Book Review: Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach


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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