was justification to SBB and her own slide into financial ruination, embarrassment and denial. In sharing their Stories, men were the villains and always spent their woman’s money.
    Validation for her 3rd Husband’s behaviors,which seemed to be allowed and ignored to some degree.
    Hopefully this Book will endevour to alert women to take ownership of their Monies.

  5. tree bernardo says:

    Leave her alone. She has made millions of woman happy with her wonderful writing. I am sure we all make mistakes so why judge another. She did the best she knew how to do. I love reading her books and I sure as heck wish she would come out with more. She is a sweet lady and is only trying to live by her own lites. Who would not want fame and fortune and maybe make errors when achieving them. Cut the jealousy and get on with your own life.

  6. Lindee says:

    Peace and Plenty is about financial SERENITY, not financial SECURITY. A lot of people are affected in a deeply personal way when a financial crisis hits. Sarah’s book is about healing and taking care of the inner pain and conflict a person feels. I do not believe it was ever intended as financial advice manual. I never got that from the book.

    Sarah shares with her readers what she went through so that we can all avoid the same pitfalls and then shares how she dealt with the parts she could do nothing about, which was taking care of her inner self and her mental well-being; struggling to regain her personal power. I think you may have interpreted this book all wrong by going into it looking for a financial advisor giving advice. That is not what this book is. Financial SERENITY is a whole different ballgame and should not be taken out of context. It is a delicate subject for many.

    I have read all of Sarah Ban Breathnach’s books. By reading about her own experiences, I was able to find my way out of a terrible abusive marriage and actually start my own business. Never did I read her books in order to accomplish these things. I didn’t even know I was as bad off as I was back then until reading her books and getting a real kick in the pants to do something about my situation. Sarah’s books help a person gain personal power, no matter where they are in life. And that is what all of her books are about, personal power and integrity, including Peace and Plenty.

    I wish you peace.

  7. Janet says:

    The women this book was written for know it when they read it. And it is not financial advice either. Some authors speak to your being. I’m not surprised the reviewer missed the point.

  8. Maureen Purcell says:

    Love all SBB’s books! Peace and plenty keeps her loyal followers informed and let’s us all know money does not buy happiness! I reread her book Simple Abundance almost every other year since I received it as a gift (when I needed it most) in 1995. It keeps me positive, upbeat and always with a sense of gratitude that all I have is all I really need. I just wish Sarah would have followed her own advice and reread her book SA as many times as I have….she would not have gone down her slippery slope! But, I will,always be loyal to her. Her books are self help, nothing more, and that’s all I expect!

  9. Joan L says:

    Here’s the thing: SBB wrote for her friends. Many women became her friends through the long peace giving year of reading Simple Abundance. Certainly if I had been with her when she first saw Sir Newton’s cottage, I would have advised “Yes! It’s meant to be! Buy it, for good or ill.” I would have cried with her over her 3rd husband’ s betrayal and called him a rat. And of course, I would have been brewing the tea and serving it on stray with flowers. SBB wrote for her women friends but didn’t really know who they were so she had to go it alone. I hope God blesses her with a friend like Gail King ( Oprah’s bff) to help her in the future.

  10. I understand you to be a man..This book was written for women who are more right brain than you. A lot of women lost it all through bad choices. With this new book she helped a lot of women regroup after the the financial crash of 2008. Only a woman can understand her book who is also right brained. It is not about having a million dollars..You missed the point. I find bankers to be too left brained and materialistic to get any thing from the last book. Charm is priceless. You missed the point of the book. Serenity and peace that comess with being happy with small measures and more dicipline. I was once very wealthy financilly. I had a big ministry fund that got used to bale a lot of money seakers who got in over thier head. .I gave it away to others. It took me 7 years to climb out of dept. I am starting over building slowly and calmly. Older and wiser. Her book is about a balance of mind soul and pocketbook , with a tube of lipstick on hand. The book is not for men. I lived in England as a girl with my English parents. The tea thing is British people and an American woman’s idea of simple pleasures. The book Peace and Plenty is a Godsend, I found in a dollar store. It was just the much needed boost I was looking for. I finally pay myself now. Peace Love and Light

  11. Emily says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. Huge chunks of it do not apply to my situation because I don’t have debt or divorce in my story and I’m not a shopaholic. I checked out a stack of finance books from my local library because retirement is only 25 years away and I want to be preparing for it. I decided to start with Peace and Plenty because it addresses real emotions about money. I knew I’d have to come to terms with my feelings about money before reading about dull investing strategies and how to prepare for retirement.

    SBB talks about budgeting and how to take delight in becoming the prudent steward of your own resources. She gives women a vision for what it can feel like. She empathizes with and encourages those who have flopped with money. She honors home managers, or homemakers, as they were dubbed in the 30’s who can stretch a dollar by planning ahead and cooking from scratch. This may not sound like financial advice, but it is this very approach, over time, that allowed my family of 7 to spend 10 months living on a sailboat, even though the government considered us to be living in “poverty.” (We disagreed and did not receive assistance). People ask how we were able to pull off a trip like that. I respond, “Hearty lentil stew.”
    Loan officers always wanted to know how much my husband earned, but they never cared how far I was able to make that income go. We all know – it doesn’t matter how much you earn, it matters how much you keep.

    The most important financial advice I got from Peace and Plenty is that we are all capable of managing our resources and it’s our responsibility to do so. She encourages us to take matters into our own hands. She also acknowledges this may, and often does, include tears. She insists we learn to speak with our partners about money. She encourages us to keep going by reading a poem or taking a walk in a garden and then getting back to work. That is some of the best, most realistic financial advice I’ve ever read. I was thoroughly delighted and empowered by this book to tackle the tedious traditional books on finance still in my stack.

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