Book Reviews: The “Skinny On” Books

I read THREE books this weekend and no, I’m not a speed reader. They were “The Skinny On” books written by Jim Randel. Each one is easily read in an hour and is packed with relevant and useful information without all the fluff, much like Debt is Slavery.

Also known as “The Stick People Books,” these delightful books are patterned after the Japanese literary form, Manga, which uses simple images (in this case “stick people”) to relay a message. The Skinny On books are amazing with their comprehensive analysis of topical subjects, told in an entertaining story format with stick people of all things!

Currently there are three books:

The Skinny On The Housing CrisisThe Skinny On: The Housing Crisis What Every Homeowner and Homebuyer Needs to Know covers the basics of our current housing and credit dilemma. Following the adventures of Billy and Beth, the protagonist stick people in all the books, author Jim Randel explains in simple terms complex topics such as buying manias, mortgages, and credit. His most important takeaway was that there are many, many differing motivations that originate from almost every person involved in the home buying process — buyer, seller, appraiser, mortgage broker, real estate agent, home inspector, homeowner’s insurance salespeople, attorney — and each of them have their own best interests at heart. That isn’t a necessarily bad thing, but it’s important to understand before you enter the home buying process.

Each of Billy and Beth’s encounters with one of these players became a lesson for any person considering the purchase or sale of a home, investing in real estate or, just taking out a mortgage. After Billy and Beth close on their home in 2006, they lose it to foreclosure in 2007. The book follows the story of their mortgage from lender to investment bank to investor in Europe. We learn how mortgage sales and securitizations became a trillion dollar business, disconnecting the American borrower from the lender and de-humanizing the process.

One item that was left out of the book was the incredible push by politicians in their greed for votes to get people into homes, regardless of their ability to repay the mortgage or impact on our families. Now that’s de-humanizing.

The Skinny On WillpowerThe Skinny on Willpower: How to Develop Self Discipline closely mirrored what I personally believe about self discipline, namely that it’s one of the most important attributes we can cultivate in our lives. Everyone has it, but not everyone uses it.

One very interesting point that the author made was that our willpower isn’t an inexhaustible resource. Once we use a lot of willpower on one project, we will need to replenish our internal reserves, so don’t put yourself into a situation where you’ll constantly need huge amounts of motivation and willpower over and over again — like trying to commit to an exercise program just two weeks before you go on a 12 day cruise. Those cruises have some incredible buffets and resisting the temptation to overindulge along with generating enough willpower to continue a new exercise program will probably be too much.

“The one quality which sets one apart from another – the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity – is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness; it is self discipline. With self discipline, all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.” –Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

We need more Presidents that think like this.

In this book, Billy and Beth each struggle to find the self discipline and willpower to meet their goals. Billy struggles to lose weight while Beth struggles to write a business plan. It is a very entertaining book and one that my teenage daughters really liked.

The Skinny On Credit CardsThe third book, The Skinny On Credit Cards: How to Win the Credit Card Game, again follows the lives of Billy and Beth as they struggle with the use (and abuse) of their credit cards and how it affects their credit report. The story also looks at their 18 year old son, Jake, a college freshman who loves the idea of having his own credit cards. Through their experiences, we learn about the incredible convenience, heartache and conversations that little piece of plastic can generate between two people with differing agendas, dreams, and goals.

With 700 million active credit cards in the U.S. (2 cards for every man, woman and child) total credit card debt has ballooned to about $1 trillion, with an average of $9,000 per household. The book deftly identifies the important points anyone needs to know about credit cards including predatory marketing and lending protocols adopted by some of the credit card issuers, and examines irresponsible borrowing and money management by consumers.


The goal of each of these easy to read books is educate. If you understand the rules of the game about home buying, self discipline, and credit card use (and potential abuse), then the decisions you make about will hopefully be wise ones that will make your life better and more enjoyable.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

These are some very entertaining and enlightening books. If you’re curious about how the housing crisis came about, or if you need basic help with willpower, self discipline or motivation, or if you’re using and abusing credit cards, these are some great resources. I would recommend the book on credit cards and the one on willpower for teenagers. The book on housing, while informative for homebuyers, is too targeted and specific on the current events of 2007 through 2009. Thebooks are basic, but they are also comprehensive and if you’re in the market for this type of information, they are well worth the $12.95 to $14.95 price.

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