Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less


Poorcraft is obviously a terrific guide for college students, but it’s also full of inspiring ideas for anyone facing a life change or wanting to get their finances under control.

Writer Spike Trotman covers all the basics of personal spending: food, housing, entertainment, transportation, and more. Now, some of her suggestions will seem far out to some readers, but there’s so much good advice here that it’s easy just to focus on what inspires or relates to your particular situation. For instance, when it comes to food, I will NEVER eat any mushroom anyone’s picked or “foraged” — but her advice on kitchen tools was informative, and the recipes sound great and very workable, as well as being affordable.

Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less cover

The cheery Penny, drawn by Diana Nock with old-school notched-button eyes, and her dog Nickel are our guides through a ton of recommendations. They’re helping neighbor Mil (a little flaky, but only because she’s never thought about this stuff) learn how to live well without spending a ton. As they say early on, poorcraft is

learning how to do more with what you have, and learning to do it better. Spending wisely, infrequently, and frugally…. Recycling, research, preparedness, self-reliance, and resourcefulness. Knowing your options and picking the right one.

I’d add not being afraid to try doing things for yourself and being creative with how you spend your time and energy. Although I’m now pretty far from the obvious “starving student” audience, I still found some ideas I want to try, beginning with the recipes. It’s also a good reminder, when we’re surrounded by exhortations to buy buy buy, that there are other, more meaningful ways to do things. What we hear over and over, even if we disagree, can affect our perspective; reading something from the opposite, more worthwhile point of view is a necessary reminder of a more substantial way to live. Finding a way to save some money and build a financial cushion will give you a lot more options in life.

Spike starts with the basics — how to create a budget and rules of thumb on how much of your income should go to housing, savings, debt, and so on. Here’s another place I disagreed with the book (but that’s ok). I think credit cards are a useful tool if you treat them responsibly and pay them off every month. Spike seems to think a debit card is sufficient, but those don’t have the legal protections that credit cards do. Still, someone struggling with debt may find credit cards too much of a temptation and so might be better off with the advice to avoid them.

The housing chapter makes a lot more sense for urban living. Given the discussion about walkable areas, living near work, and using mass transit, inhabitants of suburban areas (or just about anywhere in the South) will struggle to meet these criteria. Still, the questions for potential roommates (she recommends house-sharing), the sources for cheap or free furnishings, and how to clean house inexpensively are great for anyone. (Spike’s not anti-car, by the way — a later chapter talks about how to buy one sensibly.)

Nock’s art is good-humored and jam-packed. The characters, especially Nickel the dog, are always doing something around the edges to keep the panels visually interesting. The diagrams help, too. There’s so much information here that one read won’t be enough. In spring, I’m going to be rereading the section on gardening before starting to grow my own herbs.

Given the state of the world these days, I was glad to see a chapter on health included. Skipping needed doctor or dentist visits to save money is a false economy, but it’s difficult for anyone young and under-employed to understand and manage the costs involved. There is a ton of information here on insurance options and directions to other resources. Also covered well is education. Few people will come out and say that you should consider your earning potential when determining how much to go into debt for college, but it’s a significant factor. The final chapter, which deals with emergencies, when debt gets out of control, and even bankruptcy, is scary but a logical end point. It shows how wide-ranging and information-full this slim, affordable book is.


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