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Hot (broke) Messes by Nancy Trejos

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Hot (broke) Messes by Nancy TrejosHot (broke) Messes by Nancy Trejos is part memoir and part personal finance advice book written by a personal finance writer and staff editor at The Washington Post. The book follows her journey from a young college student, already in debt, to getting onto financial track years later. Along the way she shares stories and advice aimed at helping others get their financial lives back on track.

There are two big lessons to take away from her story, one that I think is echoes throughout every strata of American life.

Hot Broke Mess

First, we, as human beings, don’t fully comprehend the severity of our destructive lifestyles until they hit us in the face. Through this personal finance blog, I’ve talked to several people who have gone through exactly what Trejos as gone through, “hitting rock bottom.” For her, it was having to go to her parents for a loan to make rent and other debts. For others, it’s rejection for a car loan or mortgage because their existing balances are too high.

Second, the key to success in anything is incremental change. For Trejos, it started with the lavish lifestyle of others at Georgetown and continued in the images of pop culture. For others, it might be seeing flashy cars on the road or the latest advertisements. You can’t go from wanting to keep up with the Joneses to being frugal and trying to save money at every turn, the two compete and you will probably give in to the one that’s more fun. Staying at home and watching a movie on TV costs less than going out on the town with your friends, but which one are you going to do?

So Trejos shares what she has learned over the years to help balance the two. As a young professional, socializing with friends is probably one of your largest expenses. She talked several people into recording how much they spent going out over the course of two weeks and the results were staggering. It was part of the work hard, play hard mentality… except playing hard cost a lot more than what working hard was bringing in. Rather than cut away the fun, she recommends you cut back. Go to matinĂ©e movies rather than an evening, only go to nice restaurants on special occasions (so they remain special), entertain at home, etc. All good ideas that don’t cut out fun entirely, just cut back on some of the costs.

While the book seems to be directed at women, with its hot pink cover, I see it as a “soft” personal finance book any unguided young professional would benefit from reading. It’s heavy on stories and examples, which can help the reader relate to Trejos, but definitely offers up a soft entry into personal finance concepts everyone should know.


This contest is now over and the winners have been notified.

The publisher has agreed to giveaway three copies of the book to lucky readers! Simply leave a comment with your worst or best shopping story (you decide what defines a shopping story!) and we’ll pick the three most entertaining responses on Wednesday, April 7th, at noon. The only other rules are that shipping cannot be to PO Boxes and must be to US or Canada. Void where prohibited.

{ 16 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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16 Responses to “Hot (broke) Messes by Nancy Trejos”

  1. After my divorce I got overextended on credit cards trying to maintain the same lifestyle for my kids on half the money.

    My worst shopping experinece happened this time when I was turned down for a cell phone plan because of my low credit score. How embarassing to have a young kid tell you no.

  2. Stephen says:

    One of my ongoing pleasant shopping stories is buying new books/recent books at the Strand Book Store in Manhattan. I call up and a person does a search. They are always courteous and helpful and the books are in great condition, often close to 50% off. When I go down to the store that courtesy has always been present. In a time of increasing impersonal, online purchases, it is wonderful to find an independent business that continues to care about the needs of its customers with a sense of civility and high quality customer service no matter what the cost of the products they sell.

  3. lunettes says:

    I think my favorite shopping memories are as a young child flea marketing with my parents. I was taught early in life the concept of bargaining, and knew even at the age of ten that carrying less than a dollar in change and approaching with a confident and firm method of asking for a better price on finds would get me farther than just giving the asking price. Of course, that dollar in change might be, oh, one of the ten dollars I really had, but they didn’t need to know that. I amassed quite the collection of vintage jewelry this way, and the jewelry as well as the lessons in bargaining still serve me well decades later!

  4. Joanna says:

    My worst shopping story is actually the same story being repeated. Several years ago, I lived in Japan for two years and fell in love with electronics. This led to early adaptation of many fun electronic products when I returned to the US. And led me to buy things that I didn’t really need. I spent more than $200 on a PDA – one I barely ever used before it died. I spent $300 on an electronic dictionary – but at least my mom is using that one right now.

    I finally learned my lesson and wait until the hype dies down before I purchase anything. And even then, I really evaluate my reasons why I want/need something before I decide to buy it. And then wait longer.

  5. ctreit says:

    A few years ago I kept walking by an ad for a Suzuki Burgman scooter that really spoke to me. Eventually I gave in and bought the scooter, but I bought last year’s model to save a little bit of money. It was still expensive. Oh yes! My wife and I also had to get the right outfit: helmet, jacket, gloves, etc. While we are not motorcycle enthusiasts, we have to at least look good on the bike, right?

    Then we got a motorcycle licence which we always wanted to get anyway. I rode the scooter a few times but I still haven’t put more than 1000 miles on it. I think my wife rode it once or twice. These days the bike just sits there in the garage. It is a sad sight, a very sad sight.

    While my wife and I talk regularly about financial issues, this one investment (?) is off limits. Neither one of us brings it up that often. I guess we don’t know who can blame whom for this wasting asset.

    Maybe I can use this comment as an excuse to talk to my wife about our “cherished” possession so that we can make a decision what to do with this thing: use it or loose it. Such a conversation would make me a winner of this contest already. So, thanks a lot!

  6. fairydust says:

    One of my worst shopping stories was being a self-employed/stay-at-home worker who absolutely hates vacuuming. So I convinced myself that a Roomba (robot vacuum that looks sort of like a flying saucer) would be just the ticket. It could run around the carpets all day while I did more important things. Wrong. The dirt receptacles are very small, meaning that even though the device would run for a long time on its own, it would fill up and need to be emptied in a very short time. Plus, even with their extra boundary-defining devices, it was forever getting stuck on the top of the stairs or under the couch. A very expensive $250 lesson, and now that so many new iterations have come out, I can barely give this old one away let alone make any money on it. And I’m back to pushing a vacuum cleaner around again…

  7. jsbrendog says:

    incremental change is the most important thing. personally though i find it hard to sustain

  8. cdiver says:

    Worst financial transaction: Buying a truck for a great price that I couldn’t let get away even though I could not afford it.

    Best transaction: Selling the truck to free up cash flow to invest in my education.

  9. I don’t think I really have a bad shopping story but this book sounds like what our nation needs. Debt is a subject that isn’t talked about enough! Sounds like an interesting read… seriously.

    If I think of a bad shopping story I’ll come back and share.

    Kevin Thompson CPA

  10. Best shopping story: I wanted to get a netbook case for my daughter-in-law. I stopped in a Super Goodwill store and scored one for 99 cents!

    Worst shopping story: It’s an ongoing one….I buy too many things for creating projects and then leave too many undone for way to long. Or worse yet, never finish them and end up donating stuff to a thrift store.

  11. Josh says:

    My worst shopping story isn’t so much a story as a continued incident. And actually, it’s a repeat of one that has already been mentioned on here. When I came off Active Duty from my tour in Iraq, I was completely debt free after making some really good money while in the desert. I came home wanting to continue to live like I was making that money and bought a truck I couldn’t afford at my part-time job, rented an apartment that was way out of my league, and went to the bar scene three or four days a week spending way too much money. Now my credit is shot…but I have a great job, and see a great light at the end of the tunnel I dug! 🙂

  12. Erin says:

    It has always been a thrill for me to find a “good deal” while shopping. So, I would spend time with my girlfriends browsing the clearance racks at clothing stores in the mall. Years later I still have shirts and skirts hanging in my closet with price tags on them. It’s always eye opening when I see that these deals aren’t good at all if I don’t actually need or use the item.
    I was recently put into a situation where I couldn’t afford these frivilous things that I didn’t actually need. I stumbled upon the art of couponing for groceries and household needs. So, the past two years I have spent seeking GREAT deals at the grocery store, reducing our grocery budget by 60% just by shopping around for sales/coupon combos to get the best pricing. My boyfriend loves it because we’re saving money on something we need, and I love it because I’m able to still get that adrenaline rush of finding a bargin. 🙂

  13. Christine says:

    My favorite shopping story:

    Shopping one day in Marshall’s with my 3 year old son in the cart, he spies a Barney umbrella (Barney was hot and new back then!) which he just had to have. Now my kids have been raised from the day they were born to know that if it’s not on sale Mom doesn’t buy it. So after about 30 minutes of begging, pleading and crying he screams as loudly as possible, for the whole store to hear, BUT IT’S ON SALE!! It wasn’t and he didn’t get it. and I am happy to report that my now 21 and 19 year old children are very frugal and great money managers.

  14. brooklyn money says:

    Shopping with my boyfriend’s niece who at the time was a toddler. Very cute, very spoiled. When her mom turned down her request for a toy saying “I don’t have any money with me,” she responded, “We are at the store so we can buy some money!”

  15. Chelsea says:

    I’m about to graduate college and addicted to financial blogs. I want to get my act together now so I never have a Hot (broke) Mess story…

    But as far as my worst shopping experience… looking back on it, it is actually quite funny. I was studying abroad during college in Penang, Malaysia. I was out with some friends and we walked into a shop so my friend could call a cab. During the 5 min call I was some how convinced that I NEEDED a bright pink sari. I’m a red head. I look hideous in it! I’m still trying to find someone to re-gift it to but not many people have a use for a sari.

  16. montana59901 says:

    My very worst shopping story is having to borrow money from my 20 year old daughter to pay our mortgage. I was so painful to have to ask her she understood but thankfully she is MUCH better at handling her money then her parents. Hopefully we have learned our lesson and we are on our way to financial freedom!!!

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